For decades, Democrats struggled to get their policy positions across against the superior messaging strategies of the GOP, who were masters at mind manipulation through focus-group-tested words and phrases steeped with moral resonance. This finely-honed skill-set has won them elections based on people’s enthusiasm over the notion that they could be the recipients of “trickle down economics” from the rich; their fear of so-called “Death Panels”; their loathing of dreaded “Death Taxes”; and their anger over their alleged “Right to Work.”
With massive resources built up over many years, GOP Strategist Frank Luntz has long been the party’s go-to guy for their universally-used talking points. The fact that they pretty much have one guy to whom they turn for their “winning words,” and that they are disciplined enough as a party to fall in line behind the use of specific catch phrases, has kept them head-and-shoulders above Democrats who have often been described as akin to ‘herding cats’ when it comes to staying on message.
But 2012 saw both a reversal of fortune and a reversal of results for the Democratic party as Republican party members went off message and started letting their true feelings be heard. Democrats have long known that the right wing’s advocacy against a woman’s reproductive freedom was less about their moral feelings towards the fetus — they have no problem with killing living, breathing humans under conditions they deem acceptable — and far more about their deep-seated, paternalistic desire to maintain complete control over women themselves. But getting this message across and having people believe you’re speaking the truth has been an elusive endeavor for the Democratic party.
Enter the era of Republicans becoming cocky after having been deeply effective in actually legislating their Daddy State ideals all across the country. These state-wide victories have led them to erroneously believe that the entire country thinks the way they do, so they dropped their guarded language and started telling it as they really see it. As a result we learned that they believe that rapes can be distinguished as “legitimate” “honest,” “easy,” “enjoyable,” “emergency,” “forcible,” and the kind that can be a “gift from G-d.” Who knew!?!
Democrats have also long known that the GOP was the party of the elite, at the expense of the working man and woman, but struggled to articulate this in a way that would catch on. Enter Mitt Romney and his VP running-mate, Paul Ryan, of the “47 Percent” and the “Makers and Takers” variety, respectively. Again, guard down, they felt freer to say in their out-loud voices what they’ve couched in veiled messaging in the past. We now have no doubt whatsoever for whom the Republican party fights and for whom they have contempt — they told us themselves.
And the American public got their message loud and clear, and rejected outright the party whose members adhere to that thinking.
But desperate to hold onto the false notion that they are not only right, but would be embraced if only they just said it better, South Carolina Republican Party Chair Chad Connelly doesn’t think the election results were “a repudiation of the message at all.” He just thinks they’re not “very good at articulating it.”
In an interview this week with Business Insider’s Grace Wyler, Connelly blamed his party’s overwhelming 2012 losses on the electorate themselves. But not the entire electorate, just those who are struggling against a superior political power in an effort to make a thriving wage so they can feed, clothe, and house their families: the infamous 47 percent.
We’re not very good at our message. I don’t think it’s a repudiation of the message at all, I don’t think we’re very good at articulating it.
Second, it’s also an indictment on the electorate. We’ve got to realize that people love hearing that message ‘I’m going to take care of you.’ We as a country can never be indicted on not taking care of people — we’ve been the best at that, at humanitarian efforts both here and abroad. But we intended safety nets not hammocks, and we’ve got a lot of people who really have an entitlement mentality.
I think the third thing is there is a real liberal media filter — we know more about David Petraeus than we do about Benghazi. Romney World was completely unwilling to go after that.
So, I think those are the three things. But the thing we can control is our message. We’ve got to be better at our message. We’ve got to be better at articulating the message, and explaining why tax increases are bad, why tax cuts are good, why government spending doesn’t work. I just don’t think we’ve done a good job of that.
In other words, they have to start lying again.
Because the fact is, the electorate he disdains so much has finally figured out that tax cuts for the wealthy — whom the Republican party are actually talking about cutting taxes for — are bad. Tax increases on those whose wealth was gained at the expense of workers whose lost income would have otherwise generated more revenue for our country, are good. And government investing in both our critical infrastructure and our human resources is also good. Very, very good.
And that’s really and truly the reason his party lost.
Messaging matters. But people are finally waking up to the fact that there had better be sound policy behind your message or it will be a losing one.
Jill Klausen has 11 years of political consulting experience working with many candidates and elected officials including Jane Harman, Patrick Kennedy, and Barbara Boxer. In addition to writing for Addicting Info, Jill owns and operates a Copy Editing consulting firm, and is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Winning Words Project; a site dedicated to formulating winning progressive messaging campaigns. Follow Jill on Twitter @jillwklausen