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Say Credit Rating, not Debt Limit!

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Say Credit Rating, not Debt Limit!
by Susan C. Strong,

Executive Director,

The Metaphor Project
With his May 16 Chicago Tribune op-ed, House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan put the U.S. "debt limit" fight into much higher gear.   Now he's claiming his proposals are really about optimism and prosperity--singing Reagan's "morning in America" tune.Without doubt Ryan has a very sharp speech writer and the best framing talent Republican money can buy. Combined with the public's views on raising the debt limit, this framing upgrade is dangerous.

Although most polls show the number of citizens opposed to raising the debt limit is slowly decreasing, on 5.13.11 a Gallup poll still found that 47%  of  the American public wants to stop the debt limit from rising.(A CNN poll taken between 4.29 and 5.01 showed 60% of the public against it.) So it doesn't matter how many times Treasury Secretary Geithner addresses Congress on the perils of playing self-destructive games with America's credit rating. Too many members of the American public still don't understand the difference between increasing household debt and protecting our nation's "full faith and credit." And the people have the votes, as House Republicans know.
Unfortunately, the public's understanding of the words "debt limit" focuses on the word DEBT, which is a negative and scary word. Words matter! Instead we should be talking about protecting America's credit rating. Everyone knows what a good credit rating means, and what the long term consequences of having a bad one can be. We need to be spelling out in simple language how that could affect U.S. citizens here at home. (For more ideas about how to do that, see

True, the Democrats are countering Ryan's debt limit ideas by proposing a different set of cuts, as well as tax increases for the rich. They are also hoping, no doubt, that  constituencies hurt by Ryan's new cuts will get into even higher gear before August 2, the new debt limit deadline.  
But opponents of the Ryan "vision" are going to need a lot more than this kind of "politics as usual" stuff. To stop public backlash about raising the debt limit, we need  visceral reframing of our own.  We must "speak American" about the issue; it's a necessary part of countering Republican hostage taking. Let's all talk about protecting America's credit rating now, and keep it up all summer long.
The Metaphor Project ( helps progressives frame their messages in a way more Americans can hear. See our website for the many free resources and message builders we offer. Visit our booth in the Exhibit Hall at the Netroots Nation 2011 Conference in Minneapolis; learn more about our forthcoming book, Move Our Message! How to Get America's Ear (Fall, 2011).

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Susan C. Strong, Ph.D., is the founder and executive director of the Metaphor Project. She is also the author of our new book, MOVE OUR MESSAGE: HOW TO GET AMERICA'S EAR, available on our website. The mission of the Metaphor Project is helping (more...)

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