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The Democrats; Deaf, Dumb, Blind...and Cowardly

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The past two weeks have again demonstrated the reasons for which I will not support the Democratic Party, and why I believe that if this nation is to be saved from right-wing tyranny, we must form a new, progressive political party.

Two particular situations glaringly show how stupid and willfully ignorant the so-called leaders of the Democratic Party actually are; the reaction of Democrats to the "Flag Desecration" amendment proposed by the GOP, and the current "debate" about how and when to leave Iraq.

The Democratic Party still refuses to learn from history, that the language of politics has been controlled by the Republicans since Newt Gingrich announced that "Contract With America" in 1994, which cost the Democrats control of the congress, and led the nation down the path of increasingly dangerous conservatism.

The GOP's politically motivated ploy of introducing the "Flag Desecration" amendment, and the challenge to Democrats to join in supporting that amendment, was intended to enable the GOP, in the upcoming mid-term election, to point to Democratic candidates who didn't support the Amendment as disloyal and unpatriotic. But the Democrats once again chose to respond simply with canned statements about "free speech", ignoring completely what was a golden opportunity to embarrass Republicans and turn their effort into a clear illustration of idiocy.

Before talking about free speech, the Democrats could have and should have asked a number of questions at a press conference, in front of the microphones and cameras, for the media and all the country to see and hear.

"So, does this mean that if that tee-shirt that I have with the American flag on it gets soiled and torn while I'm working in the garage, I'd be arrested if I tossed it into the incinerator? Or, if my granddaughter paints the stars and stripes on a large piece of paper for a school project, and then tears it up and tosses it into the trash, she'll be questioned by the "Flag police? Or, if that coffee mug I have with the American flag on it breaks, will I have to report it to the FBI?"


Those kinds of questions would undoubtedly serve to point out that the GOP's idea of symbolic patriotism is nothing but a political ploy, and an absurd one at that. Those questions and other similar ones could have been followed by a few very rational statements, like... "Exactly which flags would this GOP proposed constitutional amendment cover? The Betsy Ross flag? That's well-protected at the Smithsonian. The flags on government buildings? Those are already protected by the laws against destruction of government property. Or would it be the flags that many Americans display on their homes or lawns? Those are already protected by local property laws. So, again we ask, exactly which flag or flags are the Republicans concerned about?"
But the Democrats once again missed an opportunity to gain the high ground, and instead responded with feckless and ineffective language.

Then came the debate on the Iraq war, and the GOP chorus harmonizing Karl Rove's bumper-sticker phrase, "cut and run", to once again paint the Democrats as weak with his own trusty and thus far unchallenged brush of combative cliches. As expected, the Democrats stood up defensively and tried to explain the rational reasons for setting some kind of time frame for leaving Iraq...but all the public and the media heard was "cut and run."

Instead of starting out with the rational justifications for their proposals, the Democrats could have and should have begun their argument with, "This president, this administration, knowingly and deceitfully dropped this country into a huge pool of quicksand...and now they want you to believe that finding a way out of the quicksand is somehow surrendering. That's the same kind of twisted thinking that's already cost the lives of more than 2,500 young Americans, maimed and crippled thousands more, and is nearly bankrupting the country. It's the quicksand, stupid! You dumped us into it, and now we've got to get us out." Any way you put it, finding a way out of quicksand can't be seen as "cutting and running."

That's the language that can and would beat Rove's cynical but very effective verbiage. But the Democrats are either too deaf, or blind, or dumb, or all three, to recognize what's happening to them...and too frightened to do what it takes to win the debate. And the congress! They should get the message, "It's the language, stupid!", but they're not. A few days ago, John Edwards reportedly said, in response to the "cut and run" verbal assault, "It shows that they're much better at sloganeering." Duh!!!!

When and only when the Democrats recognize that in order to win the debates, they must first win the linguistics battle, will they gain the political upper hand over the very adept right-wing wordsmiths. And that means that the Democrats must not simply do a better job of "framing" their issues, as George Lakoff urges them, they must also compose and widely publicize better "bumper-sticker" phrases than their opponents. The difference of course, is that after the quick cliches, the Republicans have nothing. But the Democrats would be much better positioned to speak substantively about issues and policies, once they've crippled the GOP and their wing-nut followers with the kinds of quick witticisms that the public and the media responds to.

Unfortunately, the Democrats aren't likely to learn the necessary lessons anytime soon. And anyone hoping for enough congressional victories in November to take control of the Senate, or the House, should prepare that crying space that they used after Kerry lost the presidential election as a direct result of the unanswered charges by the Swift Boaters, the inability to combat the "flip-flop" label, and the failure to turn Bush into the caricature that he is. Sadly, the Democrats are as weak as the right-wing claims...at least when it comes to the kind of verbal street fighting that their opponents do so well.

 

Ed Menken is a life-long, self-described "unapologetic progressive", a proud member of the ACLU, and a strong supporter of Barack Obama.

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