"Agreed, we have an insular White House that fails Messaging 101," commented a close friend, "but where are examples of good messages that frame positive, progressive moral politics." Admirable challenge to all us ungrateful "professional leftists" addicted only to complaining. Readers, pipe up, throw in your nickel's worth: you, too, can be marginalized by fat cats as fickle, unserious, or disloyal.
Experienced at business and ad copywriting, I'll try my hand at quality messaging that frames issues and conveys humanistic values. "Headlines R Us," or renewing my old motto, "Words that Work." Actually, we alienated left boast one advantage over this impoverished White House gang: we harbor no delusions about bipartisan traps by GOP muggers, rife with derision and bad faith.
Is politics not about morality and values, as George Lakoff argues? Moral high ground, such as it is today, comes from messaging that divides one group (say, progressives or Democrats) from rightwing thugs playing hard ball, like Sharron Angle or Rand Paul or Carl Paladino. What's to lose, with midterms falling off the cliff, like water(boarding) over the dam?
Missed Messaging, Right and Left
Certainly, the left blames Team Obama for colossal blunders in messaging and framing, allowing viral Tea Party wrath to explode, losing Democrats majority support, and failing to promote enacted legislation after the fact. "Death panels" had to be answered in kind and could have been, with variations on health as "life panels." Alas. Well before Obama dumped the public option, bad messaging never corralled public support, thus killing it. Likewise, abysmal messaging shot down potential environmental wins after the Gulf oil spill horror or real Wall Street reforms after Banksters broke their own bank.
In short, a smarter, more agile White House would have leveraged some "throw the bums out" Tea Party hysteria, not gotten run over by bromides from blockheads. Beyond botching that mock uproar, Obama, Biden, Emanuel and Gibbs committed a worse, still mystifying blunder -- they threw their own base under the bus. Not learning from whoppers, even adapting, but instead blaming victims are mortal blows to political endurance.
Wounded, Obama can't inspire well-served corporate allies to keep his party fundraising competitive. As Rachel Maddow demonstrated, wacky wingnut wins don't depend on sensible policies or good character, only enough millions to obscure your nonsense and smear your opponent. Just call the Karl Rove Bank of Boundless Corporate Cash (BBCC).
Curing the Health Debate
Health care rewrites first: instead of "corporate-health insurance reform," vulnerable to fringe "government takeover talk," why not a bold campaign for "American Total Health Care, Today's Human Right," or "Health: America's Real Crusade"? Why not headlines like "Restoring America's Failing Health" or, for the faithful, "The Gospel of Bodily and Spiritual Health"?
Not just wider coverage, bureaucratic advances, or squaring bank accounts, but compelling, uplifting, transcendent values. System-driven messages should have paralleled the blessings of Medicare, universal immunization and emergency room care, even dared evoke our national mandate "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." No chance for such dreams if you're in pain, sick, bed-ridden, or dying.
Argue that community, indeed civilization, depend on not letting sick people die alone and showing compassion to the weak (babies, kids, downtrodden and old). Instead, with miserable messaging, this WH got us compromised "insurance reform," not caretaking reform for the compromised. Why didn't Obama evoke the compassion informing the Christian gospel, a transcendent value and test for can-do Yankee exceptionalism? Clearly, private charities have failed to achieve wellbeing, so government must intervene.
Is this tricky or obscure? Why not especially use selfless Christian charity to assail uncaring, unfeeling Republicans? Would neglect of the sick and dying not qualify as sin? In these terms, universal health care becomes the ultimate, community "right to life." Can fundamentalists despise abortion as murder while neglecting dying neighbors crying out in the night?
Defend Birth Control, Not "Abortion"
Speaking of which, if compassion for the sick serves the common good (certainly tempering contagions), then the whole "abortion" debate needs revision, placing it beyond law and government. Where's the public good gained from forcing unmarried girls to produce unwanted children, thus "jeopardizing the health and future of both"? Scarce "tax dollars should address disease," not block "the right of family birth control." Pregnancy itself is no disease, nor its termination, and the bankruptcy of letting "careless children produce children" seems self-evident (unless good anti-abortionists pay costs, set up orphanages, school and care for unwanted kids).
Tellingly, neither the word "abortion," nor the concept has Biblical resonance; infanticide was not generally criminalized until modern times. Switch the frames: pregnancy does not answer to legal or political mandates, defining a mother's (and father's) "inalienable right to monitor their own bodies" (and subsequent responsibilities). New headlines: "Wanted: Only Wanted Children," or "Maternity: A Right, Not a Fabricated Divine Command" or "The State Doesn't Make Babies, Only Parents Do and Should."
Gay Rights in the Military