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Crushed for years in the framing/messaging wars, Democrats are finally joining the fray with populist, though cautious election-year banners. Right, let's defeat the take-no-prisoners, rightwing war cries -- dripping with life and death dramas -- with safe, feel-good, happy faces. Appealingly, this modest strategy doesn't depend on the besieged Obama, slow-footed on gay marriage, legal marijuana, upping the minimum wage, or reversing income inequality via serious tax reform.
Excluding a few soaring campaign slogans, this chief executive is a monumental sound-bite flop. What, besides those early come-ons, will go down in history -- other than perhaps Obama's grand gaffe this year about keeping the health insurance policy you like? And that deception landed him alongside infamous Palin "death panels" in the whopper face-off.
Nevertheless, Democrats will certainly ramp up facile headlines and well-trod placards, taking a page (though without the killer instinct) from Karl Rove's "political junk food" (per clever Matt Taibbi). Certainly the vast rightwing propaganda machine won't abandon its demagoguery, nor caustic intellectual fascism. What else remains for demographically-challenged extremists with only coal to sell to the middle class? What else but cling to debased Rovisms no longer even working for Rove: taxes are theft, government hates freedom, trickle-down economics creates jobs, Obama the illegitimate is beyond inept -- plus the concoction of drugs/abortion/early sex/birth control/gay rights/science/pop culture and church-aversion that poisons America's purity of essence?
Whether as leverage against thuggery, or chance humanitarian spirit, Democrats will bang the headline drum this year: 1) to keep government open, 2) raise the minimum wage (with midterm ballot propositions), 3) keep unemployment insurance going, however marginal, 4) defend to the death the sanctity of Medicare and Social Security, 5) urge drastically overdue immigration reform, and 6) take pot shots at the open Citizens United spigot. Most will more gingerly endorse climate change and gay rights. This campaign only has to be bold enough to dramatize the rightwing contradiction of spending billions to get elected, then methodically gumming up the works to prove that government the enemy doesn't work.
Sound Bites Are Easy
And yet, where are today's label-grabbing Democratic catchphrases, the kind that rally the troops? Riveting phrases like "barrel-scraping wages guarantee the poor stay poor," or "unemployment due to idiotic austerity is the disease, not the symptom," or "taxing predatory thieves is not "theft.'" Likewise, where are lines destined for election sky-writing, like "gay marriage is about freedom, too, not a gift from straights," or "who but deluded dopes criminalize dope," even "legalizing marijuana is about freedom, too." You get the drift.
Equally revealing will be trickier topics given short shrift. What about union busting and the attack on public workers, in pay and pensions? Or minority voting rights, comprehensive women's rights, in procreation, family planning and employment? What about privacy abuse from the octopus NSA? Whither basic government research in science and technology and medicine, the default for progress in a profit-addicted business culture, or sagging infrastructure crying out for maintenance? So many problems, so few incentives to embrace controversy.