Democrats have usually won the war of ideas but not always the war of words with our opponents, the Republican Spin Machine. Our opposition has far too often been successful in spinning us into some kind of parody of who were really are in the eyes of far too many voters. We have been less than effective in connecting emotionally with the language in which we present our ideas, programs and candidates. We have not built the kind of organized Spin Machine found on the Corporate Republican Right. Politically, we have failed to block the media concentration fostered by the largest corporations with active assistance of the Republican Right that makes it difficult for Democrats to reach the public with our message.
There are solutions. We can define both ourselves and the Republican opposition using many of the same tactics as our opposition. We can reframe our ideas, programs and public images of our candidates in more effective emotive terms. We can build more effective mechanisms of reaching the public that bypass the Corporate Republican bias of the broadcast media and many newspaper chains. The Internet can be a great tool for presenting the Democratic message. We can build a national network of local, regional and national talk radio programs. We can pass legislation that will restore local media ownership, the Fairness Doctrine and Equal Time Protection in broadcasting and demand the return of anti-monopoly regulations for all media outlets.
Democrats can start publishing local community newsletters. We can organize Letter to the Editor campaigns and talk radio call-in campaigns in every community. Democrats should complain to radio stations, TV stations and newspapers about unfair articles, stories and editorials. Demand balance. If you have to petition or picket a media outlet, do it and contact competitors to publicize your efforts. Seek allies from the union movement and reform organizations.
Our most important way of restoring balance in the battle for public opinion is outside media issues. We can breathe new life into grassroots organizing. The most effective way of reaching voters is one to one organizing. Talk politics everywhere you go regardless of the initial reaction you receive. You will here over and over again Republican talking points, Republican slogans and spin. Respond each and every time with facts and ideas. Do not be afraid to counter-attack. In fact, I encourage it.
Frequently, I start off with a little humor by saying something like "you have been listening to Rush Limbaugh too much" or "you really need to turn off Fox News." I follow that up by saying something like "you are repeating Republican propaganda (nonsense, BS)." Then I present our position and make a point or two on another issue highly critical of the opposition. I almost always close with a comment like "I have a lot of respect for the average Republican voter but the top national leaders are doing a real disservice to the nation."
If I am talking to a self-identified conservative, I point out that the Republican leadership is not really presenting a real conservative agenda. Real conservatives want balanced budgets. Real conservatives want to protect the rule of law. Real Conservatives want to preserve all the freedoms in the Bill of Rights and the American Constitution. Real conservatives want fair taxations shared by all elements of the American citizenry. Real conservatives do not want government interfering with individual, personal freedom. Real conservatives want competent government.
You do not have to be a Corporate Clown to be a Conservative. You do not have to be tolerant of political corruption to be a conservative. The national Republican leadership and their echo chambers like Right Wing talk radio and Fox News are not really conservative. They are Right Wing Corporatists really representing only the wealthiest of the wealthy and international corporation. I close by stating that "the Republican Party does not really represent conservative voters like you. They are using and deceiving good conservatives like you to seize power.
I often point out that real conservatives are more at home in the modern Democratic Party than in what the Republican Party has become in the era of George W. Bush. Democrats are now the Party of Liberals, Moderates and Conservatives. All three groups have more in common with each other realistically than they do with the Republican Corporatist Right.
Democrats should not surrender the term conservative or self-identified conservative voters to Republicans. We should not corrupt our basic values or abandon our basic ideas to become "Republican-lite" but instead redefine what "conservative" really means. We have a good argument to make.
Essentially, we have a similar job to do in reclaiming the term "Christian." Democrats pursue an agenda more in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ than do the Republicans. We care more about the poor. We have much more compassion. We show more love for our fellow man than do Republicans if you look at the impact of the policies we support.
The "so-called Christian Right" does not represent the values of most Christians. They seem to think that politics can play a role in personal salvation. Christ taught that salvation is internal and personal and cannot be found by following a set of external moral laws. Christianity teaches that salvation comes only thru the direct intervention of Jesus Christ with his Father, God. This is the essence of the Jesus revolution that broke with the ancient Jewish religious code in force before this revelation. The "so-called Christian Right" seems to ignore this basic fact of Christian theology.
Politics has nothing to do with Christian salvation in religious terms. No political Party owns Christianity. The support of policies favoring the wealthiest of the wealthy by the Republicans is certainly not Christian. The focus on government moral compulsion is not Christian and may actually interfere with the Christian doctrine of Free Will where God gave individuals the right to choose to sin or not.
The "so-called Christian Right" attack on the Constitutional separation of Church and State is a serious threat to both. Politics, like money, can and often does corrupt the Christian Church. Pursuit of political power diverts the Church from the primary mission of saving soles. Democrats should not let Republicans claim the term Christian for a political agenda that is not really Christian. Respond to the claims with the facts I mentioned and any others you might know.
Democrats have an excellent claim to the loyalties of Christian voters. We should reach out to the Christian community with our real agenda and values instead of letting Republicans falsely define us.
You will usually not win political converts in a single conversation. The message must be repeated over and over again. My good friend, folksinger and songwriter Yikes McGee has a song that addresses Republican propaganda in which he sums up their tactic as "simply, repeat, repeat, repeat." The opposition will often use outright lies to smear or demonize things Democratic. We should not follow that path. We do not want to become them to defeat them. At times, we will need to simply the complex to present our message to a largely uninformed public but our commitment must always be to honesty and truth. We are Democrats.
It is extremely important to control as much as possible the language of political debate as well as the content of political issues. The emotional content of language is as important logic of the policy content in developing public support on the issues. Examples can easily be found in the various policy debates of the past two Presidential Administrations.
For example, the Republicans have been pursuing tax policies that concentrate an ever growing percentage of the national wealth into the hands of the very small economic elite. The income tax cuts enacted into law by the Bush Republicans benefited primarily the wealthiest of wealthy Americans. Many Americans pay more in payroll taxes than they do in income taxes. Payroll taxes fund the Social Security and Medicare programs of the federal government.
Income taxes are progressive meaning that those with the ability to pay more because of higher incomes do so. Payroll taxes are a fixed percentage of income up to a certain level of income. All income over this level is taxed for payroll taxes at zero percent. Combined income and payroll taxes as a percentage of income are higher for incomes of 50, 000 dollars or 80,000 dollars a year than they are for a million dollars a year. The higher the income level the lower the percentage of combined payroll and income taxes paid to the federal government.
The Bush Republicans did nothing to cut payroll taxes which are running a surplus. They instead cut income taxes for the wealthy so much that the government budget deficit exploded. Under Clinton, the annual government budget was in surplus and the national debt was on schedule to be paid off. Under Bush, because of his tax cuts for the wealthy, the national debt has more than doubled. The annual deficits are being funded by stealing the Social Security surpluses and borrowing from foreign governments like Japan and Communist China.
Republicans sold the plan as "cutting taxes for those that actually pay them." This has emotional appeal to the public but is intellectually dishonest. The Corporate Media which is owned and controlled by the wealthiest of the wealthy concealed the real facts from an uninformed public.
Another tax example is the Republican effort to repeal the estate tax. In a brilliant and dishonest public relations move, Republicans labeled the estate tax as the "death tax." Actually, this tax is a tax on very large inheritances only. Republicans claimed family farmers were losing their farms because of this tax but farmer associations failed to find even a handful of examples of this apparently false claim. The tax impacted only a few tens of thousands of all estates each year. The bulk of the taxes collected were from a very small percentage of those estates.
The Republican "death tax" label is designed to make the uniformed think the federal government were taxing death instead of huge estates. The public overwhelmingly support taxing huge estates.
The Republicans claimed that taxing huge estates is an unfair double taxation of income. This sounds unfair on the surface. However, almost all income is taxed more than once. Wages are taxed when earned as income and payroll taxes and again when spent as sales tax. Income spent on homes is taxed again as property taxes. Taxing huge estates is no different except that only the wealthiest pay federal estate taxes. The wealthiest have the ability to pay higher taxes since they pay lower combined payroll and income taxes.
For the Republicans, tax policy languages helps sell unfair tax policies that benefit wealthy Republican donors to a uniformed public. Democrats must strive to challenge the Republican corruption of political language by telling the truth. In the long term, I believe truth will triumph over Republican Spin. Propaganda will not conceal reality in the long term.
As Democrats, we cannot use evil Republican tactics. Voter suppression and vote fraud can never be tolerated in the Democratic Party. We need to constantly attack the tolerance of these tactics and other dirty tricks by Republican politicians and Republican Party leaders. These tactics should be condemned by all Democrats vocally and often. They are part of the Republican culture of corruption. The stench of corruption has become so strong that it is already changing voting behavior. We won control of Congress in large part because of the Republican corruption issue. Democrats need to crusade against corruption publicly in every way possible. Opposition to vote fraud, corruption in government spending, corruption in campaign finances, legislation favoring large Republican donors and similar issues should be staples of Democratic dialogue.
Competency and reality-based policy are certainly weak points of Republican politicians once they have obtained office. Republicans waste tax dollars to reward their supporters in massive amounts. We need to aggressively criticize this tendency and publicize examples. Right Wing ideology should trump reality in designing government programs or determining public policy. This fact seems self-evident but Democrats need to drive home the point over and over again. We need to make it a central point of political thinking for all voters. Examples are everywhere. Iraq, the response to hurricane Katrina, tax cuts for the Super Wealthy, the government budget deficit and the explosion of unfair trade agreements are just a few examples of Republican Rightist Corporatist ideology trumping reality and simple common sense. Democrats need to cite them and add others to support our arguments.
Winning elections are important. We need to educate voters so they understand that politics will impact their lives. Politics determines wages paid, working conditions, food costs and safety, education opportunities, police protection, privacy, housing, freedom of expression and almost everything else in life. Democrats need to reach out aggressively to recruit non-voters into the election process. Non-voters on issues lean heavily Democratic. Reaching and recruiting them are sure paths to election victories everywhere.
Democrats must find ways to connect with these citizens. Involving them is not only good for the Democratic Party but is even better for American Democracy. These non-voters need to be given hope. The nastiness of the Republican Right in political terms is no accident. They want fewer voters. The negativity of political campaigns turns off many citizens to politics and helps the Corporate Republican Right obtain and retain power. The Republican biased Corporate media promotes to these citizens the myth that there is no difference between the two major political parties.
As Democrats, we must combat these tactics to keep potential Democratic voters from the polls. We must show that we are not the same as our Republican opponents. We wear the white hats and should show that in all our statements and actions. We need to show in action and words that we have a different, better vision for America's future than the opposition.
Our Party is not monolithic. We are diverse. This is both our strength and weakness. In some ways, we are more of a movement that an organized political Party. We can get better organized without completely abandoning our traditional diversity. We can still speak with many, many voices and still offer a much different and better vision for the future of our nation.
Our challenge is to speak up more often for our core values. We need to define ourselves instead of letting Republicans falsely define us. We need to point out examples of when we are falsely defined and when the Republicans are falsely defining themselves.
The Democratic Party can help American politics and government become more reality based, effective and just in the process.
Written by Stephen Crockett (co-host of Democratic Talk Radio http://www.DemocraticTalkRadio.com.) Mail: P.O. Box 283, Earleville, Maryland 21919. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org . Phone: 443-907-2367.