Friday, July 04, 2008

Hey progressive bloggers -- Stop carrying the Republican's pollen

I had an interesting experience recently. I was advising a non-profit in the midst of a fierce battle against a well-funded industry opponent. We knew that approaching a crucial vote, the other side was going to launch all sorts of scurrilous attacks against our policy positions. We knew all of their arguments and had a counter argument for each one.

But I proposed a different strategy. I said, 'let's not wait for them to go first and then reply. Let's go on offense now. Let's clearly state what we believe and just put it out there and let the chips fall where they may.'

The argument against this approach was that it would give the other side the opportunity to try to rebut our best ideas. But given the opportunity to frame the debate from the start, the client decided to go for it.

And an interesting thing happened. Sure enough, the other side jumped all over our arguments. But in the process, they were repeating our sound bites and spreading our message. In explaining our position first (before attacking it) they were spreading our message for us. For free!

It was the most incredible thing -- and I developed a name for it -- they were carrying our pollen. Plants don't care about the bee's stinger. All the plant cares about is that the big ol' mean bee rubs up against their flower (message) and carries it to the next flower.

I realized that Republicans have known this and used this to their advantage for years. They say one scandalous, ridiculous thing after another -- BECAUSE THEY KNOW THAT PROGRESSIVES WILL REPEAT IT AND CARRY THEIR POLLEN FOR THEM.

Yeah, the Republican message machine is huge. But honestly, I think in many cases, it's the progressive media (including progressive blogs) who do the most damage by carrying the Republican message on the wings of their own (progressive) outrage.

The standard progressive blog post after the latest Republican outrageous statement is to:

1. Repeat the sound bite.
2. Say, 'oh my gosh can you believe that they said that!'
3. Make a joke by repeating the sound bite again but applying it to a different (probably Republican) example.

George Lakoff must be tearing his hair out by now. He has written like 100 books on framing and PROGRESSIVES STILL DON'T FUCKING GET IT.

The number one rule of framing is: YOU NEVER REPEAT YOUR OPPONENT'S FRAME. I know it's difficult-- Republicans say shit that makes us insane in the head. But anytime you feel like repeating a Republican sound bite, don't. Instead, try writing a piece on one of these topics:

  • John McCain twice tried to commit suicide when he was a POW. What do we actually know about his mental health in tough situations? Does he have PTSD? Which psychiatrists have treated him over the years, what treatments have they used, and is he still on meds? Why hasn't he released his mental health (psychiatric) records to the public?

  • What exactly did John McCain say when he confessed to war crimes as a POW? Does the fact that he presumably made a false confession under duress make his current support for torture all the more inhumane? What kind of blind ambition drives a man who has actually suffered torture to support torture against others?

  • How does Mother's Against Drunk Driving feel about the potential for a beer magnate to live in the White House? What percent of traffic fatalities in Arizona are directly attributable to drivers using products distributed by Cindy McCain's company? What percentage of the beer industry's profit margin comes from underage drinking? What percentage of the beer industry's profit margin comes from alcohol abuse? How many of McCain's houses are funded by these illicit gains from underage drinking and alcohol abuse?

Passing up their frame to reframe is a complicated art form. To be clear, I am not saying just allow attacks to go unanswered and only focus on the positive -- as Gore/Lieberman and Kerry/Edwards both did to disastrous results (fucking Bob Shrum has never read a book on framing).

In fact, perhaps the best reply to attacks is the one shown by the McCain campaign this week. Immediately gather a huge team of surrogates to shout down your opponent with "how dare you" as soon as a new meme is announced. It's a gamble but if you can snuff out a new meme and scare people into not repeating it, you've won. Karl Rove has turned this into an art form and now that his team is running the McCain campaign, you can expect to see it every week.

Anyway, sorry for the rant. But let's all quit carrying the other side's pollen for them no matter how clever we think we are or how outraged we are at the latest monstrosity from the Republican noise machine. And the easiest way to avoid carrying their pollen for them is to go on offense yourself.

For additional thoughts on framing see "Politics is like a hippie drum circle" and "A Progressive Guide to Framing."

Happy 4th ya'll.

Update #1. I believe all framing comes down to a simple question -- are you leading or are you following?

If you are leading your frame will consist of saying 'here's what I believe, here's why, here's how we're gonna solve the problem, follow me.'

If you are following you are responding to the other side, complaining, and asking someone else to solve the problem. Repeating your opponent's frame is -- by definition -- following rather than leading -- it's a tacit acknowledgment that your opponent is the one in the position of authority to solve the problem.

In elections (and really in most areas of life) people will side with a leader (even if he or she is wrong on the particulars of an issue) over a follower (even if that person has a better formed argument.)

Update #2. There is enough material in this one NY Times article alone for progressives to go on offense (and never have to repeat McCain's framing) from now until election day.


Anonymous said...

From the earlier post on framing you cited:

3. There is nothing "conservative" about modern day Republicans. They don't conserve the environment, they don't conserve energy, they don't even conserve international law or the Geneva Conventions. Contemporary Republicans are thus not properly referred to as "conservative." Proper adjectives to describe Republican policies include regressive, destructive, extremist, fringe, fundamentalist, violent, hateful, and anti-family.

God, this is so true. I despair for the Republican Party today. Quick, what do we stand for, besides the usual low taxes and anti-abortion stances?

This idiotic war, Guantanamo, torture, the suspension of habeas corpus, secret wiretapping. Why am I not surprised that many Republicans I know are voting for Obama this year? What the hell does a secret black hole prison in Syria or Eastern Europe have to do with being conservative? Is conservatism suddenly about radically changing laws to suit the fear-driven agendas of a small, neoconservative elite?


Love the consistent use of progressive throughout the blog. The time is coming, if not already here, when the Dems will shed not only their Loser status, but their Loser mentality. (There are drawbacks to this, too, but only after y'all have been in power a few years.) I should feel worse about this than I do, but unless the Republican Party begins to reflect my views, or something that resembles conservatism, it won't have my vote.

Shimmy said...

Why does Cindy McCain hate motherhood so much?

Mason Bryant said...

whats up with that usvetdsp link on the McCain suicide argument? That site also has a very long description on why Obama is a muslim. That site looks like a bunch of nutballs to me.

RFK Action Front said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shimmy said...

Thanks for stopping by the blog, Toby!

Anonymous said...

hi! Thanks for the blog link. I'm happy to have discovered your blog, too.

Hope everyone had a great 4th of July weekend. Our long national nightmare will soon be over.

RFK Action Front said...

Thanks for the comments!

Mason you are correct -- that was not the proper link to put up -- I've now linked to a NY Times article that has the same info. Thanks for the heads up!

Melancholy Korean, thanks for the comment, I'm delighted to discover your blog.

And Shimmy has a great post up on Cindy McCain that's worth a look.