Monday, December 4, 2006

How to Talk to Fear Mongers

Authors Note: This is planned to be the first of a series of "How To Talk To" diaries.

A lot has been written lately about Newt Gingrich. He has been making a lot of news with his speech in New Hampshire where he suggested that in order to be free, we would have to give up some of our freedom. But KO raised an interesting question the other night. He was asking whether what Newt was really doing was getting ready to recycle the fear card. The fear card didn't really work for the Gopers this cycle. That's because it was overwhelmed by the fiasco that is Iraq and the corruption of Congressional Gopers.

That doesn't mean that the fear card is dead. It isn't. Whoever the Goper nominee is, he will attempt to play the fear card yet again. If we are going to get our guy or gal into the White House in 2008, we are going to have to learn how to trump the fear card.

Defining the Overarching Strategy

In talking to fear mongers, our goal is to show that our party and our nominees are better suited and have better ideas to deal with the challenges posed by the current state of affairs vis a vis terrorism. Our strategy will be shaped by this goal and the basic value of Community. It is incumbent upon us to provide security for our Community, to protect it from those who would do us harm, and thus harm our Community.

The perception on the part of Community members that this security is being provided enhances the well being of the community. Conversely, the perception that this security is deficient detracts from the well being of the community. To restate our goal, it is our goal is for the Community to perceive that the level of security that our party can provide is an acceptable level.

The ideas we will use to develop the message used to achieve our goal must be delivered in a way that the community can relate to. The community must receive our message in a way that resonates with them on a personal level. This can best by done by research and real world examples. First, some research.

Democracy Corps conducted a poll October 29 through November 1, 2006 that fairly predicted that the Democrats were going to win control of the House of Representatives in a big way. The poll was conducted in the 50 most competitive Republican held districts. This poll confirmed the work of DKos poll analyst supreme Steve Singiser in his diary HOUSE ANALYSIS--Why Red Districts May Matter More published on September 16, 2006. The most telling quote from this superb analysis is this:

In this case, I am starting to wonder if the numbers are trying to tell us something. The blue-purple districts matter, because they are on our natural terrain, and we have some awesome candidates there.

I think it would be prudent for the DCCC and the DNC, however, to give some serious love to the "flyover states."

Ironically, if an electoral tsunami develops in this election year, it might come from regions that are nowhere near an ocean

Who would have believed that the Democrats would pick up three seats in Indiana?

That's what first Steve Singiser and then Democracy Corps told us through research. Some key points relative to this discussion from the Democracy Corps poll:

• Terrorism and National Security was the third highest ranked issue, coming in behind only the War in Iraq and the Economy and Jobs . Defeating the fear card still matters.

Democrats trailed Republicans by 18 points on the question of who would do a better job on National Security.

This underscores the importance of being able to deal with the fear card. It is a very important issue, and the perception is that Republicans can do a better job at it then Democrats. The Iraq War was the number one issue this election cycle. I think we all hope and pray that it will not be the number one issue in the 2008 election cycle. However, with Iraq and Republican corruption out of the way, we must close the National Security gap on the Republicans. We must learn how to trump the fear card.

Define the Terminology

Defining the terminology in a war of wards is synonymous with choosing the battlefield. The first key tactic in trumping the fear card is refusing to play on the fear mongers’ battlefield. Their battlefield is littered with such discredited terms as “stay the course” and “cut and run”. Fear mongers are stubborn folks though, and they think the voters have short memories. Even if they abandon these terms temporarily, they will come back to them and their ideological cousins. Do not get trapped on the fear mongers’ battlefield. Our discussion on defeating the fear mongers’ is going to take place on the terms that we define.

The first term to define is the very conflict itself. We are always going to talk about the Conflict with Islamic Extremists. We should also refer to this as the Long Term Conflict with Islamic Extremists.

We are going to define the Main Battlefront in the Long Term Conflict with Islamic Extremists as the Battle of Ideas. Ultimately, this conflict will not be won on any physical battlefield, but on the metaphysical battlefield. This is going to be accomplished by working with the Moderate Elements in the Islamic World. In order to win the Conflict with Islamic Extremists, and the Battle of Ideas, our plans have to be Tough and Smart.

We have already seen the Bush Administrations’ ideas on how to fight this conflict. The voters have already, at least in their own minds, named this Tough and Stupid, and rejected that idea. The war in Iraq is a perfect example of this administrations’ pursuit of the Tough and Stupid battle plan. Cutting and Running in Afghanistan is another example of actually Not so Tough and Stupid.

The Bushies have also abandoned the Powell Doctrine. The Powell Doctrine speaks to the use of Overwhelming Force. What good is having the Finest Military in the World if we do not use our Conventional Superiority with Overwhelming Force? A perfect example of the Powell Doctrine is the 1991 Gulf War. There we took our time, built up our forces, engaged in a prolonged bombing campaign to debilitate the enemy, and proceeded to invade with Overwhelming Force and won the war in 96 hours. A perfect example of the abandonment of the Powell Doctrine in favor of the Tough and Stupid battle plan is the current Fiasco in Iraq.

In summary, the base of our terminology in describing the Long Term Conflict with Islamic Extremists is talking about the Conflict with Islamic Extremists as the Battle of Ideas. Our battle plan is to be Tough and Smart, and we will work with the Moderate Elements in the Islamic World. We are going to avoid the Failed Policy of Tough and Stupid that the Bushies have followed. We are not going to Cut and Run as the Bush Administration did in Afghanistan, leaving Osama bin Laden as Osama Been Forgotten.

Mangle the Memes

The final weapon in our inventory for Trumping the Fear Card is to Mangle the Memes. What this refers to is our Counter Attack Strategy. This Counter Attack Strategy is for us to reject every meme that the Bushies and their ideological successors lob at us.

We have already alluded to one such meme above, Cut and Run. Never let Cut and Run go unchallenged. Here are some counter attack lines to mangle this meme:

• The only cutting and running we have seen is this administrations cutting and running in Afghanistan.

• When the Bush Administration Cut and Ran in Afghanistan, they let Osama bin laden become Osama Been Forgotten.

• If the Bush Administration hadn’t Cut and Run in Afghanistan, they would not still be quoting Osama bin Laden. (This is actually a two-fer because it combines mangling Cut and Run with Bushies quoting Osama bin Laden.

Newt Gingrich was warming up the fear card with talk about Losing a City. Never let Losing a City go unchallenged. Here are some counter attack lines to mangle this meme:

• We have already lost a city under this Administration, its’ name is New Orleans.

• Condoleeza Rice talked about the Mushroom Cloud over a city to scare us into Iraq. I’m a lot more concerned about the Mushrooms they are eating.

• While the Bush administration had us Bogged Down in Iraq, the Real Mushroom Cloud Danger has been developing unhindered in Iran and North Korea.

The basic rule in mangling the meme is to never let a meme go unchallenged. The other side can only get away with this if you let them. So don’t let them.

In order to Trump the Fear Card, we determined which of our values applied to this problem. We defined our overarching strategy. We chose the battlefield by defining the terminology. And we counter attacked by mangling the memes.

Happy Hunting.


gatordem said...

Please let me know what you think of the effort. Any and all comments and suggestions greatfully accepted.

tally said...

I am posting this comment here since we are the only ones who seem to go here. My goal is certainly not to embarass you in any way. I would very much like to collaborate with you and others on creating effective diaries.

Your diary raises a lot of questions for me. Your title is “How to Talk to Fear Mongers”, but it seems to me that what you are really discussing is how to reframe public dialog through the interjection of key phrases.

You seem to be saying (especially in your introductory diary) that this process is somehow guided by certain principles. But it is not clear to me how you show that.

Rather than a principled rejection of all fear mongering as demagoguery you suggest simply being more effective at using it. I don’t necessarily disagree with that. Like you I understand that “You can’t govern if you can’t win.”

Your main point seems to be that “It is important to respond to attacks”. This is a rather well established campaign truism which I doubt anyone would object to.

You state your goal “is to show that our party and our nominees are better suited and have better ideas to deal with the challenges posed by the current state of affairs vis-a-vis terrorism.” That can only be done by stating what the better ideas are. That’s not something you address.

The heart of your diary is a handy catalog of key phrases to use in campaign speeches, political blogs, or other forms of public relations propaganda. I think it would be better to simply present them in that straightforward fashion rather than attempting to give your effort a philosophical or academic veneer.

Most of the reframing that you do is showing the incompetence of the present administration. But it was Newt Gingrich himself who said something to the effect “All the Democrats have to do to win this election is say, ‘Had Enough?’” Most of your phrases are just specific examples of this admittedly astute summation.

Bush and company have pretty thoroughly discredited the neocon philosophy and talking points by creating the debacle in Iraq. It is time to move on in regards to campaign speech and ideas. We don’t want to be the generals fighting the last war instead of the present one.

gatordem said...

Actually, the whole point of the diary is to teach campaigners how to persuade people who should be voting for us to vote for us. Another important point to get across to this community is that you can be pragmatic and uncompomising at the same time. we don't have to give up our freedom to save it. And who are these campaigners? Every single one of us, on a one on one basis, everyday, with people we come across. One voter at a time. Now that's grassroots. Unfortunately, most of us don't know how to couch our arguments in a way that will resonate with the folks we are trying to reach. That includes a lot of our candidates.

So, yes, when we talk about "smart and tough" versus "tough and stupid", we are trying to show in a word picture that we've got the better idea. Research is important in this effort. I didn't quote it in the diary, but I have polling information that a big majority of voters now believe that we are better serverd by a collaborative foreign policy. It also happens to be true that we are going to have to work with the moderate elements in the Muslim world to figure out the best way to convince these kids to quit blowing themselves up. That's where "working wih the moderate elements in the Islamic World" comes from. Because it is research based, it will resonate with the voters.

And unfortunately, we are going to have to deal with and defuse the words of our opponents. That is what the "Mangling the Memes" is all about. The person you are trying to persuade is going to regurgitate the BS they have been getting fed from the other side. We have to turn that back on them and show them that those are wrong ideas, and that ours are better. The Repugs get away with this crap because nobody challenges them. We have to challenge them.

So, even if we don't come at them with the arguments that we would use on ourselves, we don't have to compromise our values while we are doing it. Some people see the word pragmatic and read compromise. Never compromise your values, you won't get a good result.

Nance Confer said...

I think I understand what you are saying, Gatordem. But I have to admit, I had the same reaction Tally had when I read this post.

"Ack, not more political spin!"

Yes, there is a value in being able to go toe to toe in this sort of contest.

But I think this is a time when parties or politicians in general better sound authentic. Real. Reality-based. Fact-based. At least that's what I want to hear.

We really, really do get it when we are being manipulated-- no matter who is doing it -- and we have now reached the point where we resent the hell out of it.

And I don't think that applies any less to Rs who should be voting D. They've already been fooled once. . .


gatordem said...


Thanks for the input. I'm really not trying to spin people. In fact, I'm really trying to get them unspun.

I'll try to be more careful in how I portray that in the rest of this series.

Sunny said...

Regarding the use of fear-based tactics...

I just posted "No Macaca for Me!" to the Kos...I included the Florida Kossacks tag.