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Please begin with an informative title:

I understand that many progressive activists are "Enlightenment people" - they believe that all you need is a rational argument to win others to your point of view.  I'd even be willing to grant you for the sake of argument that Democratic politicians lean that way.  But I can't accept that is why the Democratic Party and/or its candidates/elected officials have not widely used political framing or otherwise taken on the war of political wording.

The people who craft the campaign ads, speeches and public relations statements for Democratic politicians simply aren't people who only use intellectual discussions of facts.  And politicians know to go beyond Enlightenment logic.  They go out and (figuratively or literally) kiss babies.  They know there's no cold, rational reason why emergency relief for natural disasters requires an elected official to personally visit the disaster area.  It's standard operating procedure for Democratic politicians to carry out these activities to appeal to the emotional side of the electorate.  If nothing else, when conservatives have stigmatized a word such as "liberal," they know to choose their words to avoid it.

Suppose for the moment, much of the concept of political framing is invalid - and that is the reason Democrats don't use that particular form of messaging.  There are still clear cases where conservatives have coined phrases specifically designed to present implicit assumptions that bias the discussion in their favor.  Even if not one single Democratic elected official could perceive this, and even if only 10% of all the elected officials' staff writers / political analysts noted it on their own - those few should have been able to bring it to the attention of a substantial part of the Democratic Party.  Yet, we still hear most Democrats saying "fiscal cliff", "right to work laws", "job creators" and the like.

Can this really be an accident?  Or is it that the politicians and/or their writers just don't have a real problem with the implicit assumptions of those phrases?

  *   *   *   *  

George Lakoff said a few years ago, "Barack Obama ran the best-organized and best-framed presidential campaign in history. How is it possible that the same people who did so well in the campaign have done so badly on health care?" From:

Lakoff suggests it was because health care reform was assigned to "policy wonks".  That doesn't seem like much of an answer to me.  On any major project, you need experts on what needs to be implemented, experts on putting that into effective legal text and experts on promoting it in plain English.  That's not some brilliant discover I just made this morning.  It would be excusable if some of the messaging was briefly lost in the shuffle - but not forgotten by everyone in Washington for an extended period of time.

The application of the idea of health care reform should have been very clear when one considers the enormous propaganda campaign launched by big business when Pres. Clinton raised the idea at the beginning of his first term.  How could the entire Democratic Party and its advisers have not anticipated a need to effectively offer the case for health care reform in response to the inevitable corporate offensive in 2009?

Finally, we have to ask, "Was the poor messaging on health care reform an exception to the norm or closer to common practice?"

  *   *   *   *   *   *

As Lakoff's statement suggests, Democrats can do messaging when trying to get elected.  So why don't they do more when trying to legislate?

      *   *   *  

In the 2012 elections, the total vote count for Democratic candidates in all the Congressional districts around the country was more than the total for all the Republican candidates.  Yet, because of gerrymandering making larger differences in Republican-run states, Republicans today have a significant majority in the House of Representatives.  This should be REALLY easy messaging to the American people.  The party that gets more votes should have more seats in Congress.  Regardless of whether the Democrats made an issue of this for cynical, partisan reasons or because of democratic idealism, it's an issue from which they could personally benefit and which offers amazing messaging potential.  So, why aren't we hearing more?

      *   *   *   *

It's not only wording, but behavior, that will have associations in the minds of Americans.  If Democrats behave as ineffective politicians, it will trigger associations in people's minds - associations that tell them that political leaders need the capability to get things done, which means ineffective politicians are poor choices for leaders.  It can trigger associations that people who claim to believe in one thing but do something different should not be trusted.  Associations that say people who are supposed to be your allies, but allow harm to come to your group no longer deserve your loyalty.  And so on.  Acting like effective leaders can convey a message which benefits a politician or party.

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Originally posted to workingwords on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 09:35 AM PST.

Also republished by Political Language and Messaging.

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