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I've been following some of the discussions about "framing" lately. On the one hand, many Democrats  are convinced that better framing is just what we need in order to start winning elections again. But there others feel like it's just the latest fad and will only serve to distract us. Earlier today, on Blog for America, someone commented that  Bush did not have to rely on framing to win the 2004 election, because he could run on his performance in his four years in office.

The way I see it, framing is exactly what made people think Bush's first term was anything other than a complete disaster - not his actual accomplishments. They didn't call it the "Extended Access for Logging Companies Act". They called it the "Healthy Forests Initiative". They don't call it Empire Building. They call it "Spreading Democracy". They call everything they do exactly the opposite of what it actually is. This is how they use framing. And, they have used it very effectively.

Democratic values include equal rights. Democratic Values include respect for the potential of every person.  Democratic Values recognize the responsibility of the government to serve all the people. They have framed "Democratic Values" as meaning abortions and gay marriage. Democrats need to frame the issues in a way that our policies are seen by the American people as best for them - because they are. If we continue to allow the Republicans to define the terms and the issues then we will be by definition on the wrong side of every issue.

One concern expressed on the blog was that any value we profess as Democrats could be reframed or redefined by the Republicans to their advantage. I think their effectiveness framing Democratic values has been because Democrats have been afraid to define themselves.  We have been afraid to put ourselves in a "box" where we could be targets of political attack.  So, we have only been reactionary to their frames of us.  They put us in boxes anyway!  So, at least we should make ourselves a box that we can defend.  The record of Democratic achievements is at least a match for what Republicans have accomplished while in office. And, invariably, these accomplishments have had real, positive effects on people's lives. We have failed, however, to connect these accomplishments with our values in the minds of voters.

In response to the question of how we could unambiguously differentiate "us" versus them...
Are there any Babylon 5 fans here? (To reference some premium sci-fi...)  The difference between Democrats and Republicans can be compared to the Shadows vs the Vorlons. The Vorlons believe, and foster a belief in the Younger Races, that a race benefits most greatly when it is improved in it's entirety. The Shadows believe, and foster a belief in the Younger Races that races advance the most when a few among them (and some of the races instead of others) are able to achieve dominance and do Great Things. Existence in Harmony vs Evolution in Conflict. We are each defined by what we contribute to those goals: "Who are you." vs "What do you want."  These are 2 honestly different philosophies.

Another analogy: Imagine a train race. Which train wins? - the one that gets it's engine across the finish line first? Or, the one that gets all it's cars across the finish line safely? I guess your answer depends on where on the train you are sitting, what happens to the cars that don't make it across and how much you really care anyway.  Republicans want the fastest train.  They try to accomplish this by reducing the load on the engine by building the passenger cars out of flimsy, lightweight materials - sacrificing passenger safety.  Democrats want the most secure cars.  They are willing to accomplish this at the expense of speed.

The policies that flow from Democratic Values mean that people have legal recourse against harm done to them and have protections from corporate malfeasance.  We believe in fairness.  We think everyone should get a fair wage for their hard work. So, we support a fair minimun wage and increases when warranted. We value the contribution every child can make to our future society.  So, we support access to a quality public education for all children. This list goes on and on. But, the American people don't see these things as being related to core Democratic values - because our politicians are, generally, too busy pandering to different groups on local/pet issues to build a coherent political philosophy.

No... Don't confuse "positions on issues" with "values". Values speaks to a broader system of belief that positions on issues can be based on. But, they are not the same. Democrats have always focused on issues.  We have acted less like a political party and more like a loose association of special interest / issue advocacy groups. We have tried to cobble together a party platform out of a myriad of positions on specific issues.  Republicans speak of "values" and define us on the issues as being without values.  They say "abortion" and "gay marriage".  We need to speak to a broader "quality healthcare" and "equal legal rights for all citizens".  Republicans can tout "smaller government" and "lower taxes" and appeal to people on a pocketbook level - eventhough what they really plan to do does not benefit the average American's pocketbook. We should be able to say "better services" and "everyone pays their fair share" and appeal to average Americans.  

I have proposed that we stop calling them "taxes" and start calling them "service fees". ( I don't really expect this to catch on...)  No one likes service fees, either.  But, you expect that if service fees are not paid that certain services will not be provided.  Republicans have framed the tax debate so as to completely divorce taxes from the services they buy.  They say "tax relief" and we jump on board.  (Only a jerk doesn't want to provide "relief".  We don't want people to think we're jerks! )

We should reframe the discussion and challenge the very essense of their proposals.  But, we insist on using their language and talking about the things they have decided the debate will be about. When we do this we are playing by their rules, with their ball, on their field. That's setting ourselves up for a loss every time.  What we need to do is clearly define what the Party stands for and base positions on issues on that philosophy.  Where Democrats don't agree on issues - we need to step back and look at the values our different positions on those issues are based on.  

Republican politicians serve a very select few in our society.  We need to re-frame the discussion to cast light on this fact. If you are one of that select few... or aspire to be (That's very Ferenghi of you - to reference Star Trek.) then be honest about your intentions and motivations.  

Let's say a Democrat and a Republican both profess to value equal rights.  We can look to the record to see where they have supported equal rights. Equal opportunity? Let's see where each has worked to build a level playing field. Equal access? Let's see who has their respective ears. They can claim what they want. We beat them every time. Check the record and see what the results of their actions have been.

The Republicans' retort?  "Oh... Democrats think that Big Gov'ment can do a better job than you can with your money."  Hmm.  OK... If you think you can do a better job then do it.  Build your own roads.  Put out your own fires.  Police your own streets.  Build your own schools.  Sure...  Some people will do just fine.  If you're not one those people why on Earth would you consider voting Republican?  Why? ...Because they have framed the debate so you think they are something they are not.  You think the situstion is not as it is.  You may even mistake your own stake in the "game".  The way they use framing often makes people vote against their own best interests.  We have a strong record of protecting individual rights and ensuring equal access to the various systems that serve the public - as well as equal access to the political system. They have been more convincing because people can be too easily fooled.  ...especially when they can be made to feel afraid and vulnerable.

Are Republicans going to be brave and honest enough to actually say that they value the acquisition and concentration of wealth and power, cheap labor (related to the first point), destroying the Middle Class (related to cheap labor) and dismantling social programs and government protections (also related to cheap labor)...? I doubt it. So... their stated values will never jive with their political actions. If we can expose this - we win. We expose it by refusing to play by their rules. We consistently call them on their bu--sh-- and really stand up for our values.  I'll end with a plug... Howard Dean is the only one I've seen that has come close to doing this. That's why I think he would be a GREAT choice to lead the Democratic party.

Originally posted to Demetrius on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 09:30 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I'm the conssumate nerd (none)
    A fan of Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Star Wars.

    But not an obsessed fan by any stretch of the imagination.

    I discussed these very topics on my blog some weeks back.

    Allow me to quote:

    "We should not condescend or preach at conservatives. We have to stay positive in our outreach to "Reagan Democrats."

    We have 4 options, really: We pretend to be Republicans and the GOP destroys us.

    We position ourselves as hard-core liberals, and the GOP destroys us.

    We run another wishy-washy candidate like Kerry, and the GOP destroys us.

    Or, option 4: We package our ideas in a simple, thematic way. We emphasize how we are LIKE "redstaters", not how their values are foreign to us.

    We run a candidate that is likable, truthful, and folksy. We embrace a moderate-liberal platform---and we make it seem dynamic and innovative. We embrace new ideas and sell old ideas in optimistic, exciting ways.

    We latch on to Republican weaknesses like a rabid hound: their love of big business, their love of the wealthy, their fiscal irresponsibility, and we blame THEM for being soft and allowing moral decay."

    Outside the box solutions at low, low prices! http://jayshark.blogspot.com

    by Jonathan4Dean on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 10:16:49 PM PST

  •  Another quote from my blog: (none)
    So you don't have to go digging for the right info:

    "The soul searching in the Democratic Party continues. Where do we go from here?

    I'll tell you where we need to go, ideologically.

    Democrats have to get tough on defense and security issues. As I've said often, Democrats HAVE to position themselves to the right on national security and paint Republicans as unbalanced.

    On certain social issues, like abortion, Democrats have to emphasize where they are like "red-staters", not how they are alien from them. Accentuate the positive.

    Democrats have to clarify their position on bread-and-butter issues (like health care), essentially a move to the left. Most voters are, by nature, more liberal than your average Republican----they just need to realize that Democrats, not Republicans, are right on the issues.

    Also, Dems have to be open to new ideas from alternative sources (Libertarian ideas, outside-the-box suggestions). Voters flock to new, innovative ideas----they will never dig the same old policy ideas.

    And lastly, Dems have to champion local issues that people care about. In Nevada for example, we need to be on the right side of the Yucca Mountain issue. While you're in Ohio, talk about the issues that most effect Ohio."

    Outside the box solutions at low, low prices! http://jayshark.blogspot.com

    by Jonathan4Dean on Wed Jan 19, 2005 at 10:18:24 PM PST

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