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Victory?  Victory you say?  Not victory.  The shroud of the radical right has fallen. Begun, this Frame War has!

Meditate on this, we must.

"Up or Down Vote" vs. "Abuse of Power"
The Frame War has begun, and in this opening round, Democrats would be wise to balance their celebrations with some serious meditation on the long term ramifications of the recent battle.

Overall, the big battle that unfolded was between two very clear attempts by the parties to frame the senate to their advantage.

Using the phrase "Up or Down Vote," the GOP framed the Senate as a place obliged to decide.  They claimed that judicial nominees "deserved" an up or down vote, that the Constitution compelled the Senate to vote "yes or no," and that the President had the right to an up or down decision from the Senate.

Using the phrases "Abuse of Power" and "Rubber Stamp," the Dems framed the Senate as a place obliged to deliberate.   Dems claimed that judicial nominees required lengthy debate and deliberative consideration, that the Constitution protected "checks and balances," and that the Senate had an obligation not to give into the power grab of the executive branch.

So who won?

It's hard to tell the morning after, but at first glance it does seem that the GOP has successfully set their "up or down" frame.

Checks and balances?  It may have been persuasive in the smoke-filled rooms of Congressional negotiators, but on the battlefield of the national media, it's much too abstract to make sense.  

When, America is wondering, are we checking as opposed to balancing?  Up or down, yeah, that's what they're supposed to do.  More politics as usual.  Etc., etc., etc.

In the end, "abuse of power" if repeated over and over again will have an impact  on national debate.  Repetition is 9 nine tenths of the law in political debate.

But "abuse of power" is still not a frame that gives the Democrats room to move. It's a stop-gap measure, a tactical defense, a last minute rescue from the sky.

New Frame:  Senators Stand
To regain the upper hand that was lost in the filibuster debate, Dems need to balance their efforts to gain the moral high ground with an effort to frame the Senate through their own concept.  They need to provide an alternative to the "up or down vote" frame that was successfully set by the Majority in the filibuster debate.

One alternative is to use the "[governing] is [standing with the people]" frame.  

This central metaphor of "[governing] is [standing]" provides a host possible rhetorical positions that are clear and effective.

The phrase I suggest repeating is this:  

The Senate Stands with the people

Some examples:


The Senate stands with the people.

The Majority party tells us that it is the job of Senators to stand with the President.  We say that the Senate stands with the people.

The Senate stands with the people.

When the President stands a judicial nominee for a lifetime position, it is the job of the Senate to stand with the people.

The Senate stands with the people.

And so on, and so forth.

Congratulations to Minority leader Reid and to the Minority leadership in Congress for their efforts in the filibuster battle. But the Frame Wars will continue and Dems must fight to win. Update [2005-5-24 12:36:6 by Jeffrey Feldman]: Well...as usual, my Jedi mind tricks have not worked on this crowd of strong minded thinkers. Many comments have suggested that--while they like the initial proposal--generally feel that "the Senate stands" is either flat or passive. New proposal:

Senators Speak for the People
Speaking versus standing. I actually think that "speaking" for the people might feed more directly into the filibuster idea than "standing" for the people:
The Senate speaks for the people. When the President proposes a judicial nominee for a lifetime position, it is the job of the Senate to speak for the people.
Vote or comment... --JF [update] Very good suggestion from the comments:
The Majority party tells us that it is the job of Senators to bow to the President.  We say that the Senate must stand with the people.
Stand with the People vs. Bow to the President. I think we have a winner....

Originally posted to Jeffrey Feldman on Tue May 24, 2005 at 06:02 AM PDT.

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