It is all but inevitable that the Bush Tax cuts will be extended over the next two years. Much has been said about the President's failure to obtain a better deal, but not much has been said about our failure as progressives to aggressively pursue the tax deal we wanted.
I think it can be said that we failed to communicate the benefits of our version of the tax structure. We can say what we want about the President, but that we weren't willing to go all in on this debate is a testament to the problems facing both the progressive movement and the Democratic Party as a whole
And when I say we, I mean all of us. Sure, this is a failure at the elected level of the party, but we also failed by not doing what was necessary to stop these hostage takers from giving the richest Americans a king’s ransom in taxpayer dollars.
For example, the strongest progressive campaigns against these future destroying tax cuts are being run today are from Moveon.org and PCCC. These campaigns have five things in common:
- They focus more on the President fighting for something, than explaining why it’s a good idea to fight for it.
- They take pressure off the republicans, instead of forcing them to explain why the tax cuts are a good idea.
- They have become the standard ad style of the progressive sphere in regards to the issue.
- They don’t work.
- They weren’t targeted at anyone in particular.
So how could we have put the republicans on the defensive in the tax debate?
Well, for starters, we could have focused these ads on independent Americans. Why make an ad designed to lobby the President when the President probably will never see it and when he’s not the one you need to lobby with a commercial? You don’t.
Wouldn't a more rational communications strategy focused on building consensus for a progressive solution in the middle class by exploiting general populist anger at the countries’, undeservedly, ultra rich? Probably.
I’m not saying that we would have won definitively, but I’m tired of giving my money to these organizations just so they can mash up youtube clips into ineffective ads designed to persuade no one. How can we, or any of these organizations, claim to fight (or to teach liberals how to fight) when they absolutely refuse to directly challenge Republicans on the issues?
I hate to vent, but I don’t see the point of a strategy that doesn’t directly confront the GOP’s destructive ideas. When republicans attack democrats, they waste no time invoking other republicans. They know that every second of air time is precious and important to getting their message across. They also craft brilliant narratives, but that’s a different story.
The truth is that Americans don’t care about Progressives disagreeing with the President. They care about solutions. When the average American is watching an ad, you have a few seconds to grab them and to shape their opinion. Talking about the President fighting for an issue doesn’t address what they’re geared to look for in a a debate: an actual issue.
In fact, these ads shouldn’t even be aimed at liberals.
The day a progressive organization crafts an ad that can make Joe Sixpack in Bozeman, Montana think seriously about the progressive approach is the day that liberals will have learned what Republicans learned nearly 30 years ago, namely, how to sell an idea.
Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain has been talking about this deficit of salesmanship on the left for years. His book, though slow at times, should be required reading for anyone on the left seeking to influence voters. How would he have crafted the message for this debate?
- He would have taken the progressive idea to the average Joe, instead of focusing precious airtime on inner-party politics.
- He would have punched a billion holes in the Republican tax argument and he would have done it directly.
- This isn’t about what he would have done, but Progressives probably should have laid out the minimum that were willing to accept and the maximum desired outcome before the debate started.
- He would have played on our emotions: Our need to protect our children’s futures, anger over paying for the tax cuts of the wealthy, etc.
- He would have co-opted the GOP’s fiscally conservative credentials to engage our brains at the same time.
- And He would have told a story: There would have been a hero, a villain, a story arch, and a happy ending where American’s wouldn’t be forced to foot the bill for a tax cut that makes sure the wealthiest American’s get to send their kids to private school, while the poorest American’s can barely keep their public schools open five days a week.
What have we learned collectively about the importance of targeting and messaging in the Progressive movement by this blunder? Probably nothing, but I’ve learned that I should be wiser with how I give out my donations on ActBlue.
This doesn’t excuse the President for not coming, but I WON’T excuse the movement for failing to even try. At the end of the day, you know what's better than sticking it to President Obama? Winning.
What are your thoughts? Please share your opinion.