Skip to main content

... more reframing ideas from the folks at Winning Words Project -- the home of Kossack Reframing Queen JillWKlausen.

Scranton, Pennsylvania is the latest in a string of medium-sized cities across the United States facing bankruptcy. Cities can't pay the bills to keep city government functions operating, so essential services are cut, cancelled, or completely abandoned. Once a city's infrastructure starts falling apart, the downward cycle accelerates. The prospects for cities like Scranton are dire. (See excellent dKos diary by Jamess)

The problems arise on two ends of municipal budgeting. Revenue from property taxes (or other taxes) is stagnant or falling -- a combination of bad economic conditions and voters who are conditioned to reject all new taxes. And often a sudden unexpected expense or demand for payment comes due and drains the municipal coffers. These can be from unfunded pension obligations, or municipal guarantees for bonds that funded infrastructure projects.

The outlooks seem grim, and if politicians and voters aren't willing to commit to pay more taxes, the towns won't survive.

There are two different things going on: economic poverty and fiscal irresponsibility. Stimulus for jobs will never happen until the fiscal problems are dealt with positively. If there is time for a political change that can turn things around, the challenge is to get the right people elected or responsible ballot measures passed. So the primary task is to reframe the situation in a manner that can lead to positive outcomes.

Conservative anti-tax framing created the mess by attaching moral judgment to government taxing and spending.  Conservatives' success was in removing context from those verbs and giving them negative moral meaning -- that taxes and spending are sinful, in effect.

No logic, reasoning, facts, or constitutional evidence can overcome entrenched moral values. You cannot expect to win on this issue by attacking it directly within the conservative framing of "taxes are evil."

Progressives need to reframe -- change the focus of the conversation to have moral force on our own terms. Below the squiggle, some ideas...

It isn't about trying to find a frame that explains and justifies taxes -- that's their battleground.

The progressive framing needs to express moral values that resonate with the audience, to produce emotional motivation to do things right.

Let me repeat, for emphasis:

The progressive framing needs to express moral values that resonate with the audience, to produce emotional motivation to do things right.

For example:

-- Our security and safety are threatened.

 -- It's foolish and irresponsible to fail to take care of our minimum needs.

  -- The people we pay to risk their lives to protect us and keep us safe should be honored and appreciated.

 -- If we can't even pay our cops or pick up our garbage or keep the city maintained this place will fall apart, everyone smart and able to will move away, and this town will be a total shit-hole in no time.

  -- If we don't stand together as a community, we suffer shame and lose our identity. Do we want Scranton to mean short-sighted rubes who dug their own graves?

... and so on, in that vein. The topic is NOT taxes; the topic is security, honor, responsibility, identity, etc.

Let's look at Scranton's example. They mayor wants the council to pass a measure raising property taxes by 75% in order to pay the bills to stay afloat. The city council (who happen to be all Democrats, but all opposed to taxes) refused. So when the city coffers were down to their last $5,000, the mayor cut the pay of every city employee to minimum wage, including policemen and firefighters. Scranton is between a rock and a hard place. It needs to pony up or wither. It sounds sucky to have a 75% property tax hike. But average home value in Scranton is around $80,000; annual property taxes are $1000 to $1600 on that, so homeowners will all have pay $750 to $1200 more -- $60 - $100 more per month. That's a relatively small price for putting the town back on its feet and saving their way of life, sustaining the things they care about.

In this case either the council members can respond to moral pressure from their constituents, or the voters have to hope that Scranton can hang on long enough until new council members can be voted in.

Republicans are great at staying on message, Democrats suck at it. Democrats will muddle into the objections and financing problems and conflicting interests ad nauseum, and forget that no good solutions are possible if voters aren't given consistent moral values reasons to fix anything. In the face of criticism of some aspect of who should pay what when, or who should have done what in the past, Democrats tend to respond rationally and start justifying and defending or promising to investigate and modify.


In the face of any criticism, the response should always be:

"Well first, let's start with why we're here." Then:  "[Repeat main moral values message, repeat moral values message. Mention how to get past some pragmatic problem. Reiterate main moral values message.]"

When the right people get elected, or the proper bond measure gets passed, then deal with pragmatic problems.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site