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I don't know why Democrats, including the President, are so terrible at messaging and so willing to make it look like they are part of the problem.  For example, in today's press conference, the President said:

"The only question now is are we going to hold the middle class hostage?"

"WE" are not going to hold the middle class hostage.

The "REPUBLICANS" are going to hold the middle class hostage.

Here's a simple rule, Dems:

When you talk about a Republican strategy or policy, NEVER EVER EVER say "we" when you are talking about it, unless you say that "We Democrats will never agree to that."  So only use the pronoun "we" if you are talking about Democrats, and Democrats alone.  If you are talking about Republicans, say "they," although it would be better to keep saying "the Republicans."  The more you connect the word "Republicans" with things the public hates the more you damage their brand.  Which is exactly what we are trying to do.

"We" never do anything bad -- "They" or "The Republicans" do it.

Democratic politicians, if you can't remember this, then stop ever saying the word "We" in political discourse.  I know you're probably trying to sound inclusive, like we're all Americans in this together - but that sweet sentiment does not apply when it refers to Republicans trying to do something terrible.

Stop using pronouns if you have to.

Just say "Republicans" and "Democrats."

So instead of this statement by Obama at his press conference (taken from Jed Lewison's DKos press conference thread #1):

"We've got a clear majority of the American people," on taxes. "The only question now is are we going to hold the middle class hostage?"
which is both bad messaging and hopelessly confusing, since the two "we's" are two different political parties, say this instead:
"Democrats have got a clear majority of the American people," on taxes. "The only question now is are Republicans going to hold the middle class hostage?"
Doesn't that make things a little clearer to the American public?  That the subject of the first sentence is Democrats, and the subject of the second sentence is Republicans?  That the first we is the opposite of the second we?  That it is the Republicans, and not both political parties, that want to hold the middle class hostage?

So no more "we" please.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Democrats: "We're all in this together." (13+ / 0-)

    Republicans: "The fuck we are."

    The real enemy of the good is not the perfect, but the mediocre.

    by Orange County Liberal on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 03:48:31 PM PST

    •  My point exactly. (0+ / 0-)

      We didn't go to the party or trash the hotel room; and I'm not paying the bill.   There's plenty of money out there besides entitlements that serve low-income and the middle class.   Let them go get it and pay for their own party.

      If money is speech, then speech must be money.

      by dkmich on Thu Nov 15, 2012 at 03:48:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  MESSAGING (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Yes, this will help for the remaining 49% of the sheeple to understand....Maybe!

  •  Good catch (6+ / 0-)

    Hope somebody is paying attention.  Recommended.

  •  Bipartisanship sucks. (7+ / 0-)

    It's supposed to be a good thing but repubs have killed it.

    Obama doesn't seem to have learned the lessson I thought he had learned about trying to cuddle with these howler monkeys.

    I really hate it when people are just so invested in the emulation of Mr. Rogers.

    WE WON. WE and Obama should NOT be sucking up the the fucking cretins.

    My fear is that this is all dems know....

    The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

    by xxdr zombiexx on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 03:56:42 PM PST

  •  I feel your pain. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ardyess, maryabein, eru, Renee, marina

    Thanks for taking the time to write this up, and you are exactly correct. I wish I could believe it wouldn't be falling on deaf ears.

    Smart people (including linguist George Lakoff) have been trying for years to get the Democratic leadership to chqnge their approach on messaging, and they simply refuse to. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think the single greatest factor is that peole high up in the Democratic Party are personally well off, and so are their friends and family. There's no since of personal urgency for them, so they feel no need to change anything about the way they do things. And people inside the Party who do successfully gain some moticum of traction in making positive change are pushed out of leadership positions because they are viewed as a "threat" to the the DC power structure (see: Howard Dean).

    If "elitist" just means "not the dumbest motherfucker in the room", I'll be an elitist! - David Rees from "Get Your War On".

    by Oaktown Girl on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 04:04:43 PM PST

  •  This is classic rhetoric 101 (5+ / 0-)

    One of the key ways that one builds ethos in rhetorical theory is to use the pronoun "we" as inclusive of all, even if you know that the other side is against all of your beliefs and vice-versa.

    This is a 2,000 year old rhetorical technique which is considered successful by most.

    •  Ok, fine: (6+ / 0-)

      Then instead of:

      We've got a clear majority of the American people, on taxes. The only question now is: 'are we going to hold the middle class hostage?'
      how about:
      We've got a clear majority of the American people, on taxes. The only question now is: 'are Republicans going to hold the middle class hostage?'

      "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

      by Orinoco on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 04:19:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It would potentially be a blowback in terms of (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sybil Liberty, Renee, erush1345

        ethos, again. Don't shoot the messenger please! This is really a basic move that is often recommended to bolster ethos (credibility, essentially). It's can also be examined through formal Stylistics via pronoun use with the same basic conclusion as Rhetorical Theory states: "we" is inclusive, "you" is exclusive. Whether inclusivity is desirable or not is more in the province of Rhetoric then Stylistics, so there, it moves from inclusive/exclusive to the specific audience and, in more cases than not, will be generally ethos-creating. Not always, but often, for obvious reasons.

        •  Yes, b'cuz "inclusivity" is the more accepted path (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mahakali overdrive, Renee, erush1345

          when you are, in fact, the President of the entire United State of America rather than the president of your local competing college fraternity house.

          And/or, don't hate him because he's a statesman.

          "Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. And don't be attached to the results." -- Angeles Arrien

          by Sybil Liberty on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 05:20:15 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  That's part of his ethos too, great point (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Sybil Liberty, Renee, erush1345

            I was thinking of his audience, but also, what position someone holds and what persona they convey is deeply impacted by their position. A statesman will use different words to convey something then someone like a teacher, a plumber, a cop, or a trial lawyer would. Each has a different set of communication needs!

            A very classic use of this, by the way, is to be seen in MLK Jr's "A Letter From Birmingham Jail":


            Note how many uses of "we" he uses here, and how often it includes those who are, in fact, persecuting and oppressing he and other African-Americans. He shifts a bit midway through the piece because his ethos (credibility) has been duly established by then.

            This piece is probably the most widely taught piece of intro Rhetorical Theory and is an absolute classic. Partially because it was considered highly effective.

          •  I'm not hating him because he's a statesman (0+ / 0-)

            But, it seems to me, there is a time and place for everything. Statesmen operate on the world stage, and Obama is doing a great job.

            However, on the domestic side, we have two parties with incompatible policies. We, Americans, have told pollster after pollster that we want billionaires and millionaires to pay their fair share in taxes. We reelected the man who said he would do that.

            If Republicans never get called out for their wrongheaded policies, and their bone-headed obstructionism, what will be their incentive to try to join with 'we' Americans to solve this nation's problems?

            When President Obama is former President Obama he will have plenty of time to exercise his statesman talents in the domestic sphere. Right now, I think, he needs to invest some of that political capital he earned by his reelection through picking and winning fights against Republican policies and politicking. They are not going to reciprocate any offers of good will. They can't, given the make up of their base.

            "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

            by Orinoco on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 09:51:28 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  Sounds better... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mahakali overdrive, Renee

        ...but remember that the President is supposed to be Everybody's President.

        He is (supposedly, in theory) not supposed to be partisan. So Obama can't go after Republicans too hard.

        We, however, can. And we should.

        •  Yeah, well (0+ / 0-)

          Being everybody's president does not mean splitting the difference between a workable set of policies and steering the country back into the ditch.

          "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

          by Orinoco on Fri Nov 16, 2012 at 09:53:47 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Comment below was supposed to be a reply (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mahakali overdrive, Renee

      to mahakali overdrive.


    •  thank you (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mahakali overdrive, Renee

      "Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. And don't be attached to the results." -- Angeles Arrien

      by Sybil Liberty on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 05:16:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's always failed for me (4+ / 0-)

    I hear it and I think Democrats are accepting partial responsibility for the problem.  I don't want to be "inclusive of all" in this - this is war.   We're not trying to convince the Republican politicians here - we're trying to sell this to the public.

    As a trial lawyer, I can tell you that no good trial lawyer would use this rhetorical device.  Particularly using the word "we" in consecutive sentences with totally opposite meanings.

    And remember that tone of voice doesn't help - almost no one will see and hear him say it, they'll only read it in print.

    As lawyers say about depositions, don't EVER use sarcasm in a deposition, no matter what gestures and tone of voice you use - in print, it will look like a damning admission.

    •  Well, that makes perfect sense to me (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Renee, erush1345

      as an English Professor. In a trial setting, you wouldn't expect that usage. Kairos changes the need for different types of ethos. Trial law is implicitly a situation of establishing "us" vs. "them." That's the basic rhetorical situation that trial law requests be made most clear, I would think (although I'm only conjecturing based on my understanding of trial law).

      In terms of a different audience and rhetorical occasion, it's completely appropriate and pretty expected. Think of shifting rhetorical occasions, in this case, an address to a divided audience of American listeners who are meant to be brought together. One of the first ways to do that is to establish that you care about 100% of the people listening (not the 47%, to level a key example of why "us" vs. "them" framing doesn't always work so well with a bipartisan electorate). That "we" pronoun accomplishes that, even if it sounds funky to some liberals and surely also to some GOP, who are fuming somewhere on some board, typing, "That asshole included me in his speech! Screw him!"

      As a trial lawyer, I commend your sensitive ear to this issue. I'm sure we're both sensitive to this one, and both have different, but complimentary, views here. I appreciate the tone-sensitive interest of your diary, and your desire to see strong rhetoric used for good intent.

      •  This is not a talk to bring people together (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        maryabein, Renee, DarkestHour

        This is one more step in a lifelong message war against  Republican politicians who want to do great damage to this country to line the pockets of themselves and their associates.

        There may be situations in which, in politics, you may want to use an inclusive "we."  

        Talking about who is holding the middle class hostage most certainly is NOT one such inclusive situation.  It is far more important to differentiate yourself from your opponent, and make it clear that they will have to pay for the consequences of their position, than to bring 100% of Americans together.

        And Dems do it so often to their detriment that I think they would be better off never doing it at all rather than doing it to great excess.  You never hear Republicans say "we" when they are putting down Dem positions.

        •  A speech to the public (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Renee, erush1345

          via a press conference would seem to me to be a situation where your audience was "a general audience of Americans."

          Who do you define the audience as?

          •  The audience was the public (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Renee, DarkestHour

            The purpose was not to bring us together.

            It was to set up Republicans to be blamed if they stop a middle class tax cut.  And to make sure they don't win another national election for 20 years.  It was to squeeze the bad guys, not to gain consensus among the general public - we just had election, with a winner and a loser and very little consensus.  Now we have to tighten the vise, not bring everyone together into one big happy family.

            And as sfinx notes below, if you ever want to try to build consensus by using a rhetorical "we," you certainly wouldn't want to do it when trying to prevent Republicans from taking hostages.

            What if Obama said "We're destroying the middle class."

            The Repubs would say (they did say this when Biden said something similar during the campaign) "See, we told you the Dem has beens screwing the middle class."

            And 10% of the people will think that Obama is admitting that HE is destroying the middle class.

            That is certainly not something you want to do in the name of a rhetorical device.

            •  But in order to fulfill that purpose (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Renee, erush1345

              the audience must be appropriately addressed, and with dignity and respect, including for those who don't know if they are included in this speech; this says "This speech is for all."

              No speech is purposeful nor can any speech successfully be persuasive if it does not correctly identify its audience.

              These are, of course, not my own novel ideas! These are basic, basic level ideas in Rhetorical Theory, which is the basis for all persuasive speech.

              Nothing is being done in the name of any rhetorical device. A rhetorical device (in this case, a pronoun) is being used to service an end, which is to persuade.

              •  It does not persuade people of your position (0+ / 0-)

                if you misstate your position to your detriment.

                If you accept partial responsibility for something that is not at all your fault.  And I guarantee you that many people will see it that way, and not as in inclusive rhetorical device.

                If you are with someone else being interrogated by the police about a crime, and if you say to the police, gesturing to both yourself and the actual perpetrator, that "we" did commit the crime, you're probably going to go to jail based on your confession even though you're innocent.

                There is a time and place for rhetorical devices.  This was definitely not one of them.  Republicans don't understand rhetorical devices.  They will twist and misconstrue everything a Dem says to score points.

                "You didn't built that."  Need I say more?

                •  All speech happens through rhetoric (0+ / 0-)

                  unless then in a very few, esoterically theorized modes of communication (riffing off of Bakhtin here and a bit of Calvino, oddly). So I don't understand your statement. Can you try restating it again, kindly? I'm not able to follow your line of thought here through most of this.

                  Rhetorical techniques are not the same as rhetorical devices, per se, although there can be some overlap. All speakers speaking employ rhetorical techniques without knowing it. Again, this isn't mine, but borrow mainly from Lakoff and a few others. This, as all speech acts, to quote Searle, was a time and place for a rhetorical act by virtue of it being a speech act. This is more advanced stuff, sorry, which I realize I know well. But my basic point is that I don't quite understand your comment, perhaps due to my fault as readily as yours; is it possible for you to rephrase that for me, so that I understand it?


                  •  This is my last attempt (0+ / 0-)

                    There is zero similarity between, say, MLK's use of inclusive rhetoric and what the President said.

                    The whole point of what MLK was doing was to try to get whites to view blacks as part of the same America.  Anything he said to associate the races was a positive.  Of course, he never said anything like "Tonight, when we get in bed with our white women,..." - he would not have used the word "we" in that context.  But the point is that MLK's entire goal was inclusivity, which is not at all the President's entire goal.  It was too much of the President's goal in his first term, his mistaken belief that bipartisanship still works in this country, and it almost destroyed his Presidency.  

                    Are there situations where the President should emphasize inclusivity?  Of course.  Look at his "we are not a red America or a blue America, we are the United States of America."  And his statements that he will be President of 100% of the people, not 47%.  That is the time for inclusive rhetoric.

                    The mere fact, as you put it, that "this speech is for all" as the audience, does not at all mean that the President should use the word "we" when talking about terrible things the Republicans want to do.  He should use the word "we" only when he is talking about things he wants all of us to do.

                    When Dem politicians are fighting a messaging war with Republicans over dramatically different policies in this highly partisan atmosphere, in which the Republican party cares nothing about compromise and thinks it is in a holy war, the situation is much more like my courtroom trial analysis.  You are trying to get the jury, voters, to choose to support your position over the other side's.  You don't want to give ammunition to the other side, by giving them quotes that are unclear, can be misconstrued, or seem to accept equal blame for a terrible result.  In this situation, it is political malpractice to say, e.g., "We shouldn't collectively have done this or that horrible act" rather than to say "Stop voting for Republicans; they keep doing this or that horrible act."  The first one doesn't work, and the second one does.  End of matter.  It is as bad as the false equivalency that the Beltway is so fond of, and that is just as harmful to Democratic political interests.

                    We are not talking about what makes a great speech, or what is uplifting; we are talking about how to win a war where a shift of 1.5% from one side to the other is all the difference in an election.

                    You keep talking about rhetoric in the abstract, but in all your comments you have never once talked specifically about its political implications in the particular situations we are talking about, such as taking partial responsibility for holding the middle class hostage.  

  •  Even at the rhetorical level it doesn't work (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Renee, txdoubledd

    Because no matter how inclusive you want to be, "we" shouldn't be taking hostages. The hostage-holding rhetoric (also powerful in its own right) and the inclusiveness rhetoric don't mesh.

    Recommended by:
    Renee, txdoubledd

    "Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D."
    Four More Years! How sweet it is!!!

    by TrueBlueMajority on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 06:59:36 PM PST

  •  Thank God (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I was talking back to the TV saying the same thing. You are exactly right and this is not an isolated incident.

    This time he could also have said the House of Representatives but not WE!

    Please forward this to the White House. If he doesn't change this we will see selected out of context adds in 2014 with lines like Obama admitted he was holding us hostage etc.

  •  Dems stop saying "middle class" too (0+ / 0-)

    It's the working class and the poor who  need help--ALL of us who aren't wealthy, including those who don't even reach the level of the so-called middle class.

    •  Unfortunately, appeals for the poor don't work (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      People in the middle class resent the poor.  The whole welfare state thing, welfare moms with Cadillacs.

      You can say middle class and working poor, but not just working class and poor.  Working is too general (the rich work too) and people like to think of themselves as being in the middle class, not the working class (which sounds like blue collar).

  •  By assuming blame for something you didn't do, (0+ / 0-)

    you demonstrate bipartisanship.   If you can convince Obama that bipartisanship doesn't work with rattlesnakes and assholes, you ought to be SOS.

    If money is speech, then speech must be money.

    by dkmich on Thu Nov 15, 2012 at 03:46:36 AM PST

  •  The reason Pres. Obama says "we" is because Dems (0+ / 0-)

    are fixin' to dig in their heels over social insurance sacrifice ala shock doctrine.
    Sorry, it is "we".

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