Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Democratic Message for 2006

John Lapp, the Executive Director of the DCCC, posted a diary at MyDD titled “Americans and Sheryl Crow Agree: a Change Would Do You Good.” I am reprinting and analyzing large portions of it here because the DCCC will be hugely important to the outcome of this race.  Therefore, it seems appropriate to look at how they interact with the netroots both for its own sake (hey you’re reading a blog buddy) and because how the DCCC interacts with the netroots might serve as a proxy for understanding how the DCCC will interact with the grassroots.  

Although the diary was nominally about the themes that the DCCC will roll out against the Republicans in the 2006 Congressional races, I’m not sure whether I can view the diary as a communiqué or as a marketing tool.  In a weird way, the diary does not observe the tacit conventions of the blogosphere.  There is something too cold and impersonal (and yet slick) about it, as if John Lapp were reading off a rap instead of engaging in a genuine conversation.

It starts off like the type of letter you’d get inviting you to your high school reunion.  You know the kind: “So much has changed since we were in school.  We invented fire, developed opposable thumbs, started to engage in sexual reproduction.”  Time sure does fly by.  And what a difference a whole three months makes.

Hello all - I apologize for my absence, much has happened since my last post.  Back then, people like Tom DeLay were talking about permanent Republican majorities.  Who would have ever thought that former Republican Leader Tom DeLay would have been indicted twice?  Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby would have been indicted and subsequently resigned from office?  And Bush's Supreme Court nominee would have gone down in flames?  

And then the real letter begins:    

The opportunity for change and for Democratic gains has never been better.    

Notice the word “change.”  It appeared in the title.  It appeared in the first substantive sentence of the diary.  It will appear eleven more times in the diary.  Later on, Mr. Lapp will tell us three different themes that the DCCC will use against the Republicans.  Change will figure prominently in all of them.  But it’s not enough for him to tell us.  He also needs to speak to us using the themes he will recommend.  I understand the rationale for this.  But it makes me feel that he is speaking at me, not engaging in a dialogue with me.  
He continues:          

I know you have been following races around the country very closely, but I wanted to provide you some insight to our strategy here at the DCCC.  We cannot let Tom DeLay and the Republican Congress continue to derail and intimidate in their quest to subjugate the priorities of the American people to profits of a few.  

Notice the awkward juxtaposition of these two sentences.  The first sentence by itself is fine.  But once you grant that the readers of MyDD “have been following races around the country very closely,” which is undeniable true, why would you then continue by dropping into abstract politico-speak about Tom Delay and the Republicans in Congress?  It’s not as if any Democrat who’s paying attention to House races this early in the game is unfamiliar with Delay or the extreme corruption of the Republicans in Congress.   So why say it?

I guess it does set up a nice Tom Delay sandwich, with the fighting DCCC taking the place of the sandwich’s meaty goodness, when considered with what follows:                  

Their [presumably, although not grammatically, the Republicans’] abuse of power is shocking, their open contempt for what we believe in is astounding, and their "political capital" is long since spent.  [End of top slice] With only 15 seats to go, the DCCC is prepared for a tenacious fight in 2006. [Mmmm…DCCC…]  The failed economic policies and backwards priorities of President George W. Bush and House Republican Leader Tom DeLay have left the Republicans exposed and vulnerable - they had their shot, and they blew it. [End of bottom slice] We just need to make sure the country realizes that, and to do that we need to go district by district taking the nationalized message local [sic] For that, we need your help.

Got that?  Tom Delay and the Republicans not only totally suck, they also are weak, which is good because the DCCC is finally prepared for fight.  Nothing says strength like piling on someone when they’re weak, instead of—you know—fighting them regardless.  But I guess the DCCC was too shocked and astounded by the Republicans to put up a fight until now.  Good thing blood in the water works just as well as smelling salts to people in DC.  

Also, let me just say that I almost exploded with moral satisfaction when I saw the high-minded principle expressed in “they had their shot and they blew it.”  ‘Cause nothing says “I’m qualified” like “The other guy failed.”  No doubt Lapp is simply following Lakoff’s exhortations to the Democrats about speaking in moral terms.   Actually, Lapp does drop into a moralistic tone, but in a way that seems to imply that you and I owe the DCCC something.      

It is our [meaning either the DCCC‘s or everyone reading the diary’s] responsibility to deliver and amplify a simple message: Republicans are the Party of status quo, pay-to-play-politics, and a culture of corruption and cronyism.  Democrats are the Party of Change.

Apparently the alliterated phrase “culture of corruption,” which is undeniably an apt, was amended to include another “C” word: “cronyism.”  With George Bush at the helm of the Republican Party, we really ought to go whole hog and call it the “culture of corruption, cronyism and cocaine,” but I guess that would just be a cheap shot.  (Incidentally, this reminds me of an amusing, R-rated poem by Shel Silverstein).         

Regardless, the subtext is clear.  Your mission, whether or not you should you choose to accept it, is to beat this message until well-beaten dead horses start getting jealous about how much beating this message is getting.   So sayeth the DCCC.  But why?  After a detour into Ohio politics we find out that it’s because the polls show that it’s a good message:

Analysis of recent national polling data shows that the House Democratic candidate message of Change vs. Status quo is increasingly effective and continues to be the right message for Democratic campaigns.

Americans are increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of the country, the lack of progress on the country's problems and the lack of leadership from the White House and the Republican Congress. Only 31% of Americans are satisfied with the direction in which the country is heading, and only 29% approve of the job the Congress is doing (one of the lowest approval ratings for this Congress).

As House campaigns increase in intensity this fall and winter, House Democratic candidates must take advantage of the current political environment and dissatisfaction of the American people and use this Change vs. Status quo message as the cornerstone of their campaigns.  And progressive movements and the blogosphere must continue to hold the Republican Congress as a whole and individual Republicans members in particular accountable for their unethical behavior.

I get why he talks about what Democratic campaigns for the House must do, but I’m simply confused by the second sentence.  Well really I’m confused by the word “must” in the second sentence.  Anyone who frequents lefty blogs knows that holding the Republican Congress accountable is one of the raisons d’etre of the lefty blogosphere.  What Lapp really should have written is that the DCCC needs progressive blogs (and the progressive movements) to continue holding the Republican Congress accountable.  

What follows next is the memo that should have been sent.  It’s what is interesting, bereft of the bullshit and half-assedness of the previous sections:                          
Change vs. Status quo
The DCCC sent a memo to House Democratic candidates last month compiling national and district-by-district polling information and suggesting three themes for Democratic candidates:

1.    Change vs. Status quo. Overwhelmingly, the American public wants change and prefers
candidates who represent change, to incumbents who represent the status quo in Washington;

2.    Independent Voice vs. Rubber Stamp for the President's agenda. Voters overwhelmingly favor candidates who are independent and who want to change Washington vs. an incumbent member who is a rubber stamp for the president's unpopular agenda.  We've also recently started using the term "Cover-up Congress," a quick soundbite that typifies the current mindset of the Republican leadership.

3.    New Direction vs. Same Old Same Old. The American public is tremendously frustrated with the direction of the country. The public wants to see the country move in a new direction vs. continuing the same old policies.

And for those of you who haven't seen it, DCCC Chair Rahm Emanuel recently wrote an opinion piece that appeared in The Hill making the Democratic case for change.  Go read the whole thing to get a deeper sense of DCCC and Democratic strategy, but as skyrocketing heating bills and gas prices hit the American people this winter, I want to highlight the fact that energy is quickly becoming a dominant issue in America.  With the entire Republican Party in the energy industry's pocket, this is where we can really make the connection between the culture of corruption and America's daily lives.  Rahm Emanuel made this point in his op-ed:

Focus on: Election 2006The Democrats stand for change By Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.)

The 2006 midterm elections will be a referendum on the state of the nation and how satisfied the American people are with the direction of the country.
Republicans in Congress have replaced our national priorities with a special-interest agenda that the American people wholeheartedly reject. With Democrats as the party of change and Republicans as the party of a vastly unpopular status quo, the choice before the American people couldn't be clearer.

A perfect example of these misplaced priorities is found in the Republican leadership's approach to gas prices. Never in our history have the big oil companies had such dependable friends in charge of Congress.

The Republican leadership alone has received almost $2.3 million in campaign contributions from these companies -- and Republican leaders have been boundless in their efforts to reward these energy giants with legislative goodies. Just this year, congressional Republicans have passed a $14.5 billion giveaway to the energy industry and a $2 billion giveaway to the oil-refinery industry and have blocked efforts to crack down on the gouging of consumers struggling to afford $3-a-gallon gasoline and crippling prices for home heating oil.
The American people see what is going on in Washington: As big energy- and oil-company campaign contributions go up, so do energy-company giveaways from the Republican Congress. As gas prices skyrocket, consumers are pinched, while energy companies are raking in record profits.

The DCCC will be hitting this message every day this winter, and we need your help in drawing media attention to what is nothing short of a scandal.  Even as the oil industry was raking in record profits, Republicans were using Katrina as an excuse to lavish more handouts on them.  On the day those profits went public, Speaker Hastert posted his first official blog post, and this was his response to calls for reigning in the oil industry:

"This is America. And Republicans don't believe in punishing success."

Help us expose what the Republican Culture of Corruption is costing America.  We'll be providing more information very soon on individual Republicans and their energy profiles, but for now remember you can always get the hard facts on your local Republicans at HouseOfScandal.org.

Thanks in advance.

John LappExecutive Director, DCCC

Instead of trying to market these ideas to us, Lapp here simply explains what they are and shows an example of the message in action.  In the last bit of his diary, he finally treats us like partners, no consumers of a message.   But the whole diary until this point was full of obvious, and crass, attempts at emotional manipulation.  

I guess what most bothered me about this diary is that Lapp seemed to be perfectly happy treating his audience as consumers rather than citizens.  He seemed happy to co-opt the energy of bloggers without readily acknowledging their fundamental agency.

I realize that those of us who want to see Pombo out of office need the DCCC.  To my mind, there’s no question about that.  And the recognition of this need carries with it the understanding that the DCCC must never cease to be anything other than an ally.  And as an ally, I’m sure the DCCC will prove itself sufficient.  

But I yearn to see the DCCC not as a potential ally, but as the cavalry.  I yearn to see it not as something extrinsic to my political goals, but as an instantiation of them.  And to the degree that those in the DCCC talk to me as if I only matter insofar as I skip to their beat, I will see them as the men they are and not the principles they claim to represent.        


Blogger Dan Spomer said...

Great analysis, Matt. Thanks for posting this!

5:03 AM, November 08, 2005  

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