"Our Karl Rove is the blog you should be glad that Democratic strategists don't seem to listen to"
-- what they're saying on Republican blogs

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Secret Sauce for Democratic Candidates

Democratic Candidates for President,

While OKR is not in the business of siding with a particular nominee, Their Karl Rove's insertion into my domain forced my hand to provide Barack Obama campaign advice.

So, in the spirit of fairness, below are messaging strategies and talking points for each viable candidate (i.e., at least 5% in national polls or at least $5M raised). If deployed effectively, this "secret sauce" has the potential to catapult one campaign message over another.

Creating deep impact amongst all the campaign noise requires using one of the best Republican campaign tactics seen in the past decade: Using your supposed negatives as your strong suit. Doing so challenges the conventional wisdom and forces people to take a break from the media-driven narrative and truly ponder your candidacy for a moment.

[FYI - Barack Obama: See the 2nd half of the previous column for your OKR advice]

Memo to Joe Biden: Admit That You Have Limitations


Your nascent campaign has a bit of kindling lit beneath it, and even Zogby is saying that you might have a shot at this after all. But simply telling people you knew all along how to solve the Iraq problem just isn't going to do the trick (nor should it).

You need to address head-on what many are intuitively concerned about: that you are a one-trick pony -- a great Secretary of Defense, but no President.

To change this dynamic, you need to attack this perception head-on... by agreeing completely. No excuses, no blather. Just meet the voters face-to-face with the fact that you are uniquely passionate about America's role in the world, and that our nation's future is directly tied to how well we clean up the mess we are in today. Tell them that Joe Biden is the only candidate that has the passion, leadership and expertise to recapture America's position in the world. And tell the voters that you'll bring on a strong and capable cabinet to bring the right focus to the other critical issues that need to be dealt with at the same time: economy, health care, jobs, innovation.

Yes, I know you know you can lead in all of these areas. But that's not the point. The point is the narrative has been written, and you need to acknowledge this and work from there to be as relevant as possible.

So, what's the positive way to say that you have limitations? "Joe Biden is committed to recapturing America's leadership in the world."

Memo to Hillary Clinton: Admit That You're Not Perfect


Because you have old-school strategist Mark Penn by your side, there is little-to-no chance that anyone from your campaign will read this or pay any heed to my advice. Still, I want to be on the record that Mark Penn represents last decade's politics that simply doesn't feel very relevant, and is becoming increasingly irrelevant every day. Only time will tell if this tried-and-true-yet-semi-antiquated approach to politics can hold out long enough for you to win the race.

If you were to engage in post-modern politics, I would advise you to go-to-market with the antithesis of your current "coronation persona" -- start looking more human (vs. superhuman) and real (vs. political machine). In other words, show the voters that you're not perfect.

Contrary to what people say, nobody really wants a perfect candidate. They want someone who is tough (you), smart (you), can manage power (you), and can overcome adversity (you). But they also want someone that reminds them of themselves (not you). Because of all these wonderful traits of yours, people will actually become suspect that you're putting on airs, and as a result question your sincerity and integrity. Or, if you're seen as too good for the room, there will be an intuitive concern that you will create a bad environment for good decision making in your administration (like our buddy Dubya).

Tell the voters what's got you concerned about the presidential race. Tell the voters about your internal struggles as a Senator and First Lady as you tried to balance your inner idealism with your knowledge of the realities of the political process. Tell the voters that you're only running because of your passionate belief that America needs Democrats back in power -- and you truly believe that you are the only candidate that could possibly know what it'll take to beat the Republican Machine.

While it might sound counter-intuitive to your trusted beltway advisers, show the voters that you're not perfect, and they will trust you more.

Memo to Chris Dodd: Admit That You're An Afterthought


You have the the money, but are lacking traction with voters. You suffer from Senatoritis, and it won't be easy to shake. Yet, your style is strong, moral and clear. You have the make-up to be an executive. So, how to begin gaining traction?

Starting now, make your own position in the race the focus of your candidacy. Turn your message from experience and wisdom to the underdog campaign -- the little campaign that could. The fact that you have a lot of money in the bank means that you can actually promote yourself as the underdog on television and radio ads now.

Get the voters involved in your uphill battle for relevancy, and invite them to join you as you look to climb the biggest mountain in your political career. If you get people invested in your story, they will be investing themselves in you through the process.

How to admit you're an afterthought as a way to turn your campaign around? "You probably don't know much about Chris Dodd -- and that's a problem that needs to be fixed, now."

Memo to John Edwards: Fair or Not, You're the only Viable White Guy

OK, let's quickly get this out of the way: I'm not advocating that you play the race or gender card. What I am advocating is that you own the fact that you are the most likely to win the Presidential race when paired up against each Republican candidate. You, John, are the candidate with the least risk because you do not bring any untested configurations to the campaign: gender or race.

To be clear, I do not see gender or race being meaningful factors in the 2008 race, no matter who wins the nomination on either side.
But the fact is that there will be some who do (or at least believe that there are others who do). And only you bring the Democrats a form-fitting candidate that represents true progressive values with no compromise -- all in an attractive, uncontroversial, tested configuration.

Clearly, you do not want to overtly admit that you're the only white guy. But you do want to obliquely characterize your campaign as the most likely to win the general election. This means playing directly into the concerns and fears of voters. I openly acknowledge that this is not the most upstanding approach, but in can be an effective one if you believe that you are the only candidate that can deliver Dems the White House in 2008.

Now that the Rovian-style fear-based politics are out of the way, there are some positive, purer angles you should take as well:

  • You're the only candidate that has been part of a national presidential ticket (2004)
  • You're the only candidate that will not compromise with the right wing Republicans (i.e., you know right from wrong and will not compromise on these values)
  • You're the only Democrat that is a values-first candidate (i.e., you'll do what's right vs. what's popular [Clinton] or agreeable [Obama])
  • Like Hillary, you've been tested and vetted, and like Obama, you represent change.
In other words...

"In case you didn't notice, Edwards is the best of both worlds." Oh, and a white male.

Memo to democratic campaign staffers: Want to be a hero?

Send an email to jon [at] ourkarlrove . com if you are looking for embellishments or extensions to the strategies and advice provided in this column.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Memo to Karl Rove: We already have Our Karl Rove

Karl Rove,

What's wrong? Is the Republican field so abjectly depressing, politically savaged and land-mine-lined that you find more safety and comfort flexing your political muscles to help Democrats? If your recent political analysis for the Financial Times is any indication, then you better have a "Plan B" because not only do we already have Our (own) Karl Rove, but your analysis was one-dimensional. In fact, your opinions are actually sound and are in-line with many other commentators, which is why they have so little value.

Based on this recent article and prior analysis, it's becoming quite clear that your brand outstrips your capabilities as a political strategist. It turns out that you rode a political wave generated by conservative movements from every conceivable angle (security, religious, economic, moralistic, individualistic), and were then able to take credit by virtue of predicting that this perfect political storm would win Bush elections. In essence, you did exactly what you claim Bill Clinton did with the economy: you successfully took credit for something that was already happening.

In an effort to re-claim Our Karl Rove's turf from the insurgent Karl Rove, I will break with tradition and provide a presidential candidate with a political strategy prior to the nomination. Readers should feel free to publicly compare and contrast the opinions provided here with those of Their Karl Rove.

Memo to Barack Obama: Do Not Run Against Hillary


Contrary to the opinions of the media elite (which now include media-elite-hater Karl Rove), your best shot at winning the nomination is not to cast doubt on Hillary. Instead, you need to focus on your positive brand attributes: an independently-minded, globally-savvy, smart, capable, strategic candidate with fresh ideas that will inspire every American to feel good about being an American again. You can lift us up.

You simply don't need to bash your opponents to make your points if your points are self-evident. Consider these examples:

"I want to lift this country up out of its malaise; out of this funk; and into tomorrow with my vision for America. A vision rooted in the principles of our founding fathers: liberty, justice, equality, and the pursuit of happiness."

I am running for President not because I need to be President, but because I am confident that I am uniquely qualified to signal to Americans -- and to the world -- that America is ready to turn the corner. That America is ready to take on our challenges head-first. That America is ready to rise again as a great nation that not only earns the respect of our allies, but, importantly, earns the respect of those who might find it easier to hate us."

"I am quite aware that some of my colleagues think that I'm lacking the experience needed to take our country forward. While it's true that I might not have been a 5-term senator, a governor, or First Lady, I have spent my whole life being a leader. A leader of people, of ideas, of spirit and of serious solutions to serious problems."
In these examples, you are not only focusing on your positive brand attributes, but you are implicitly drawing a distinction between you and your competitors. It's positive sales, and a lesser candidate could not pull this off. Don't let conventional wisdom drag you down into being a conventional politician.

I know that you have too much respect for your democratic colleagues to truly throw them under the bus. It's a good slate, and you are too polished and decent to feel comfortable engaging in mud-slinging on the national stage. No matter what your advisers tell you, don't do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Barack Obama is compelling to America only when he's comfortable in his own skin.

But being comfortable doesn't mean you can't be tough. In fact, there is a real toughness behind the thoughtfulness in your character. You need to display it at the right time, but you can't feign it. For example, since Hillary is not a threat to national security, it's disingenuous to concentrate your toughness on her. Instead, you need to channel your toughness through issues that require being and appearing tough -- like national security issues. For instance, show America your strength by talking tough about the small number of extremists who are looking to plan another domestic attack. Explain how you'll be tough by disarming them before they can do any damage. Explain how you will not accept any foreign nation to harbor, help, or fund any violent extremists. You must keep your focus narrow to the areas where toughness is required. This distinction will separate you from Hillary's and Bush's broad stroke approach that casts terrorist nets as wide as Iran's National Guard.

Of course, there are also specific policy areas where you do need to convey your vision and how it is unique and compelling. But like applying for a job, it's all about selling your unique qualifications -- not dissing your competition. You can win this through your new kind of politics. Don't fall for the "he's being soft" rhetoric -- it's not about being soft. It's about being the best option.

Remember: In sales, facts and figures help get you in the door, but once you're in the running, emotions close the deal. You need to use your passion, conviction and confidence in concert to be The Closer. Nobody else in the Democratic field has your closing skills.

America has let you into their homes to make the sale. They trust you. Now it's simply about closing the deal.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Common Good is Good, not Great


You have unofficially rolled out a new go-to-market term: "The Common Good." The Wall Street Journal did a nice write-up on it. In essence, it's symbolic rhetoric lifted from Roman Catholicism designed to put Democrats on higher moral ground when talking about economic opportunity and equity.

Congratulations on considering the ideas being written about here at OKR for years: Words matter. Symbols matter. Philosophy matters. And how you use all these bits in concert matters.

As far as snappy phrases go, it's good (especially when handicapping for Democratic ability in this area)... but it's certainly not great.

The good:

  • It provides moderate cover for talking about taxation (especially progressive).
  • It's a positive message (after all, it has the word 'good' in it).
  • It has strong ties to the strategically critical Catholic community.
  • It will speak to people who feel like they're common-folk.
The not-so-good:
  • It sounds generic (after all, it has the word 'common' in it), and Americans like to be told we're special.
  • It risks alienating those who do not feel like they're part of 'the common.'
  • It could sound like a veiled attack on individualism. Be careful; don't attack a fundamental construct of American culture -- roll with it.
  • It could sound like a codeword for socialist, big-government programs. Make sure not to exclusively tie this phrase to top-down programs.
A very small tweak could make this a much better catch-phrase for Democrats:

The Greater Good

The Greater Good is quite similar to the Common Good, but it has some additional features:
  • "Greater" fits the American ethos better than "common."
  • "Greater" can evoke a spiritual, religious element for those who see things this way.
  • "Greater" means the same as "common" for those who see things this way.
  • The root word of "greater" is 'great' -- and what political party wouldn't want the concept of 'great' to be a part of their philosophical core?
While it's not surprising that the word 'common' passed through all the poll-tested gates in Democratic circles, it does not strike the right tone for the less traditional democratic voters (e.g., disenfranchised whites who see Democrats advocating for every constituency but them). And, since there appears to be no serious negatives with swapping out common for greater, it's seriously worth considering this update.

Note: For all of those candidates trying to catch Hillary, you can use this tip to get ahead of her in the rhetoric race.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Democrats: Extend an Invitation to the Axis of Evil

Democrats & Fellow Citizens,

It's happening again. The Bush administration is re-framing reality so effectively that most people (even those of us paying attention) are being taken by another shell game of magnificent proportions. But before we dive into what's happening now, it's important to look back at what just happened...

Reality Distortion

Last time, the Bush administration's re-framing of reality successfully coaxed most of the country -- including the press and Democratic politicians -- into believing that Iraq was an imminent threat, ready to blow us up with nukes, anthrax, or whatever it was that Saddam supposedly had hidden away in his little lair in Baghdad.

In effect, the Bush administration created a reality distortion field. A reality distortion field is a term that has been widely used to describe Apple's Steve Jobs in the technology sector, but it's also quite applicable to Bush & friends: Modern Republicans have proven to be naturals at framing new "realities" (as they see them) based on spurious and speculative information. Then, they effortlessly convey these "realities" to the masses in a way that makes them appear unmistakably and unerringly right... and righteous. Doing this distorts the reality in ways that are difficult to prove, and easy to subscribe to. They distort reality just enough to make their "new reality" sound legitimate, even though it's not.

The Iraq reality distortion field was able to withstand real reality for three full years during which the U.S. eviscerated any shred of goodwill it had left in the pressure-cooked Middle East. And only after three years did the press, Dems, and most everyone else come to their senses and promise "never again."

I hate to break the news, but...here we go again.

Here's a quick test to see if you've been trapped within the latest foreign policy reality distortion field unleashed by this Republican administration: What Islamic country is autocratic, out-of-control, terrorist-harboring, WMD-selling, has nuclear weapon manufacturing abilities, and is run by a President that lacks in democratic convictions, speaks out of both sides of his mouth, and took control of his country by military coup?

If you answered "Iran" then you've already fallen into the Bush/Cheney trap of re-framing reality in a way that simply doesn't represent reality - the reality distortion field. Worse, the country described above -- which is not Iran -- is considered to be an ally to this administration and most Republicans.

So, why are we all talking about Iran? Because Dick Cheney has a laser-like focus on Iran like nobody's business. This aggressive, manipulative positioning of Iran as the latest source of all the U.S.'s problems in the Middle East (i.e., Hezbolah, Iraq, nukes... you name it) is not only misguided, but incredibly misleading. And when I say that this is reminiscent of the Iraq drumbeat back in 2002, don't confuse this comparison with knee-jerk liberal screaming. Here at OKR, we have substantive concerns around this newfound "love to hate Iran" refrain that go well beyond predictable partisan emotions.

This Iranian focus has a two-fold effect:

1. Iran gives this administration something new to blame for all the problems they've had in securing Iraq.

2. Blaming Iran conveniently and effectively deflects attention from this administration's failure to deal with Pakistan -- the multi-dimensional menace to U.S. security [the answer to the test above].

The Problem with Pakistan

Under Pervez Musharraf's rule, Pakistan is the underlying U.S. security threat in the region. Yet because the Bush administration has a president in Pakistan that is compliant with U.S. demands, the U.S. turns a blind eye to the astounding problems that Pakistan creates. This goes to show how much this administration values loyalty over everything else, including U.S. security. A loyal Musharraf makes the Bush administration believe that he is an ally, thereby deeming Pakistan an official U.S. ally.

So, what's wrong with Musharraf?

  1. He was not democratically elected, nor does he endorse democratic elections.
  2. He does not have full control of his country, allowing Al Q'aida and Bin Laden a safe haven within his uncontrolled country borders
  3. He allowed a massive nuclear weapon trading scheme to happen under his nose, where real WMDs were sold to the highest bidders around the world (including potential terrorist groups)
  4. He is duplicitous -- telling his country one thing and telling our country something entirely different. Which Musharraf is to be believed?
This is what's meant by "here we go again": Ignoring the Pakistani Problem is a flagrant violation of all U.S. standards that have been set by this very administration. Yet, this administration has once again successfully created a reality distortion field where the conventional wisdom is now that Iran is the next big danger, and Pakistan isn't even part of any security conversation in our country.

This is dangerous. The nation once again is being guided by distorted reality, and it's quite disturbing to see it happen all over again when most of us should, by now, know just a bit better.

But it's not enough to just talk about it. We need to demand more from the press, our politicians, and our fellow citizens. Let's not let ourselves once again get distracted and misled by a dangerously misguided administration.

Here are some talking points for all of us to use as we call, write, and communicate with the press and our politicians:
  • Why is Pakistan an U.S. ally if they are harboring Al Q'aida and Bin Ladin?
  • What's stopping America from putting our full energy into weeding out Al Q'aida in Pakistan?
  • Why is an undemocratic leader in Pakistan our ally while we spend our blood and treasure trying to introduce Democracy in Iraq? Isn't that a double-standard?
  • If U.S. policies vary from country to country, does this Republican administration really have principles?
  • Which is more dangerous to America now: a country that is trying to create nuclear weapons or a country that already has them and his harboring Al Q'aida's leadership?
  • Why doesn't the so-called Bush Doctrine apply to Pakistan?
  • If the people responsible for 9/11 are in Pakistan, why are we focused so much on Iraq and Iran?
Note: While the Axis of Evil reference in the title is designed to be catchy and clever, we should never use George Bush's phraseology framework to talk about contemporary political issues. There is no Axis of Evil. There are countries that actively work against us, but that doesn't make them evil. It makes them, at the very worst, enemies. Evil has a much higher bar -- one that should be reserved for the likes of Dick Cheney.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Despite Petraeus Theater, Democrats "Get" Foreign Policy


The Republicans may have won the Battle of Petraeus, but they are losing in the war of ideas and brand equity.

Americans don't like losing wars, but they've certainly lost faith in the Republicans' ability to conduct American foreign policy. While it is true that the Republicans still present themselves as being the party that knows how to be tough, brawn without brains is no longer acceptable to the majority of Americans. Petraeus might be trusted as a General, but he's not trusted as a Republican.

Don't get sucked into the Petraeus theater. The need to hide behind a General shows just how weak Republicans actually are. In response to this weakness, the Republicans pulled a reverse punch on the MoveOn.org ad. Democrats, sadly, fell for it. Apparently, it's still open-mic night every night in Democratic party strategy meetings.

Yet these are all details. The real challenge ahead is changing the narrative. But how can we create a positive narrative when Democrats seem confused and weak on Iraq? Let's start with this truism: While Democrats might not know exactly what to do, Republicans certainly don't know what they're doing.

Of course that doesn't speak well for Democrats, but politics is about comparisons, not absolutes. Don't get hung up on your problems -- focus on the bigger, broader, more troubling problems in the opposition party. While focusing on how much worse Republicans are isn't going to solve any real problems within the Democratic party, it's just good enough when there are only two political parties.

Democrats -- if you boil this down, this means you are now the party that "gets" foreign policy.

Decide, as a party, that Democrats are now the "best and the brightest" in foreign policy, and that no other party has the chops to get us out of the mess that we're in. Focus on this because, frankly, America needs someone who sounds like they're smart at foreign policy.

A rising tide lifts all ships, so the Democratic party needs to begin to rally around the belief that Democrats are the 21st century's answer to knowing how to navigate the seven seas and seven continents, and Democrats can steer America out of the stormy waters created by Republicans.

Some additional talking points:

  • Republicans know how to get into wars, but Democrats know how to win them.
  • Democrats want to grab success out of the jaws of defeat.
  • Our overcommitment to Iraq has created a violent welfare state.
  • Republicans vote for Iraqi welfare, yet vote against American welfare. Makes you think.
  • Republicans created our foreign policy problems, and now it's time once again for Democrats to clean up the mess.
This approach to creating a new narrative is truly Rovian. We all know that Democrats as a party don't really "get it" yet, however, Rovian strategies are optimistic by definition: Repeat an idea enough times, get enough people to believe it, and it might just come true.

It's trickle-down reality. Better to trickle down reality onto Republicans than to have Republicans trickle down reality onto you.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Republicans Certainly Can Talk, But Do They Walk?


As Senator Larry Craigslist of problems continues to grow, you can and should use this story as the catalyst to kick off a campaign to support the Republican's determination to flush their own party's brand down the toilet.

For those who think politics should be about taking the high ground, it's not evil or wrong to point out things about your competition to sway hearts and minds. In fact, I assert that it's your primary job to explain to voters the differences between Democrats and Republicans: In this case, Democrats represent the brand that is tolerant and honest about sexual orientation, whereas Republicans are proving to be the opposite of who they say they are, and stand for things that they don't believe in.

Which brings to mind the word hypocrisy. The trouble is, we throw around the word hypocrisy a lot in our culture, so simply deploying this term won't raise any eyebrows by itself. Instead, we need to use hypocrisy as the means to a messaging ends.

But before we get to the talking points, let's do some up-front work to establish a pattern of Republican-style hypocrisy:

Many Republicans who claim to be...

  • "Pro-heterosexual" are starting to be exposed as sexually deviant
  • "Pro-military" have never served themselves, nor encourage their children to serve
  • "Pro-family" values have had multiple divorces
  • "G*d-fearing" exert behaviors that go directly against the teachings in the Bible
  • "Pro-life" are also "pro-death penalty."
  • "Anti-immigration" are also pro-business - the same businesses that profit from employing illegal immigrants
  • "Anti-tax" still support expensive government programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security
  • "Pro-America" yet think the Government wiretapping everyone without a warrant is still "America."
So, what do we learn from this? We learn that (most)...
  • Republicans Prefer Hypocrisy to Democracy
  • Republicans Talk the Talk, but Don't Walk the Walk
  • Republicans Talk a Good Game, but Place the Wrong Bets
  • Republicans Think They Represent Conservatives, but Actually Represent Extremists and Deviants
  • Republicans Seem to Need to Hide from the Truth in the Land of Liberty
and, the grand finale... Many Republicans Just Aren't Who They Say They Are

This applies as much to Toilet-Patrol Larry as it does to Mit "I'm pro and/or/maybe against abortion, gay marriage, and everything else" Romney. It runs the gamut, which is why it's fair to generalize and make this a sticking point for the voters.

OK, one more: You Just Don't Get What you Pay for When you Vote Republican.

Pick and choose your favorite lines and start utilizing them when you're on talk shows or writing op-eds. Take these points to the market and re-brand the Republicans before they re-brand you.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Press Release: Karl Rove Resigns; Our Karl Rove Reigns


While removing an "s" does transform "resigns" into "reigns", there's much more than a single letter that separates Karl Rove from Our Karl Rove's respective futures.

Our Karl Rove was actually never intended to be a doppelgänger of Karl Rove specifically. The idea was to take a firebrand figure that represented Republican political success (i.e., Karl Rove) and utilize that energy to improve the fortunes of the Democrats. In fact, Our Karl Rove actually provides services and insights closer to Frank Luntz (in conjunction with the likes of Andrew Card and Karen Hughes) than Karl Rove.

No matter -- the Our Karl Rove brand has provided the author of this blog with the right audience to enunciate strategic framing, messaging, and communications recommendations for the Democrats. Leveraging Karl Rove's identity piqued interest enough to get people's attention in a veritable sea of progressive and liberal blogs. And I expect it will continue to do so in the future. From this perspective, Our Karl Rove has thus far been a success -- which is more than Karl Rove can claim for his supposed permanent Republican majority project.

In fact, while Karl Rove clearly has had more impact to date (much to our country's -- and the world's -- collective chagrin), Our Karl Rove has been more successful in its mission to date.

In response to the inevitable question, "Will there be a name change for Our Karl Rove based on Karl Rove's departure?"...you'll have to stop by regularly to find out. I will say this: One of the many things that both Our Karl Rove and Karl Rove agree on is that "from a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." In the meantime, I suggest subscribing to the mailing list to ensure that you continue to gain political messaging and insights that you can find nowhere else, and be a part of the blog and its evolution.

Sing it with me: Now that Karl Rove has left the scene, only Our Karl Rove reigns supreme.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Operation Iraqi Framework


We're already starting to hear tidbits of the impending Republican September Strategy -- showing statistical improvements in Iraq to put a halt on public pressure to get out. These 'improvements' include talking points around the decline in American deaths thanks to the surge, and the increase in peaceful areas in Baghdad.

You cannot allow this administration and Republicans to take back the framing of this war.

Democrats need to create an entire framework around the Iraq Debacle that is simple, honest, and impenetrable:

The Democratic Iraq War Framework

  • Re-brand the War in Iraq as the "Iraq Debacle." Looking at the situation on the ground, it does not resemble a situation that most Americans would classify a war -- therefore, it isn't. There aren't two sides, there isn't a clear sense of how one side can win, and it's not clear to anyone what we're fighting for. So, nix the term 'war' from your rhetoric so we all can get out of the Bush/Republican framework of 'war' -- a framework that gives them more implicit power.
  • America wins by avoiding debacles. One of the 'gotchas' that the Republicans have is that Dems look like "defeatists" when they say we've lost the war and it's time to bring the troops home. That's just playing into the Republican framework. Shift it so that Democrats are for successfully guiding America out of Bush's Iraq Debacle. You want to be on the side of winning, no matter what. In order to always win, you need to re-frame the debate so that you're on the winning side. Take a look at how Republicans politic -- they are naturals at this trick.
  • There are better ways to fight terrorism than keeping our soldiers in Iraq. This is a simple yet fundamentally key point that has not be effectively made by Democrats to-date. Unfortunately, the Democratic line has been "getting our troops out of harm's way" -- which acts to re-enforce the negative Democratic brand attribute of "cut and run" wusses. Getting out of Iraq (how we get out is a completely other topic) needs to be re-framed in positive, strategic, and tough terms. What are the "better ways"? This will be the subject of a future OKR post.
  • No more excuses. This is a simple frame up that will resonate with the masses. Americans are simply exhausted and have had enough of shifting rationales, new generals, new strategies, and new excuses. This doesn't mean that we lost in Iraq; rather, it means that Republican management of wars isn't what it used to be, and until there is a new Commander-in-Chief, it'd be foolish to continue prosecuting a war under such terrible management.
  • FearSpend vs. SmartSpend. Thus far, figures are upward of $1 trillion for the Iraq Debacle to-date. This is FearSpend. It hasn't stopped Bin Laden or Al Q'aida, and it has done nothing to reduce terror. It hasn't even stopped people from trying to attack us on our own soil. Democrats will introduce the idea of SmartSpend -- where we spend our money -- and utilize our troops -- in areas where there will be a payoff in national security.
These pillars of a new Democratic Framework for Iraq will help you redefine the current state, the future state, and crystallize the Democratic position on Iraq, terrorism, and convey a semblance of foreign policy leadership.

There is much more work to do. Democrats really do need a compelling foreign policy doctrine that goes head-to-head with the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war, over-there-vs.-over-here, and the belief that sovereign states are at the core of terrorist funding and ideology.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Republicans Don't Care About Americans


The subject of this post pretty much gets right to the point: All the evidence points to the unfortunate truth that the majority of Republicans don't much care what Americans think, because the majority of Republicans are loyal first to their party, not to the country.

This is certainly an attack position in party politics, which I know is not a normal position for you to take (in contrast, you've spent the last six years defending yourselves from Republican party attacks). But it's worth getting a spine and stepping up the rhetoric, if for no other reason than to help voters understand that when they vote Republican in this day in age, they're no longer voting for America's best interest, they're instead voting primarily for the best interests of the Republican party.

Voters need to chew on this for a while and see how it tastes as it settles in.

Like any good liberal/progressive, I understand that you'll want proof before you assert such strong positions. No problem. Read on...

The current political environment invites this conclusion. Do the math: count the heads and divide by the totals, and the results will show that the majority of Republicans in Congress (and Republican presidential candidates) stand for things that the majority of the country does not:

  • The vast majority of Republicans in the congress (and presidential candidates) continue to support the President's Iraq plan. They vote to fund it, they vote to stay the course, and they vote to stop any Democratic bills that would shift course. They stuck with the President despite the fact that the war has been failing for three years, and costing American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.
  • The vast majority of today's Republican congressmen and presidential candidates are not calling for Attorney General Gonzales to resign, or for Bush to fire him.
  • The majority of Republicans running for President support the President's decision to commute Scooter Libby's sentence.
  • The majority of Republicans support the President's liberal use of executive privilege as a way to hide behind probable White House scandals.
  • The majority of Republicans stand behind Bush's overall approach to his War on Terror.
In all of these areas, the majority of Americans disagree with the majority of Republicans (yes, several Republicans are now re-considering their loyalty after years upon years of blind loyalty to a deafening ideology, yet a vast majority in the House still support almost all of the President's policies even today).

How and why did this happen? When Republicans are elected, they look up before they look around and down. In other words, Republicans have loyalty to their leaders first, then to their colleagues, and then to their constituents. It's just how many have found the Conservative Mind to operate. This fits into why conservatives tend to have more religious fervor than liberals (and seemingly less concerned about the poor and weak) -- they look up before looking around and down.

This is not necessarily a bad thing -- I'm not judging the Conservative Mind one way or another. But that doesn't mean that you can't use this conservative orientation as a way to besmirch the Republican brand.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but this is about concept generalization - which is a key approach to making a message stick with a general audience. And as we all know all too well, Republicans liberally use liberals' high regard for debate, discussion and equality to devalue the strength and integrity of the Democratic party brand in the minds of so many Americans, so it's only fair that Democrats use Republican traits to tarnish their party brand as well.

Some talking points to help drive this message into the voters' psyche:
"Republicans are following their party leadership like lemmings off a cliff."

"Republicans are so loyal to George Bush that they have become deaf and blind to what America stands for."

"Before you vote Republican, understand that they are not representing you -- they represent their inside-the-beltway party leadership first and foremost."

"The Republican party used to stand for justice, honor, small government, and smart foreign policy. That time has passed, and now Democrats are the party that represent true American values."

"By not supporting a vote of no confidence for Attorney General Gonzales, Republicans have shown the American people that they are more loyal to their party leadership (the President) than they are to America's rule of law, order, and justice."

"The Republicans' War on Terror has turned into a Terror of a War thanks to ignoring all facts and standing along side their reckless and dangerous Commander-in-Chief."

"Republicans have, through a series of poor decisions and bad judgment, wrecked all of the things Democrats put in place in the 1990s - because the Republican party's needs were more important to them than America's needs."

"Beware: Republicans will follow their leader before they'll follow the truth."

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Democrats: Now It's Your Turn to Conflate Terrorism and Iraq


First, let's get on the same page:

  • This administration (and most Republicans -- especially those running for office) will only see the recent terror plot at JFK airport as a partisan political opportunity. Before accusing me of being cynical, remember that this administration simply believes that politics is its business. Governing is for others. If this doesn't immediately ring true, feel free to flip through any speech the Bush administration has made about Iraq, and think back about how we got into Iraq in the first place.
  • Using this foiled terrorist plot as a political tool, this administration (and most Republicans) will look to take some kind of credit for intercepting the plan. "Staying tough," "Not backing down," and "Continuing to be on the offense" are the most likely memes that will be transmitted by all who support the so-called "Bush Doctrine."

This is a critical time (and a political opportunity) for Democrats to convey a clear, strong message that this event is yet another indication that the Bush Doctrine is failing.

Let's get right into the immediate if/then scenarios:

1. If this administration has the inclination and gall to somehow tie the busting up of the JFK airport plot to "staying tough" on the Iraq War, then here is a strategic response:

"Stopping terrorist plots is the most critical job for the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and local law enforcement agencies. They are all to be commended for their leadership in undermining this terrifying plot. This demonstrates how critical it is to our national security that these agencies are well-managed.

However, it is the job of our President to reduce or eliminate terrorism. This means, in its simplest terms, that we need to start playing offense, not only defense.

In the business of terrorism, defense means breaking up existing plots. Contrary to this administration's belief, "offense" does not mean taking over Iraq. No, playing offense means making sure there aren't terrorist plots in the first place. Our foreign policies need to focus on the elimination of violent hatred towards America so terrorist plots are not planned in the first place."

2. If this administration has enough self control to not conflate Iraq with this terrorist plot, then you need the discipline and thought leadership to do exactly the opposite:
"Stopping terrorist plots is the most critical job for the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and local law enforcement agencies. They are all to be commended for their leadership in undermining this terrifying plot. This demonstrates how critical it is to our national security that these agencies are well-managed.

President Bush has told us time and time again that we're fighting them "over there" so that we don't have to fight them "over here." Unfortunately, this and other terrifying terrorist plots are proof that this administration's strategy on the War on Terror has failed us. As a result of Mr. Bush's and Republican policies, we are now fighting Iraqis over there and terrorists over here.

We simply cannot afford to continue to play defense with people trying to destroy American cities and lives. We need a new foreign policy that is focused on eliminating people's violent hatred of America so that they no longer want to hatch horrible plots against us. We simply cannot expect that people from foreign lands will want what's best for America if we continue to appear violent and dangerously militant while having the most powerful armed forces in the world.

Like everyone else, I am so relieved that our federal, state, and local agencies were able to work together to stop this terrorist plot. But there will be more. Make no mistake, it is our President's responsibility to stop people from plotting against us... and not just run interceptions."

Strategic talking points conveyed in these responses include:

  • Don't be a wet blanket. There was a big FBI and local law enforcement win here; make sure to give credit to the appropriate agencies and departments, not the administration. Give credit generously -- just keep a firewall between credit-deserving agencies and Republican politicians.
  • Call this administration out on the "over there, over here" strategy -- which is one of the key rhetorical underpinnings for the War in Iraq. The JFK airport plot proves once and for all that their strategy has failed. If you can undermine this rhetoric, then the rest of the Iraq War rationales will have even less solid ground to stand on. You might win over McCain if you handle this one right.
  • Hit this administration over the head with their own strategies. Yes, our law enforcement interception saved thousands of lives, but this administration's foreign policy strategy failed us. It's worth noting that it appears that this plot was not even hatched by Al Q'aida. This means that the threat of terrorism on American soil is spreading beyond our initial set of enemies. This is the definition of failure.
  • Catch this administration completely off-guard by defining their terrorist strategy as defensive. This is quintessential re-framing, and it happens to be absolutely correct. It is truly a defensive posture if we're just breaking up plot after plot. It's like a missile defense system... do you really want to trust anti-missile missiles to hit every missile barreling towards us, or would you rather ensure that our enemies have good reasons not to launch missiles against us in the first place? Even Ronald Reagan would understand this.
  • If you catch yourself sounding too complicated or wonky, use sports metaphors. Interceptions, blocks, tackles, etc. Sport is just an abstraction for war anyway, so go with terms people get.
  • Begin weaving in replacement terms for the "War on Terror" whenever possible. The phrase is double-loaded: It gives Bush credit for deftly defining a never-ending "war," and, worse, it frames the issue in terms of war, which is too one-dimensional. Notice the introduction of the phrase the "business of terror." It's stronger than phrases like a "law enforcement challenge," yet it importantly removes the term "war" from the rhetoric.
  • Take this opportunity to point out that Iraqis aren't terrorizing us, and they never have. It's just good for our population's well-being for this factual point to continue to seep into the American consciousness. Take on the responsibility to spread the truth about who is trying to harm Americans. Speaking the truth is a sign of moral leadership -- the type of leadership is something this country desperately needs.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Democrats: A Mess Without a Message


I know you know you really screwed up on the recent Iraq funding bill. And I know you think it's not entirely fair that you are being excoriated -- after all, it's only funding the war until September. By providing temporary funding, you're buying yourselves the time and political climate you think you need to line up a veto-proof majority against the Bush administration.

I get it. In fact, most of us who follow political discourse get it. But a critical aspect of your job is to ensure that all Americans get what you did, how you did it, and why you did it.

Unfortunately, you utterly failed at managing the media message (and that's putting it lightly). "Democrats backed down" is the prevailing meme. Nice job -- you just took a huge chunk out of the Democratic brand.

No matter what the legislative realities, it didn't have to be this way. It would not have taken too much time or investment to ensure that the right message was shuttled through the media meme machine -- yet this clearly did not happen.

In case it's not clear to you just yet, Americans need to believe that Democrats can stand up for America in the face of external threats. However, you just gave Americans a taste for what happens to Democrats when they are rejected twice by a powerful force -- they give in. Great message. That's really going to convince the Security Moms and NASCAR Dads that Democrats are tough enough to fight whatever foreign enemy it is that we seem to think we're fighting.

Unfortunately, it's really too late to provide any messaging advice at this point in time. But, just to make a point, here's a taste of what a good communications/messaging plan would have consisted of:

  1. Seed the blogosphere with advanced notice of a planned short-term capitulation. Hone this message to explain that this is not about backing down in the face of the Bush administration -- it is buying three months' time to rally support across the nation for the ultimate veto-proof majority. Explain that, after the historic 2006 election (taking this opportunity to thank the o-so-powerful blogosphere again for their help), the Democratic party is now a big tent party that has purple, blue, and violet members that need to be satisfied. Creating this grand coalition is critical, and will be lined up in September when it's show time.
  2. Seed the mainstream media with advanced leakage of planned short-term funding to ensure that the troops have enough money to fight throughout the summer. Democrats will cautiously support the Generals' requests to assess effectiveness of the so-called Surge Strategy.
  3. Get a firebrand Dem (i.e., Murtha) to book himself on Meet the Press the Sunday prior to the bill passing, allowing him to get all huffy about how detached from reality the President is, and how he's essentially jeopardizing our troops' well-being by playing politics and political theater. He can end with something quote-worthy like "The President relishes his own power more than the safety of our troops, or the safety of America."
  4. On Monday morning news programs, enlist a staid Democratic leader to comment on Murtha's statements, stating that he understands Murtha's frustrations, and that Murtha represents many people in the country. Yet calm heads must prevail to ensure our troops that are already deployed are as safe and equipped as possible until we're ready to move out -- which is obviously going to be sooner rather than later.
  5. Upon bill passing, Democratic leaders make the point that, based on the unreasonable position of the Bush administration, people of conscience simply cannot put the troops in the middle of a political showdown like the President is trying to do. Democrats in Congress will simply not use the troops as a political tool, and will meet the President half-way by only funding the war until September. Come September, the President will have to show us either undeniably clear progress in Iraq or face the fact that he has to end his deeply flawed war in Iraq.
Can you see how executing on this strategy might have not only altered how the press summed up the situation, but also served to limit the revolts you're currently seeing in the liberal blogosphere? Do you see how subtly assigning (admittedly unlikely) success in Iraq to all Americans, and failure in Iraq to Bush specifically is a strategic messaging strategy?

Democrats (especially congressional Dems), if you are not going to rely on messaging strategists (like OKR, who you can contact at will) as an integral part of your political strategies, then you risk continually being defined by your adversaries, and ultimately weaken your chances of leading this country when it is gripped in fear and uncertainty.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

This Just In: Purse Strings Have Strings Attached

Congressional Democrats,

A defining moment for the Democratic brand is upon you: how you handle the showdown with the President over Iraq War funding will be inevitably tied to the Democratic Party's ability to lead this country.

I can appreciate what you're doing -- fulfilling your political mission to challenge the current war policy because you were voted into the majority to do just that. While passing bills that attempt to handcuff the Commander-in-Chief in his ability to set war policy certainly smacks of chutzpah, you can do much better in positioning your actions and rationale with the American people.

The bill you recently sent to the President has timetables attached to the money he needs to continue his war policy. Yet Bush is effortlessly brushing aside your advances. It turns out, he's not interested in the dance (look, if he was interested in mingling with a spunky dance partner, do you think he would have married Laura?)

I understand that it is very hard to see the forest for the trees when you live and work in the forest. This is precisely why Our Karl Rove exists -- so take heed of Your Karl Rove's advice to make sure that what makes sense for the country also makes sense to the country.

"We're not giving you a spending bill. We're giving you an accountability bill."

"We're your CFO. And as CFO, we have not been at all pleased with how you're spending the people's tax dollars on this war. As a result, moving forward, you will only get money from us with strings attached."

"Our troops deserve our support, but your leadership does not. As a result, we will be providing funds for our troops to succeed, and providing you with deadlines because you do not seem to be able to set your own."

"Mr. President, the very fact that you require more supplemental spending four years into this war is a sign of failure, not leadership."

These talking points set the context that you are not political guns, but hired representatives trying to do your job responsibly. You were voted into the majority to keep this administration in check. These talking points help ensure that your actions are seen as constructive and positive, versus political and negative.

The President no doubt will continue attempting to portray you as hollow, shameless partisans trying to manipulate public opinion for political gain. You'll want to privately remind him to look in the mirror, while publicly remind him and the public that you're just doing your constitutional duty.

And, depending on how much chutzpah you have left after a few rounds of this verbal sparring, you might want to add that you have political capital, and that you plan on spending it to help move this country back in the right direction.

Postscript: A quick note regarding gun laws in the wake of the Virginia Tech Massacre: There is no one unified belief system in this country around gun control -- opinions vary greatly from state to state. As a result, it would be the most politically advantageous for Democrats to take the position of letting each state decide what's best for its citizens, but the federal government should subsidize states that choose to adopt and enforce gun control.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Democrats: Are You Ready to Rumble?


The spinmeisters in this reckless administration have cooked up another brew-ha-ha. The primary ingredients in this round are 'Democratic partisanship' and 'Democrats trying to politicize government' when the nation's business needs attending to. In his latest speech, Bush warns of a "fishing expedition" and "show trials" in an effort for Democrats to score political points.

The good news is that this is pretty standard Republican rhetoric -- conservatives are generally a fearful bunch and really do feel like they're consistently under threat by some outside force. Since this is really nothing new, it will be quite easy (and, quite honestly, fun) to turn this around on them. The other bit of good news is that the President has given you a gift if you are willing to accept it (we'll talk more about this "gift" later).

The bad news is that there are a lot of politically independent people in America that are fearful of the unknown as well. According to recent Gallup polls, most Americans do not feel safe on a number of fronts. And Bush's rhetoric could have a rallying effect on those who aren't following this scandal's nuances, and might also see our injured President trying to "protect" the Oval Office from the image of savage, salivating Democrats just looking to take down their President.

This means that your responses need to be finely-tuned to ensure maximum impact and to minimize any rallying effect Bush's "fighting words" might create:

"The only thing we're fishing for is the truth."

"Astonishingly, the President is not willing to allow his aides to testify under oath. The only logical conclusion is that he must, for some reason, think they're going to lie. "

"What we see here is a deeply troubling pattern in this administration. Scooter Libby has already been found guilty by a jury of his peers for lying under oath, and now other administration aides are being instructed by the President not to swear to G-d to tell the truth. We must ask ourselves: Is there any truth left in this administration?"

"The American people need to ask themselves if they are comfortable with a President who is so afraid of the truth that he refuses to let his aides testify under oath."

"We can only assume that if Karl Rove and other presidential aides will not speak to us under oath that there is a reason for this. Why are they afraid to swear to G-d to tell the truth to the American people?"

"The President talks tough about 'show trials' and 'fishing expeditions,' yet at the end of the day, he is clearly afraid of us uncovering the dirty deeds of his administration. Why else would he stonewall an investigation?"

"This Republican administration has been behind their wall of secrecy for too long. They've let us down too many times, and now it's time to come out into the daylight and show America what they've been up to. "

"This is about the rule of law, nothing more, nothing less. This administration has declined our request for sworn testimony under G-d, so we are sadly forced to issue subpoenas to officials in our very own government in order to get the truth."

"It's honestly hard to believe how far this administration will go to avoid telling the American people the truth."
There are a couple of important concepts embedded in these talking points that are worth noting:
  • None of the talking points talk specifically about the Attorney General scandal. This is intentional, because this row with the President is not about this scandal anymore -- it's about a new "war for secrecy" that has been waged by this administration.
  • Testifying under oath is a big part of the issue here, because it signals to our famously religious America that testifying under oath is all about swearing to tell the truth under G-d, plain and simple. This is now about an administration that is trying to avoid sin. Think about this carefully, because the new religious fervor in our country makes this a finer point than merely a legal one.
These talking points set the groundwork to ensure Democrats are not seen as the salivating partisan goons that the President just depicted you as. Once that bedrock has been laid, you have the opportunity to open the 'gift' that the President gave you -- the gift of raising this debate to new heights that could very well overwhelm this entire administration. If you're willing to go there, you can do a very Rovian thing: use their own strength ("hunkerin' down fer a fight") and turn it into their weakness by attacking them on your terms:
"If we've come to the point where our very own government is afraid to swear to G-d to tell the truth, then unfortunately the time has come to consider an even larger investigation into the overall level of corruption of this administration."
Yes, these are fighting words, and yes, it's a risky proposition. But it's something to be seriously considered in your strategy meetings. When are you going to pull out the big guns and use your new majority powers to expose an administration that comparatively makes Nixon look like a six-year-old stealing candy from the local drug store?

Make no mistake -- the big fish here is not Gonzales; it is the wall of secrecy around the Executive branch which is a patent abuse of power. The President gave you a gift -- a fight for something bigger and more important that a single scandal (which we all know is merely one of many). The framers of this nation would find this wall of secrecy unacceptable, as should contemporary Americans. Sliding into a totalitarian state like Russia is the last thing the American people expect or deserve. But if you, Democrats, don't shine a bright light on it, we may continue to slide.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Democrats: Are you our Mommy or our CFO?


You are still missing the mark in the opposition on the War in Iraq. You appear to be trapped in the mindset that it's your job to fix Bush's mistakes, and that America is looking to you to right all of Bush's wrongs. While this is certainly understandable, it's not working.

You are trapped in this mindset because you think of yourselves the wrong way. You have to shift your focus and rethink your persona: Are you the Mommy that wields the power of the purse and cares solely about the well-being of each soldier? Or are you the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) that invests funds to support the appropriate winning strategies?

As political leaders in charge of the budget, Americans want a CFO.

As CFO, you will shift your focus from the troops, troop levels, and troop deployments to America's approach to foreign policy. And as CFO, you also need to think of your budget as the tool that advances America's strategies that you decide are worth investing in.

As you rethink your role as CFO, you will start to see that your attempt at getting directly involved in the Iraq War planning is a losing proposition. Since you're not in the direct line of military command, you simply cannot know what troop levels, caps, or deployments are needed. In business terms, you should be a strategic executive, yet you are acting like an operations analyst. That's why the term "micro-manager" keeps cropping up.

Worse, getting involved in the details entangles you in Bush's disastrous strategy: If you get your way, then anything bad that may happen moving forward can -- and will -- be blamed squarely on you and your troop management policies. If you don't get your way, then you're just an ineffective body trying -- but failing -- to micromanage the President.

Hello? Aren't any of your staffers and strategists telling you this?

Moving forward, you have to do two things: Get unraveled from the war execution details, and then re-assert your role as the Chief Financial Officer.

First, some talking tips to help re-separate Democrats from the failed Republican foreign policy strategy:

  • The fate of our troops remains in the Commander-In-Chief's hands -- not Congress'.
  • The President should be listening more closely to Congress, but he won't until Republican congressmen support us.
  • Our troops risk their lives every day, and we want the President to think about how to best deploy our military every single day.
  • Because the administration is still solely responsible for the war effort, every loss America takes is a result of a failed Republican foreign policy strategy.
  • Stop talking about getting our troops "out of harm's way." Our armed forces volunteered to be trained to be in harm's way. That's their job. It's the Generals' job to ensure their troops are safe, not the Congress. You sound like the Mommy Party when the country really needs strategic leadership.
As the Mommy, you're missing the opportunity to influence America's real foreign policy challenges and hold the President and your Republican colleagues accountable for mismanaging the Iraq War and the greater War on Terror.

From the CFO persona, think through these ideas and embed them into your messaging:

  • Bush's pet project in Iraq is a very dangerous experiment. The Taliban and Al Q'aida are regrouping in Afghanistan, where the President took his eye off the ball.
  • This is not about Iraq and troop surges. This is about a failed Middle East engagement.
  • Bush's foreign policy is not how you stop terrorism. This is how you create more terrorism aimed at America.

And if you're looking for a cute soundbite to cut through the news clutter:

"Just like Vice President Cheney, President Bush misfired and shot Iraq in the face when he should have been aiming at Afghanistan."

These are broader strokes, and exactly what the Congress should be talking about. You should be cutting Bush's foreign policy strategy off at the knees, and not at the toes.

One of the advantages of talking strategically is that you can gain broad consensual agreement when there are no details. In addition, you will reset the context of the debate from tactics to strategy, which is exactly what the budget should be tied to. Since you have the "power of the purse" (which evokes motherly images), rethink your persona and be the equivalent of a CFO -- and invest dollars against a strategic plan.

Americans will be more impressed with a CFO's investment decisions than where Mommy decided to spend the money in her purse.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Democrats: Stronger, More Honest Language is Needed


With your newly regained power in full throttle in congress, it's admittedly more difficult to provide useful political messaging advice on a regular basis. Compared to the days of John Kerry and Al Gore leading the party, the Democrats are much more in-step with how America likes to be spoken to. For instance, Jim Webb is the perfect "voice of the Democratic Party" to give the response to the State of the Union address. In fact, it might be the first time in decades where the response is stronger than the address.

However, there continues to be a serious problem. With the Iraq debacle, while you have come out strongly against the administration's "surge" strategy, there are two major problems with your approach that need to be addressed now:

  1. You aren't being honest with yourselves or with the American people (even though you might think you are): You are not really against a "surge." How can you be? How can you really be against adding reinforcements that our troops so desperately need if they're going to be stuck in Iraq like the President demands? To repeat: if the President is determined to keep our troops in Iraq, then they do need additional support.

    What you actually are -- and should be -- against, however, is the President's leadership and judgment as Commander-in-Chief. So, it's not that you don't support additional troop support, it's that you don't respect the Commander-in-Chief's judgment any longer. This is direct, to the point, politically expedient, and imminently accurate.

    Think about it: If we actually trusted this administration's ability to execute a war strategy effectively, then a majority of people would support this surge. In fact, weren't most Democrats and Generals in support of adding more troops back in 2004? Of course, but that was before we had the unmistakable evidence in hand that this was a confident-not-competent administration.

  2. You are letting Senator Hagel be the mouthpiece of reason to lead the bi-partisan offensive against this administration's war strategy. This is a mistake in the context of rebuilding and recasting the Democratic Party brand with the American people.

    Sure, you burnish your bi-partisanship credentials by walking side-by-side with Hagel, but if you ever want to be in the executive branch again, the idea of a Democrat has got to be more than being decent and reasonable -- Democrats also need to have the strength and conviction to make the tough decisions and stand by them even when they're not bi-partisan.

Here are some talking points to support these ideas:

"Democrats and Americans have had a lot of patience with this administration's ability to conduct the Iraq war. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to express our loss of confidence in their ability to lead our troops to victory. So, for as long as this administration remains in office, we have no choice but to push for withdraw and redeployment. Due to the failed policies of this administration and the failed Republican congress of the past four years, we are unfortunately left with no better options for our brave men and women."

"Most Democrats and Americans would prefer that their government conduct itself in a bi-partisan, pro-American manner. And to show this commitment, Democrats have quickly established bi-partisan partnership in our campaign against this President's Iraq strategy. Let's be clear, though: The Democratic-led congress will not be bullied or threatened by an administration that has lost support both here and abroad. Not since Nixon has an administration's credibility been so tarnished by getting so many things so wrong, and all the while abusing the trust and power we, the people, entrust with this great office."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Democrats in Power, But Powerful?


Finally, you have some political power. And almost instantly, you have a problem. And it's a big one.

Before we figure out how to solve your big problem, there's good news -- OKR is back to help for the majority of 2007-2008. A quick note for those who think that "Karl Rove" is no longer politically relevant: Recall that Our Karl Rove helped the Dems win the mid-term elections, as compared to Their Karl Rove, who helped the 'Pubs lose the mid-term election.

And OKR has a plan to get you out of the little political pickle that is the Iraq War and your new responsibilities to deal with it.

First, the pickle explained: Americans voted you into power primarily due to their unhappiness with this administration's -- and prior congress's -- failure to effectively prosecute this war. These voters want this war to come to an end -- who can blame them? On the other hand, the reality is that we just can't pick up and leave a country we invaded in order to stabilize. Simply leaving abruptly (within 6-10 months) is likely to have adverse affects that would even further damage our global reputation with our allies and enemies.

In essence, the public wants instant gratification, and the country can hardly afford to screw up the entrance and the exit. Democrats were elected to resolve this discrepancy.

The Responsible Democratic Political & Messaging Strategy

  • Do not talk about what power you don't have ("It's up to Bush, he's the Commander-in-Chief); talk about the power you do have ("Democrats now how power to cut off this President if he doesn't make decisions good for America")
  • Don't make predictions about the war. You weren't elected to know everything; you were elected to solve problems better than Republicans could. Focus your message on how you're going to responsibly put this war to rest.
  • Resist talking about committees and hearings; talk instead about using your majority status to finally influence this administration's failed policies.
  • Promise Americans that you will set parameters for all war funding moving forward. This is what your new power affords you, and shows America that you're not hesitant to use the power you have.
As proposed here over and over, you should summarize your Iraq strategy under the Support & Rebuild banner. Support & Rebuild is a much different strategy than Bush's Attack and Train strategy, and would signal a new perspective on the situation. Support & Rebuild means working with the region to support stabilization, and Rebuild means focusing on critical infrastructure, alliances, relationships, and trust. Support & Rebuild has the opportunity, eventually, to not be thought of as a "war" strategy but as a "foreign aid" strategy.

If Democrats can change the face of this from war to foreign aid (before the Republicans do it), then Democrats will get the credit for ending the war quickly, yet not be forced to prematurely exit and risk further middle-east destabilization.