"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, 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.