"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

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.


gberke said...

I don't think the Dems can have a Carl Rove: there isn't enough commitment to leadership, to organization. The Dems would need to do much better, but of course short of the block stepping GOPers who know to a certainty that they will be found, they will be hurt. Friends and family included.
Ah, but it is also the electorate, perhaps as much as Rove: GOPers that step out of line get pilloried by their constituency, and that is probably what informed the senators: their people did not like the Betrayus thing, and the senators have to dance with the ones what brought them.

Jon a.k.a. "Our Karl Rove" said...

Your larger point is well taken. Democrats are not the lock-step, top-down, outsource-expertise kind of folks. As a result, they won't hold as much reverence to a "Karl Rove" as Republicans.

This is an asset and liability, and is partially why I'm a blogger and not consultant for the DNC.

But unlike many Democrats, I'm an optimist. In fact, my optimism freaks out many Democrats that I know because they mistrust it. They associate optimism with Republicans. Strange, but true.

I am optimistic that my "Rovian" strategies are reaching the right people and, over time, will help the Democratic party market itself effectively so that the American people have a balanced playing field when they try to figure out who to vote for.

Right now, the marketing prowess of Republicans still give them the edge in any competition. This is a shame, and a problem for our democracy.

The Religious Left said...

Holy Moses, Jethro, I hope someone in the DNC is taking some notes. There again, Hunter S. Thompson had fax access to the DNC in '92. Something about making Bush Sr, prove he wasn't connected to that Tailhook scandal, "even if it isn't true" (HST quoting LBJ). Go figure.

On modern media matters, which I would like to see more of your insight as part of, I think it is interesting to note what is going on with VoteVets.org and their offensive against that master of doublespeak and GOP branding, Mr. Limbaugh. There's quite a few Iraq vets that are more than just a little pissed about this whole quagmire and, go figure, the parsing of Petraeus.

Every time you think the Democrats get something, though... wait, I can't remember the last time I though that. I guess I thought that for a brief shining moment during the Kerry campaign...like when I heard about those early returns...

Ok, here's what I think: there is a wonderful book titled Ishmael, which directly and pointedly shows how we as a species need to address how we are living on this planet or we will cease to exist. The book draws a historic distinction between the Givers and Takers and we can easily bring this up to the present day, where, you guessed it, who is "taking"? Who is "giving"? If the Democrats would just start using powerful, positive language that distinguishes them in sum as quantitatively better than the "Takers" of the GOP, as a party with some kind of a plan and intention (the plan to appease the moderates, the intention to appease the liberals) and identify in sum as the party of "the Givers" (and not allow that to be turned on its head into some social engingeering or welfare bullshit slogan by you-know-who), then maybe we can start to address a little of the attention to details PR problem the Democrats have been facing since 1980 (I mean, their attention to details has been phrased as the problem, not that attention to details is a problem or that they have a problem with it, just like I am adding this long winded parenthetical to make my point clear).

I fear, however, that the Democrats are too spineless to call the GOP on their duplicity. That they don't know what they are doing is a bit of half truth. They know exactly what they are doing, it just isn't that pretty of a picture unless you consider Realpolitik to be on a par with Impressionism. What the GOP has relied upon is that branding that is rooted in absolute, blind faith in our "system", the flag, and the bottom line. It has been their MO since Ike. That means, get that damn oil and control those fields by ANY MEANS NECESSARY and milk that until the very last. That is why Cheney has interwoven his tentacles into every piece of the machine that is operating and preying on the Iraqi people. Free Trade Uber Alles! I hope and pray that some person running for office will have the fortitude and conviction to call that like it is: outright theft and rape of a country (actually, not just one, but many countries on different scales, the only thing is that these supranational corporations do most of the bidding). Now, one question is: do Americans want to hear that? Or, do we want to just here that the current Admin. is just a bunch of greedy fools? Both? This country doesn't deal well with the shame thing. Half this country does, the half that is just about ready to align with Canada. The other half wants to teach how Jesus saved the school system and those nasty liberals tried to betray us and anyone who criticizes BushCo is a traitor or any soldier who does is a traitor. This is a form of latent facism, only a stones throw from Franco or Gaultieri. The GOP is the party of "security" and all the media does is parrot their craftily landed talking points. Frankly, I have yet to see some fire in anyone on the Democratic side, enough to have the optimism that you seem to. I'd love to, yet I haven't seen that yet.

The only two sources I have seen with much clarity on the state of things is your column and Media Matters. MoveOn goes out to lunch too much, over in Peoples Park in Berkeley and fights that old liberal feel-good battle a little too nicely. And, neither you or MM are really directly affiliated with the DNC, unless there is something you aren't telling us. Which brings me to another revelation: politics and the media are one and the same!! I hope someone in the DNC is taking notes on that, really, truly.

Jon a.k.a. "Our Karl Rove" said...

Religious Left,

There's a lot to talk about in your response. Unfortunately, I don't have the time now to fully engage.

But let me quickly say that I am in no way affiliated with the Democratic party. I'm not even a registered Democrat. My goal is to influence the discussion within the party, though, and help -- in any way I can -- guide them to be the party that this country needs them to be.

And that brings up an interesting dynamic between the country's culture and the party's fundamentals.

There is a gap -- but it's not really a gap in philosophy. It's a gap in symbolism. This country (in fact, most countries) latch onto symbols because they are more powerful than rules, policies, and personalities. Symbols can inspire, terrorize, and dynamically represent different things to different people. Symbols can be a very efficient communication and management tool.

My argument is that, symbolically, "the givers" as a party symbol would not resonate with this country's culture, despite the fact that it's a baseline philosophy for most Americans.

Let me try to say this another way : even though most Americans see themselves as givers rather than takers, they exist in a symbolic world where they don't have the time or energy to give like they would want to... but they are not looking for the government to "give" for them. That is outsourcing "goodness" to government, which runs against individual pride.

My argument would be that people want excuses as to why they are the way they are, and they want their government to understand their plight. People want government to solve the problems they can't solve, but they don't want the government to do the things that they think they should be doing themselves.

So, it's OK for government to pay for projects that are beyond the scope of community responsibility, but it's not OK for government to give to charity for citizens, nor is it OK for government to assert its values on individuals.

It is OK for government to help people in dire need, but only if it's seen that these people are victims of forces beyond their control (Katrina), but it's not OK for government to help people who symbolically represent laziness (urban blacks).

To this point, if the urban black community effectively conveyed their plight as one of external forces beyond their control, the enter dynamic around inner city socioeconomics would shift. Unfortunately, the symbolism doesn't match up with reality, and nobody is working to address this gap. Until this symbolic gap is closed, Americans will simply not want to bail out people who want a free ride when they have to work their hands to the bone to make ends meet.

So, "givers" to me symbolically fails the sniffer test. But it's grounded in a well-rooted value system that can be exploited by Democrats if deployed properly. For instance, if Democrats espouse that if you see yourself as a "giving" person, then you are more likely to be a Democrat, because that's the kind of people who join the party. THAT is powerful, because what you're doing here is leveraging a known, mass ethos of giving in our culture and assigning it to the Democratic brand.

It's what Republicans have done in the South and Midwest with Christianity. In a lot of regions in the US, the Republican Party is the party for Christians. That enables a lot of mindless voting in a host of states.

Dems can do the same thing with giving... as well as other common cultural attributes.