"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, October 12, 2008

The Final Frame

Obama Campaign,

As we turn the corner and head for the finish line in this campaign, it can be difficult to convince ourselves that introducing a new frame/meme/competitive advantage is the right thing to do. After all, if the campaign has proven anything to us, it's that it likes to play defense when it's ahead and only take chances when behind.

Still, hear me out: There is one frame you can deploy during the final stretch that is completely risk-free, will resonate universally with all voter demographics, and will also subtly touch upon key differentiators between Obama and McCain.

Obama/Biden: Working Harder

The Working Harder frame plays on multiple levels that can only improve the ticket's positioning in the electorate:

  • Americans are a hard-working bunch. Hard work is just as much of our national self-image as freedom, democracy, and religion. Advancing this frame plays into our self-image, which can only benefit the ticket. To prove the point, look at what advancing freedom and democracy did for George W. Bush's election prospects in 2004.

  • Hard work -- not spin -- is exactly what will get us out of our economic crisis, and everyone knows it. Americans will feel even more secure with Obama/Biden if they are promised and re-assured that hard work will accompany all the knowledge and education (i.e., so-called elitism) that comes with the ticket. Nobody questions Obama's intellect -- it's just that too often Americans believe that a leader relies on either intellect or hard work to succeed. The Obama campaign needs to make it clear that Obama / Biden will not just be smart, but will work hard.

  • Obama/Biden have already proven that they are working tirelessly to prove to Americans that they are the right ticket for America's future. Everyone who's paying attention knows that the Obama campaign had to out-work (as well as out-smart) Hillary Clinton in order to win. So, while hard work has always been the ethic, a hard-working narrative has yet to be introduced to the voter directly.

  • Hard work is a frame that will directly impact the demographics that are the hardest for Obama/Biden to reach: working class Democrats, struggling middle-class independents, and non-ideological/moderate Republicans. Heck, even racists might get past the half-black thing if they are convinced that Obama/Biden will work hard. Much of "racism" in America is actually not racism, but culturalism -- a belief that blacks in America simply don't want to work hard to get ahead, and expect our tax dollars to subsidize their lifestyle.

There is certain obviousness to this that is far too easy to overlook, and therefore not too difficult to explain, nor to prove. Obama/Biden have already proven they're willing to work hard to make America great again, and when the voter comparison shops based on this frame, they will see I'm-72-and-I-don't-work-on-weekends McCain and I'm-a-mouthpiece-and-not-a-worker--just-like-Bush-and-who-by-the-way-has-five-kids-to-raise Palin don't even have to be called out explicitly on these issues. The voters already implicitly feel these truths.

Beyond the rationale, there are two compelling attributes to this being a killer final frame:

  • There is no down-side to introducing the frame of working harder. There can be no media blow-back (it's not negative, and it's a subjective assertion), and there's really no counter-punch opportunity (McCain simply can't afford to make his age and energy level a focus at this stage in the game, especially with his wildly unqualified VP pick waiting in the wings).

  • It is incredibly simple to introduce as a campaign message. Just two steps are required: 1) Alert the media that you will be introducing the new working harder message so that the analysts and pundits get their ears tuned. 2) Simply sprinkle the working harder message into existing speeches wherever it makes sense (i.e., "America needs and deserves new leadership. Leadership that will work harder for you.")

When the campaign introduces this final frame, the American people will not only feel better about the ticket than they already do, but they will instinctively connect the dots around the age and qualification gap between the tickets, and hand the election over to Obama/Biden with a decisive victory.


trog69 said...

I don't see why this wouldn't be a great meme to get out there, especially with many of those undecideds who can see the lack of any real work being done to alleviate our financial upheaval. All they see is Congress and Bush throwing money at a problem, rather than rolling up their sleeves on this. Consider this one Digged.

I would pose a question; Why would they have to alert the media to this? The first time they used it in a speech or ad, the media would have it spread in no time. McCain seems to like to tip off the media whenever he's about to change course, though it has meant that he's about to hit another iceberg.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a great idea. It taps into all the memes about the puritan work eithic that are in all of our subconscious minds. And McCain can't fight it. I love it job, we done. You have captured that which is obvious and distilled it into a clear strategy.

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


I would argue that the Obama campaign has done a bad job with active media management. The media is an organ of the political process, and it should be managed as best as possible.

The McCain campaign gets this, but unfortunately relies on it far too much for campaign success. Just because the McCain campaign overplays this hand doesn't mean it isn't a great hand to play.

The advantage of seeding this ahead of time is simply to maximize the results. Sure, the media might pick up on it and comment on it themselves, but I think we've all seen that the media is much better as a megaphone of news handed to them than that of editorial hands that decide for themselves what is important to cover.

Let's be clear: If McCain wasn't running against a Republican (his party/Bush) and a Democrat (Obama), he would most likely not be behind right now in the polls. So, there is something to be said for managing the news cycle.

The Religious Left said...

Do you think that the ACORN stuff is worth the response or does it even make a difference? I agree that the Obama camp's media management hasn't been as strong on this as it ought to be. Slightly better so with the Ayers echo. What do you think about countering the negativity, Jon?

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


I do not think the ACORN stuff is worth responding to. It reeks of inside politics that has nothing to do with getting the economy back on track, or how we're going to become a great nation again.

Let's not sweat the small stuff, while re-enforcing the big stuff. If anything, Obama should just admit he worked with them way back in the day, and that he is shocked -- SHOCKED -- that they might have engaged in any immoral or illegal activity.

Quick caveat - if it gets legs, then, yes, we need to rebuff. But I think the acronym sounds so nice and nutty (and fall-like) that on the face of it, it's a non-starter politically for those crucial 10% independents who still could change their minds.

The Religious Left said...

It just seems sad that any low- or middle-income advocacy group that has any problem is targeted as some "extreme leftist" organization. A few people doing stupid things get blown out of proportion and- whammo- it gets the mileage it has. You're right, though, it's not really worthy of response in the long run. I am encouraged by Barack's cool and calm demeanor regardless of what they throw at him. Pulling ahead in traditional red states helps too.

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


I understand the frustration, but there is a good reason for this targeting of so-called extreme leftist organizations. All of these organizations work directly against the American self-image of itself.

Self-determination and self-sufficiency are fundamental pillars of our identity. Of course, there are plenty of practical programs that work directly against these virtues, but only the programs that are for ALL Americans are immune to such extreme framing.

Any organization that helps "the others" (i.e., people who are lazy, stupid, unfit to live) without helping "the us" (i.e., whoever "we" are in our identity) will be classified as an organization that simply uses our tax dollars to help those other "lazy, dumb people."

The Religious Left said...

Just as McCain's surrogates are getting ready reignite the Wright controversy, I could go into helping "the us" of those people in mortgage crisis, watching the Dow religiously, or those banks that are getting bailed out vs. low-income folks: all assumptions of that argument, but I get your point. The cycle of this is pattern is quite...taoist (a term that would obviously go nowhere in a US political campaign, only to serve for "us" of the liberal/progressive intelligencia as a means of understanding on a level that never would enter the mind of our adversaries). Oh, yet we have precious little time to ponder such.

Your point hints at countering GOP fear slogans, many of which are still getting mileage from... Nixon, Reagan: "socialist","class warfare", etc. Who can argue against "working harder"? Certainly not Republicans with their puritan identity so ingrained. I personally like to see a similar fire in liberals, be they on TV or radio or blogs- who are working very hard. We have "them" on the ropes; this could very well be the Democrats' "Reagan Revolution". I resist the urge to be in their face (picking on those doofi I refer to as "Foxtards"), yet I think they deserve a little retribution for framing the debate for so many years (to the country's detriment) and turning liberal into a dirty word (not to mention questioning "our" patriotism).

I want Barack to remain the cool, collected, adult in the room, which is how I see him flying right over all the attacks and leading to victory, so I suppose any retribution will have to wait until after Nov. 4 and that retribution will be taken in the form of sound public policy and real economic recovery.

The Religious Left said...


Eugene Robinson sums up my angst.

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


This should not be about retribution. This should be about definition.

It's up to us (through Obama) to help define what American national values really are... and then challenge ourselves to stick to them so that we may remain a prosperous nation.

Yes, Democrats should not be afraid to link our behaviors, values and ideals to prosperity. Wealth should not be a dirty word.

It's critical for the Democratic/progressive movement to expand into mainstream ideals of globalization, free/fair trade, and wealth creation as a driver for innovation and change. The movement needs to accept what drives us, and work to help guide the passions and progress toward the "greater good" of the nation, which should be inextricably linked to the "greater good" of humanity, which, conveniently, is inextricably linked to religious philosophy.

All of this can -- and should -- be linked into a broad progressive world-view that in its totality will simply smother the comparatively narrow and petty conservative agenda.

The Religious Left said...

My apologies for rambling threads-

I recall when you posted during the primaries about "what's in it for you" vs. "we","us", or "me". I think Barack actually gets it- how would you grade him and McCain on that measure?
Boy, it is just surreal watching Fox "News" sometimes (why I watch: know thy enemy). Right as someone says anything positive about Barack- like a guy this am succinctly defending the Obama tax plan and pointing out that if a person is making more than $250K/year then that guy is doing a lot better than most Americans (Fox grabbing onto the Joe Plumber guy, predictably) and the fact that the tax is on income from a business, not on the business itself, Fox just morphs it back into their original meme of exploring why "you ought to be afraid of Obama", as if the guy defending him had said nothing at all. It's a like a dog that you are walking on a leash that insists on smelling that poop on the sidewalk and no matter what you do you can't get the dog to forget the poop and move on.
We do have to be thankful that McCain is telegraphing his strategy ahead of time, at least what can be called a strategy.

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


Yes, with regards to me/we/I, you're right. Obama does get it. Interestingly, there are two posts by a computational linguist around this very point that do not exactly correlate to my views on the matter in that prior OKR post:

From Jan 08: http://wordwatchers.wordpress.com/2008/01/20/hello-world/

From Oct 08: http://wordwatchers.wordpress.com/2008/10/15/debate-language/

Analysis of what we/me/I aside, it seems mathematically clear that Obama is a 3rd person communicator and not a 1st person communicator.

I think what people are looking for in these communications depend on the times. I can imagine that in a time of war, we would want a more 'first person' communication style. Whereas when trying to solve big social problems, a 'third person' style might resonate more.

It's arguable (though I don't have the facts to prove it) that Obama invokes "I" when talking foreign policy and "we" when talking domestic policy. This would make a whole lot of sense because, per our constitutional arrangement, the President plays a different role in the foreign policy sphere: Commander-in-Chief. That role calls for more "I" and less "we." Whereas domestically, the President is not Commander-in-Chief and merely commands a bully pulpit. The bully pulpit requires convincing and agenda setting... thereby requiring a "we" process to get anything accomplished.

re: Fox News. First, there should be regulations on what is considered a news station. MSNBC might be in the tank for Obama, but at least they don't have "news" in their name. Second, I think it should be called ACORN News now, not Fox News. They are hysterical over voter fraud... but not so much during 2004 when there was ripe evidence of the sort.

We should expect nothing more than propaganda from Fox News because that is their brand, and that is their identity. In fact, they are playing an important role in our society. If not for Fox News, there would be many who would feel so ideologically isolated that they might revert to violence. The fact that there is a Fox News means that there is at least a place where nutjobs can turn to to release the ideological pressure that builds up every day in their conservative minds.

Remember: all other media that does not advocate a conservative point of view is seen as a liberal co-conspirator. So, outside of Fox News, red-blooded conservatives feel like they have nowhere to turn to that they can trust.

I believe it's a shame (and a limitation) that many right-wingers only trust propaganda as information. Anything truly down the middle is not trusted, because they live in a world where everything is propaganda... yours and mine. A scary, sad world. But a world that a lot of people live in nonetheless.

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

It must be said that the frame advocated in this post made it into the final line of Obama's final pitch to the American people in the debate:

"I promise you that if you give me the extraordinary honor of serving as your president, I will work every single day, tirelessly, on your behalf and on the behalf of the future of our children."

The Religious Left said...

Good call. Obama nailed it there.

McCain made quite a blunder with the sarcastic "health" comment (a woman's health is an extreme pro-choice position we are to infer).

Even Frank Luntz' focus group thought Obama won, wow.

The Religious Left said...

Their last strategy now, as far as I can surmise, is the "both houses and the executive in the hands of the Democrats" scare strategy.
William Kristol almost came out and endorsed Obama tonight, that was surreal. Gergen sees him as now stronger than ever. Whew.

The Religious Left said...

I wrote this after the Alfred E. Smith dinner in New York tonight. On Foxnewa.com, of couse.
Far be it for us to maintain our humility here; some even need to score the humor in the dinner and find ways to make cheap shots at (guess who).

It was evidently clear that McCain for once was deferring a tiny bit to Obama as someone powerful, capable, and yes, likely to be the next President. It was refreshing to see that kind of honoring for each other. McCain's continued service in the US Senate will be valued and listened to by an Obama Administration.

The debate showed, resoundingly, that cool collected energy, fresh energy, is what is needed at the top, and John just doesn't have that, and Sarah Palin is just simply not qualified by any rational standard. This nice dinner added an emotional release for all involved in the race, and justifiably so. McCain knows he's lost. You can see it in his eyes and it is a testament to his character that he is able to be magnanimous and laugh at all. He is really patching up as much as possible with Barack so they may work together effectively to solve the problems before us rather than continue the division that has paralyzed government for so long. Good for them both, good for the country.

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


Well put. I think we're lucky at this point in our political history that we've picked two nominees who both would be equally gracious losers in this contest.

Let us not pretend we know the outcome. Let us prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. There can be no other way to assure victory.