It is frustrating…aggravating…and ultimately harmful to our nation’s future; and the Democrats just do not get it! It is the lack of effective communication skills the party has to win the hearts and minds of the electorate in future elections. And ultimately the responsibility for this coming (and continuing) disaster has to rest with the DNC. Here’s why.
First, let’s deal with the problems the Democrats now face. Most obvious is the fact that the party has allowed the minority to frame the issues, thus putting the Dems back on their heels on virtually every issue that arises. A corollary to this problem is the fact that Republican messages have often been disingenuous (I could also use the word “dishonest”), and the Democrats have been ineffective at countering it. Secondly, the GOP is disciplined, and stays on message to an amazing degree, while the Democrats have widely dispersed messages and are often caught in a cul de sac of communication. Thirdly, the Republicans have substantially greater funding to disseminate their messages. And finally, despite Republican propaganda to the contrary, the mass media in the country is now tilted to the right. All present challenges to the Democrats…all have solutions…and all have been dealt with ineptly by the party leaders.
Dissecting the problems, we have to start with money. There it is clear that the Republicans have a huge edge – and Citizens United has compounded the issue many fold. There is only one solution to this challenge: the Dems must consolidate their funding and bundle it into a synergistic campaign. That means there will have to be more national advertising and less dispersement to local candidates. After spending 45 years in the advertising business, the party has lost focus on the need for messages (advertising) to gain effective results from both reach and frequency. A comprehensive message…broadcast to a wide national audience…with great frequency…is the best way to offer truth and fact to the American public in countering the GOP claims. The only national entity to do this would be the DNC, but they have focused on local solutions to a greater degree. While “boots on the ground” and “get out the vote” are important, in today’s media sound-bite world, the American public is sadly misinformed. And, lack of information (and worse yet, misinformation) portends election disaster.
The one “national” communicator the Democrats do have is Obama and the Bully Pulpit. Problem here is that again the Republicans have been effective at discrediting him with a combination of frivolous claims (“is he really a citizen?”); wild nonsense about his “Socialist” tendencies, and other major and minor allegations to smear him or reduce his effectiveness. Moreover, he can only be exposed so much without becoming intrusive.
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Another way the Republicans out-politic the Dems is that they have a continuous stream of messages virtually daily, while the Democrats seem to relay on more traditional local candidate advertising close to elections. Problem with that is the publics’ image of the parties is being formed on a continuum – and the image now being formed is that the Democrats are spenders, high tax supporters, the big government party etc. The Republicans have cleverly used this by acknowledging, even admitting, they are the party of “no” – but that position actually is in the best interests of the country. It is an amazing feat of sleight of hand, but it seems to resonate.
Meanwhile, actual Democratic achievements have been lost in the fog of Republican communication savvy. We hear little of the success of the stimulus; the reform of financial institutions; the benefits of health care reform; credit card reform and others. Indeed, the Republicans have actually turned these achievements against the Democrats to a degree that they actual proclaim if they get into power they may repeal virtually all this new legislation
What is further amazing is that the Republican media and message campaigns are so effective; they now have a vast majority of the American public convinced they should support issues which are contrary to their own interests. For example, the way the Republicans have fuzzed up tax reform (and the pending end to the Bush tax cuts) has been made so murky by the GOP that Americans are now convinced the Dems are going to institute a massive tax hike on virtually all taxpayers.
The bottom line is this. The Democrats have strong, legitimate and credible positions to communicate and support their governance. There have been legislative achievements that have improved our country. These messages are not being disseminated…not being properly constructed…not effectively using the media needed to reach the American public…and not meeting the communicating strength of reach and frequency. To correct this deficiency, the DNC is going to have to re-evaluate their role in the coming (and future) elections. They are the entity that can set a new course, consolidate funding, and develop the expertise to run a national communications/advertising/image building political program.
A vital added benefit of running a national campaign is to fire up Democratic supporters who are looking to the party for leadership and response. The old adage “all politics are local” is no longer true – in today’s media rich political world, all politics are now BOTH local…and national.
All of which brings us to this final question: can the Democrats discover new ways to make the party “election-ready” for the media and communication challenges of the 21st century? Or will they cling to old techniques, and legacy strategies that will not work in today’s new media environment. The Republicans are light years ahead of the Democratic Party in this regard – and the Dems better put learning these new techniques on a very fast track if they are to be competitive in future elections.