Saturday, February 7, 2009

The porkulus package

What a difference a name makes! It seems Congress may have the votes to spend in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars on a smorgasbord of liberal causes. If it had done so on the merits of each cause, it wouldn't have a ghost of a chance, but since they've called it a "stimulus package" it's likely to get through, even though both theory and experience say it won't improve the economy. In fact, it is a certain as things get to hurt the economy.

One thing the Democratic party/media complex excels in is using key words to frame the debate. They have a built in advantage because the media serves as an amplifier for words the Democrats want to emphasize. But Republicans are often clueless about the importance of terminology in framing issues, so they miss opportunities they could use to their own advantage.

Among Republicans there is a total lack of consistency in getting behind their own key words, without which Democrats dominate the debate, and Republicans merely look obstructionist. Look at the "stimulus package" as an example. If Republican pols constantly referred to this as a "porkulus package", that phrase would get attached to this turkey of a spending program in the public mind. Lots of critical chatter by Republicans simply doesn't have the impact of a single, easy to remember key word or phrase.

The Bush administration will be remembered by friends and foes as almost completely inept at getting its message across. One reason is that it never tried to reduce complex issues to easy to remember catchwords or phrases that the public could get behind.

There are lots of examples of this process at work. Consider the "fairness doctrine". No one could be against "fairness", right? Yet Republicans mindlessly use the Democrats' word and try to explain their way out of the issue. Most of the public won't be listening by the end of the explanation. So Republicans need to emphasize their own word for this attempt to muzzle conservative media. If all Republican politicians used the "unfairness doctrine" or some other similar word or phrase every time they talked about this issue, they'd be much more effective.

Another word in the news recently is "card check", which is the Democrats' phrase for taking away the secret ballot in union organizing elections. Yet I've seen many Republicans talking about this issue without saying that "Democrats are trying to take away the secret ballot" until well down in their responses, if at all.

Perhaps it is the Republican tendency to think logically about issues that gets them into trouble during public debates. Democrats rely on emotion, so naturally think in terms of catch phrases, while Republicans want a logical debate when there isn't the airtime for a complicated presentation.

Whatever the reason, Democrats often control debates by controlling the words used. Republicans should become much more sensitive to this issue, and work on getting their own words out. Just being reasonable and right doesn't cut it.

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