Here’s some unsolicited advice for whatever candidate wins the Democratic presidential nomination. Let’s hope the DNC, in their zeal to attract corporate contributions, doesn’t screw up the democratic process too badly:

  1. Keep the message simple, memorable, repeatable.
  2. Don’t ridicule Bush’s stupidity and inarticulateness. It’s mean to make fun of the disadvantaged, and gets people rushing to their defence and sympathizing with them. We’re his victims. Don’t let his people turn that around.
  3. Focus on Bush’s dishonesty and untrustworthiness. People don’t like to be lied to. Miss America said it all: “I’d rather have an honest president who isn’t very intelligent than one that is intelligent but who I can’t trust”. And ignore the dishonesty and untrustworthiness of Bush’s team. Rumsfeld is a dangerous and slippery pathological liar, but it’s a waste of time to prove it — his name is not on the ballot.
  4. Make the emotional appeal first, and then back it up with a rational appeal. That’s the secret to selling anything. You want a car that’s sexy, and incidentally also reliable. Too many Democrats do it backwards, trying to get people worked up with the facts. Bush got people loathing Saddam, and the rationale for going to war with him was an afterthought, and even when people found out it was invented many of them didn’t care.
  5. Stress the consequences of Bush’s actions (the consequences of economic mismanagement, pre-emptive wars), rather than debating the strategy, morality and logic of those actions. Keep asking the “so what?” question. People can’t relate to deficit data and other unimaginably large numbers; they want to know what these data mean to the average American in his/her everyday life.
  6. Say what will restore pride in America and Americans, not how Bush has undermined it. People want to feel better about their country, not blame someone for why they feel worse.
  7. Aim the message at the 20% of voters who are undecided, and the 20% of non-voters who might vote if they got worked up. Everyone else is either a sure thing or a lost cause.
  8. Make the issues personal and concrete. A half-million American jobs exported to Asia because the wages there are lower and because there’s absolutely no tax or other incentive for American companies to employ Americans, for example.
  9. Play into the media, rather than fighting and bad-mouthing them. Yes, they’re doing a lousy job, yes they’re lazy journalists, yes they pander, yes they’re the least respected group in the US (below even the IRS). So what? They’re trying to do their job. Make it easier for them. Give them the sound bites. Give them stuff that will help their ratings. Say clever (but not too clever) stuff over and over and over until it sticks and you’re writing the headlines and catchy phrases for them.
  10. Don’t forget Congress. With the scandal of redistricting, it’s almost impossible for incumbents in Congress to lose if they play safe. Focus the effort on a dozen winnable Republican House seats and three or four Senate seats, and put real stars, leaders, articulate and courageous people in them. If those people are reluctant to run, all the better.
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  1. mark says:

    good advice – let’s hope they take it.

  2. mark says:

    and might I add a word to all of your readers. Don’t focus exclusively on the president. A third of the senators, and all of the congressmen will also be running. If you write about politics, or even talk about politics, turn some of your attention to the state and district candidates.

  3. Susan says:

    Good advice. However, this recall in my lovely state of California is going to act as a huge publicity sink through October–and perhaps a while after that if Arnold wins. Brilliant, really. This will keep any Democratic candidate from getting early name recognition. Nobody’s paying any attention to the presidential race.

  4. Adrian says:

    #4 cuts to the heart of an important dilemma. It’s clear much of the GOP’s success is due to a greater familiarity with sales — much of what Bush does (stuff that we despise) is lifted straight of the training you get as a novice enyclopedia salesman. This is a country where people routinely buy exercise devices, Roncomatics, diet plans that require no dieting, etc. on the basis of illogical sales pitches. The question I have is whether the rationalism of many liberal Democrats is part of the definition of being a liberal Democrat. In other words, is this part of the dividing line between the “real Democrats” and the sell-outs?To what extent can Democrats understand/learn from/use the GOP tactics, which as you say are based in emotional appeal, without betraying a core belief in ethical behavior, rational arguments and fair play?

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    Adrian: To some extent my job is sales, and I have no ethical concern with making an emotional appeal (provided it is not based on hate, fear or intolerance) and backing it up with the rational appeal (provided it is truthful). I think that could work for the Dems, while still clearly differentiating them from the Republican appeal to negative, base emotions, backed up with invented ‘facts’ and lies.

  6. lightning says:

    Another item — be very careful with numbers. Most of the electorate is profoundly innumerate. Work out all the numbers (and be double-damn sure you get them right!)In the 2002 elections, Democrats hammered on the point that most of Bush’s tax cuts went to the top 1% of the population. Turns out that people making less than $40,000/year thought that they were in that magic 1%, and getting the goodies. The Dems got hammered.Don’t say “top 1%”, say “over $300,000/year”. Don’t say “$400 billion deficit”, say “$3,000 of extra debt per family”.Using analogies with things like credit-card debt will give a lot of people a nasty cold feeling in the pit of the stomach that they simply won’t get with raw budget numbers.

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