Cheat-Seeking Missles

Friday, June 29, 2007

Dem Talking Points

Last night, I nominated Newsweek columnist Sharon Begley's column This is Your Brain on Politics as one of the most ridiculous stories of the year. This morning, I want to share some of the tactical recommendations to the Dems presented in Begley's column.

The recommendations were made by Drew Westen of Emory University, whose book, “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation,” was the starting point for Begley's ridiculous column.

I don't disagree with Westen's theory that emotions drive opinion formation more than rational thought, but I do disagree with his position that the GOP is skilled at emotional string-pulling while the Dems are inept. Dem presidential candidates don't appear to disagree, however, since Begley tells us two of them have approached Westen for help on their campaigns.

If he signs on, and I'm sure he wrote the book so he would get such an offer, here's the kind of talking points we an expect, excerpted from the book via Begley's column. First, abortion:
Westen has penned powerful sound bites and mini-speeches that Dems could use to justify their core positions on perennial issues. Abortion, and bills outlawing it (as GOP platforms have long called for) or requiring parental consent? “My opponent puts the rights of rapists above the rights of their victims, guaranteeing every rapist the right to choose the mother of his child. . . My opponent believes that if a 16-year-old girl is molested by her father and becomes pregnant, she should be forced by the government to have his child, and if she doesn’t want to she should be forced by the government to go to the man who raped her and ask for his consent.”
Doesn't it sound like the infamous "Republicans are going to kill Social Security" stuff? It's not like the Dems don't do this kind of thing all the time -- remember famous Dem Cameron Dias saying if Bush is elected, rape would become legal?

Begley, no doubt fabulously in favor of murdering the unborn, really likes this message, so it's pulled her emotional strings. But she already would have voted for this candidate, so we have to ask if the aggressive language will work.

To work the listener will have to forget the fact that most abortion laws have a rape exclusion; forget the fact that the rapist has no "right to choose the mother of his child," but rather has only the right to go to jail for a long, long time because of his crime; and forget the fact that parental notification laws have exclusions for parental rape.

Most voters who care about the abortion issue will see this as pandering and excessive, and the quote will not broaden the base for this candidate, although it may solidify it.

How about Westen's advice on gun control?
How about an ad showing a parade of Arab-looking men walking into a gun store, setting their money on the counter and walking out with three or four semi-automatics each, with this voice-over: “My opponent thinks you shouldn’t have to show a photo ID or get a background check to buy a handgun. He thinks anyone who wants an AK-47 should be able to buy one, no questions asked. What’s the point of fighting terrorists abroad if we’re going to arm them over here?”
It's a powerful image, indeed, but again, it's shallow and not factual.

For it to work, Westen will have to find a Dem who's up against a candidate who actually holds that belief, and he's going to have a hard time doing that. You have to know the issue before you can write effective talking points -- emotional or not -- and Westen fails because he hasn't bothered to find out what the pro-gun positions are. Ironically, he's accepted as true his emotional perceptions of what the positions are.

Finally, we go to Westen's proposal that Begley thinks would have given us President Gore if only Westen had been on the Gore campaign. He cues off this comment from Bush regarding Gore's Buddhist temple fundraising: “You know, going to a Buddhist temple and then claiming it wasn’t a fund-raiser isn’t my view of responsibility.”

Gore waffled it -- I think he said something about inventing either campaign finance reform or Buddhism, but I really can't remember -- and at that moment, the VEEP probably inspired Westen to right the book. Here's what Westen would have had him say:
“You have attacked my honor and integrity. I think it’s time to teach you a few old-fashioned lessons about character. When I enlisted to fight in the Vietnam War, you were talkin’ real tough about Vietnam. But when you got the call, you called your daddy and begged him to pull some strings so you wouldn’t have to go to war. So instead of defending your country with honor, you put some poor Texas millworker’s kid on the front line in your place to get shot at. Where I come from, we call that a coward.

“When I was working hard, raising my family, you were busy drinking yourself and your family into the ground. Why don’t you tell us how many times you got behind the wheel of a car with a few drinks under your belt? Where I come from, we call that a drunk.

“When I was serving in the U.S. Senate, your own father’s government had to investigate you on the charge that you’d swindled a bunch of old people out of their life savings by using insider knowledge to sell off stocks you knew were about to drop. Where I come from, we call that crooked. So governor, don’t you ever lecture me about character. And don’t you ever talk to me that way again in front of my family or my fellow citizens.”

This is the sort of "gee, if I'd only" thinking we all do after the fact, but in politics, you have to anticipate these questions long in advance and be prepared for them.

Reagan did that when prepping for his Mondale debate, knowing the age question would come up. Instead of going into a three paragraph ad hominem attack, Reagan just chuckled that he wouldn't hold his opponent's age and inexperience against him.

Now that's an emotional message -- short, clear, funny, witty, sharp, self-depreciating, honorable. It pulled every string right and was the end of the Mondale campaign.

Westen's approach is to haul up the garbage truck, pour a few gallons of foul-smelling false scent over it, and dump it on the stage. His message for Gore was long, personal, angry and inaccurate. It will not work because people don't want a long-winded, vindictive, angry and inaccurate president.

I hope Westen's been hired on to Hillary's campaign, because whoever hires this guy is going to lose ground, and she's got the most ground to lose.

hat-tip: Soccer Dad

Labels: , ,