The Democratic Campaign Committee sent me a message this afternoon entitled DISASTER. The message: “Did you see Al Gore’s message? We only have a few hours left before tonight’s midnight FEC deadline…”
Groan. Once again, the Democratic Party trashes its credibility by treating liberal activists like nothing more than a crowd of marks, just waiting to be conned. There is no midnight FEC deadline. People will be just as able to donate to the Democrats on August 1st as they are today on July 31st. The DCCC’s message is using a cheap trick, well known to hucksters selling gizmos on New Jersey boardwalks: Create a false sense of urgency with a limited time offer, and suckers will start shelling out their money before their rational minds can catch on to the gimmick.
I don’t mean to suggest that there isn’t any impending disaster for the Democratic Party, though. It’s just something different from what the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wants us to believe it is. The disaster has to do with “tax relief”.
George Lakoff, in his classic 2004 political text, Don’t Think Of An Elephant, advised, “When the word tax is added to relief, the result is a metaphor: Taxation is affliction. And the person who takes it away is a hero, and anyone who tries to stop him is a bad guy. This is a frame. It is made up of ideas, like affliction and hero. The language that evokes the frame comes out of the White House, and it goes into press releases, goes to every radio station, every TV station, every newspaper. And soon the New York Times is using tax relief. And it is not only on Fox; it is on CNN, it is on NBC, it is on every station because it is “the president’s tax-relief plan.” And soon the Democrats are using tax relief – and shooting themselves in the foot.”
That warning came eight years ago, as the Democratic Party leadership was throwing the 2004 presidential election away by choosing a gung ho military theme for John Kerry’s presidential campaign: “Reporting for duty!” After the 2004 disaster, the Democratic leadership promised that they’d examine their errors. They trotted out George Lakoff, with his message of learning how to frame a political debate, and swore that they’d learn to stay true to the progressive frame, rather than mimicking Republican concepts, as they had done before.
So now, as we’re in the middle of the 2012 presidential campaign, the Democrats have had plenty of time to craft a political strategy that implements George Lakoff’s ideas. Unfortunately, that’s not what the Democrats are doing at all.
Instead of promoting a progressive political frame, the Democratic Party is celebrating the right wing frames that the Republicans created and control. Just as the Democrats did in 2004, they think they’re being clever by adopting Republican language and copying Republican policy. The worst of this bungled approach is being implemented in the economic sphere.
Instead of promoting the progressive economic agenda that voters in 2008 elected Barack Obama to implement, the Democrats are busy pushing the economic agenda of George W. Bush. From the Obama White House on down through the U.S. Senate into the House of Representatives, the Democratic Party line has become: We need to save the Bush tax cuts!*
*except for the very wealthy.
The Democrats in Congress and the White House think that they’re being crafty, sneaking in an end to tax cuts for the wealthy by covering them up with a narrative about how much the middle class needs tax cuts. In reality, they’re just supporting the Republican frame, which is that tax cuts are the best way to promote economic growth. The asterisk of except for the very wealthy is an afterthought that’s overshadowed by the main idea: That our country needs lower taxes as soon as possible.
Just yesterday, a coalition of Democrats in the House of Representatives, led by Sander Levin, introduced two bills to renew George W. Bush’s tax cuts. The two bills, H.R. 15 and H.R. 16, promise “tax relief”.
The Democratic Party hasn’t learned a thing. They’re still trying to trick voters into thinking that they’re just like the Republicans, instead of promoting their own ideas. They’re ignoring the wise advice offered by George Lakoff years ago, and as a result, no matter whether the Democratic Party or the Republican Party wins the presidential and congressional elections, Republican ideas will be the ones that win.
American voters who are sick of the Republican frame that advances cuts in services to pay for lower taxes for the wealthy won’t get much satisfaction out of a Democratic Party that stupidly applauds the toxic concept of “tax relief”. Progressive voters who want to support candidates that represent their ideals will be voting on the Green Party ticket, with Jill Stein running for President and Green congressional candidates running for office all across the country. The Greens may not have the wealthy allies that the Democratic Party uses to maintain power, but at least they have the intelligence to appeal to progressive voters by promoting progressive ideas.