Column No. 24 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - August 5, 2004
Note to the reader (again): We are now past the Democratic National Convention, and in a series of columns written before I left on summer vacation, I continue to devote myself to what are primarily generic campaign matters. This is the last column this Series. Next week, if all has gone and goes well with my schedule, I shall be back with you “live.”
To remind you once again, this set of columns has been prepared in advance. It is possible that some of what I have to say here will have been overtaken by events. But hopefully, whether or not that has happened, you will find these thoughts to be of use as our attention turns to the principal challenge facing the pro-democracy forces, not in Iraq, but here at home: how to defeat George Bush and assure the election of John Kerry.
On the “Tax and Spend” Issue
“Tax and spend" has been used as a Democrat-demolition slogan by the Republicans since it was first introduced in a major way politically with the Prop. 13 campaign (1978) in California. They did this because, of course, they always lost when the battles were over what tax revenues bought, not the tax revenues themselves. Goldwater had complained long and loud about this problem, as he tried to figure out ways that he could get taxes for his rich supporters cut and “shrink government” for programs that he didn’t like, which nevertheless had strong appeal to at least some segments of the voting population. It came into full bloom under “but wasn’t he such a nice guy” Reagan.
The “tax and spend” epithet has been now for years a very effective political tool for the Republicans as they continue to proceed along the pathway to the achievement of Grover Norquist’s chosen and oft-stated goal: “shrinking government to the size of a bathtub and then drowning it in the tub.” Of course, by “government” these folks mean everything other than its most expensive bits: the military-industrial and the prison-industrial complexes and all of their accoutrement.
I have dealt in some detail with how to counter-attack this tactic in my book, The New Americanism (see the citation below), esp. Chaps. 4 and 16. One major responsive tactic would be to develop what I call a “Local Problems Bank” approach to the issue. In campaigns, from the national to the local, it would detail what Federal, and state, tax cuts for the rich have cost in terms of the reduction of specific services in specific communities, the loss of a specific road or rail construction/development project in a particular region, a specific facility that was either closed or made very costly, specific jobs lost because of government budget cuts. Republicans want to focus on the general: “tax cuts.” We could very effectively, I believe, focus on the specifics of what those tax cuts cost us, in the reality of people’s daily lives (and not deficits down the road, an abstract concept) right here at home.
How to Deal with Red and Liberal Baiting
There will be an increasing amount of liberal – and then I believe red-baiting coming from the Republicans in this campaign, especially as they become more desperate, as I think they will. In my view, in the case of red-baiting this should always be done by an immediate attack on the attacker for doing it. That is, first resist the temptation to say, “What do you mean, I’m not a red.” Rather, immediately counter-attack by saying “this is what these people do; they cannot handle the issues, so they just get into their usual distractive, irrelevant, politics. It is just so old. And now getting back to the issues. . . .” In the case of liberal-baiting, one can do the same thing, and one can also go to the formula that I spelled out in some detail in the first of this series (July 8): "if liberal means x, y, and z, then I am happily a liberal" (health care, environment, protection of the American way of civil life, etc.).
Developing a Strategy for Dealing with BushBadNews
What I like to call BushBadNews is coming across the wire every day, sometimes in torrents. This is hard stuff, not speculation, on Iraq, on Georgite corruption, on secrecy in government, on attacking the Constitution, on "mis-statements" and outright lies, on disorganization and internal conflict in the Administration, on corruption, on the economy, on the environment, on personal stuff, and so on and so forth. One doesn't have to dig for this stuff. They just do their thing and provide us with it in regular doses.
It seems to me that a problem for our side is to come up with a way of organizing and prioritizing the BushBadNews. There is so much of it, and such a steady stream of it, on so many issues, that it is very possible that the Georgites will stage-manage this thing to promote nothing but public boredom about it: "oh yeah, there those Democrat-traitors and those constant-Democrat-politicizers go again, but we just KNOW how GREAT George REALLY is."
Both to combat that kind of counter-attack and use the material to the best of the Kerry-Edwards Campaign’s advantage, I believe that there has to be a plan for doing so. Just random shots/responses won’t do. That would play right into their hands to create the “boredom” response. To use conventional strategic planning language, the Vision of course is to achieve a Kerry Presidency. The Mission would be to have is to use the BushBadNews to the best advantage. The Goal of the planning process is to establish a workable system for doing that. The tasks that need to be accomplished (not necessarily in order of importance) are:
1. Listing criteria to establish the credibility of sources, on the web, in the print media (newspapers and magazines), and other electronic (radio and television) and then commit to use only those that meet the pre-established criteria.
2. Listing the sources to be consulted regularly. I don't have to discuss the print/electronic media potential sources, starting with the major national dailies and such news programs as All things Considered here. Just for starters, the list of websites that should be reviewed for usefulness includes: www.tompaine.com; www.misleader.org; http://democrats.com; www.centerforamericanprogress.org; http://www.moveon.org/. And there are plenty more of them. But one of the problems is going to be keeping the amount of potentially, possibly, usable material under control. One way to do this is to spend some time looking at sites, deciding which ones to review on a regular basis and which ones not, and then sticking to that decision.
3. Next, a system for organizing the information has to be developed. I suggest three major categories: process, substance, and personal. Process has to do with such practices as lying, misrepresentation, concealment, ignoring the Courts, ignoring Congress. Substance has to do with issues: the economy, Iraq, unilateralism in foreign policy, tax and fiscal policy, health care, Social Security, infrastructure, environment, you name it. Personal has to do with such elements as appear in the personal "Bush Resume," everything from the AWOLty to the Saudi/bin Ladens connection. Establishing priorities for the process and substance material is a central part of the process.
4. Coming out of “3” should be a plan for integrating the BushBadNews with the overall plan and strategy for the Campaign. What are the major themes of the Campaign? How are they going to be cycled? Should the Campaign be issuing periodic BushBadNews summaries of its own (drawn for the sources the Campaign decides to use)? If so, when should they come out as separate items, when as part of the stump speech and various others that the Senators deliver? Should there be a BushBadNews "Theme of the Week?”
5. Finally, there must be a plan for dealing with the inevitable Republican/Georgite responses. As I have said many times in this space (the most recent being the mention just above) Republicans inherently never want to deal with issues if they can at all avoid doing so, because when they have to they almost invariably lose. Thus they want to deal with process: "Democrats are politicizing; Democrats are traitors (courtesy of Ann Coulter); Democrats are personalizing; Democrats are leaking; Democrats are waging class-warfare; Democrats are playing the race card," and so on and so forth.
The way to do this, in brief? You’ve heard it all before:
“Always attack; never defend.”
“Stay in Control of the Agenda,” and make sure that the agenda is primarily George Bush and his record. If we can do that, we are going to win, and win big.