The current kerfuffle over classified documents being found at President Biden’s various residences has reminded me how bad, how utterly clueless, Democrats seem to be at messaging. It’s inexplicable, and it’s constant. Republicans are actually great, even genius, at creating memes and messages that subtly move public opinion their way. Democrats, not so much.
The Biden team should get ahead of this with a few direct messages, as in:
As President I regret the mishandling of classified documents – I take our county’s security very seriously. It’s become clear that we have a problem with classified material handling in the Executive Branch, and we will fix that. It’s a problem that goes back many administrations.
As President my only goal in this matter is to make sure that the information in classified documents is protected, and I applaud the Justice Department’s efforts to find and fix any and all problems here. I think any President, past or present, should do the same.
In other words, own it, throw some shade at the previous guy, and move on. Use these same answers to every question about the matter. That’s messaging – make your point and stay on point.
But the bigger issue is with messaging in general, that thing that liberals are soooo bad at. I’ll start with “socialists”. When conservatives call liberals socialists, they’re tying liberals to Russia. Most Americans confuse socialism with communism. The 1950s-1980s Cold War created a fear of everything Russian among Americans, and that still lives today. True socialism isn’t a bad thing – in fact we have a helluva lot of socialism built into our system. We pay taxes to do things for the social benefit of everyone – defend the country, build roads and bridges, educate people, clean up our air and water. It’s not a complicated concept, but it’s a concept that almost everyone gets wrong and it starts with conservatives tossing the word around like it’s an insult. And Democrats just let it happen.
And how about “Patriots”? MAGA types have grabbed the Patriot label to mean those who believe like them, who are ultra-conservative, gun-loving white Christians. They wrap themselves in flags and call themselves Patriots, leaving the rest of us as…”not Patriots”? Why do Democrats allow the word patriot to be co-opted like that? Liberals should push back hard on this and point out the hypocrisy. But we don’t.
Then there’s the big one – “pro-life”. Conservatives have successfully labelled themselves as pro-life, leaving the impression that everyone else is pro-death. The best liberals have come up with is “pro-choice”, which is better, but the conservatives grabbing the pro-life label is brilliant.
Another big one, a self-inflicted wound. “Defund the police”. The single worst slogan ever, originated by a frustrated minority group and instantly attached to the liberal cause. Democrats should have come out strong against that slogan the instant it was uttered, but they didn’t. It’s been weaponized and now lives as a foundational talking point for conservatives. “Democrats hate law enforcement” is the conclusion they lead people to. And it works – it has helped cement law enforcement’s general tendency to vote Republican.
I would offer my services to the Democratic party, but I fear that my brand of messaging might not play well either. If I had to stand in front of the Washington press corps every day (what a nightmare), most of my answers would be “How can you be that fucking stupid? Next question.” That would make a headline or two.