Bloggers are talking about how to create a “change election.”
My thinking is the public needs an ideological story about a problem that is causing them pain, a symbolic election-year focal point that illustrates how the ideology applies to the problem, and a simple way to fix the problem that hilites the story elements. As the story is unfolded, current events are utilized by explaining them in terms of the story and the solution.
An example of one story the Republicans used this way is government spending.
– The story was “tax and spend Democrats” representing a larger ideological story of do-gooder socialists in control of the government forcing righteous citizens to support lazy people who won’t work
– The pain was described as taxes “taken” by Democrats to spend on people who don’t work
– The focal point event was the Congressional check-bouncing scandal illustrating how Democrats can’t manage money.
– The solution was the “Line-Item Veto” and longer-term cutting “big government.” This proposal focused on the concept of let the Republicans block the stuff the corrupt Democrats add to spending.
– Current events were worded into examples of excessive government spending that could be solved only with a line-item veto that electing Republicans would bring about.
But this was not just an election-time strategy. They kept at it. They used “tax-and-spend” and they didn’t stop using it. That is why it works so well, becomes conventional wisdom.
I suggest developing a long-term story around the Culture of Corruption and Cronyism representing a larger progressive ideology of community and democracy – the people against the powerful, making rules and playing by them, influence-buying brought under control by an engaged community – vs right-wing ideology of greed, winner-take-all, power of aristocratic wealth dominating over the popular good.
The pain still needs a simple representative phrasing. People need to feel how the corruption and cronyism hurts them – jobs moved overseas, people losing pensions, dirty water, all that – but we need one symbolic pain to focus on, where corruption directly leads to their pain. Imagine how Katrina would have affected pubic thinking if we had already been pounding on a theme that corruption and cronyism hurts people, and then utilized Katrina as one more focus event that illustrated our point.
Possible focus events might be something that comes from the Abramoff scandal. (Keep in mind that the check-bouncing scandal was bipartisan, but was presented as a key example of Democratic misuse of public money.) The key is to repeat the core story, driving the ideological point home. An event will offer itself.
I think a good focus solution is minority-party subpoena powers. Imagine if the minority party – Dems – could hold hearings and subpoena witnesses and documents. This solution hilites the lack of oversite, the party-wide corruption, the shutting out of the Democrats… It says that we need Democrats to keep corruption out of government because Republicans are the party of money over law.
A point to keep in mind is that the Right does not work in a next-election timeframe. They were and are in it for the long term and their strategies play out over many years, even decades. We need to stop thinking we can fight them back in an election cycle if only a few things break our way, and start thinking about how we are going to turn things around over the long term.