Republicans are good at slogans. They are good at catchphrases. They are good at simplicity.
We Democrats are not.
We don't have a Roger Ailes or a Grover Norquist coordinating our message, so we rarely speak with the same voice. It is no wonder that our party consistently underperforms in its fight to control the political narrative.
We can change that now. This is our moment to craft a winning message and a winning strategy for 2012 and beyond. Here's how I would do it. It starts with a simple catchphrase. Are you ready?
The Republican War On The Middle Class
I know I'm not the first one to use this phrase, but it's time we all started using it. Say it again with me:
The Republican War On The Middle Class
Now let's say it a million times until it sticks. And don't just say it because it's a simple clean message, don't just say it because it's good strategy -- say it because it's the truth.
Historically, our party has shied away from such hyperbolic catchphrases because we don't like to stray too far from the truth. I suffer from this same reluctance myself. I will stop mid-thought and scold myself, saying, "Let's be fair. You know that Republicans don't actually hate middle class Americans; they just happen to pursue misguided policies that unintentionally hurt them."
But this type of rhetoric will get Democrats nowhere, and now is not the time to mince words. I may not INTEND to kill someone, but if I draw a gun and pull the trigger, I'm still a murderer. By this same logic, while Republicans may not INTEND to screw over the middle class, if their policies are designed to enrich millionaires and corporations while cutting the pay, benefits, bargaining rights, safety nets, and social services enjoyed by the middle class, they have effectively declared a:
Republican War On The Middle Class
Now, here's the important part: sticking to our guns. Usually, when I see a Democrat get close to using a phrase like "The Republican War On The Middle Class," he or she is slapped with the following Republican counter-argument:
"Here go those Democrats again. Playing class warfare!"
... to which the Democrat in question usually cowers, steps back, and waters down his rhetoric. HUGE MISTAKE! Here's the conversation I want to see:
SEAN HANNITY: You sound like a typical Democrat, always playing class warfare.
DEMOCRAT: Exactly! Because it IS class warfare! This is a Republican War On The Middle Class! I wouldn't make this accusation except for the simple fact that I have eyes and I can see! What sort of country do we live in where rich corporate criminals can nearly bankrupt our financial system and the middle class gets asked to foot the bill? What sort of country do we live in where teachers--of all people--are being called greedy fat cats for wanting the right to bargain as a group?
SEAN HANNITY: But collective---
DEMOCRAT: (interrupting) Let's be clear. We are not in an economic crisis because of the salaries we pay teachers or because public employees have decent pension plans. We are not in an economic crisis because of PBS or the EPA or Head Start or community health centers or heating assistance for the poor or Pell grants or housing vouchers for homeless vets. All these things are unrelated.
(and here's the slogan to go with the catchphrase:)
... Republicans are exploiting the financial crisis to attack programs that help the middle class and the poor--even though these programs have nothing to do with the cause OR solutions to the problems at hand.
These attacks are all just a part of The Republican War On The Middle Class.
HANNITY: You keep using that phrase, but I don't think it's fair.
DEMOCRAT: Fair? Is it fair that the wealthiest 400 American citizens have more money than half of the entire U.S. population combined? Is it fair that the middle class in this country keeps shrinking even as the rich get richer?
(you can insert your own rant here, but this is how I'd proceed...)
Sean, "fair" would be attacking the issues that caused our financial meltdown: tax cuts we didn't pay for, a war we didn't pay for, and the financial deregulation that led to our housing meltdown. And yet your Republicans drag their feet on regulating Wall Street, they drag their feet on reducing military spending, and they INSIST on giving more free tax money to rich corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
Would it be so terrible for the wealthiest Americans to pay the same tax rates they did in the 1990s? That would net 690 billion dollars--compare this to the 61 billion dollars in federal budget cuts Republicans have proposed which come largely at the expense of less fortunate Americans.
Shared sacrifice needs to start with those at the top, but Republicans seem to think it should start with everybody else. The only logical conclusion one can draw is that they have declared...
(say it with me)
A Republican War On The Middle Class
Class warfare is real. It's happening. And we mustn't shy away from calling attention to it. If you want to know more about the decline of the middle class in this country, read your Robert Reich (he writes with fierce passion and intelligence on the subject). Arm yourself with facts. Rant your own rant. But please, let's use the same language. Let's talk about The Republican War On The Middle Class until we're blue in the face--or at least until they stop waging it.