We have reached the eye of the hurricane. Half the storm is over. The Republican Party held its national nominating convention all week, and the Democrats are getting ready to hold theirs next week. So we enter these few days of calm between the howling winds, and to mark the occasion we're going with a unique format here today.
Rather than our usual weekly wrap-up, awards categories, and suggestions for effective talking points for Democrats to use next week, we're instead going to do something we don't believe we've ever done before -- concentrate almost exclusively on the other side's talking points. The Democratic speeches for Charlotte are being fine-tuned right now, and so we felt it was important to lay out the Republican talking points that need to be shot down next week.
A wrap-up of the political week seems sort of redundant at this point, seeing as how I've written daily wraps of the Republican speeches all week (if you missed them, please check out Day One, Day Two, and Day Three). Monday, I attempted to offend the entire universe of political partisanship and wonkery -- across the spectrum -- by prominently using the dictionary definition of "bigot," so if you missed that and need a breather between conventions, check that out too.
Self-promotion aside, though, what we are hoping for during next week's convention is for Democrats to take back a few narratives which seem to be slipping away from them. Oh, one last ego note: I will be attending the Democratic National Convention, so check back for lots of posts and surprises next week.
Where was I? Oh, right -- slip-sliding away. Obama's team has done a stellar job all summer of keeping Romney back on his heels and playing defense. However, while the Obama team's offense is notably a whole lot better than Democrats usually manage, they seem to be neglecting their defense in the war of words. Now, campaign strategists would always much rather be playing offense, as when the candidate goes into a defensive crouch they lose track of driving the message. But you can't ignore these things for too long, as the picture the other side paints in the public eye can sometimes stick -- even if it is completely and utterly false.
Which certainly describes quite a number of the attacks the Romney team are now launching. Pretty much ever since Paul Ryan got named as Mitt Romney's running mate, the Obama team has not done all that great of a job of knocking down some of the strange things coming out of Ryan's mouth. Democrats have seemingly decide, "Well, everyone knows that's ridiculous nonsense, so we don't even have to explain why to the public." They have -- quite wrongly -- either trusted the mainstream media to get the true facts out (good luck with that, these days), or attempted to go into "professor mode" and explain in 2,000 or 3,000 words the technicalities involved in the wrongness of the GOP's stance.
Neither is good enough. The mainstream media, right now, seems to be astonished that Republicans have chosen the "we're going to ignore all the fact-checkers" route. This is mostly due to the media's overwhelming overestimation of their own importance. Which leaves Democrats to get the message out. But the Democrats -- so far -- have been unable to come up with quick and easy answers to the talking points emanating from the other side. Folks, you can't just sit back and smugly point to the fact-checkers -- you've got to get out there and make your own case.
This shouldn't be all that tough, guys. The facts are squarely on the Democrats' side. But we need bumpersticker answers. Slogans. Talking points, not to put too fine a point on it. Not an in-depth discussion of why the other side's position is horsefeathers, but a snappy putdown to showcase the wrongness of the Republican position.
Volume 225 (8/31/12)
The Democratic National Convention will be the big event to roll out such crowd-pleasing sloganeering. You can include a few details in a speech, as long as it contains a memorable "takeaway" line which sums the whole argument up. And -- importantly -- can be referred to later in an ad or a political discussion with just one pithy phrase.
With every Democratic speechwriter working overtime this weekend, we thought we'd identify the talking points emerging from the Republican conclave, and offer up some suggestions. Our starting point is the other side's talking points, this week.
I got kind of carried away on the first one, which was one reason for the abbreviated column format this week. But here are some of the things Democrats (and Obama, especially) need to counter from the stage this coming week.
Democrats, from Obama on down, seem astonished that Republicans are attacking them on Medicare. Democrats seem lulled into the complacency of "Well, we always win on Medicare, so we don't even have to fight -- we'll just win by default." This is wrongheaded thinking. If there was ever a wake-up call to Democrats, it was when Paul Ryan threw down a gauntlet during his convention speech: "We will win this debate!"
Here is the Republican talking point, as it currently stands:
"Seniors should be aware that President Obama is raiding the piggybank of Medicare to the tune of $716 billion dollars, to pay for Obamacare for people who aren't you. Republicans will save Medicare and restore these cuts to seniors."
There are so many things wrong with this position, you would think it would be quite easy to shoot down. Perhaps it is because there are so many things wrong with it that it has so far befuddled Democrats trying to easily refute it. The old "it's hard to know where to begin..." problem, I guess.
To construct a decent talking point to counter this argument will require some data digging. Somebody needs to do the math on Paul Ryan's budget, to put this another way. Look into the figures 10 and 20 years down the road.
"Ryan and Romney are using 'Mediscare' tactics to make seniors think Obama is cutting Medicare benefits. This is false. If it were true, then why did Paul Ryan include the same cuts in the budget which he wrote, and why did every Republican in the House vote for these cuts? The House Republican budget cuts exactly the same $716 billion. Both parties have voted for these cuts, so I can't imagine what Ryan's problem is now. I mean, he wrote this budget, and now he seems to be saying he was so overwhelmed with Obama's leadership on the issue that he stuck the cuts into his budget -- or something."
That's one way of fighting back. Here's another:
"You know where those cuts come from? They come from a Republican program -- Medicare Advantage -- which was sold as a way to save money for Medicare by using the private insurance industry. You know what? It didn't work. It costs more money for the private sector to do it, it turns out. This is nothing more than a subsidy to the health insurance industry, which does not pay for one single benefit for seniors -- not one doctor's office visit, not one test, not one prescription. That's why we're phasing the program out -- because it costs taxpayers too much to waste money on the private sector for the exact same benefits Medicare can provide cheaper.
Here's a third way of attacking the Ryan nonsense:
"Ryan and Romney say they're going to restore that $716 billion to Medicare. But, by doing so, they shorten the life of the program by eight years -- so it won't survive past 2016 without changes. But all the changes they've been proposing won't start for a full decade. So they are promising to speed faster towards Medicare's bankruptcy without a clue what they'll do before their ten-year plan kicks in."
And even a fourth way, the one you'll need the budget math for:
"Ryan and Romney are trying to sell some snake oil to America's seniors. They say they're going to 'restore' Medicare money, but when you look at the Paul Ryan plan for Medicare, when it starts it will cut ($X trillion) in the following decade from Medicare. They're weeping crocodile tears over $716 billion that won't change a single seniors' benefits, and yet they are planning on raiding trillions which will destroy the guarantee of Medicare by tossing out the guarantee of service Medicare now provides."
There are actually many ways to fight back on this issue, but Democrats have so far seemed to content themselves with getting off into the weeds, rather than going for the jugular. This really needs to change, and I'm really hoping to see some fire-breathing and quotable lines from the convention next week.
Wavers for welfare
This seems to be emerging as the second-biggest attack which the Democrats seem too astonished to forcefully rebut. Guys, you simply cannot sit back and trust that the public will read all the fact-checkers and decide on their own that this is a lie.
The best way to return fire on this one would be to get one of the governors who requested one of these waivers to cut an ad or speak at the convention. Ideally, get one of the two Republican governors, although that's probably too much to ask.
"I'm the governor of the great state of (X), and I'm here to tell you that when Republicans say President Obama is somehow weakening the work requirements for welfare, they are flat-out lying to you. Every fact-checker in the universe has declared this a whopping big falsehood, but in case you haven't heard, what the governors are requesting is that the federal government allow the states to achieve the same goals for work -- and indeed, even better results -- by experimenting at the state level with what works best for our state. Two of the governors who have requested such waivers are Republicans -- why don't you ask them if they're weakening work requirements! The Republican Party used to be for allowing states to have more flexibility in federal government programs, but bizarrely in this instance they are attacking what they used to support. Make no mistake -- if anyone tells you Barack Obama is weakening welfare work requirements, they are lying to you!"
Private sector job experience needed? Really?
This one is particularly annoying, because it is so pathetically easy to shoot down.
"I noticed during the Republican convention they made a lot of noise about how Barack Obama had no private-sector job experience. The Republican crowd cheered each time this point was made. Well, what I'd like to ask Mitt Romney is: if private sector job experience is so powerfully necessary to be president, then why did you name Paul Ryan as your running mate? Paul Ryan has been working in Washington politics since roughly the same time he started shaving. He's cashed a government check of some sort or another since he was 16 years old, in fact. So, Mitt, I guess private-sector experience isn't a big qualification after all, huh? Or perhaps having 'I drove the Oscar Meyer weinermobile' on your resume is good enough to be in line for the Oval Office...."
What a load of B/S
Personally, I prefer the term "Bowles/Simpson" rather than "Simpson/Bowles" because it makes such a better acronym.
"I noticed Paul Ryan tried to take President Obama to task for not supporting the Bowles/Simpson commission. This has become a favorite refrain of the Republicans, but it is utter nonsense. The report they're talking about would raise taxes by one trillion dollars. The Senate Republicans bravely voted for this report, but the Bowles/Simpson commission never actually approved it -- because Paul Ryan and the other House Republicans on the commission refused to vote for it. Since that time, I have not heard a single Republican say that they would vote for raising taxes to the tune of one trillion dollars. President Obama could have cut a deal along similar lines to the Bowles/Simpson suggestions, but once again Paul Ryan and the House Republicans walked away from the table. These are the facts about the report. What Paul Ryan is trying to sell should be called the 'B/S report' because that's exactly what it is."
Divisive? Oh, please.
This has got to be the biggest belly laugh of all time in American politics. But, once again, you've got to point it out.
"I was seriously amused at watching the Republicans try to label Obama and the Democrats as being somehow more 'divisive' than Republicans. I mean, did you count the number of times Republicans framed the issues as 'us' versus 'them'? Have these people never watched Fox News? Republicans try to pit groups of Americans against each other on a daily basis. This is politics, people, between two parties with divided views about where to take the country in the future. There is nothing new about it. There is nothing different about it -- it happens all the time. To me all this talk of how 'divisive' Democrats are is nothing more than whining and sour grapes by Republicans who seem to be astonished that Democrats have learned to fight back. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."
Refugees? Really, Mitt?
Okay, this one is just never going to be used. Democrats aren't going to "go there" -- which is probably a good idea, politically. But I just had to get it off my chest, so I hope you'll excuse me.
"I heard a lot of talk during the Republican convention about Latinos. The only word that seemed conspicuously absent was 'immigration.' Although I did notice that Mitt Romney talked about his own family's immigration to America. Their second immigration, I should say. The Mitt video referred to his relatives as 'refugees from revolution,' but didn't explain what it was all about. The Romney clan, in fact, moved out of America, because they refused to follow the laws of the United States. They moved down to Mexico so they could practice polygamy -- this is historical fact. They came back to America from Mexico when they decided that the United States was a better place to live after all. I guess you could use the word 'refugee' but the reason the Romney clan was down there in the first place was a refusal to live within the laws of this country -- a family decision made generations ago."
This had to be the heaviest irony of the entire Republican convention (Clint Eastwood was definitely more "memorable" although not in a good way...).
"I noticed during the Republican convention one of Mitt Romney's sons pandering to Latino voters by speaking from the podium in Spanish. Why do I say 'pandering'? Because this is a political party that had just voted for federal 'English-only' laws in their platform document. I'm not sure how this would work, you'll have to ask them. Maybe there'll be a federal law that bans Spanish from being spoken by politicians, who knows? I just found the whole spectacle ironic in the extreme. Tune in to the Democratic National Convention next week -- not only do we welcome Spanish being spoken on our stage, we also would never think of passing discriminatory laws which would somehow outlaw Spanish in America. The choice is pretty easy for Latinos, pandering or full support -- and the polls reflect that reality."
Follow Chris Weigant on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ChrisWeigant