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Two-Faced Attacks Require Two-Sided Replies

10/24/2011 05:08 pm ET | Updated Dec 24, 2011

The 2010 midterm elections proved to be a serious blow to Pres. Obama and the Democrats. For a variety of reasons -- including September's special congressional elections in New York and Nevada favoring Republicans -- many Democrats are becoming concerned that 2012 will be a repeat of 2010. Some Democrats in Congress seem ready to climb aboard the "do absolutely nothing that will raise taxes" train. Others, like James Carville, have called for firing or indicting people. In a September 18th editorial, the NY Times wrote: "President Obama has been groping for a response to the biggest crisis of his career. All he has to do is listen to the voters."

Adopting a "raise no taxes of any sort" policy and firing or indicting people are responses likely to prove counterproductive, while listening is not a response. To move the electorate, an effective response requires adopting more rational, scientifically-based communication strategies, regrettably, something missing from the 2010 campaign. Predicated upon 60 years of scholarly research, one key is two-sided communications, ones that do not ignore or tiptoe around the opposition's misinformation and misrepresentations, but raise and confront them directly before conveying the affirmative. Examples follow.

"Obama's stimulus plan didn't work!" Not true. It stopped the free fall, which during the last months of the Bush administration averaged a loss of more than a half million jobs a month, and is actually estimated to have created between 1 and 1.9 million jobs. True, it didn't do as much as was expected, but here's the reason why. When the stimulus was planned, data from the Congressional Budget Office said the economy shrank by .5% in the third quarter of 2008, and by 3.8% in the fourth quarter of 2008. The stimulus was planned with this in mind. A year later, when all the data were in, we learned the economy actually shrank by 3.7% in the third quarter of 2008, and by an incredible 8.9% in the fourth quarter of 2008. There was no way the original stimulus could overcome the big hole that reducing taxes and borrowing money to fight two wars got us into prior to Pres. Obama being sworn in.

"The Dodd-Frank Act regulating banks and the financial services industry is an example of government overreach that is killing jobs." According to Douglas J. Elliott, an economic studies fellow at the Brookings Institution, "Dodd-Frank is adding safety margins to the banking system. That may mean fewer jobs in normal years, in exchange for the benefit of avoiding something like what we just went through in the financial crisis, which was an immense job killer." The purpose of the Act is to ensure that American consumers get the clear, accurate information they need to shop for mortgages, credit cards, and other financial products, and to protect them from hidden fees, abusive terms, and deceptive practices.

"Obama said his plan would bring unemployment down to 8%, but it's at 9.1%." Unemployment at 9.1% is definitely not good. But consider what would have happened without the stimulus plan.

"The bailouts were a give-a-way of taxpayer money to corporations." Not so. The bailouts for the banking and automobile industry, which not a single Republican voted for, saved millions U.S. jobs and actually made money for the U.S. government. (Explain details.)

"When the wealthy receive tax breaks, they use the money to invest and create jobs."
Not so. The evidence shows this trickle-down theory doesn't work. (Explain details.) Instead, the best was to get the economy working is not to put more money in the pockets of the wealthy, but to put more money directly into the pockets of the working people. Pres. Obama has proposed doing that by cutting payroll taxes, so that the average American will take home more than $500 over the year, and by allocating money to work on the country's infrastructure.

"We can't afford to spend taxpayer money on infrastructure costs." Actually, we can't afford not to. There is no way to avoid infrastructure costs. Usage and time inevitably leads to bridges, highways , schools and the like needing repairs before they become dangerous and unusable. To help create jobs, we need first class bridges and highways in order to transport goods and compete with the rest of the world. It's really a matter of "pay me now, or pay me (much more) later."

"Obama wants to raise income taxes."
Not true. President Obama wants to restore taxes that President George W. Bush and the Republican controlled congress reduced in 2001 and 2003. Recognizing that we would eventually have to re-instate the tax cuts in order to pay our bills, when the tax reductions were enacted by Pres. Bush and the Republican controlled Congress, they had a time limit and were supposed to run out in 2010. But now, reneging on the deal, the Republicans want to make the cuts permanent. What President Obama wants to do is restore the taxes to the level that was agreed upon. Doing so will enable the U.S. to pay its bills. Taxes are too high: Actually, they're at the lowest level in 50 years. (Explain)

"It's been three years and Obama hasn't turned the economy around." Turning a massive economy around is like turning a massive aircraft carrier around. Traveling at high speed, it takes 10 miles to turn an aircraft carrier around. Unfortunately, after 8 years of reduced taxes while at the same time fighting two wars by borrowing money, it will take more than three years to turn the economy around.

"Tackling health care was a waste of time." Not so. Health costs had to be tackled because they were increasing at an unsustainable rate. A major purpose of tackling health care was to control costs before they got entirely out of hand.

In handling problems or rumors capable of harming a company's or brand's reputation, professional crisis managers realize the problems rumors must be addressed quickly and directly, lest they become entrenched. The same applies here. Democrats can no longer let Tea Party inflamed Republicans frame the issues, often with questionable "facts" and representations.

If "perception is reality," then perceptions based upon misrepresentations and distortions of fact are distorted reality. A sensible and scientifically based communication strategy requires using two-sided communications to address these distortions before large portions of the electorate's have their perceptions become set in concrete. True, many media pundits engage in this effort. But their voices have limited reach. President Obama and the Democratic Party have to do the heavy lifting on this. It is they who have to take the bull (elephant) by the horns -- and do so in time to have the desired effect. If not, 2012 likely will prove at least as disastrous for them as was 2010.