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Michele Swenson

Michele Swenson

Posted: September 9, 2008 09:46 AM

Democrats Must Challenge Republican Rhetoric, Issues Framing


Republicans have effectively degraded public dialogue over several decades, employing distorted language, false assumptions, bait-and-switch rhetoric and demonization of opponents to re-center most debates on the far right of the political spectrum. The gang of Gingrich entrenched government-of-the-highest-bidder, defining public policy to elevate enhancement of the corporate bottom line above the common good.

Democrats and the media have often failed to challenge the Republican shell game. Dialogue is short-circuited when Democrats accept right-wing framing, instead of framing issues for themselves. It serves no purpose for a Democrat to passively accept a Republican opponent's false definition of single payer health care as "socialized medicine like Canada's" (Canada's health care is public payer, private provider, not socialized medicine like the VA), and to regurgitate nebulous Republican talking points defining single payer health care as "government health care," as several Colorado Democrats have done in recent elections. No wonder health care reform has degenerated into a circular debate about "market-driven" solutions, with policy driven by profit-centered health insurances and the
pharmaceutical lobby.

Senator Biden gave a very heart-felt answer to Tom Brokaw's question: "When does life begin?" ( Meet the Press, 9/7/08). However, he choked when discussing how to reduce the need for abortion. Adopting Republican framing, Biden suggested solutions of adoption and making it easier for women to carry pregnancies to term. No mention of the fact that the Republican right is just as adamantly opposed to birth control, a significant means to reduce the need for abortion. Above all, Democrats have got to understand how Republicans use the easily-sensationalized issue of abortion as a distraction from many hidden agendas - abortion is a surrogate for many unspoken issues, as I previously wrote.

The media too often mirrors Republican framing. Will Mr. Brokaw question Republicans as closely about their persistent efforts to outlaw contraception; to elevate a fertilized egg above a woman's life; to advance "conscience clauses" permitting a pharmacist or health care provider to refuse filling prescriptions or providing health care based on individual religious beliefs?

With convoluted reasoning, cultural warriors frame every issue to serve narrow political ends. Tortured language on the right condemns a woman who chooses not to carry a pregnancy to term for acting out of "personal convenience," while a three-day background check for purchase of a gun is protested as an intolerable "inconvenience." During the welfare reform debate Independence Institute fellow, David Kopel, pronounced gun control laws "dangerous" because they distract from the fact that unwed parenthood is the "primary cause of crime" - distorting two issues with one quote.

If anything can turn the tide against the superficial, red-meat ticket of McCain-Palin, it will be the ability of Obama-Biden and other Democrats to cut through the false construction and rhetorical obfuscation of the right, and to inject reality and honesty into the public debate.