Question: When election rhetoric has been overrun by John Birch quacks, right-wing conspiracy burlesque, and xenophobic mobs -- how can a governing party craft a closing message sharp enough to cut through the miasmic mess and motivate the liberal base?
Should Democrats print more pie charts and bar graphs boasting less-than-but-greater-than results over the last 18 accounting cycles (adjusted for inflation, rounded up, carry the one, etc.)? Probably not.
Should Democrats generate more "car" talk about the economy being in a "ditch" because the opposition drove it there, but we're behind the wheel now, so do you really want to toss the keys to the kid in the backseat drooling root beer slushy on his sleeveless tee? Definitely not.
The key to busting through election rhetoric gone stark raving mad might well turn out to be two words so simple that they have eluded the usual Democratic Party language consultants: "President Palin."
Consider, for example, a new viral video ("Back From the Future") created for the last week of the midterm-election campaign by MoveOn.org:
Putting aside the tongue-in-cheek riff on The Terminator, and the post-apocalyptic portrait of a world rendered soulless and toxic by the corporate-political entity known as "Republicorp," the MoveOn ad is little more than a well-crafted vehicle for launching two words into the political ether: "President Palin."
A "Hail Mary!" pass? Who cares. I found myself laughing and nodding in agreement all the way through the video.
"President Palin" works, and it is not hard to explain why.
One would be hard-pressed to think of a cold slap in the face that stings Democrats more than the prospect of Sarah Palin in the Oval Office.
Even if Dick Cheney sprouted wings and installed George W. Bush for a third term, the results would be tame by comparison to even one term of "President Palin" -- a pathetic commentary on how far the Republican Party has driven itself into the land of the absurdly obscene.
That, in a nutshell, is the message to Democrats from the MoveOn ad: Either vote or accept that Palin will be president and destroy any hope of a viable future the world has.
Grim? Overstated? You bet your scantron sheet it is. This election is for all the marbles. Leave the college econ papers at the door.
Even with the mere suggestion of such a message aimed at beleaguered and not-so-hopeful-anymore Democrats, I can almost hear the lethargic groans of entrenched campaign consultants muttering the usual "buts" from their beltway offices:
"But Sarah Palin is not running for office... "
"But we need to convince the voters of how much we have accomplished... "
"But we need to spend every second talking about the economy... "
"But voters don't want us to stoop to that level... "
"But... but... my bar graph!"
Most of those concerns were probably relevant in the first or maybe the second scene of this four-act election tragedy. For now: Forget all of it. If Democrats want to motivate their base over the next seven days, they would be wise to paint a very bleak picture of the future on the horizon if the Palinocracy manages to seize even more seats than they are already poised to win.
The time for reasoned arguments and educating the voter on the economic benefits of this or that Democratic policy is long gone, squandered, evaporated, poof. The final week -- this week -- is about finding the right shot of adrenaline and administering it over and over and over again.
Still not sure?
Try this: The next time you are in a room with at least five people, tell them that you are voting to prevent a "Palin Presidency," then listen for the reactions. There may be someone in the room who finds that idea amenable, but everyone will have a strong reaction.
Strong reactions are the stuff of a closing week, and it is precisely what Democrats need to turn to right now.
Rallying the base against the ultimate threat to the national future will be a hard course for Democrats to follow. For too long, Democrats have laughed off the Mama Grizzly from Wasilla, believing that the electorate would just articulate on their own why the Palintoxication of the Republican Party poses such a threat to our future.
Democrats need to wake up from that cozy dream. DC Democrats in particular need to understand that in a 24/7, high-pitched, media-driven election, you must wade into the noise and grab the electorate by the collar.
"President Palin!" As the stars are currently aligned, that would seem to be the strongest message for Democrats from now until Nov. 2.
Let's just hope it's not the only effective message until 2012.