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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

G.O.P = Gridlock, Obstruction & Paralysis

This item by J.P. Green was originally published on February 11, 2010.
Thanks to the recent Supremes Citizens United decision, Dems can expect record-level spending on attack ads targeting Democratic policy from GOP supporters. The worst response would be to crouch down in a defensive posture and not initiate an aggressive counter-offensive.
For a hint of how nasty GOP attacks on Dems are going to be, read the recent editorial, “The Politics of Fear” in The New York Times supporting the Obama Administration’s adherence to the principle of civilian trials for most accused terrorists. The editorial notes that “Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, suggested — without any evidence — that vital intelligence was lost by that approach.” The objective here is to ‘slime’ Democrats as soft on national security — and Collins is one of the least conservative Republicans. Of course Collins and other Republicans said not a peep when the Bush Administration prosecuted over 300 accused terrorists in federal courts. This is just a preview of slimes to come.
Dems should fight back more aggressively on all fronts, with an emphasis on soundbite-sized attack memes that call out Republican candidates where they are vulnerable, and their party as a whole when the critique fits.
The headline for this post is one example. It fits nicely on a bumper sticker, picket sign or in a 10-second TV ad, and it does accurately describe GOP’ “leadership,” particularly during the last year. It’s a good political argument-starter because it puts the adversary on the defensive immediately. The Republicans have no bite-size slogan that so accurately describes what some voters may believe to be the worst impulses of the Democrats. It is not an ad hominem attack in that it criticizes organizational policy, not personalities, so no demerits for being mean-spirited.
The “GOP = Gridlock, Obstruction and Paralysis” meme is just one of many possible hard-hitting attacks Dems could launch in the months ahead. The Republicans have formidable advantages in attack messaging, including discipline, FoxTV, right-wing radio and money. But they also have a serious vulnerability — weak policy. Thus far they have been able to steer media coverage away from policy.
Dems need a strategy to better educate undecided voters about policy differences. But it’s more important to take the offensive and stop allowing them to monopolize media coverage of policy debates with fear-mongering cliches about Democratic policy being ‘socialistic’ or leading America to economic armageddon. Through sheer repetition in the media, Republican cliche-memes have taken root, even with some voters who, when asked, say they support the Democratic policies being slimed.
Democrats have to attack and hit a lot harder in the months ahead to correct the imbalance. One excellent example of how it’s done in the media can be found in Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC report last night on the utterly shameless Republican hypocrites who trashed the Obama stimulus package and voted against it, but who now are so eager to pose for pictures with “big goofy fake stimulus checks,” as Maddow terms them — checks that are now being spent in their districts. If Democratic opponents of these Republicans don’t use these images and nail them with ‘windmill’ ads and the like, they will be guilty of political negligence. Maddow’s interview with The Nation‘s Washington editor Chris Hayes in the segment also features an interesting discussion of requirements for hard-hitting political attacks.
At TPM, Christina Bellantoni reports on another example of an effective hard-hitting Democratic attack strategy, in this instance the DSCC compelling four Republican Senate candidates to take a stand on Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Social Security and slash Medicare benefits to create a voucher system. The DSCC publicity cites the jobs and economic impact of the Ryan scheme in each of the four states. Another good example of fierce attack strategy. Force them to diss long-standing wingnut policy or alienate senior voters in their state. Dems need more of the same.

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