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The Language of a Democratic Realignment: What Is the Best Way to Defend This Country?

Haven’t we had enough of this?

On Sunday at Needlenose, I posted the first part of a long-procrastinated long-planned series on how Democrats can turn the 2006 elections from a one-time opportunity to take advantage of disastrous Republican negligence into the start of a long-term adjustment in how the American electorate views both parties — overturning the "frames" that have increasingly straitjacketed the donkey party over the past few decades.  

Citing my Labor Day post here and Peter Daou’s well-noted essay on scandal fatigue, I wrote:

If Democrats don’t find a way to hang together through a unifying narrative, they’re at much greater risk of having Karl Rove hang them all separately in November. And from the standpoint of rehabilitating the Democratic brand — and weaving a common line of argument than helps Democrats nationwide withstand the barrage of below-the-belt attack ads — the answer to Daou’s dilemma isn’t to pick one or three issues and drive them home, it’s to make all of them one issue, which is what a successful narrative can do.

. . .  consider Peter Daou’s cri de couer over NSA spying. Let’s suppose that, rather than simply hammering on the issue independent of any others, Democrats were tying it into a larger argument — saying that it was another reckless, irresponsible example of a president with dangerously bad judgment , which needed to be remedied by electing Democrats who would bring common sense back to Washington.

If that was the case, when a couple of days after Daou’s essay, VP Big Dick Cheney accidentally shoots a hunting companion, it’s not a distraction — it’s exactly the same issue, and an event that powerfully reinforces the contrast of identities that Democrats are presenting.

My point was (and is) that Democrats don’t have to change their beliefs, or cover them up, to build a stronger brand identity — all they have to do is communicate the core values that separate them from Republicans in simpler, more consistent language. 

Addressing issues in terms of a narrative rather than in isolation not only helps with the scandal fatigue/catnip dilemma that Peter Daou described, it helps with what he has called the broken triangle, wherein unfocused Democratic pols and a lazy media leave progressive activists helpless in fighting GOP mythmaking and malfeasance.  Repeating a shared theme across multiple issues can help overcome Dems’ limited media exposure, and who knows, maybe if we spell out our side’s narrative in plain language enough times, both the pols and the press will learn to remember it.

As an example of what I mean, let’s look at the subject that Republicans think might save them from disaster in November, and which has notoriously been the most vexing for Democrats: national security.  We all know the Rove/Cheney dark empire is pulling out the stops to make all of us look like Osama bin Laden’s best friends over the next seven weeks, on a variety of fronts — including Iraq, changing the laws about torturing prisoners, and warrantless eavesdropping.  How do Democrats stand up effectively for the right beliefs, but also "make them one issue," as I’ve sanctimoniously suggested?

I’d suggest taking a cue from how Dubya approaches brand-building on this subject. Here’s how the Shrub-in-Chief described his anti-terror strategy in a recent interview:

"This thing about . . . let’s put 100,000 of our special forces stomping through Pakistan in order to find bin Laden is just simply not the strategy that will work."

Rather, Bush says there’s a better way to stay on offense against terrorists. "The way you win the war on terror," Bush said, "is to find people [who are terrorists] and get them to give you information about what their buddies are fixing to do."

As Steve Benen aptly notes, this is a specific argument "that torture is literally the best way to win a war on terror."  That’s no accident; the Shrubster has claimed that NSA eavesdropping is essential to protecting America against terrorism, too.  In fact, every time the Fear President opens his mouth, he makes clear to even his strongest supporters the least attentive listener that his top priority is protecting the American people, and it’s the core reason behind just about everything he does. 

If Dubya can use this tactic in the service of lies and moral cowardice, Democrats can certainly use it in the service of truth and conscience.  Our side doesn’t often trumpet its concern about defending America, perhaps because it seems like belaboring the obvious — who doesn’t care about protecting our country?  But when your target audience is one that isn’t paying close attention, sometimes belaboring the obvious is exactly what’s required.

So, if all Democrats are going to get on TV or in newspapers is a one-line soundbite on each issue (if they’re lucky), they’d better make sure those soundbites advertise their priorities and reinforce each other, like this:

Iraq?  "There’s a better way to defend this country than having 1,000 Americans a year die in Iraq."

— Torture?  "There’s a better way to defend this country than becoming the first nation in the world to quit the Geneva Conventions."

Warrantless NSA spying?  "There’s a better way to defend this country than to gut the Constitution."

Iran?  "There’s a better way to defend this country than to dive into another war without knowing what happens the day after the bombs fall."

This way, we not only get our objections across, we communicate to all those distracted "security moms" and NASCAR families that Democrats really do give a crap about whether we get blown up or not, contrary to what Dick Cheney and Karl Rove would have them believe.

If someone is interested enough ask what our "better way" is, particularly with regard to torture and NSA spying, an added soundbite I would throw in is that the best way to defend America is to be America. The other day at Needlenose, I quoted Ron Suskind on the real front line against terrorism, which is ordinary citizens in obscure locations around the world who might get wind of a plot against the U.S. — if those random citizens react by thinking, "F—ing Americans, they deserve it" instead of "That’s terrible, I should tell the police," America is less safe.  When our country is an example of freedom and tolerance across the world — the kind of nation that drew the world’s sympathy after September 11th — America is safer.

There’s plenty more left to be said on this topic.  But the gist of it is, for the past five years Republicans have shown us their way of trying to protect America — based on hysterical threats, ignoring facts, and reckless actions — for which we’re now paying a huge price.  We’ve seen the results of their way.  Democrats think there’s a better way, based on an honest assessment of danger, telling the truth to the American people about it, and living up to our fundamental values as we do what has to be done.  Which way would you vote for?

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Swopa has been sharing prescient, if somewhat anal-retentive, analysis and garden-variety mockery with Internet readers since 1995 or so, when he began debunking the fantasies of Clinton-scandal aficionados on Usenet. He is currently esconced as the primary poster at Needlenose (