Recipe For Successful Messaging

Explainer.jpgRecipe for Success: How to Explain Why Money in Politics is a Problem and Inspire Action

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court changed the landscape of campaign finance when it opened the doors to unlimited anonymous donations by corporations and wealthy donors in Citizens United v. FEC.  As a result, this election cycle has seen unprecedented sums of cash pour in from undisclosed sources.  You can view a well-sourced summary on the issue with examples from Ohio here.

There are a number of groups organizing to fight back against the corruption of our political system, and some of the messaging they have come up with is both clever and informative, no small feat given the complex concepts involved.  It’s difficult to explain the problem in a simple, effective, entertaining way, but they’ve managed to do it.

Here are some of the highlights, to give you some ideas on how to talk about Citizens United and the undue influence all this money from corporations and the wealthy has on our elections, and to hopefully inspire you to create powerful, effective messaging on the issues that YOU care about.

Start with a Little Outrage …

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Rule #1 When Responding To Right Wing Lies And Talking Points



There’s a natural tendency to play the other guy’s game when defending yourself. If some guy says you beat your wife it’s instinctive to lash out, “I DO NOT beat my wife!”

You see how that plays out all the time in the news. The story then becomes, “Man says he DID NOT beat his wife!” The original lie told about you is what sticks in everyone’s mind, when what you want to be sticking in everyone’s mind is the truth.

What happened is you responded to the lie BY REPEATING THE LIE, to try to deny it and in doing so, you just passed on the lie, which doesn't work.

What does work is to SPEAK THE TRUTH, without repeating the lie!

How can you do that? Several ways.

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Responding To The Wingnuttery: A Framing Primer

messageinabottle.pngA shout out to Hugh Jim Bissell at Daily Kos for inspiring this framing primer. Hugh tells us:

I want to know how to use this reframing ideas in my conversations.  So say I am having a conversation with my conservative neighbor.  How do I use reframing to respond to these familiar conservative gambits:

1)  "There is no such thing as global warming.  Liberal scientists and universities are simply trying to scare us to suck more money out of the tax-payers."

2) "Obama is flushing democracy down the toilet.  He is owned by the insurance and financial industries."

3) "The 2nd amendment gives me the right to own any gun I choose in whatever number I want.  I need to protect myself because the police only care about black people."

4) "Obama is using the government to spy on us.  He is against our freedoms and liberties."

Great question, Hugh! First, you have to recognize that you will never get everyone to agree with you. Never. So there is no "right" answer that will get certain people to go, "Oh yeah, DUH! Thanks for clearing that up." The far right conservative is so married to their opinion that no matter what frame you give them, they will twist it to fit into their own world view. For instance ...

1)  "There is no such thing as global warming.  Liberal scientists and universities are simply trying to scare us to suck more money out of the tax-payers."

This person doesn't want to understand what's happening to the world around them, they just want to defend their already-firmly-established position.

However, the wrong answer is to come back with facts and figures, which will only be dismissed. The right answer is to have a set moral frame that you just keep repeating over and over and over no matter what they fling at you about the topic.

"Renewable energy technology provides jobs and new sources of revenue that benefit all Americans. Innovations in this field are bringing prosperity to our nation, allowing us to compete on a global scale. There's no excuse for allowing China to out-perform us in this arena and leave us in their dust. Manufacturing our own clean, "home-grown," Made-in-America energy sources that will never run out protects our country, providing us safety and security against foreign countries who are either controlling the dirty, old-fashioned technology of the past or beating us to the market with new technology. Protecting America's future for generations to come should be our most important priority."

We need our own clean, "home-grown," Made-in-America energy sources that'll never run out. Don't let China out-perform us in green tech too!
Aug 19 via web Favorite Retweet Reply

We shld be protecting America's future & creating jobs w/our own "home-grown," Made-in-America clean energy sources that will never run out
Aug 19 via web Favorite Retweet Reply

And here's how we'd answer the rest of these ...

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Reframing The 40-Year-Long Wage Stagnation Problem In America


The title pretty much says it, but let's explain ...

We have a serious problem in America:  Workers in this country have not seen their level of compensation rise in 40 years in comparison with executive and shareholder compensation, the actual cost of living, or even their own productivity.

Our political leaders have focused on the disparity between worker and top executive compensation, referring to it as either "pay inequality," or "pay inequity," but  this has created an atmosphere of defensiveness on the part of those at the top of the corporate food chain. And this is not the atmosphere that Progressives want to engender. We know it's going to take all of us working togetherespecially those at the top—to get this problem solved.

And lagging worker compensation is a problem, not just a "discrepancy" issue or a "fairness" issue. And no one thinks the average worker and the most senior executive should be earning "equal pay" as one another. So what is the real problem?

Wage Stagnation.

From at least the mid-twentieth century until the mid 1970s, worker productivity and worker compensation traveled on the exact same path. Hard-working Americans saw their pay increase in direct proportion to their efforts. This made for a robust working and middle class in America, who had money to live on, money to spend, and money to save. When the middle class has sufficient money to live on, they only need to fall back on taxpayer-funded assistance if they hit a serious bump in the road, such as the loss of a job and the draining of all savings.

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Public Protections And Heirs, Oh My! Two More Re-defined Terms For Progressives To use

Continuing with our version of Right Wing Wordsmith Frank Luntz's "Handbooks," we're taking control of defining our own positions on the following phrases instead of letting the Right continue to tell the public what we're allegedly "for" with false frames. If you haven't seen it yet, you should read Five Words And Phrases Democrats Should Never Say Again and start replacing those words with the recommended frames.

Are we trying to deceive Americans with different terminology in the way that Luntz manufactures his terms? In fact we're doing the exact opposite. The frames the Right creates are false imagery designed to scare people away from progressive proposals and policies. The following are truthful re-worded definitions of existing policies that better illustrate the Progressive ideology.

speedlimitsign.JPG1. Let's get rid of the incendiary term, "Regulations,"

    And start calling them "Public Protection Policies."

Do you drive a car? There are rules by which you must operate your vehicle for the protection of everyone on the roads around you. Do you lobby the government to reduce the number of rules you have to follow so you can be free from government intervention and drive however you please, at whatever speed you please, as intoxicated as you please?

Do you hunt, or know someone who does? There are rules by which you must use your firearms for the protection of everyone around you so they don't get shot and killed. Do you lobby the government to elminate the rules so you can go into any old woods you want, shoot at any old thing that moves, and kill whatever you please, even if it's the neighbors' kids playing in the creek for a little fun?

Do you play a sport or just enjoy watching one? There are rules by which you and/or the players must abide to prevent serious injury to opponents or even teammates. Do you lobby the leagues to get rid of the rules, so football players can jam their cleats into the other guy's shins when he's down, basketball players can intentionally elbow the defense in the face with force, or baseball players can swing their bats at the first baseman's head?

Of course you don't.

You don't because a) you recognize the importance of rules that protect people from serious injury or even death, and b) because it's common sense to have rules that protect people from serious injury or even death when they're doing something that might otherwise be dangerous to those around them. You wouldn't sign your child up for No-Rules Little League and just pray they don't come home with their head bashed in!

So isn't it kind of ridiculous that businesses should expect the government to let them drive around intoxicated, shoot willy-nilly into the woods, and swing bats at our heads for the sake of saving a little money and paperwork?

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How To Outsmart The 'Backfire Effect' And Get People To Believe The Truth Instead Of A Lie

Boomerang.jpgI used to play the game "telephone" with my friends when I was younger. We'd sit in a circle and one girl would whisper something in the ear of the girl next to her, who would then pass it on to the next girl, and so on and so on. By the time it got to the last girl in the circle, it barely resembled the original whispered message. Yet when the original message was revealed, some of the girls did a head-smack and some dug their heels in and insisted the message they passed on was accurate. Sometimes I was even one of those girls. It's okay; you can admit it, once in a while you were, too. Even you guys out there have fallen into this trap.

Those of us who believe the wrong message is the right message even when the right message is clarified, are experiencing what's known as "The Backfire Effect."

The Backfire Effect is a social psychology term that holds that when you attempt to change someone's mind about something using a fact to dispute a current belief, that current belief will actually become stronger.

I know! Absurd, isn't it?

Why can't people just say, "Oh! I see that now. Thank you so much for teaching me something new!"?

Well when was the last time you said that to a political opponent? I'm betting pretty rarely, even if they've sometimes actually given you food for thought.

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Five Words and Phrases Progressives Should Never Say Again

training.pngAnd What To Say Instead

We say “death tax” instead of what it really is: an “inheritance income tax.” Two little words, “death panels,” were capable of nearly derailing health insurance reform, even though it was a Republican idea that conforms to many conservative ideologies, largest among them, personal responsibility. Harvard-educated President Obama is considered “elite,” while Yale-educated George W. Bush is considered “down home.”

Many Democrats buy into the old saw that the Democratic party has had a history of "tax and spend" policies that needs to change or be lived down somehow. Until the Occupy movement brought the topic front and center, even most Democrats accepted the notion that businesses were "job creators" and worried more about distracting the opposition from this "fact" than debunking it for the deception it actually is.

Unfortunately, Democrats have failed to define language strong enough to rebut Republicans who have defined who we are and what we want, with falsehoods and fabrications.


Professional media strategist Frank Luntz has been providing Republicans with a detailed handbook on exactly what language to use and not to use for decades. He has built up a lexicon that is not only far-reaching and deeply ingrained, but also very, very successful. As Progressive Democratic linguist George Lakoff explains it, this "framing" is crucial to how they've managed to win so much of the debate.

Here are some examples from Luntz's handbooks, of how the Republican party has been taught to frame the way they talk:

Don't say "bonus!"

Luntz advised that if [corporations] give their employees an income boost during the holiday season, they should never refer to it as a "bonus." "If you give out a bonus at a time of financial hardship, you're going to make people angry. It's 'pay for performance.'"

Don't say that the government "taxes the rich."

Instead, tell [people] that the government "takes from the rich."

"If you talk about raising taxes on the rich," the public responds favorably, Luntz cautioned. But "if you talk about government taking the money from hardworking Americans, the public says no."

This sleight-of-tongue has managed to manipulate at least half the country into believing things that simply are not true. And this type of language mash-up has been so successfully drilled into the vernacular, that Democrats have been hard-pressed to come up with a simple and just-as-effective way to expose the lies beneath them.

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