[Editor's Note: Not all political messaging involves framing specific words or phrases. Framing a political message can be longer story-telling, as well. It's about creating a picture in people's minds of who you are and what you stand for, whether it's by using individual "catch phrases" or a larger narrative. In this installment, The Winning Words Project is attempting to paint the larger picture of who and what "government" really is: "We, the people." It's a critical aspect of why the Democratic party has so often failed in combating the Republican narrative—Republicans have defined "government" as a monolithic "other" entity that needs to be slayed like a dragon that is destroying our country with its fiery breath and gigantic talons.
Until we create our own image of government that is not a deadly dragon, all of our messaging can be overpowered by the impression that no matter what policies we are fighting for, and no matter how moral we make them, all we are doing with them is feeding the dragon, not taming it or taking it down. But if people stop seeing "the government" as a dragon, but come back to recognizing it for what it is—US—it becomes harder and harder for the Republican narrative to be supported. People don't want to see us destroyed! Here is the story we should be telling ...]
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union ..."
There's a reason the Preamble to our Constitution begins with those words: Government is us. So when Republicans say they want to make it small enough to drown in a bathtub, they mean they want to drown us ... you and me; we, the people.
Government is us. So when Republican leaders get on television and attack the government, they're attacking us. They're telling us our services aren't wanted or needed to build and maintain this country's infrastructure, operate 911 switchboards, code the military's computers, represent defendants who cannot afford an attorney, lay pipe that takes sewage away from our homes, drive city buses, nurse our returning veterans at VA hospitals, process small business loan applications, or tens of thousands of other jobs we do that keep this country running, prosperous, and safe.
Mitt Romney says he's "going to do something to government." And just so we're clear, when Romney says he's going to "do something" to government, he means he's going to do something to you and me. As in fire us. "Drown" us in a bathtub. Romney says, "I'm going to make it simpler and smaller and smarter. Getting rid of programs, turning programs back to states, and finally, making government itself more efficient."
So who does that mean he's going to fire next? Your postman or woman? Maybe your child's public school teachers, your local police officers, or brave firefighters? Do you think he means he's going to make "government" smaller by reducing the size of our military, bringing our patriotic servicemen and women home to their families after more than 10 years of a failed war? No, of course not.
He has now made it perfectly clear that teachers, firefighters, and police officers are the first on his chopping block. But are those the only professions at risk under a Romney presidency?
No. What he also means is that you and I are going to have to do without enough scientists to develop cures for your mother's cancer or invent the next generation satellite technology. You can say goodbye to workplace safety rules that prevent thousands of deaths every year. Protect the country? Sure! Protect you? Not so much.
Government is us. Government is the United States National Science Foundation that brought you the internet you're reading this via. Government is why we have indoor lights, artificial hearts, hearing aids, anesthesia, and vaccines for deadly diseases.
Government is the Social Security clerk who makes sure your grandmother's check gets mailed every month; billing clerks who make sure your doctor gets paid if you're over 65 and on Medicare; people who maintain our national parks; people who rescue abused children in the middle of the night and take them someplace where they will be safe; people who inspect our food so we don't get sick and die from it in vast numbers like we used to.
This is what Mitt Romney, John Boehner, and Paul Ryan want to drown. They want to turn everything over to un-fireable corporations to profitize for their own enrichment, not for the enrichment of the country as a whole. The country we believe in supports and encourages profit-making, so long as it does not harm the country in the process. We think this is a universal sentiment we can all agree on.
"Drowning" you, your friends, your neighbors, even figuratively? That's not an America we can believe in. That's an America that will wither up and die like a Third World nation while all our high-tech jobs are shipped overseas to cheaper labor, we're forced into lower and lower-paid work ourselves, and we all have to gag through polluted air and drink contaminated water because there won't be any more EPA.
When Mitt Romney says "It’s a moral imperative for America to stop spending more money than we take in," we're in complete agreement. We used to take in a substantially larger portion of the money we needed, and we were on track to becoming debt-free with a balanced budget by the time Bill Clinton left office. We stopped taking in enough money to meet our obligations when George W. Bush and his Republican Congress gave millionaires and billionaires a gift of a tax break that has broken the country's back.
And instead of returning to paying their share of the expense of running this country, Mitt Romney, John Boehner, and Paul Ryan want to give billionaires even more money while simultaneously taking more away from us—you and me, we, the people. How is that supporting opportunity and security for all?
The government is us. It's our neighbors and friends. Our parents and children. It's we, the people. How can we in good conscience let Mitt Romney drown or fire us?
Now find out How Language Can Be Used To Influence Your Thoughts, Actions And Beliefs Beyond What You Could Ever Consciously Expect »
But before we can get to the finer points, we have to remind people that government is a WHO, not a WHAT. And that WHO is US. … even if we’re only a file clerk at City Hall!
I promise there will be further installments that continue to hammer this message home in a “buyable” way.
And don’t forget, too, that we don’t expect everyone to accept these truths. Some people — those whose brains literally function differently from liberal and moderate-thinkers — will likely never embrace this definition of government as us. But that’s okay … so long as we can reach enough people over a long enough period that our vision of America comes to be thought of as mainstream and the other side’s version as an outlier.
That’s why we have to keep telling our story over and over and over and over. Talk about the 911 operators and the scientists and the billing clerks and the myriad other very real people who make this country function and keep it safe in ways that aren’t necessarily militaristic. Once that vision is accepted, it’ll be much, much harder for politicians who want to profitize the government for their wealthy benefactors to wrest that control back from us ever again!
Thank you again for taking the time to share your thoughts and concerns with us. Working together, we can take this country forward! (See what I did there? :) )
1) You list the idea of Romney firing postal carriers, teachers, police, firefighters, and servicemen in quick succession, but then say “of course not”. I think you mean the “of course not” to only refer to the servicemen, but on the other hand, Iâm not sure he wouldnât fire servicemen and women too. Havenât his advisors acted as if it might be better to privatize those functions and pay a defense contractor instead?
2) I’m concerned about how you do not clearly draw a distinguishing line of demarcation between the “US” in your piece and the dreaded “Collectivism” that quickly comes to mind when anyone speaks of “We”. All too easily the folks on the other side can turn your words against you and beat you (figuratively) over the head with the well-established tropes against the currently well vilified (though usually erroneously re-defined) communism and socialism.
3) I find it terribly frustrating that people who are directly touched by or involved in the good parts of government (especially aid recipients) often donât recognize or own that reality, and you start laying good groundwork towards clearing that up. But for many (most?) people that connection is either tenuous or negative or lacking in clear need. This is a hard gap to bridge. For these people (like myself), we work in the private sector, we donât easily see the plusses coming to us from government, but we do see our money disappearing from our paychecks in numbers greater than our imagined benefit (often a failure of imagination, I grant). Even good infrastructure projects feel bad when theyâre blocking your favorite roadway. And why not privatize many of those functions? I could mow my lawn and change my oil (thank you daddy for teaching me), but I do a rough cost/benefit analysis and find that paying for those services makes sense for me. I like the idea of the NIH, or OSHA, but why canât we pay for those services on a contract basis? You can still promote clean air, without staffing up a fixed bloated organization to ponder it, canât you? I wish I could suggest ways to start to bridge these gaps in perception, especially in ways that could invoke the emotional response needed. Perhaps you are already considering this problem as a follow-up piece. But until folks start to FEEL connected Iâm afraid your arguments will fail.