What Obama Said + What He Should Have Said
Obama gave a “major economic speech” last week, billed as a “no spin” version of the choice between two fundamentally different visions for the economy. Here’s the key paragraph, as reported by Business Insider:
Governor Romney and the Republicans who run Congress believe that if you simply take away regulations and cut taxes by trillions of dollars, the market will solve all of our problems on its own. If you agree with that, you should vote for them. And I promise you they will take us in that direction. I believe we need a plan for better education and training and for energy independence, and for new research and innovation; for rebuilding our infrastructure; for a tax code that creates jobs in America and pays down our debt in a way that’s balanced. I have that plan. They don’t. And if you agree with me—if you believe this economy grows best when everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules—then I ask you to stand with me for a second term as President.
Here’s what Obama should have said. It’s about the same number of words, but it hits Oh so much harder, and uses the frames that work. (Our changes are underlined):
Governor Romney and the Republicans who run Congress believe that if you simply take away regulations and cut taxes by trillions of dollars, the market will solve all of our problems on its own. We tried that, under my predecessor. It didn’t work. And it led to one of the biggest economic disasters this country has ever seen, which we’re still climbing our way out of. If you vote for them they will take us back in that direction, the direction of failure, of job losses, of the rich getting a LOT richer and everyone else—the 99%—getting a LOT poorer.
To get out of this situation, we need to invest in America—I have a plan for better education and training, for energy independence, for new research and innovation; for rebuilding our infrastructure; for a tax code that creates jobs in America and pays down our debt in a way that’s balanced. I have that plan. Their plan is “cut taxes for the rich.” That’s NOT A PLAN. If you want the country to grow again, to make sure everyone – not just the richest 1%—gets a shot, and everybody has an opportunity to achieve their highest potential and enjoy the freedom and security that comes with it because everybody is playing on a level playing field—then I ask you to stand with me for a second term as President.
Why is our version better?
The president's version:
- Assumes the listener understands the Romney position.
- Fails to link Romney's economic position (which is the same as the Bush position) to the economic crash (this is a must—he can’t rely on the listener making the connection on his or her own).
- Fails to strongly position the Obama policy as solving the problem.
- To the degree it positions the Obama policy, it’s very weak—it says “I believe we need a plan,” rather than simply, “We need a plan.”
Watch the video above about the town of Troy, Michigan nearly losing their award-winning library to "tea party" rhetoric about taxes, and how supporters of the library took a weak "Please vote 'Yes' to a small tax increase so we can save our library" platform, and turned it on its ear. It was a stroke of genius. Why? Because it sharply illustrated the bad outcome of the opponents' "Say 'No' to taxes" argument.
- Barack Obama needs to show the results of Romney's policies by using the rhetorical rule of “Bad is stronger than Good” which has 5 times as much attention-getting power.
- Using the 99% versus 1% frame—the very powerful messaging that arose out of the Occupy Wall Street movement—positions the listener as being part of a group with shared interests and shared goals. Loyalty to one's group is a strong moral positioning frame for more conservative listeners.
- Barack Obama needs to be reminding Americans every time he speaks, that Progressive policies create an environment in which people can live up to their potential. The notion of Democrats supporting "the welfare state" is a false frame created by the Right, and it's up to Progressives and Democrats to destroy that lie once and for all. Progressives stand for freedom, opportunity, and prosperity for all.
- “Fairness” is a favorite concept of liberals, but it’s a turn off to swing voters and conservatives. Illustrating the Progressive and Democratic position as providing each individual with the same rules by which they can have freedom, opportunity, and security, implies fairness but evokes both the Loyalty and the Liberty moral foundation on which more conservative listeners base their political decsion-making.
If you are a Progressive, Liberal, or Democrat reading this, you now have a better idea of how to tell the Progressive story as you talk to your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family about the importance of this election. You can describe the clear difference between the two parties using moral frames that are truthful about Progressive policies but use terminology and frames that are more appealing to the centrist and conservative listener.
If you are a more independent voter and you are reading this to learn and understand Progressive positions better, we hope that you will recognize the value in supporting President Obama for a second term, even if we had to be the ones to say what he should have said in the first place.