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Paul Hayden

Democrats Think it's Just Their Message

November 5, 2007

As a former political speechwriter and communications director, I appreciate the value of words. Properly communicating a message as a candidate or as a public official is very important. But as the current occupant of the White House has so convincingly demonstrated these last several years, it is possible to succeed without possessing so much as a clue about how to move people with the force of your words.

So it is more than a little amusing that the excuse being offered by the current Democrat congressional leadership for their 11 percent approval rating is that the party's message "lacks emotional appeal."

That's the assessment of David Helfert, a former House Appropriations spokesman who now works for Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii.

"Our message sounds like an audit report on defense logistics," Helfert has written in what is being characterized as a 'critique of House Democratic communications strategy.' "Why are we defending the State Children's Health Insurance Program instead of advocating a 'Healthy Kids' plan?"

Helfert reportedly sent the memo to an e-mail list of Democrat congressional press secretaries and communications directors after a meeting to discuss the Dems' latest message. Helfert said that the meeting "left him cold" because it didn't focus on how to present persuasive messages.

"Republicans have done a better job by developing poll data into focus group-tested messages like 'culture of life' and 'defending marriage,' along with attacks like 'cut and run' and 'plan for surrender' in Iraq," Helfert wrote.

Pointing to terms like 'healthy forests' and 'death tax,' created by GOP operatives like Republican pollster Frank Luntz, Helfert opined that, "Republicans have been kicking our rhetorical butt since about 1995."

Helfert's memo continued: "Almost every Republican message contains a simple and direct moral imperative, a stark contrast between good and evil, right and wrong, common sense and fuzzy liberal thinking. Meanwhile, we're trying to ignite passions with analyses of optimum pupil-teacher ratios."

Helfert wrote a master's thesis in 2004 on how the Bush administration "sold" the Iraq war to the American people. He later taught at American University before returning to Capitol Hill to work for Rep. Abercrombie. Despite his apparent credentials, his advice is being given a chilly reception among the Democrat leadership.

"Everybody's a message expert," said one leadership aide. "The fact of the matter is Democrats are working hard to communicate our accomplishments. There is work to be done and that's why Democrats are working together and mounting an aggressive campaign to discuss the real victories we have won for the American people."

Those "victories" include trying to force small business owners to pay into a so-called "Wage Insurance Fund" in order to make up for lost wages. Here's how it would work: Joe makes $20 per hour. He loses his job and gets another one paying him $15 per hour. Now Joe is eligible for $2.50 per hour from the wage insurance fund (half the difference between his old job and his new one), and he can collect up to $10,000 a year for up to two years!

Another "victory" includes attempting to strip away the right of workers to a federally supervised, secret-ballot election to determine whether they want to be part of a union, and replacing it with a simple "card check" system that forces workers to vote in public in front of a union thug. This is jokingly referred to as "The Employee Free Choice Act." (And Helfert says Democrats don't have a sense of style when naming their legislation.)

These are just a couple of the many ridiculous pieces of legislation this Congress is trying to foist on the American people. Add to this the fact that Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and their cohorts are trying at every turn to undermine American foreign policy and you have a recipe for a Congress headed for single-digit approval ratings with the voters.

But Dems think they simply need to express themselves better. Could it be that they have no palatable message? Could it be that when taxpayers hear the term "death tax" to describe the thievery that is the estate tax, they instinctively understand its meaning?

Is it just possible that "partial birth abortion" is a much more descriptive term to describe the grisly procedure than "intact dilation and extraction"? Or that "same-sex" marriage is an indefensible concept?

Sometimes there is just no good way to say certain things. Some ideas just can't be sold.

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Copyright ©2007 Doug Patton

Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at dpatton@cagle.comand/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.