Happy New Year to all my friends in DC! I do miss you all, although I am glad also for the little distance I have achieved. I wish travel was easier but meanwhile there is much music, art, beauty, books, and fun here in Jackson and New Orleans (where I co-reside these days).
From the vantage point of a little distance, many Democrats in Washington seem to be struggling with message. So here are some suggested New Year’s message resolutions from a thousand miles (give or take) to the South.
1. Talk about what people care about. Talking about policy and programs that, granted, may benefit us all in the years to come just seems off to people who are thinking about now. People have too many immediate economic problems and COVID frustrations to want to hear about much else.
2. Do not declare pre-mature victories. Even major legislative victories do not fill the gas tank, fix the supply chain, or take down the restaurant signs apologizing for slow service due to staff shortages. Better to communicate you know what the problems are and are working on it than that you have solved a problem people didn’t even know was there when they are focused on self-evident ones they face day-to-day.
3. Stick to one message at a time. If you are arguing to preserve what has been settled law for two generations, that women should be able to terminate a pregnancy that was unintended and/or is a threat to them, then make that argument. There is no need to load it up with other agendas. You lose the main point.
4. Remember that dollars are costs not benefits. Don’t put them in the lede. When the government spends a billion or so on something that is big spending. What problems did it solve? How did we make people’s lives easier or better? The amount may matter a lot legislatively but they all sound like big numbers. Example: That there will be bike lanes in all five boroughs of NYC is great for people who bike there; the amount it will cost is just that.
5. Say what you mean. We are “protecting” a damaged environment when we need to salvage it. We “give” groups what they “deserve” and then wonder why people think we are about entitlements. Better to describe the benefit – preferably a universal one – than to declare a circumscribed entitlement. Same with the number of things we declare to be a “right.” Something can be sensible – or help the country – without it being a right. And while I understand “workers” and “families,” I have never really have gotten the working families thing except as a linguistic compromise between “families first” and “working people”. Consider describing the benefit and leaving off the preamble “working families deserve…” The edit will add clarity, at least.
Aside: The Sunday NYTimes includes a piece on whether Stacey Abrams is a moderate or a progressive. I can’t answer that but I can say she uses language with admirable precision without a lot of symbolic wrapping paper.
6. Talk about Republicans sparingly. Yes, many of them are ideologically driven white supremacists who are taking actions that undermine democracy and threaten the planet. But those things are more important than partisanship. When you frame issues in partisan terms rather than as choices we need to make, you end up belittling the matters at hand. We need to decide whether it will be easier or harder for people to vote; whether it is right or wrong to make it harder for some citizens to vote than others; whether we still believe in one person-one vote. Plenty of people think it should be equally easy and convenient for everyone to vote but do not see that Republicans are undermining our democracy. Besides, the Republicans are not the point.
7. Stop attacking each other. I might not love The Squad or Joe Manchin, and can argue with either. I see zero value in suggesting either are ruining the party because that just says the party is ruined. Stick to the point. Avoid the party and the personalities.
8. Avoid abstractions. Clearly framed concrete decisions give people a context for taking a position. Vitriol on both sides just sounds like, well, politics. Republicans commit bad vitriolic writing too, of course. Roger Wicker, the more tolerable Senator from Mississippi, put out a piece subtitled “51 Senators put Socialist agenda on life support.” I presumed that was to keep it from dying, right?
9. Quit listing constituencies. Way too many times there is political rhetoric followed by the specific consequences for Latinx people, the black community, and women. We will just slide by the gender-neutralizing of the Spanish language for now and simply note that listed constituencies exclude others without anyone actually feeling more included by being listed.
10. Lighten up. If everything is portentous, how can we know what you think is important?
Happy 2022! There were some good moments in 2021 (like January 20th and the day I got a condo in New Orleans). But there is room for improvement in 2022.