Short Essay Question: Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen said the following recently (as quoted by the London Times!). Peruse it and supply the correct answer to the question posed after the quotation.
"In a recent speech to southern Democrats in Atlanta, Bredesen summed up the Republican party platform as follows: 'A traditional view of family, no abortion, no gay marriage, a central role for faith, gun over the mantel, low taxes, an assertive and combative view of American interests abroad.'
"He then challenged his colleagues to sum up the Democratic Party in less than 30 words. Nobody could oblige. Asked what his 30 words would be, he replied: 'I don't have any yet. I'd be delighted to tell you if I did.' He may be waiting until after his re-election to unveil his national vision."
Your mission: What should be the Democrats' 30 words?
My answer: Bredesen's no dummy, but language isnt his strong suit. This is the guy who didn't understand that "Tennessee, Sounds good to me" referenced Tennessee's world famous musical traditions--bluegrass (east), Country (middle), Blues and Rock and Roll (west). Or that said musical traditions, the foundation of Tennessees tourist market--are just about the only thing the three distinct regions have in common. But were not marketing Tennessee here, were marketing the Democrats. Besides, Bredesen's hardly the first person to call for a reactive Us vs. Them exercise in counter branding--a futile exercise that REINFORCES the already strong G.O.P. brand name.
The metaphor: Bellevue Baptist has defined itself in 30 words, can you do that, New York City?
The GOP has always had hegemony on its side-- and that makes political shorthand as easy as F-A-G. The party is overwhelmingly white, Christian, anti-gay, and anti-abortion. Their population density is highest in suburban and rural areas. They make up a formidably cohesive "THEM.." There is no similarly cohesive "Us," there is only "Everybody Else."
The Democrats are the party of gays, and blacks, and cripples, and environmentalist wackos, and peacnicks, and freaks, and geeks, and gun-control fascists, and people who aren't Christian, and flag burners, and baby killers, and 10-Commandment haters, and PETA and a bunch of normal looking, hard working folks who love Jesus, and hunt, and raise their kids, and watch baseball and drink Coca Cola, and shop at the mall, and play golf on Saturday just like everybody else. What's that shit about 30 words again?
Bredesen wants to go toe to toe in the Message War by delivering tit for tat. But given the weight of their own big tent the Democrats can't afford to spar. It's time to break out the Judo in order to beat THEM around the head with their own rigid, definitions. The Terry Schaivo circus provided America a good look at just how much these new Conservatives value REAL Republican values like state's rights, and the rule of law, and what thorough contempt they have for checks, balances, and American Democracy in general. Fox-watching moderates were suddenly shocked out of their stupors as they saw how and bizarre and biased the coverage was. And they were shocked again when they saw the overall tone of the mainstream media fall in line, though polling data showed that the vast majority of Americans were strongly opposed to federal interference.
The BIGGEST problem with Bredesens game is that winning the language war has less to do with the idea of tight message than with the facts of a conservative, corporate media, and the sound byte nature of Television news. The medium is the issue here, and a smarter man than I once said, that IS the message.
For more of Chris Davis, also try The Flypaper Theory, his personal blog.