Framed: Target President Profile

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Target President Profile

One of the most important attributes of the next Democratic nominee for President of the United States is that they are an acknowledged liberal. This shifts the perception of “liberal” away from the pejorative meaning conservatives have tarnished it with and allows all Democratic candidates to run on liberal/progressive platforms. Each contender for the nomination must address this question.

For a list of people who are or may be running for President in 2008, see 2008 Presidential Candidates.

The following phrases are recalled until further notice:

  • Compassionate Conservative
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
  • Freedom Is on the March
  • Tax Cut
  • Tax Relief
  • Strong on (terror, drugs, etc.)

DO NOT USE ANY OF THESE PHRASES.

If you or someone you know is currently using one of these phrases, please go immediately to Forward Framing for repairs.

Example of use (don’t emulate):

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The phrase “compassionate conservative” is an oxymoron. The suggested replacement is “irresponsible conservative,” which means someone who claims to be a conservative but has no fiscal discipline. Irresponsible conservatives, like President George W. Bush, are spendthrifts who dole out money recklessly on their pet projects without regard to the consequences for the country, meanwhile being stingy on truly helpful spending and claiming poverty as an excuse.

The phrase “weapons of mass destruction” (pronounced “wim-dee” and abbreviated WMD) is a scare term. Scaring the public on national security issues is a key tactic of the Republicans to drum up support for their candidates. This works because they have been successful at painting Democrats as “soft on defense.” The way to respond is to talk about specifics where Democrats support defense. The key here is that we believe that our freedoms, such as freedom of speech, are important to our culture and need to be protected by high quality security. “High quality” means very efficient and effective. Democrats are smart on defense (see below).

The phrase “freedom is on the march” is a catch phrase by the Bush administration to reassure people that armed intervention will produce freedom in any countries that scare the administration. The response might well be “. . . off the cliff.” The key difference from Democrats is that we believe that the United States is a part of the world, not a superior culture that has all the right answers. Security comes from engagement with other countries, not dominance over them. Only a very insecure nation would use their military to bully other countries into compliance. Instead, Democrats see the U.S. as a morally strong nation that is a leader in the world. We don’t believe we are easily defeated, so we are not insecure about the position of the U.S. in the world. Where Republicans want to control everything (a difficult, expensive and risky proposition), Democrats want to use our moral, technological and organizational advantages in conjunction with the strengths of other nations to manage the world for everyone’s benefit. By taking the high road, we earn the respect of other nations and can reap the benefits of being a true world leader.

The phrases “tax cut” and “tax relief” are designed to paint taxes as negatives that have to be fought. Republicans are always against taxes. This means they are stupid about governing, because smart people know that governmental services are essential in the modern world and can only be supported by taxes. Democrats are smart on taxes. They understand that taxes are painful to pay and should not be squandered (with unnecessary wars, for example), but must be raised in sufficient quantities to fund all essential government services.

Whenever Republicans talk about taxes, Democrats must talk about wages. If you are having trouble paying taxes that is not because taxes are too high, it is because wages are too low. Every time the media or an opponent brings up taxes you should talk about wages, especially the minimum wage. Remind people that Democrats are smart about taxes. They believe taxes should be fair. They understand that the government doesn’t run on charity and must be funded. They believe that you should not have to struggle to pay taxes and that your compensation should be sufficient to cover all taxes and leave enough after that to pay for everything else you must have—including health insurance and retirement savings.

The phrase “strong on” followed by emotion words such as “terror” and “drugs” is designed to create fear about security, both domestic and foreign. Candidates should not use “strong on . . .” in their campaigns because fear plays into the hands of Republicans, who are generally thought to be “stronger” people than progressives and liberals (i.e., Democrats). Democratic candidates are “smart on . . .” these issues. Smart implies that we know when to be strong and when to use intelligence to solve problems. It is superior to being strong on an issue because it is less wasteful and provides a better long-term result. Many problems, such as the wide-spread dependence on addictive drugs, are perpetuated by politicians who claim to be strong on drugs, but are actually stupid on drugs.

The Problem

The main problem with past Democratic presidential candidates is that they haven’t had a firm ideological framework to present to the American people. As a result, they have been at a disadvantage in all of the elections since the 1960s, when the Republicans embraced the “conservative” political philosophy. A group of neoconservatives pushed radical conservative ideas (primarily economic ideas) that have slowly taken over the Republican Party. At the same time, fundamentalist Christians (who have a natural affinity for conservative social ideas) also saw the Republican Party as a tool for converting other Americans to their religious beliefs.

There is much to recommend certain conservative ideas. Democrats generally should not attack conservative ideas. The problem is not that these ideas are wrong, but that they are incomplete. Not all good ideas are conservative. Take “freedom of expression” as an example. This is a liberal (in fact, an anti-conservative) idea in that it embodies the concepts of questioning traditional values and questioning authority. This value is essential to a modern, dynamic, healthy society. Liberal values must be “added on” to conservative values to achieve balance, diversity and overall moral correctness. Conservative values minus liberal values equal a slanted, dysfunctional society.

Democrats, however, have not responded strongly to the onslaught of conservative zealots carrying their various conservative principles into political battle. The result has been confusion in the electorate about what it means to be a liberal and why liberal ideals are critical to functioning of society. Democratic candidates, especially presidential candidates, must make a strong statement of values and they must draw on liberal values in doing so. Unless Democratic candidates strongly support liberal values, the electorate will not get both sides of the issues and will continue to drift to the right, skewing our society and creating dysfunction.

The rightward drift in ideology of the average American stacks the deck against Democratic candidates because Republicans can always portray those candidates as liberal, regardless of their actual ideology, by linking them to the “liberal” Democratic Party. Only a strong defense of liberal values will level the playing field.

The current (October 2005) low levels of support for President Bush provide a key opportunity for educating the electorate about what the nation needs in its president—and through that process provides a mechanism for pushing back against conservative ideology and rectifying the lack of information available about liberal values.

Profile of a New President

This is a collecting place for suggested attributes of a good president. A common complaint is that the Democrats don’t know what they want. Many people see the Democratic attitude as “anybody but Bush.” This won’t win elections. So, here’s where we are developing the positive profile of what Democrats want.

We want a president who:

  • Knows enough about war to keep us out of the ones we don’t need—and to win the ones we have to fight.
  • Knows when a real threat is facing the nation—and is quick to address it.
  • Understands basic economics—not just Wall Street benefit packages or how to fund personal mansions.
  • Believes in Generally Accepted Activities of Political States (GAAPS)—and therefore puts funding priority on essential governmental services, as well as takes a non-partisan approach to filling government positions with the best and brightest.
  • Won’t make long-term problems worse to get short-term political gains—so doesn’t sacrifice minimum wage, immigration or environmental laws as soon as there’s a plausible excuse.
  • Has the intellect for the job—and shows it by making smart decisions for the American people.

Analysis of a Good President

A good president understands the military and its proper use. The contrast between Democrats and Republicans couldn’t be clearer. We’ve recently had two presidents, one from each party, both of whom avoided going to Vietnam. Yet, in office, Clinton was reticent to send in the military and only did so with international cooperation. Bush was not hesitant to use the military and did so against the expressed wishes of some of our strongest allies. You don’t have to have served in the military to be president, because the president does more than wage wars. But you do have to know how the military operates, its strengths and weaknesses in given situations, and the seriousness of putting it into combat.

A good president is proactive about discerning real threats to the U.S. They would put the required emphasis on intelligence gathering and early intervention. This is as true for spotting terrorists as it is for spotting hurricanes. And having spotted a threat, the president must be a strong supporter of federal action when the threat is a national threat. Dirty pictures are not a national threat. A dirty bomb is. The federal government must prioritize so that national threats are countered if possible and responses to them are quick if we can’t avoid the problem.

A good president understands that modern societies require sound regulation to operate. This means that both fiscal and tax policies must be fair and progressive. In this context, “progressive” means that they facilitate the modern economy. A fair policy is one that places financial burden in a way that corresponds to the benefit derived from participation in our society. That rules out flat taxes, because the rich derive more benefit from regulated markets than the poor do. For example, our police and military protect trade. Those who profit from trade are receiving a greater benefit and should shoulder more of the financial burden.

A good president believes that commonly accepted government services are proper and justified. Such a president would be a strong advocate for these services, not someone trying to cut them back or de-fund them. The test for whether a federal service is justified is that it is not appropriately provided by the private sector or the state (or local) governments. Here are some factors:

  • If it is a human right, then it should be uniformly acknowledged and protected at the federal level. Example: the right to hold a job without being discriminated against on the basis of race does not depend on where you live, and so must be federally protected.
  • If a security issue is too big to be taken care of by the states or private individuals (in free association), then it should be taken care of by the federal government. Example, if a natural disaster is sufficient to overwhelm state responses, the federal government must respond with sufficient resources to offer protection to individuals. There is a societal imperative to band together for mutual protection, and the federal government must take up this responsibility when the protection must be provided at the national level.
  • If market forces cannot reasonably be controlled by a state or local government, then the market should be regulated at the federal level. This includes international trade. Example: if goods are produced by companies paying less than the U.S. minimum wage when they are produced in other countries, then the U.S. must be willing to make and enforce a tariff or regulation that nullifies the financial advantage of using sub-minimum wage labor.

A good president is unwavering on the long-term goals of the American people even in the face of hardships or severe tests. President Bush was quick to sacrifice minimum wage, immigration and environmental laws in response to the disaster earlier this year in New Orleans. His willingness to waive air standards for making gasoline is particularly absurd because it shows a complete lack of respect for forces of nature. Arguably, the force of hurricanes is being compounded by global warming. Yet, Bush defies nature by attempting to artificially keep up the production and use of fossil fuels, which must contribute to that global warming. A sensible president would respond to the new, stronger hurricanes by increasing efforts to cut greenhouse gases and find other ways to mitigate the aggregate impact of humans on the earth.

A good president is smart. We’ve seen what happens when you have a C+ president. A C+ president may be approachable by the average American and it may be comforting to the voters to know that he’s “like one of us.” But the truth is that you have to be smart to face up to the challenges of the modern world. The U.S. used to have such a commanding advantage that we could compete regardless of who was president. That time is over. We are faced with many challenges and many challengers. We have to have someone in office that is smart enough to compete on our behalf against the best world leaders representing the strongest countries. The minimum qualification for President of the United States is an A+ record.

Realigning the Frame

Rebuilding After Bush: The initial message for the next presidential race should be “rebuilding after Bush”, “cleaning up after Bush” or “repairing the damage Bush caused.” This focuses attention on the many problems that Bush either created through incompetence (such as the New Orleans disaster) or allowed to happen and could not adequately respond to (such as the terrorist threat) and sets the stage for a positive Democratic platform that would address all of these problems.

Smart America: The Democrats must be the first to introduce a follow-on message into the news cycle before Republicans can use their media advantage to capture that advantage. The natural follow-on to rebuilding after Bush is to put forward a series of policy changes that we think will rebuild the U.S. These initiatives should come under the umbrella of “Smart America” because “smart” trumps “strong” every time. Whenever the Republicans play the “we’re strong on . . .” card, Democrats should shake their heads, mutter “there they go again” and talk about how important it is to be smart about the issue rather than wasting money and other resources on it. Smart America initiatives might include:

  • Smart alliances for defense (engaging other countries in mutually addressing concerns).
  • Smart responses to addictions by shifting money from drug law enforcement to rehabilitation, and by providing safer environments (with law enforcement focused on security) and better job options.
  • Smart tax policy that emphasizes take-home pay, rather than tax cuts, as the key mechanism for making taxes palatable.
  • Smart social policy that looks at reinstating the estate tax as a means of giving each person a fair start in life.
  • Smart benefits policy that uses take-home pay as the first line for providing adequate funding for retirement savings, healthcare funding, reasonable childcare services, and so on, rather than after-the-fact government hand-outs. (This puts the emphasis on low wages as the ultimate source of many of these problems, but it means re-thinking how Democrats respond to social problems.)
  • Smart schools that teach the best facts and techniques that our community has to offer.

The Democrats must introduce new initiatives while the Republicans are still contending with and reacting to the old ones. Democrats must develop and put into action whatever initiatives are necessary to dominate the news cycle.

What Progressives Value and Want

Sustainability. Economic activity should be sustainable indefinitely. This means refraining from exploitation of both humans and the environment. Fairness. Those born to less fortunate circumstances should be provided education allowing them to advance according to how hard they work and jobs that pay a living wage—a wage that is sufficient to support life from birth to natural death including decent retirement, as well as enough to permit the raising of children who will carry on in a sustainable way. Consistency. The rules should not change so quickly as to cause severe disruptions to people’s lives. Major changes should be phased in. When large changes are required, assistance should be provided to those who are in the way of that change.

Responses

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Counter—Phrases to Describe Republican Presidential Candidates

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Potential Ads

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Other Resources to Draw On

  • Grading the Presidential Candidates on Education? by Teacherken provides an excellent survey of information that key Democratic presidential candidates have provided on their websites as of March 2007 on the topic of education. It provides enough citations to get a clear idea of where these candidates stand to the degree they have provided that information via their campaigns.

Notes

Remember: The Democrats have a positive program for the country. We are looking for a presidential candidate who will take that positive, progressive, liberal program to the country on our behalf and educate them about its advantages. We are looking for a winner. We expect that a true winner will have liberal values and will stand up for those values in the face of opposition. We expect that the result will be significant progress toward a level ideological playing field, where liberal political philosophy will no longer be at a disadvantage against conservative dogma.

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