Using RepubliCare as part of effective and strategic messaging.
In a prior post, I argued that we shouldn’t call the new Republican “healthcare” alternative TrumpCare. In that post, I used RepubliCare as a placeholder until we figured out a good name for it. I got a lot of great responses from readers of that piece. Those discussions eventually became like a very free-flowing focus group. Most people preferred RepulibCare to any other alternative.
The idea for the Don’t Call It TrumpCare piece comes from Frank Luntz’ Words that Work. Words that Work is the playbook that has guided Republican messaging since before Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House. I’ve seen Mr. Luntz in interviews a few times, and he exhorts us liberals to use the ideas in his book to become better at messaging. Challenge accepted. I took one for the team and read it. Now, I’m relaying the information to the rest of my fellow progressives.
Do these words work?
In this piece and the next, we will take a look at 10 rules of effective messaging from Words that Work. This is to help us progressives and liberals get up to speed with the underlying ideas of effective messaging. Because I know that my readers are liberals, I know that they won’t just blindly accept my recommendations. We liberals need to know the reasoning for an action before we will buy into it. After that, I’ll briefly review each rule as it applies to “RepuliCare – the Republican Wealthcare Program.”
[A note on cites. For this article, I’m foregoing citation formats. If you see it in quotes and it looks like a citation, then it is something pulled directly from the Words that Work. I pulled these 10 rules out, and then put the book down so that I could get to writing. There are at least a couple quotes that don’t separate gaps in the quote with ellipses. Anything else is something that I wrote without noticing it in the book, but I don’t guarantee that those words don’t occur in the book as I wrote them. I’m not going to bother with page numbers or any of that other stuff either. Sorry, but it just takes too long, and I want to get this piece published.]
The first rule is “Simplicity. Use small words. Most people won’t reach for a dictionary.” When I read or write, I enjoy unusual words. Sometimes the sound of a strange word gives the rhythm of a sentence better flow, and sometimes the precise definition of an uncommon word just fits perfectly to convey the exact meaning to be expressed. I don’t apologize for using sesquipedalian (which means foot and a half long in Latin) words because the variety and intricacies of our language are part of what makes it so amazingly complex and beautiful. Also, learning the meanings and etymologies, or histories, of these words expands our knowledge ever deeper into the way that we understand the world. However, when we want to convey a point clearly, concisely, and quickly, then we need to keep it simple. Lots of big words can also come off as pretentious. So, we have to keep the words simple and common.
|Simple words to convey the message:|
Republicans will gladly harm the most vulnerable to line their pockets.
The second rule is “Brevity: Use short sentences. Never use a sentence when a phrase will do.” Many of us liberals have seen this rule in action and hate it. Republicans are great at distilling their messages down to simple phrases or even a word or two. Us liberals hate it because many of our hot-button political issues are way more complicated than a 5-word sound bite. We see it as part of the Republican policy to dumb down America. If policy discussion stops at sound bites, then that is a correct analysis. (More on this later.) We have to understand that these rules are not about the best use of language to argue and discuss policy but is instead about the most effective way to get that message across. How do we convey our message succinctly and concisely in a way that will resonate with others? How do we make that message in a way that resonates not just with other people in our political tribe but also with middle-of-the-road voters?
|I began making memes like this to help convey our message.|
Is it brief enough? Does it send a message?
Third, “Credibility is as important as philosophy. If your words lack sincerity or contradict accepted facts, circumstances, or perceptions, they will lack impact.” Yes, that brings up the orangutan in the room – how does Trump get away with lying all the time? That’s why this Republican wealthcare proposal is a perfect vehicle to hit back against both Trump and the Republicans at once. The underlying philosophy is consistent (I’ll explain that in a second), but the actual real world results are pretty stark.
Paul Ryan’s proposal is solidly rooted in the free market fundamentalism philosophy of Ayn Rand and is consistent in the sense of moving toward that fundamentalism incrementally. If you’ve paid attention to the news coverage, though, many conservatives have been extremely critical because it’s not ideologically pure enough for them. That’s because his proposal is a first step to gut the ACA and return us to the dystopian drama of poorly regulated health insurers. The ideologues either don’t recognize this or are extremists to the point that they don’t care. They want to go to the extremist free market all at once. This is an advantage for us because, while RepubliCare is solidly rooted in ideological philosophy, it isn't rooted in reality. This gives us an opportunity to drive a wedge between pragmatism and ideology. Americans are pragmatic. That gap between their fantasy land and reality is what we need to exploit. We will do that with credibility by showing that their promises will bring misery instead of prosperity.
|I think you meant "extreme enough"?|
Trump has lied repeatedly and with impunity for far too long. As long as everything he said was in the realm of mere possibility or would only harm others, then people were so disenchanted with our politicians that they were willing to look the other way. Now, however, many people are looking at the stark reality that, as scored by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) they may very well lose their health insurance. Now that they are beginning to see this, they are not willing to just blindly follow along. Gone now are the claims of a mandate and calls to just give the Republicans a chance to implement their policies. As I’ve argued in another article, we don’t need to convince the vast majority of Trump supporters. He won the electoral college by about 0.06% of the electorate’s votes. It won’t take much to unseat him. A small fraction more than that will result in a wave election that gives Congress back to Democrats.
|Credibility is as important as philosophy.|
He has no discernable philosophy.
Let's expose his lack of credibility.
A corollary, a result that follows from this rule, is that if your words (or actions) don’t match expectations, then you will lose credibility. That is happening now. Trump promised universal coverage, lower prices, the ability to select the physician of your choice, and a full repeal of the ACA. He raised expectations very high. Of course, he was too lazy to even tell someone to make a proposal, so he got Ryan’s RepubliCare as a default. RepubliCare is so toxic that Trump has asked that people not associate his name with it. There are now many news stories of Trump voters who are scared and worried that they might lose their health insurance. Many of these people now regret their votes. These are the people we need to target in our messaging. Their eyes and ears are slowly opening.
|When reality meets promised expectations.|
So much for prosperity.
These first three rules form the basis for any effective message. An effective message must be simple, short, and true (or at least tethered to reality.) In the next installment, we will look at ways to craft that message to make it more memorable, and at a little practical advice to get the message out effectively.
|Is it simple?|
Is it brief?
Is it true?
There is one more issue that I want to address before we go. I know that many of us progressives despise the Republican messaging machine because of the way that it stupefies our national discourse. I share your disgust. It may help to break this messaging idea down into two pieces: a slogan (or sound bite) and the full message. The slogan is not supposed to do the intellectual work of carrying an argument. That’s what civil discourse is for. In Zen tradition, they use slogans, called mantras, but they are a little different from a slogan. A mantra is a distillation of an entire line of thought compressed into a single phrase or sentence. The notion is that those few words will call to mind the entire discourse of ideas that may run many pages in length.
Our nation is shortchanged if we think we can end a discourse of ideas at sound bites and slogans. We need to engage in discussions that uncover all the implied ideas in those slogans and hidden policy effects if we are to give our nation the respect it deserves as a nation founded upon enlightenment ideals. In order to get to that discourse, we will need to use these slogans as an introduction to a discussion, not an end of discussion. So, stay with me through the next piece as we go through the basics of messaging and slogans. It will make us more effective in getting our ideas out.
The next installment: RepubliCare - Working the Word, pt 2.
Semi-related content (comic relief):
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