Capitalizing On Hollywood Talent

One of the questions I've heard Democrats ask over and over again is, if Hollywood is behind us, why don't we put their talents to better use. It's a great question. The Republicans have had no such trouble employing the corporate message machine of Madison Avenue in selling their brand. Why don't we use some of that Hollywood support we're always attacked for? This is something Matt's brother Nick joined us here to discuss late last year, calling the failure of coordination between Hollywood and the Democrats "a missed opportunity of gargantuan proportions." Here's a bit more from Nick's post.

Why didn't Michael Bay direct an awesome action adventure ad where John Kerry singlehandedly blows up the terrorist insurgency with a solemn nod of his granite-chiseled chin? Why weren't the writers of SNL and the Daily Show brought in to create hilarious, ruthless anti-Bush spots that would have been forwarded all around the internet? Why wasn't James Brooks hired to create a touching, pull-the-heartstrings Kerry-Edwards-cares-about-the-voter commercial? This schlock works -- remember that 9/11 Bush ad where he's holding the crying girl? With the Hollywood talent the Democratic party has at its disposal, we could have blown that spot out of the water, made it look like a mediocre episode of Touched by an Angel next to our sinking of the Titanic. I don't care if you think "I am king of the world" is a cheesy line -- it made people cry. Nothing Kerry said made people cry. Except perhaps accidentally, out of boredom or pain.

I actually suspect that the reason Republicans are always attacking us for the Hollywood connection is precisely to keep us from capitalizing on it more fully. But Republicans are going to attack no matter what, so the handwringing is pointless. JFK never ran away from his connections in the arts and that era is remembered fondly, in part I'd imagine, because people who build popular narratives for a living were on his side. In the myriad ways Nick brings up, we could use some of that right now.

There is at least one Democratic politician who is capitalizing on Hollywood talent in 2006. A few days ago, The Politicker posted to its YouTube account the first gubernatorial campaign ad for Eliot Spitzer, put together by Moxie Pictures, a firm known for representing directors like Cameron Crowe, Wes Anderson, and Errol Morris. The ad, as you can see for yourself below, is awesome.

They also posted to their YouTube account the first ad from his Democratic primary challenger, Tom Suozzi. It's not bad, but it's a fairly standard political ad jazzed up with some jumpy MTV-style editing, which has already become fairly standard in and of itself.

I really hope we start seeing more spots like Spitzer's from candidates across the country. We can scream all we want on the blogs about the media's anti-Democrat narratives, but it won't mean much if Democratic candidates don't start taking their messages directly to the people. And packaging those messages in stylized ads like this is a great way to break through the media gatekeepers.

Do We Need A Democratic 'Contract For America'?

(One of the odd things about group blogging is that you run the risk of writing about the same stories as your fellow bloggers. Typically, when that happens, I just scrap whatever I was working on and move on to something new. But with this story, I think it's worth adding my two cents since Chris and I approach it from different angles. That, and the Post story is so stupid, I think a pile-on is warranted here.)

It's pretty funny to read a story on the front page of a newspaper before flipping through it to find a columnist laying waste to the very premise the story was predicated upon. That's exactly the case in this morning's Washington Post, with Shailagh Murray and Charles Babington writing about Democrats' "struggle to seize opportunity" and E.J. Dionne slapping them back down.

First up, the front page narrative that Democrats can't pull it together.

News about GOP political corruption, inept hurricane response and chaos in Iraq has lifted Democrats' hopes of winning control of Congress this fall. But seizing the opportunity has not been easy, as they found when they tried to unveil an agenda of their own. ...

There is no agreement on whether to try to nationalize the congressional campaign with a blueprint or "contract" with voters, as the Republicans did successfully in 1994, or to keep the races more local in tone. And the party is still divided over the war in Iraq: Some Democrats, including Pelosi, call for a phased withdrawal; many others back a longer-term military and economic commitment.

Dionne's response?

The false premise is that oppositions win midterm elections by offering a clear program, such as the Republicans' 1994 Contract With America. I've been testing this idea with such architects of the 1994 "Republican revolution" as former representative Vin Weber and Tony Blankley, who was Newt Gingrich's top communications adviser and now edits the Washington Times editorial page.

Both said the main contribution of the contract was to give inexperienced Republican candidates something to say once the political tide started moving the GOP's way. But both insisted that it was disaffection with Bill Clinton, not the contract, that created the Republicans' opportunity -- something Bob Dole said at the time.

My attention to politics in 1994 was not such that I actually remember how the media treated Republicans at the time, but I simply cannot imagine this much endless speculative criticism about their chances in the midterms. (Feel free to correct me in the comments if I'm mistaken.) While I agree that there are certainly some problems with the Democratic leadership, I don't view those problems as insurmountable or even necessarily decisive in an election year. It's true that there is no single Democratic position on Iraq. It's also true that there is no single defining document summing up every Democratic policy position. But we've seen what happens when a party enters Washington with single-minded goals and uniformity of thought on every issue. That kind of failure to include new thinking leads to weak governance that relies more on faith than reality. It simply doesn't work.

I have always viewed the Democratic Party as something of a coalition party. In Canada, we'd be the Liberals and the New Democrats. In the UK, we'd be Labour and the Liberal Democrats. We are the center-left, the left, and the greens, with those further left tending to take refuge in minor third parties. The media looks at the single-minded Republicans, sees that they've won some elections, and assumes that since Democrats don't demand so much uniformity, that it's a problem. Personally, I view it as a strength, and I think more elected Democrats would do well to make that case. We're strong enough to disagree on some issues and yet come together to build a progressive government that works. I'm not convinced that we need a handbook to show us the way.

There's more...

Reject. The. Premise.

Back when Republicans were putting forward a fraudulent piece of legislation in the name of Rep. Jack Murtha, I advised that Democrats shouldn't even dignify it with a vote. Just flat out refuse to vote on it, en masse. Show the Republican leadership that they wouldn't cow to such bullying tactics. Instead, a majority of Democrats voted against it. I guess that was the next best thing, but it didn't accomplish anything. Had the Democrats refused to vote, steadfastly rejecting the premise the Republicans had put forward, they would have turned the tables on them and turned the story from one about lack of a unified Democratic position on Iraq into one of Republican abuse of Congressional power. Alas, the wisdom of Scott Shields didn't effectively permeate into the House Democratic caucus.

And once again, I find myself shaking my head as to why Democrats find themselves incapable of rejecting a Republican premise. Case in point, ethics reform in the Senate. Writing at Talking Points Memo, Paul Kiel documents the problem.

Today, the Senate Rules Committee voted on two different reform proposals. One was the Democrats' Honest Leadership and Open Government Act; the other was an earmark and lobbying reform bill by Sen. Lott (R-MS). The Democrats' bill went down on party lines, 10-8. Lott's bill passed unanimously. In other words, in one short committee meeting, the Republicans completely co-opted the issue.

Let's think about your job for a moment. You pitch an idea and a colleague pitches an idea. Both are put to debate and vote. Your colleague calls you an idiot and votes against your idea. Do you then respond by throwing your weight behind his idea? Probably not. Sure, his idea may not have been completely terrible, but yours was better. So why, then, would you sell yourself out like that? More than likely, you would simply reject the premise that his idea was the superior one by voting it down. Is this really too much to ask of the Democratic members of Congress?

I honestly believe the problem here is that, God bless 'em, the Democrats just want to do what's right. So if some Republican comes up with a piece of legislation that brings them 60% of the way to good policy, they'll support it because they seem to think that 60% good is better than 0% good. And while that may be an admirable goal and a somewhat logical conclusion, at the end of the day, it's bad public policy. There's a lot of corruption Republicans can figure out how to shoehorn into that remaining 40%. And it's also bad politics. There can be no cooperation with Republicans on ethics. It's like cooperating with a pack of wolves on a plan to protect the sheep.

So here I am, once again, begging and pleading with the Democrats. Stop accepting every premise the Republicans put forward. Hardly anyone agrees with them. In fact, most people want to see them voted out of office. With the exception of the old handwringers in the Beltway Punditocracy who will yelp loudly at your lack of bipartisanship, no one will mind one bit if you simply say no to the Republicans. By November, they're going to accuse you of being obstructionists, anyway. You might as well actually try obstructing something in a meaningful way and show the country, when it comes to good government and ethics reform, compromising your principles is not an option.

There's more...

How Republicans Manipulate Public Opinion

What kind of idiots does Utah Senator Orrin Hatch take us for? It's one thing to make a bombastic comment and then try to reel it back in. But it's another thing entirely for Hatch to state something unequivocally and then, once he's been found out, to claim that he said something altogether different. (Via Kos.)

Saturday:

Appearing before a group of Iron County, Utah, business leaders Saturday, Hatch said: "And, more importantly, we've stopped a mass murderer in Saddam Hussein. Nobody denies that he was supporting al-Qaida," he said, according to The Spectrum newspaper in St. George. "Well, I shouldn't say nobody. Nobody with brains."

Tuesday:

On Tuesday, Hatch said he may have misspoken at the event, and he was speaking of conditions in post-Hussein Iraq and the terrorist network led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

"Saddam clearly had a long history of supporting terrorists, but I was not talking about any formal link between Saddam and al-Qaida before the war," Hatch said in a statement. "Instead, I pointed out that the current insurgency in Iraq includes al-Qaida, under the leadership of al-Zarqawi, along with former elements of Saddam's regime."

I'm sorry, but no. Hatch didn't "misspeak." He lied. And then to cover up for it, he lied again. Just read the quotes. "[w]e've stopped a mass murderer in Saddam Hussein. Nobody denies that he was supporting al-Qaida." How in the world does that square with "I was not talking about any formal link between Saddam and al-Qaida before the war?" He specifically used Hussein's name, not Zarqawi's, so there can be no confusion. There is absolutely no logic by which these two statements can be viewed as anything but completely contradictory.

The vast majority of Republicans in Washington can simply not be trusted to speak honestly about national security. The Bush administration has elevated this kind of doublespeak to an art form. They tailor one statement -- Iraq had ties to al Qaeda -- to the paranoid and the misinformed, and then sit down for interviews in the national press and deliver a message of moderate consideration, denying that they'd ever mislead the public on the topic. Quite honestly, as infuriating as we might find the practice, it had worked out pretty well for them until very recently.

Unfortunately for Hatch, he's not quite the fine artist of doublespeak that one finds in the ranks of the Bush administration. But fortunately for us, someone was on hand to document this willful deception. It's important to keep in mind that this wasn't just a matter of Hatch playing fast and loose to get a rise out of a friendly crowd. This was a United States Senator giving a deceptive "insider briefing" to key business leaders in his state.

It would not surprise me in the least to learn that this is part of a larger, conscious effort by Republicans to manipulate the public by feeding bad information to local opinion leaders. In communities around the country, business leaders serve as a key part of the opinion leadership. In this roll as a trusted source, they disseminate information to those further down on the media food chain. We wonder how so many people can continue to believe that Iraq had WMD or that Iraq was involved with September 11, despite all of the evidence to the contrary. This is how.

There's more...

Message for 06: Take Care of America First

I posted this earlier on Kos but was encouraged by a friend to post here as well. Feedback most welcome!

I've been watching alot of the consternation around the Dems not having a clear message for 2006 and thought I would throw this out for discussion.

"Take Care of America First" provides a framework for discussing how we are different from the gop, how we want to address national security, how we want to address domestic security, globalization, etc that I believe can win. I believe it can work in both red and blue areas because it speaks to something that everyone feels - I need to take care of my own backyard before I begin telling someone else to clear up theirs.

There's more...

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