During the recent Senate vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA)(and yes, Americans, that is the same thing as Obamacare), Democrats put together a nice, quaint, and mildly disobedient protest. To wit, some Democratic Senators delivered little taglines before saying, “I vote no.” As it happens, this is against Senate rules because there is no “debate” permitted during a vote. Here is just a sampling of what Democrats said during the vote:
- Chuck Schumer rose and said, “On behalf of the tens of millions of Americans who will have their costs go up, whether or not they are in the exchange if ACA is repealed, I vote no.”
- Then Dick Durbin rose and said, “On behalf of the downstate hospitals of Illinois, I vote no.”
- Later, Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats, rose and said, “On behalf of elderly people who cannot afford higher prescription drugs, I vote no.”
- And Claire McCaskill rose and said, “Because there is no replace, I vote no.”
It was obviously a planned and organized, and we applaud Democrats for doing something. But once again, the fecklessness of Democratic political strategizing has the Chimps shaking their heads. It’s nothing short of malpractice. There are two mind-boggling problems with how Democrats carried out their little protest.
- Each Senator said something different.
Democrats have yet to learn the value of repetition. Just in the examples quoted above, Democrats asked a population that cannot hold even two ideas in its collective consciousness at the same time to absorb four different ideas: 1) overall premium costs; 2) affected institutions in low-income areas – like “downstate hospitals” in Illinois; 3) drug prices for the elderly; and 4) the lack of any plan for people who lose their coverage.
Republicans figured this out decades ago: Everyone in the party repeats the same exact single message over and over and over again. Republicans never move to point number two until point number one has absolutely saturated the American consciousness. This is marketing 101: when you repeat something simple to understand often enough, people will absorb and believe it, even if it’s not true. “We can’t wait for the proof of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, which could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” “Death panels.” “Government take-over of health care.” Over and over and over. And people believed it.
Speaking of death panels, the Chimps would have had every single Senator repeat the same mantra as Part I of his or her short pre-vote statement: “Because I stand opposed to the Death Panel that is the 115th Congress …”
- Democrats still prefer the abstract over the emotional.
Enough already of the abstract references to bookish policy positions. Pick a story that is short, stark, emotional, and evocative. To illustrate, consider that the ACA repeal will affect coal miners stricken by Black Lung Disease by taking away medical care provided to them as a result of the ACA. What is Black Lung Disease? The technical medical term for it is pneumoconiosis, and it results from deposits deep in the airways and lungs (as deep as the air sacs) of harmful dust particles thrown off by coal and other substances. The body’s immune response to these invasive particles causes the accumulation of scar tissue (called fibrosis) in the lungs. The condition is not curable and can lead to death, but because of the benefits provided by the ACA, the condition can be managed and life prolonged. Do Republicans give a shit? Of course not.
So here’s what our proposal would have been for Part II of each Democratic Senator’s short pre-vote statement: “… and with the workers who will suffocate from the Black Lung scar tissue deep inside their air sacs after this repeal, I vote no.”
Some final thoughts
Let’s put that all together now. Every Senator should have delivered the same, in-your-face, punchy, emotional message: “Because I stand opposed to the Death Panel that is the 115th Congress and with the workers who will suffocate from the Black Lung scar tissue deep inside their air sacs after this repeal, I vote no.”
It’s a clear manipulation of the average American lizard brain; it’s an unapologetic appeal to fear. But unlike Republican propaganda that shares the same characteristics, it enjoys the benefit of actually being true. Democrats should repeat it over and over again, and when media types protest that this kind of political appeal is beneath Democrats, Democrats should repeat it again. As Republicans know, that is how a new message, no matter how emotional or hyperbolic, becomes normalized and seeps into the national dialogue as a point that requires endless rebuttal (all of which only serves to emphasize and reinforce the simplicity and power of the original message).
So there it is. This is called controlling the narrative. If Democrats don’t learn how to do it, we’re in for a long EIGHT years.