I Know You Are But What Am I?
It's time to hit back. On their ground. And break the traditional rules of politics to do it by using a slightly more complicated version of one simple meme that has worked wonders since the early days of kindergarten: "I know you are, but what am I?"
It's one of the cardinal rules of politics: Don't Use the Other Guy's Frames; Use Your Own. The idea behind this, of course, is that you get backed into a corner by bad language and framing; once you start talking about things in your opponents' discourse, your opponent owns the terms of debate and makes you look bad.
So at face value, it would seem foolish for Democrats who have been branded as "Weak" in the "War on Terror" to actually address that meme head on.
Unfortunately, the American public has already internalized that meme and that frame. Polls continue to show Republicans at least 10 points ahead of Democrats when it comes to handling terrorism--even as Democrats surpass Republicans on all other issues, including Iraq.
Once the public has internalized a meme, it's very hard to get them to change it by just using something else: that's why the GOP had such a hard time trying to change the "Nuclear Option" to be the "Constitutional Option." It just doesn't work.
That's why, when Democrats are attacked for being "weak on terror", they need to hit right back and address it by turning the meme onto their opponents. The proper response should be, "We're weak?? Compared to these Republicans, I don't even know what "weak" would look like!" Or in other words, "How could it possibly get any worse?"
Because after all, the GOP is incredibly vulnerable on this issue, and all they have is bluffing and hot air on their side--and the fact that no Democrat has seriously challenged them on this issue.
And it's time to come out STRONG. Challenge the most ancient and basic assumptions of this administration, its allies, and the moderates who are scared into voting for them.
It would look something like this: "My opponent likes to say he and his Republican friends are tough on terror. That Dems are weak. But if they're tough, I don't even know what weakness would look like."
They like to say, "Thank God Bush was President on 9/11." If Al Gore were president, there probably wouldn't have been a 9/11. These guys paid no attention to the threat posed by Al Qaeda; on September 11th, they were going to give a big speech about cold-war defense systems. Not Democrats!
They like to say, "We're taking the fight to the terrorists." If they're taking the fight to the terrorists, I have no idea what backing off would even look like. Bush had Bin Laden trapped in Tora Bora--how many American troops did he send in? No more than 50 or 60! I'll tell you this: Wesley Clark and John Kerry are veterans, unlike Bush and Cheney. They know war. They'd have sent in an entire armed division.
They like to say, "We'll catch Osama bin Laden no matter how long it takes." Democrats would have caught or killed him already.
They like to say, "America is Safer." If this is what they call safer, I would hate to see what vulnerable would even look like. Democrats like Howard Dean and John Edwards would have secured our ports, our airports, our trains, our water systems, and our nuclear facilities instead of wasting a trillion dollars on a useless war in Iraq.
They like to say, "We Support Our Troops." If this is support, I'd hate to see what turning our backs would look like. Republicans have cut veterans' health and pay benefits, have instituted a back-door draft, and have refused to supply our troops with adequate body armor. I can guarantee you that Democrats would see to it that our troops got the pay, the medical care and the body armor they need.
Republicans like to say, "We're Winning the War on Terror." But if this is winning, I'd hate to see what losing looks like. To this day, Osama Bin Laden remains free. Zawahiri runs free. Terror attacks are up by a factor of 10 worldwide. The Taliban has retaken major parts of Afghanistan, and Iraq is an utter disaster. The terror group Hamas is in charge in Palestine, and the terror group Hezbollah has taken all of southern Lebanon. Western Pakistan is a terrorist haven. Presidents Gore or Kerry and a Democratic Congress would have done far better. Heck, Mr. Magoo could have done better!
Seriously--the American people have been lulled into thinking that issues of security are intractable problems. That this is about the best that can be done. That Republicans are taking care of them as best as they can.
That's because they haevn't looked at it from another perspective: how could it possibly get any worse? If this is strength, what would weakness even look like.
Time to break the traditional rules of framing and make them see it that way, don't you agree?
Time to hit back, and take their last refuge away from them. It's time to leave them exposed for the naked emperors they are.
After all, a change in Democratic strategy on this issue is really in order; I mean, if current Democratic rhetoric on terrorism has been effective against Republicans, I'd hate to see what ineffective would look like. Right?