During the Political Discussion Next Thanksgiving Dinner, Go on Offense

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Before the past few Thanksgivings, some media outlets have run pieces advising readers or viewers on how to respond to right-wing, Fox-concocted talking points that one or more relatives might regurgitate at the dinner table. As the above video from this past November 23 indicates, Ed Schultz invited Occupy Wall Street hero Jesse LaGreca on MSNBC’s “Ed Show” to do just that. Jesse does a good job using logic, facts, and figures to respond to the right-wing talking points raised by Ed. However, if you’re simply being reactive rather than proactive in these situations, you’ve already lost the political argument.

It seems that progressives always find themselves reacting to right-wing talking points, either with facts and figures, anger and consternation, or ridicule. But the right wingers know that, by setting the agenda and the frame of the conversation, they can’t lose.

So next Thanksgiving, and way before then, try this as a game: when a right-winger begins a political discussion with the usual Fox-fed talking points (“President Obama is trying to destroy America”, “‘Obamacare’ is socialism”, “the Occupy protesters are dirty hippies who need to take a bath and find a job”, etc.), instead of responding to the discussion and frame that they have set up, go on offense (which happens to be Messaging Maxim #1) and hit them with talking points of your own. If you need help coming up with such talking points, here are a few resources:

1. The Messaging Manifesto that was the first post here at Messaging Matters in February 2011, as well as subsequent posts at Messaging Matters. As we pointed out in the Manifesto, Democrats and progressives can accurately portray most of their policies and principles in terms of “protection” and “security” for the vast majority of Americans. On the flip side, Republicans and conservatives consistently try to protect a few wealthy individuals and big corporations at the expense of everybody else. That sentiment is contained in the “99% vs. 1%” messaging that the Occupy protesters use.  Here are a couple of other examples:

  • Uncle Con: “Obama is hurting the economy.”
  • You: “Republicans are purposely trying to sabotage the economy in order to get elected in 2012.”
  • Uncle Con: “President Obama hasn’t created any jobs.”
  • You: “In 2010, the Republicans ran on ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’. But they’ve done nothing to create jobs, instead spending all their time on anti-abortion bills and other social issues to appease the right-wing base.”

2. Popular progressive websites such as Daily Kos, Crooks and Liars, Think Progress, and the appropriately named Talking Points Memo. Regular reading of these websites will reveal the phony talking points that the right wing uses repeatedly and effectively, and, hopefully, will spur you to come up with your own. These sites, as well as the ones listed below, generally have Twitter and Facebook pages as well, if you prefer to connect with them that way.

3.  Check out the whitehouse.gov website under President Obama, the Democratic National Committee, and President Obama’s re-election campaign. Although the Democratic establishment does not do as good a job at political communication as it needs to, sometimes they nail it, such as in this recent DNC ad portraying Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper who will say anything to get elected.

4.  Several progressive advocacy organizations, such as MoveOn.org and Campaign For America’s Future, do an excellent job of creating clear talking points and action items such as petitions, that take the argument to the right wing instead of the other way around.

Spend a little time following these resources on a regular basis, go on offense, reframe the discussion based on your talking points rather than engaging opponents on their turf, and you’ll soon become an effective political messaging machine.

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