Read their hips, not their lips

The best political communication in the world ultimately won’t help politicians if their actions don’t match their rhetoric. President George H.W. Bush learned this lesson when he campaigned in 1988 on “read my lips, no new taxes” and then lost both credibility with and votes from Republicans when, as President, he signed a tax increase. The Republican Party and President Obama each face similar challenges today.

The Republicans have begun a re-branding effort after their whupping in the 2012 election, where they were viewed as doing the bidding of the rich. However, as Paul Krugman points out, the Republicans have changed their message but not their policies. They are still putting out budgets and proposals that give to the rich and take from the rest of us. The Democrats did an excellent job last November of portraying Willard Mitt Romney and his Republican Party as the party of the rich, and that reputation won’t go away anytime soon unless the Republicans back up their new rhetoric with proposals truly designed to protect and promote the middle class.

President Obama also faces the challenge of matching his words with actions. Many Democrats and progressives became quite disenchanted with Obama during his first term as he made lofty promises about a public option for health insurance, rolling back the Bush tax cuts and other matters, and then systematically caved to Republicans in negotiations. Obama’s recent inauguration speech likewise was a tour de force for what Messaging Matters called “good government” and others called “big government” or even “progressive” ideals, from climate change to gay marriage to immigration reform. President Obama’s speech may have created huge expectations by Democrats and progressives, as will, likely, his upcoming State of the Union speech next month. Unless Obama now matches those words with heavy lifting to fight hard for his stated ideals, he could end up with a Bush-like next four years.

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