Ron Bachmann. Mitt Perry. Michele Romney. Jon Paul. Mix and Match candidates all. There’s a reason Debbie Wasserman Schultz called them Lego™ pieces. The Republican candidates for President are interchangeable generic pieces. You could take statements from any one of them and attribute it to the other and rarely would it seem out of character. They are all so busy pandering to their base that the race to see who can make the most outrageous or heartless, or factually incorrect statement to appeal to the extremist activists in the party that their words all blend together. Each time they trot out a new candidate, the blogosphere comment sections, and now I see the Twitterverse, erupt with reams of new information about how awful these people are. That’s fine. We need to know a certain amount about these people; it would be irresponsible not to acquaint ourselves with who they are and what they stand for. But who wants to spend the next YEAR reading breathless tweets about their every statement and antic? How does that set us apart from the media we love to eviscerate for doing the exact same thing? Do we really want to become part of the Right Wing Echo Chamber?
Back when I used to watch television, I was a fan of Duke University’s Men’s Basketball. Coach K! A few years ago one of the star Forwards (sorry, don’t recall which one) agreed to one of those sweaty post-game on court interviews. At the time it was popular for Duke’s opponents to boo this Forward every time he touched the basketball. The interviewer asked him how he felt about that. His (paraphrased) response stayed with me: “When they’re booing me, they’re not cheering for their own team.” That right there is the essence of what we’re doing. By focusing on everything the Republican candidates do and say, we are promoting them and their brand name. We are carrying their message. What we aren’t doing is promoting our own brand: Brand Democrat. We’re so busy booing them, that we’re not cheering our own team.
It’s time we reevaluated that default strategy and here’s why. We don’t get a voice in who gets the Republican nomination. Most States require that people who vote in Presidential Primaries to declare a Party Preference before they are allowed to vote in that Party’s primary. Registered Democrats aren’t able to vote in Republican Presidential primaries. Neither, in most cases, are Independents. The same can be said for caucuses, which in many States are closed affairs, normally only attended by the Party faithful. The Republicans and only the Republicans get to decide who their nominee will be. In 2008 that decision was made by only about 20 Million voters, (considerably fewer than decided the Democratic Primary the same year). No amount of commentary from us will change that. Trust me; there will be plenty of time once that nominee is chosen for us to get out the word about his or her unfitness for the job as soon as that person is chosen.
I think it would be especially helpful if we would stop referring to these candidates by name. They are Republicans. Period. Their interchangeability means that it doesn’t matter who said what that gets us riled up, we only need to say: The Republicans believe (insert outrageous idea); Democrats believe (insert sane idea). For example: The Republicans believe Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional; Democrats believe we should protect Social Security and Medicare. The point here is to develop the habit of contrasting the Republican belief system with the Democratic belief system. One of the benefits of developing that habit is reinforcing for ourselves in what exactly we actually believe. Also it paints every Republican with the same extremist brush. This muddies up any distinctions they’ll try to make between themselves. They are all always extremists, no matter what; even the one that rises to the top who has to recast his or her image as being the moderate to run in the General Election.
Of the many beauties of Twitter, my favorite is that we get to control our own message. It also helps us think in fewer words. Consider it as a bridge from the thesis to the bumper sticker. Ultimately we do have to add speaking bumper sticker to our verbal repertoire to be effective in changing the political discourse to promote our message. We don’t have to limit ourselves to that technique, but master it we must. I think in time when it comes to the language of bumper sticker we actually hold the advantage because we have a better sense of humor. Twitter is a good place to practice.
One of the barriers right now to writing effective messaging tweets is our tendency to immediately react to things the moment we learn about them. This is the emotional component of politics and as humans we are all vulnerable to it. Being first to broadcast the news about what a politician said, then repeating it endlessly because the comment was so sensational that we must all react to it in some fashion. The Oh My God Factor completely short-circuits critical thinking. A prime example of this was the reaction to Representative Eric Cantor’s assertion that he was going to tie the release of emergency funding for States impacted by Hurricane Irene to spending cuts. People went nuts over this and Eric Cantor’s name was on every third tweet I read. While the concept of holding the funding hostage is reprehensible, what was reinforced by these tweets is the idea that Eric Cantor actually has the power to do as he said. He doesn’t. He is only one Representative. If I recall correctly, in the Debt Ceiling negotiations he was told to go sit down and in the end got absolutely none of what he childishly demanded. He was knocked down several pegs in the eyes of the public and in the Beltway. His ‘power’ diminished significantly as a result of his actions. Sure, he can get a microphone and babble his radical rhetoric, but from my perspective the people guiltiest of carrying his message was us.
The simple emotion-driven act of reacting sucked us into the vortex of their echo chamber. This was a perfect opportunity to smear the Republicans with the toxic waste of one of their own. Change the name Eric Cantor to Republicans and watch how it alters the tone of the statement. We were in an ideal situation to have just ignored his statement and waited until the Governors of the affected States weighed in on the topic and let them swat him down, so there was nothing to lose by diminishing him in this fashion.
The retweet creates a fascinating capability of allowing a meme to evolve over the course of a few hours. A breathless tweet about something awful spewing from the mouth of a specific Republican candidate or Congressman can be altered in a retweet by changing the name to ‘the Republicans’. As long as we don’t change the facts, it is perfectly acceptable to make the alteration. Doing this provides us with the ability to tone down overreactions from others as well.
This is just one application for using twitter as a powerful tool, but it’s one that empowers us to control our messaging and hopefully our mindset. We can relax about the candidates from the Right and have some fun at the same time. It all comes down to this: are we reacting or messaging? I want to cultivate the message and enhance the Brand. We all have the power to do the same.