Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"You're wrong" is not a frame

A few weeks ago, the Democrats fought back against the Frank Luntz-written "bailout" frame that Senator Mitch McConnell tried to apply to the proposed changes to the financial system - see the video above.

But did the Democrats reframe - did they proactively send out their own message? No. The Democrats just pointed out Luntz's framing and the fact that McConnell was using it. Some journalists acknowledged that the GOP talking points, as applied to the financial reform proposal of the Democrats, were too laughable to repeat verbatim (the video features a couple of those journalists; see also David Weigel of the Washington Post).  The GOP frame fizzled somewhat as a result.

But that was an unlikely victory, because the Democrats' "you're wrong" rebuttal was not a frame that drove the debate in their direction, either. And people know this, including Mike Konczal:
When it came to the House vote, where you had no Republicans voting for it and an endless drum-banging about this “bailout bill”, I heard a lot of “that’s not in the bill” rather than a defense of what they were voting for. Pointing out that the Republicans are distorting things and expecting that to be the end of the argument is so John Kerry, so 2004. We need to come up with our own positive arguments and narratives for why these reform works.
Do the Democrats even have a frame for financial reform?  The White House seems to be using the "you're Main Street; they're Wall Street" frame, but it's buried as story #3 on a rotating featured story graphic on whitehouse.gov, at least today (here's how the main page looked this morning). The Democratic Party doesn't even have financial reform as an issue on its web page democrats.org - not even under the Agenda item "Economic Stewardship" (I've captured here how the front page of the site looked this morning). Two issues that are highlighted by both the White House and the Democratic Party web sites are (1) the benefits of health reform, and (2) the Elena Kagan nomination to the Supreme Court.  At least they're consistent in focusing on those two messages.

Still, one thing Luntz got right in his memo is that Americans desperately want financial reform. The White House and the Democratic Party, however, haven't made it a priority to communicate their proactive message to the American people - their frame - on that issue.