blogenlust
11.10.2004

Strategic Reframing


I hate to beat a dead horse on this issue, but I really believe that Democrats' success in reframing certain issues will make or break their electoral hopes in the near future. An article in today's SF Chronicle lays out the various ways in which gay groups of both parties will try and reframe the gay marriage debate.
Washington -- From adopting a NASCAR dad to embracing the moral rhetoric of the 1960s civil rights movement, gay and lesbian leaders are rethinking their message and market after last week's sweeping election losses, but they are refusing to retreat on same-sex marriage. The Nov. 2 election was "a wake-up call for gay and lesbian Americans and organizations," Patrick Guerriero, president of the gay Log Cabin Republicans, declared in a new mission statement. [...] "One inescapable conclusion is that we have not framed the issues right with the American public," Trammel said. The "big lesson" of the election is "figuring out how to talk about issues in a way where you're not for or against gay people ... how the nation addresses our role in society is really the key issue, and we as Democrats have to talk about that in a way that connects with Middle America." [...] Among the strategies under discussion: -- Courting Republicans who now dominate Washington and are indebted to the social and religious conservatives who helped provide a record GOP turnout rather than devoting the lion's share of money and lobbying to liberal Democratic allies. -- Continuing a strategic legal attack using "the right plaintiffs in the right place at the right time," as David Buckel, director of the Lambda Legal Marriage Project, put it, to challenge the new state marriage bans and to continue the push for marriage rights in more liberal jurisdictions, including California, New Jersey and New York. -- Going on the offensive with state ballot initiatives to expand inheritance rights, hospital visitation and other benefits for gay and lesbian couples rather than defending losing battles against same-sex marriage bans. -- Finding new allies in the religious community. "We have allowed the radical right to usurp and control the lexicon of family values, faith and morality," Guerriero said. Trammel agreed, saying it is "extremely important" to "not let people who are anti-gay seize the mantle of religion and morality." -- Creating a new message for moderate to conservative voters who may be uncomfortable even using the words gay and lesbian by personalizing the issue with mainstream gay couples who are raising children or caring for elderly parents. [...] Scott Huch, a member of the "Austin 12" group of gay Republicans who met with then-Gov. George W. Bush during the 2000 campaign to discuss gay issues, suggested, only half-jokingly, that "hairdressers and dancers and sweater- folders and waiters from Dupont, Boystown, WeHo, Chelsea and the Castro could 'adopt' mechanics and farmers and NASCAR fans and hunters in the red states. Talk about gay adoption." Guerriero suggests hosting "rural barbecues and town hall meetings for honest discussions with people who disagree with us. ... Like it or not, Michael Moore, Bruce Springsteen and Rosie O'Donnell will never convince the Iowa farmer, the South Carolina veteran or the West Virginia coal miner to be on our side."
I think these ideas are a step in the right direction, and the last was stolen directly from the Heraldblog Playbook! That doesn't mean it will be enough, though. I honestly believe that gay marriage is an issue that the Republicans don't have to lord over us, and all that it will take is some strategic thinking and patience. The latter will most likely be the hardest, but it is also the most important. Moreover, this type of excercise should not be limited to gay marriage and other wedge issues. Perhaps the biggest problem for Kerry and Democrats in the last election was not clearly articulating an alternative to Republican policies in the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq. The election cleary illustrated to me that not liking the status quo does not necessarily translate into votes unless people really know where we stand on an issue. All of the post-election signs illuminate how big of a problem this is for Democrats. The good news, I think, is that it is something that everyone can work on, and I'm optimistic that people will be open to a re-articulation of Democratic policies. update: This would be a good time to recommend again George Lakoff's Don't Think of An Elephant, which is showcased on the right. It is an excellent and short guide to reframing Democratic policies that I think everyone interested in this subject should read.