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Eight Talking Points for Voter Persuasion

October 12, 2004
By Jeff Rosenzweig

Do you know any undecided voters? Do you have a not-so-bright cousin or uncle or friend who intends to vote for George W. Bush? Were you raised by parents who always voted Republican because their own parents always did? Do you live in a state where Confederate flags are seen more frequently than peace signs?

If you answered yes to any of the above, the following last-minute talking points might come in handy. Use them sparingly, smile and be patient. There is no higher calling for a voter than to influence other voters. Don't proselytize. Persuade.

Talking Point #1: You and I will never have a beer with the President of the United States.

Four years ago, an opinion poll showed that more people wanted to have a beer with George W. Bush than Al Gore. If Bush's claim of sobriety can be believed - and given his track record in office, it's a stretch - citizens who cast their vote for a putative beer buddy were wasting their time. In any case, no voters have ever had an opportunity to sink a cold one with him. Or, for that matter, with Al Gore.

Talking Point #2: The President should speak foreign languages. He should also speak English.

Only an idiot would think John Kerry's ability to speak French is a liability. We should hope that he might have a little conversational German, Russian, Spanish and Mandarin as well. A president, as the pundits never tire of pointing out, is The Leader of the Free World. Lest we forget, not everyone in the Free World speaks American. Yet.

Bush apologists frequently claim that their boy's inability to utter a complete sentence is irrelevant. It is not. A president should be able to think and speak in complete paragraphs, never mind complete sentences.

Talking Point #3: The President should read.

Voraciously. Newspapers, briefing reports, websites, statistics, letters, maps. And books. Biographies, histories, fiction, poetry, criticism. He should also watch television, and not just cable news. (He should be able to successfully eat a pretzel or the crunchy snack food of his choosing while doing so.) He should also listen to the radio, and if a Beatles song from 1967 or later comes on, he should not rush to change the station.

He should immerse himself in the media (mainstream, alternative, foreign, mass and otherwise) every chance he gets.

Talking Point #4: The President should be aware of every mistake he has ever made.

And never make the same mistake twice. If, for example, he enacts a tax cut skewed toward a demographic that doesn't need it, contributing mightily to deficits of historic proportions and failing utterly to create jobs, repeating the process over and over again will not somehow erase the mistake.

If asked by a reporter or a citizen at a town-hall debate to name a mistake he has made, he should be able, instantly, to do so. He should also be able to explain why it was a mistake, how he made the mistake, what lesson he learned from it, and how he will avoid repeating it.

Talking Point #5: Politicians lie. It's what they lie about that matters.

The distance between "I did not have sex with that woman" and "Saddam Hussein is a grave and gathering threat" can be measured in corpses.

When Ronald Reagan talked of "morning in America," when George H. W. Bush spoke of "a thousand points of light," they were lying. When FDR said there was nothing to fear "but fear itself," he too was fibbing. Some presidential lies are part of a necessary national mythology.

Others are mendacious, destructive and damnable. Anyone incapable of discriminating between these categories is probably dumb enough to vote based on which candidate would make a better drinking buddy (see Talking Point #1).

Talking Point #6: Leadership is not stubbornness.

A president unable to change his mind probably doesn't have one.

Leadership is not willful ignorance. It is not bluster and bullying. It is not careless delegation of responsibilities to incompetents, crooks and hacks. It is not betraying the public interest to reward private interests.

Presidential leadership is the thoughtful, careful, tactful, patient and, yes, sensitive setting of direction to solve problems and create opportunities for progress. It is action based on considered judgment. It is inclusive and inspirational. It doesn't dismiss millions of dissenting voices as "a focus group." It doesn't appropriate toughness from cowboy movies. And it most certainly doesn't take as many days off as George W. Bush has.

Talking Point #7: American citizenship is not an entitlement to selfishness.

It is precisely the opposite, a call to fellow-feeling both for other Americans and for the rest of the world. All the maddening faults of this country pale next to its successes as a pluralistic, open society. This is something the Left should remember and celebrate.

What the Right needs to remember is that there is a Left, and that it comes far closer to mirroring the beliefs of most citizens than the Right ever will. America is strong because most Americans recognize a greater, communal good. It becomes weak when selfishness, insularity, xenophobia and greed (all hallmarks of the Bush years) define relationships between Americans, and with the wider world.

Talking Point #8: There is not a terrorist hiding in your garage.

Anyone old enough to remember the Vietnam War probably also remembers the absurdist rhetoric about fighting the Communists in Southeast Asia so we wouldn't have to fight them in Kansas. This is hauntingly familiar because it's being repeated so often now, with Terrorists substituted for Communists.

We can in no way treat the horrific events of September 11 or the Madrid bombings as anything but crimes against humanity. It doesn't follow, however, that Arab suicide bombers are hanging around your neighborhood Winn-Dixie. You're much likelier to be struck by a meteor than to be killed by a terrorist, and not because Tom Ridge showed you some paint samples and urged you to buy duct tape.

Yes, these days the United States military can only envy recruitment rates among Islamic radical groups. That still doesn't mean there's a sleeper cell in your sock drawer.

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