Sunday, October 10, 2021

Ads For Democrats -- The Medium Is Still The Message

So far as I can see, the Democratic party's idea of conveying a message is mired in the past. “Paint a picture in words!”  “I can see it now!  “Let me explain it to you!”  “Major speech is coming!”

Really? In the age of the mini-series? This is what passes for political discourse, explanations of policies? Occasionally whipping out a chart? Give me a break.

Oh, yes, there are the ads, 30 seconds or a minute of high-intensity here's what you need to do? Some of the small candidates here and there do a nice job, I guess working with small agencies. I personally like the Lincoln Project ads, making points with imagination. But otherwise, political ads are nuance-ain't-us.

Here are the Democrats, with policies that are so well thought out, so popular if explained, languishing and taking cover from ignorant potshots which focus on the supposed costs. A simple number makes for good viewing, it seems, according to the media whipping up a story. If the Democrats are calling for a brighter, more imaginative future, why can't they use techniques that illustrate a future, or even a present, instead of a past? If the medium is the message, the Democrats seem to be selling the past. If E. J. Dionne is right, as I think he is, that right now Biden needs to go on offense and say, hey, Republicans, I'm for this, why are you against it, is EJ suggesting, what, a few more speeches?

The thing is, it might be a dated concept, so dated that it was even in Woody Allen's Annie Hall, but the medium is the message. How are you going to present it? If it's the same old way, most of the people are hearing, subliminally, more of the same.

What about this:

Imagine a screen with a right and a left panel. On the left is Infrastructure, on the right is Build Back Better. At the beginning, both are black and white, dull and plodding, in the muck.

“If you pass just the infrastructure bill, which we induced 10 Republican senators to cosponsor, you get (flash the images!)”:

  • $110 billion for roads and bridges.

  • $66 billion for railroads.

  • $65 billion for the power grid.

  • $65 billion for broadband.

  • $55 billion for water infrastructure.

  • $47 billion for cybersecurity and climate change.

  • $39 billion for public transit.

  • $25 billion for airports.

  • $21 billion for the environment. 

  • $17 billion for ports.

  • $11 billion for safety.

  • $8 billion for Western water infrastructure.

  • $7.5 bill for electric vehicle charging stations.

  • $7.5 billion for electric school buses.

Flash those pictures, quick, on the left screen, in color. The images are the important things. Then say “– or, if you want to have the Republicans in charge, you get … nothing. And the screen goes a dull gray again. We need this, it's our present and our future, we can afford it, and we can't afford not to have it.”

Then you start on the right screen. You introduce it by saying, “infrastructure isn't just things, the real power of America is its people. We need to invest in our people. Here's what Democrats want for our people.” The right screen goes into color, and we see pictures flash by of what it would be, with the text that no one will remember, because what we remember is images, so let's see those images:

  • $1.8 trillion for investments in working families, the elderly, and the environment. It includes a tax cut for Americans making less than $400,000 a year, lowering the price of prescription drugs, and ensuring the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share of taxes.

  • $726 billion for universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds, childcare for working families, tuition-free community college, funding for historically black colleges and universities, and an expansion of the Pell Grant for higher education.

  • $37 billion to electrify the federal vehicle fleet, electrify and rehab federal buildings, improve cybersecurity infrastructure, reinforce border management, invest in green-materials procurement, and invest in resilience. 

  • $135 billion for forest fires prevention, reduce carbon emissions, and drought amelioration.

  • $332 billion for public housing, housing affordability, and equity and community land trusts.

  • $198 billion for clean energy.

  • $67 billion for low-income solar and other climate-friendly technologies.

  • $107 billion to establish "lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants."

  • $20.5 billion for the Indian Affairs enhancements of Native American health and education.

  • $25 billion for small business access to credit, investment, and markets.

  • $18 billion to upgrade veterans facilities.

  • $83 billion for investments in technology, transportation, research, manufacturing, and economic development. It provides funding for coastal resiliency, healthy oceans investments, including the National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund and the National Science Foundation research and technology directorate.

OK, truthfully, the structure and contents of the Build Back Better programs come from various committees in Congress, each of which put in their own wish list. I don't think I'd put that up in an ad at this time, wait until the paring back occurs. Manchin probably has a point here.

But still the point holds. How are you going to present this, aggressively, making the point, creating visuals in digestible bites, distinguishing yourself and your programs? Are you going to give a speech and bring on some charts, 1980 style? Or are you going to be just a little modern, show that the future is now?

Of course, other steps are necessary to show Democratic dynamism. The inimitable Virginia farmer John Flannery says, go after the insurrectionist criminals, if you don't, you're missing the boat! Totally true. Once again, just think of the images. Is there talk, or is there action?

Anyway, that's my two cents. Dynamism sells, and you can't just talk, you have to show.

Budd Shenkin

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