Sunday, March 25, 2012

3 More Words And Phrases Democrats Should Start Universally Using — And — A Call To Action

This post is a continuation of what will be a series on re-framing the language Democrats use in a way that clearly illustrates that we have the moral high ground on issues of policy for the nation. Part One can be found here. If you haven't read it, we recommend starting there, as it provides some important background on this topic, as well as the first set of words and phrases we believe Democrats need to adopt to win the fight to preserve our democracy. 

This and future installments are a collaborative effort of Jill W. Klausen, Dr. G. Thomas (Tom) Ruebel of The Winning Words Project, and the community at large who have so helpfully provided their input and knowledge to this project.

I think Democrats need much better positive messaging, expressing and repeating liberal moral values — not just policies — uniformly across the party. That is not happening. One of the reasons that it is not happening is that there is a failure to understand the difference between policy and morality, that morality beats policy, and that moral discourse is absolutely necessary. This is a major reason why the Democrats lost the House in 2010.

Consider how conservatives got a majority of Americans to be against the Obama health care plan. The president had polled the provisions, and each had strong public support: No preconditions, no caps, no loss of coverage if you get sick, ability to keep your college-age child on your policy, and so on. These are policy details, and they matter. The conservatives never argued against any of them. Instead, they re-framed; they made a moral case against "Obamacare." Their moral principles were freedom and life, and they had language to go with them. Freedom: "government takeover." Life: "death panels." Republicans at all levels repeated them over and over, and convinced millions of people who were for the policy provisions of the Obama plan to be against the plan as a whole. They changed the public discourse, changed the brains of the electorate — especially the "independents" — and won in 2010.

… It is vital that Democrats not make that mistake again.

~ Dr. George Lakoff, Professor of Linguistics, UC Berkeley in, Why the GOP Campaign for the Presidency Is About Guaranteeing a Radical Conservative Future for America
So what is the morality of Democrats if Republicans have appropriated "freedom" and "life" as their own? Dr. Lakoff suggests "empathy" and "responsibility," and he makes excellent arguments as to how those two basic principles form the backdrop of our positions.

However, he ends his lecture without giving us the tools for describing those moral positions. And if we hope to win over the people who have both "conservative and liberal moral systems in their brains" and aren't beholden to either of the two extremes, it is absolutely critical to get the language right.


1. Stop using "Privatize" and start saying "Profitize."

From our schools to our Social Security, our prisons, and our military, Republicans want to turn most of our government over to for-profit corporations. But for over 230 years this country has stood for ensuring our greatness by providing education to our children, armed forces to protect our shores and correctional facilities to rehabilitate those who have wronged our communities. These have always simply been givens. And since the establishment of our Earned Benefits programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which reserve income set aside from working people's paychecks, we have relied on the neutrality of our government to administer those programs to ensure that they don't fall victim to the volatility of the markets.

We have a moral responsibility to ensure that these basic services are always available to every taxpayer in America. If we learn that someone in our government is corrupt, we have the recourse to remove them from public office or position — they can be held accountable by us. But if we cede responsibility for our schools, prisons, military, or seniors, to for-profit corporations — the 1% — we literally lose that protection.

A corrupt corporation that owns the schools our children are expected to attend is very difficult to remove. We will no longer have a voice in our children's curriculum. Further profitization in the military would leave us at the mercy of corporations which could be tempted by greater wealth from a foreign nation that desires our destruction. And our elderly would never have a reliable source of income or assurance of medical care when their health begins to wane as they move into their golden years.

These things and more would be the consequence of "Profitizing" any of these vital services. We must make it clear that we are for Democracy, not Profitization.

2. Never, ever say "Gun Control laws" again. From now on, only talk about "Gun Responsibility laws."

On the heels of the tragic slaying of Trayvon Martin, and headlines like these being splashed across the internet: "Gun sales soaring, boosted by gun laws, concerns about Obama," gun responsibility will be a topical issue in this election cycle once again. And we're going to have to get this narrative really, really right if we want to win on it this time around.

Let's face facts: people — including Democrats! — resent having control taken away. But everyone recognizes the universal truth that people need to be responsible. Even gun owners who have been fighting the laws Democrats advocate to ensure public safety, refer to themselves as "responsible" gun owners.

We don't think this needs much extrapolation — it's actually just basic common sense. We need better Gun Responsibility laws that protect innocent people from potential gun violence while also affording responsible gun owners the protection they feel their guns provide them.

3. Never say, “Pro-Life,” even if you are attempting to debunk it or call out its dangers. Instead say the other side is “Anti-Family Planning” and Democrats are "Pro-Family Planning."

Why Pro- or Anti-Family Planning and not Pro- or Anti-Choice? Three reasons:
  • Those already firmly planted on the other side of the debate have no problem being called anti-choice. They've taken the "anti-choice" frame and stomped it into the ground with the slogan, "It's not a choice, it's a child."
  • The anti-choice frame, while perfectly descriptive and true, is not resonating with the part of the electorate who are morally torn on the issue of abortion — and those people do exist and we need to reach them.
  • Republicans have escalated attempts to not only legislate away women's access to abortion, but to limit access to birth control (which paradoxically is the most effective way to reduce abortion in the first place). “Family Planning” broadens the debate beyond the single issue of abortion.
People can be persuaded that Democrats have the moral position on this highly emotional subject if we use a better frame for it. In 2006 then-Senator Barack Obama gave a Keynote Address at the Call to Renewal conference in Washington, DC to an audience of progressive Christians:
A few days after I won the Democratic nomination in my U.S. Senate race, I received an email from a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical School that said the following:
Congratulations on your overwhelming and inspiring primary win. I was happy to vote for you, and I will tell you that I am seriously considering voting for you in the general election. I write to express my concerns that may, in the end, prevent me from supporting you.
The doctor described himself as a Christian who understood his commitments to be "totalizing." His faith led him to a strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage, although he said that his faith also led him to question the idolatry of the free market and quick resort to militarism that seemed to characterize much of the Republican agenda.

But the reason the doctor was considering not voting for me was not simply my position on abortion. Rather, he had read an entry that my campaign had posted on my website, which suggested that I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." The doctor went on to write:
I sense that you have a strong sense of justice ... and I also sense that you are a fair minded person with a high regard for reason ... Whatever your convictions, if you truly believe that those who oppose abortion are all ideologues driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women, then you, in my judgment, are not fair-minded. ... You know that we enter times that are fraught with possibilities for good and for harm, times when we are struggling to make sense of a common polity in the context of plurality, when we are unsure of what grounds we have for making any claims that involve others ... I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words.
Fair-minded words.

So I looked at my website and found the offending words. In fairness to them, my staff had written them using standard Democratic boilerplate language to summarize my pro-choice position during the Democratic primary, at a time when some of my opponents were questioning my commitment to protect Roe v. Wade.

Re-reading the doctor's letter, though, I felt a pang of shame. It is people like him who are looking for a deeper, fuller conversation about religion in this country. They may not change their positions, but they are willing to listen and learn from those who are willing to speak in fair-minded words. Those who know of the central and awesome place that God holds in the lives of so many, and who refuse to treat faith as simply another political issue with which to score points.

So I wrote back to the doctor, and I thanked him for his advice. The next day, I circulated the email to my staff and changed the language on my website to state in clear but simple terms my pro-choice position. And that night, before I went to bed, I said a prayer of my own - a prayer that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.
Democrats want to have families as much as anyone else. And we know we can best do that when we have autonomy over when and how we create those families. Family planning is a morally responsible act. So it's time to change the language we use to tell our story to those who are listening.

Democrats are Pro-Family Planning.

This frame is softer and more approachable. It is sensible and sensitive at the same time. It speaks to people who may be personally opposed to abortion but need a reason not to feel guilty about voting for the party that wants to keep abortion legal.

Some sample re-frames to use in conversation:

Democrats are for Family Planning rights.

Democrats are for trusting women to do their own Family Planning.

Democrats believe every woman should have the right to Family Planning access.

But most importantly, we must stop using the opposition's frame. Studies show that even if you’re only repeating a word or phrase to debunk it, the mere use of it acts to reinforce it.

Headlines like this, "How the ‘Pro-Life’ Movement Puts Women Behind Bars," are detrimental and damaging to the message: That the Social Regressive movement is making criminals of women who exercise control of their reproductive rights. Putting it in quotation marks isn’t enough. We simply have to start calling it what it is and not what socially regressive people want us to call it.

A more effective way to frame that headline would have been:

"How the Anti-Family Planning Movement Puts Women Behind Bars."

Winning Words.

The Winning Words Project Call to Action

It isn't enough that only we in the blogsphere use progressive language on the critical issues of our time; our party leaders and representatives, as well as those in the media, must be brought on board with this philosophy. In pursuit of the goal of having every single legislator (whether state or federal), every candidate for office, and every person representing or speaking on behalf of these people, sharing the same language, we are reaching out to you for your help.

We are forming a coalition of people in every state and in every congressional district who will be our liaisons with their representative and/or candidates. As part of our Action Team, help with any of the following would go a long way to help us win this fight:
  • Gather all available contact information for your representative or candidate, including phone numbers, email links, Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, and any other social media information available for that individual.
  • Ensure all pertinent information we provide to you gets into the hands of the representative or candidate in your state or district.
  • Tweet, Post, Reddit, Facebook, and share these posts with all of your friends and followers, "cc'ing" your representatives and/or candidate in your districts every time you do.
  • Use the hastags #WinningWords and #P2Prose in your tweets.
  • Invite your neighbors and friends to your home to meet your representative and/or candidate and talk about the importance of speaking with one, clear voice using language that portrays our moral position in hard-hitting and/or evocative terms.
  • Write letters to the editors of your local newspapers, both large and community-based.
  • Join the discussion on local news websites, getting the language out there in every corner where we might find people talking about, or interested in, this election.
  • Be our eyes and ears on the ground and let us know what your friends, colleagues, club members, social media friends, clergy, et al are talking about. This will become our "focus group," but on a scale that Frank Luntz could never hope to rival, and we will use what you pass along to us in our ongoing effort to shape how Democrats speak.
  • Other, as yet undetermined. Your input is always welcome on additional ways we can utilize our human resources.
You can volunteer to be on our Action Team by letting us know of your interest in the comments section below, or tweeting one of us with the hashtag #WinningWords.

Thank you for your support for this vital project!

Use these lists to:

Tweet the Media
Tweet the Senate
Tweet the House (We could use some help completing this list, too!)

About the authors:

Jill Klausen has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Missouri. She spent 10 of the last 13 years working for a Political Consulting firm in Torrance, CA, and the past three years working both on staff as a Field Representative and as a volunteer on several local, state and federal campaigns, including helping elect progressive Janice Hahn to represent California's 36th district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Follow Jill on Twitter @jillwklausen

G. Thomas (Tom)
Ruebel M.D. is a retired radiologist with a passion for progressive language in politics and reform of health care finance. Follow Tom on Twitter @gtruebel

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." ~ Anne Frank

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Republicans Are Trying To Scare You To Death Through Their Fright Wing Media


Though they never paid the price they should have, the young Senator John Kerry had just exposed Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush as criminals after doggedly pursuing the connection between the secret and illegal sale of arms to Iran and the funneling of the proceeds to fund the Contra Rebels in Nicaragua (in spite of the fact that Congress had voted against support for the Contras). It was called the Iran-Contra Affair and it mesmerized the country for months, including nearly non-stop televised coverage of the Congressional hearings.

In the end, in spite of a cast of actors committing perjury, obstruction of justice, withholding evidence, accepting illegal gratuities, and destruction of documents (National Security Adviser John Poindexter "destroy[ed] what may have been the only signed copy of a presidential covert-action finding" which would have directly tied President Reagan to the scandal), not one person served any time for their crimes.

This was not a good time to be the incumbent vice-president seeking the office of President. The taint of this scandal was all over George H. W. Bush. Democratic Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis was 17 points ahead of Bush in the polls and it looked like he would have an easy path to victory. But Bush had a weapon in his battle for the presidency: his new campaign manager, political strategist and consultant Lee Atwater.


Naturally this boogey man, singled out to scare the nation, was a black man. His name was Willie Horton and he was a convicted murderer. While out on furlough through a program begun under Dukakis' Republican predecessor, Horton kidnapped a young couple, tortured the man and repeatedly raped the woman. Two television ads were released; an official one by the Bush campaign called "Revolving Door," and one by an "unaffiliated" PAC.

And Michael Dukakis lost the race for the presidency to the criminal (he later admitted he knew about the illegal sale of arms to Iran while in office as vice president) who invoked the scary black man in order to win.

But for it to be the successful campaign that it was, they needed allies in the media. And they had one in Roger Ailes. As Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone Magazine describes him in "How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory":

To watch even a day of Fox News – the anger, the bombast, the virulent paranoid streak, the unending appeals to white resentment, the reporting that’s held to the same standard of evidence as a late-­October attack ad – is to see a refraction of its founder, one of the most skilled and fearsome operatives in the history of the Republican Party. As a political consultant, Ailes repackaged Richard Nixon for television in 1968, papered over Ronald Reagan’s budding Alzheimer’s in 1984, shamelessly stoked racial fears to elect George H.W. Bush in 1988, and waged a secret campaign on behalf of Big Tobacco to derail health care reform in 1993. "He was the premier guy in the business," says former Reagan campaign manager Ed Rollins. "He was our Michelangelo."

... Ailes has used Fox News to pioneer a new form of political campaign – one that enables the GOP to bypass skeptical reporters and wage an around-the-clock, partisan assault on public opinion. The network, at its core, is a giant sound stage created to mimic the look and feel of a news operation, cleverly camouflaging political propaganda as independent journalism.

For more than a quarter century we have been subjected to the Fright Wing Media Scare Machine that the Republican party relies upon to win election after election and dominate the narrative on policy issue after policy issue.

▶ Make a fist and tap it against your wife's as she hands the microphone over to you at a rally? That's not a sweet gesture of support between a loving couple, it's a terrorist fist jab!

▶ Enact a law that reforms health insurance so more Americans are eligible and covered? The government is actually trying to kill you with their "death panels"!

▶ Repeal a law that forced patriotic Americans who want to serve their country to hide in the shadows if they're gay? Democrats are destroying the military and we'll no longer be safe!

▶ You're the party that is bringing the country perilously close to default and is threatening to go through with it? You can rely on your Fright Wing Media friends to misdirect their viewers and tell them that President Obama is threatening take away seniors' Social Security checks and "exploiting seniors"!

▶ American Muslims dare to exist? What they're really doing is plotting the violent overthrow of our government so they can enact Sharia law and kill us all!!!

... [T]he phenomenon of our rights being used to pursue our destruction has become undeniable – particularly now, thanks to an assiduously researched, peer-reviewed study published on June 6th by the highly respected journal, Middle East Quarterly.

Entitled "Shari’a and Violence in American Mosques," this paper describes an ominous jihadist footprint being put into place across the nation. It is made up of ostensibly religious institutions, entities that, therefore, enjoy constitutional protection. But, according to the data examined by this study, most mosques in the United States are actually engaged in – or at least supportive of – a totalitarian, seditious agenda they call shariah. Its express purpose is undermining and ultimately forcibly replacing the U.S. government and its founding documents. In their place would be a "caliph," governing in accordance with shariah’s political-military-legal code.

The terrorists are coming to get you. Muslims are coming to get you. Liberals are coming to get you. Death panels are coming to get you. Democrats are "destroying our way of life."

Roger Ailes, Fox, The Washington Times, National Review, Christian Broadcasting Network, Michelle Malkin, Laura Ingraham, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Steyn, Phyllis Schlafly, Glenn Beck.

A seemingly-endless list of fear-mongers in the Fright Wing Media have risen up to drown out any commentator who may at any time have been either moderate or sane. These people have created an atmosphere of fear so deep that one man says his mother died from lack of medical care after a fall because she refused to go to a hospital where Obama's doctors would kill her. She knew this for a fact because she heard it on Fox.


That would, of course, be the black man in the White House who hates America. You know how we know he hates America? Because he "pals around with terrorists," a lie declared by the candidate for vice president of the United States of America and regurgitated ad nauseum on the Fox network for months.

Right Wing News tells us the 10 ways Obama is destroying America. Never mind that not only is every single one of the allegations a bold-faced lie, but in reality (and not the fantasyland the writer is living in in her mind) most have been done by a Republican president: racking up unprecedented debt (See Bush, George W.), "lending aid, money, and support to tyrannies" (see above: Iran-Contra), and — Oh! My! G-d! — reducing the military budget (See: Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan & H.W. Bush).

But let's face it, they aren't really afraid of President Obama's policies. They're afraid of President Obama, the black man. The "Magic Negro." "Or-Bam-eo." The "Tar Baby." The Kenyan.


Emboldened by their media filth-flingers, coupled with the anonymity of the internet (no need for white hoods anymore!) ... Pure. Undiluted. Evil. When you read this (and you really should read this), you may weep. It is truly that heart-sickening.

It's Willie Horton all over again.

At least Lee Atwater repented on his death bed.

The "right wing media" are in reality the Fright Wing Media. We should be calling them that every time we speak of them.

(h/t to my friend Keith Balmer for the term Fright Wing Media, which I shamelessly stole (with permission) from his most recent blog post, "I'm Sick of Rush Limbaugh." Read his blog — he's awesome.)

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." ~ Anne Frank

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Most Important Words Democrats MUST Start Using Immediately

In my most recent post, 5 Words And Phrases Democrats Should Never Say Again, I talked about how critical "framing" is in defeating the GOP.

Remember the major success they had with their "death panels" at frightening people who actually supported all of the policies within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into vociferously opposing the entire bill? Here's Dr. George Lakoff, professor of linguistics at UC Berkeley:
One of the reasons that it is not happening is that there is a failure to understand the difference between policy and morality, that morality beats policy, and that moral discourse is absolutely necessary. This is a major reason why the Democrats lost the House in 2010. Consider how conservatives got a majority of Americans to be against the Obama health care plan. The president had polled the provisions, and each had strong public support: No preconditions, no caps, no loss of coverage if you get sick, ability to keep your college-age child on your policy, and so on. These are policy details, and they matter. The conservatives never argued against any of them. Instead, they re-framed; they made a moral case against "Obamacare." Their moral principles were freedom and life, and they had language to go with them. Freedom: "government takeover." Life: "death panels." Republicans at all levels repeated them over and over, and convinced millions of people who were for the policy provisions of the Obama plan to be against the plan as a whole. They changed the public discourse, changed the brains of the electorate — especially the "independents" — and won in 2010.

We have the moral high ground on this issue and we need to frame it that way. The Ryan plan will devastate seniors and continue the downward spiral of the middle class into poverty.

And we must say it that way.

Democrats must use the same tactic to take down Paul Ryan and his new plan that the GOP used to poison health insurance reform.

We must call the Ryan plan exactly what it is: The Ryan Path to Poverty.

It is a Path to Poverty for seniors and it is a Path to Poverty for America.

The Ryan Path to Poverty

We need to use that term and only that term when talking about, or posting about, the Ryan Plan. And say it without a shred of irony, but in full earnestness.

The Ryan Path to Poverty.

Republicans know there isn't a shred of hope of actually getting this past the Democratic Senate and Administration, but there's a strategic reason they're trotting it out now: They plan on using this as a campaign tool for the rest of the 2012 election cycle.

We need to turn it against them so it backfires.

Tweet, Facebook and call your representatives in congress and tell them that whenever they get on the air or go out into their districts, that this is how we expect them to talk about this issue.

Paul Ryan and the Republicans are proposing a Path to Poverty for America.

Rob Zerban, who is challenging Paul Ryan for his seat in Congress, issued his official response to Ryan's "Path to Poverty" in a diary on Daily Kos this morning:
As Paul Ryan likes to preach about in his new taxpayer-funded campaign ads, we do have a choice between two futures. One future, under Paul Ryan’s “Path to Poverty”, ends Medicare for our senior citizens, provides tax breaks only to Paul Ryan’s campaign contributors and places the weight of making up the loss in revenue on our already struggling families. The other future is one that puts people over corporations and begins the long haul of an economic recovery that doesn’t place the blame and burden on our working families.

Please consider tweeting the following to anyone and everyone on this list. Getting this into the hands of our media and representatives on The Hill will move us a long way towards ensuring this falls into mainstream use. Thank you so much!

  The Single Most Important Words Democrats MUST Start Using Immediately:   #TheRyanPathToPoverty

Dylan Ratigan @DylanRatigan Bernie Sanders @SenatorSanders
Bill Press @bpshow Jay Rockefeller @SenRockefeller
Bill Maher @billmaher Maria Cantwell @US_Sen_Cantwell
Randi Rhodes @randiradio Mark Warner @MarkWarner
Stephanie Miller @SMShow Senator Patty Murray @MurrayCampaign
Thom Hartmann @Thom_Hartmann Sen. Patrick Leahy @SenatorLeahy
John Fugelsang @JohnFugelsang Senator Tim Johnson @SenJohnsonSD
Joshua Holland @JoshuaHol Senator Jeff Merkley @SenJeffMerkley
Nicole Sandler @nicolesandler Ron Wyden @RonWyden
Robert Reich @RBReich Senator Kay Hagan @SenatorHagan
Paul Krugman @NYTimeskrugman Chuck Schumer @ChuckSchumer
Thomas L. Friedman @NYTimesFriedman Tom Udall @SenatorTomUdall
The Colbert Report @ColbertReport Senate Energy Cmte @SenateEnergy
Stephen Colbert @StephenAtHome Frank R. Lautenberg @FrankLautenberg
The Daily Show @TheDailyShow Sen. Jeanne Shaheen @SenatorShaheen
David Shipley @davidjshipley Senate Finance Cmte @SenateFinance
Markos Moulitsas @markos Al Franken @alfranken
Fareed Zakaria @FareedZakaria John Kerry @JohnKerry
Moyers & Company @MoyersStaff Barbara Mikulski @SenatorBarb
Bill Moyers @BillMoyers Tom Harkin @SenatorHarkin
Keith Olbermann @KeithOlbermann Senator Dick Durbin @SenatorDurbin
Maureen Dowd @NYTimesDowd Daniel K. Akaka @SenatorAkaka
Joan Walsh @joanwalsh Daniel Inouye @Daniel_Inouye
Matt Taibbi @mtaibbi Senator Chris Coons @ChrisCoons
Glenn Greenwald @ggreenwald Mark Udall @MarkUdall
Andrew Sullivan @sullydish Senator Mark Begich @SenatorBegich
Gerald F Seib @GeraldFSeib Sheldon Whitehouse @SenWhitehouse
James Fallows @JamesFallows Jon Tester @jontester
Ezra Klein @ezraklein Debbie Stabenow @stabenow
Mother Jones @MotherJones Ben Nelson @SenBenNelson
Kevin Drum @kdrum Sen. Robert Menendez @SenatorMenendez
Kurt Andersen @KBAndersen Claire McCaskill @clairecmc
Michael Pollan @michaelpollan Senator Joe Manchin @Sen_JoeManchin
Lawrence O'Donnell @Lawrence Kirsten Gillibrand @SenGillibrand
Ed Schultz @WeGotEd Senator Bob Casey @SenBobCasey
Ed Schultz @edshow Senator Tom Carper @SenatorCarper
Goldie Taylor @goldietaylor Senator Ben Cardin @SenatorCardin
Melissa Harris-Perry @MHarrisPerry Richard Blumenthal @SenBlumenthal
Charles M. Blow @CharlesMBlow Senator Carl Levin @SenCarlLevin
Rachel Maddow MSNBC @maddow Senate Democrats @SenateDems
Reverend Al Sharpton @TheRevAl Sen. Barbara Boxer @SenatorBoxer
Matt Miller @mattmillernow
Andrea Mitchell @mitchellreports
Ben Smith of Buzzfeed @bensmith
Prof. George Lakoff @GeorgeLakoff

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." ~ Anne Frank

Saturday, March 17, 2012

5 Words And Phrases Democrats Should Never Say Again

And What To Replace Them With

We talk about the "Death Tax" and not the "Estate Tax." Two little words—"Death Panels"—were capable of nearly derailing the best thing that's happened to health insurance in this country in decades. Harvard-educated President Obama is universally considered "elite," while Yale-educated George W. Bush is considered "down home."

Many Democrats buy into the old saw that the Democratic party has had a history of "tax and spend" policies that needs to change or be lived down somehow. Until the Occupy movement brought the topic front and center, even most Democrats accepted the notion that businesses were "job creators" and worried more about distracting the opposition from this "fact" than debunking it for the lie it actually is.

Unfortunately, this is because Democrats have failed to speak in a language strong enough to rebut Republicans who have defined who we are and what we want, in a way that doesn't even remotely reflect an iota of the truth, and instantly conjures up the negative in the mind of the listener.


Professional media strategist Frank Luntz has been providing Republicans with a detailed handbook on exactly what language to use and not to use for decades. He has built up a lexicon that is not only far-reaching and deeply ingrained, but also very, very successful. As Progressive Democratic linguist George Lakoff explains it, this "framing" is crucial to how they've managed to win so much of the debate.

Here are some examples from Luntz's handbooks, of how the Republican party has been taught to frame the way they talk:
Don’t say "bonus!"

Luntz advised that if [corporations] give their employees an income boost during the holiday season, they should never refer to it as a "bonus."

"If you give out a bonus at a time of financial hardship, you’re going to make people angry. It’s 'pay for performance.'"
Don't say that the government "taxes the rich."

Instead, tell [people] that the government "takes from the rich."

"If you talk about raising taxes on the rich," the public responds favorably, Luntz cautioned. But "if you talk about government taking the money from hardworking Americans, the public says no."
This sleight-of-tongue has managed to manipulate at least half the country into believing things that simply are not true. And this type of language mash-up has been so successfully drilled into the vernacular, that Democrats have been hard-pressed to come up with a simple and just-as-effective way to expose the lies beneath them.


How can Democrats and Progressives fix this? Start by never saying any of the following five words or phrases again.

1. Never say Entitlements.

  –Instead, say Earned Benefits.

While the word "entitlement" was originally coined by Democrats as a way to illustrate that the receiver of the attached benefits was entitled to them by having worked to earn them, or having been taxed to support them, it has been re-defined by the right as akin to a spoiled child who acts as if they're "entitled" even though they are not.

"Earned benefits," on the other hand, cannot be twisted or misconstrued to mean anything other than what what they are: something the recipient has actually earned, as opposed to something they are being given. Social Security and Medicare are paid into through taxes deducted from employees' paychecks, or the paychecks of one's spouse or parent. No one who hasn't either personally paid into these programs, or been the spouse or child of someone who has paid into these programs, or, in the case of Medicare Part B, paid a monthly premium in order to receive them, can extract benefits from these programs.

Here is a perfect example of how the right wing uses the word "entitled" as a pejorative associated with Democrats (emphasis mine):
"Fluke is an entitled liberal, which is both emblematically typical and essentially required for one to be a liberal in today’s American political landscape ... Her talking points represent a very real attitude quickly manifesting itself into mainstream American thought process: that a person literally deserves the resources of another. This, of course, is the entitlement and dependency culture on which the Democratic Party has rallied around, encouraged, campaigned, and insisted."
Democrats have done nothing of the sort. Recall that the subject at hand is insured individuals. That means that they have paid into the pool in order to be able to take resources out later when needed. Even if the check was dispersed by their employer, it's still their benefit as employees, paid out in the form of insurance coverage in lieu of cash compensation. Not to mention any shared responsibility the employee, or in Sandra Fluke's case, the student, may have in paying the monthly premium. (For the record, students at Georgetown University where Sandra Fluke is a student, pay 100% of their own premium toward their student health insurance.)

Do not allow the right wing to frame this issue in their terms. These are Earned Benefits. Say that.

2. Never say Redistribution of Wealth.

  –Instead, say Fair Wages For Work.

When we hear "redistribution," we think in terms of simply moving things around, not something earned by someone. And when you tack the word "wealth" onto it, everybody's hackles immediately go up. "What do you mean, redistribute my wealth? You don't get to take something from me and give it to someone else! I work hard for what I get; let other people work for their own money, not mine!"

But when we hear "fair wages for work," we know instantly that we are talking about paying working people a fair wage for the work they're doing, not giving them something they haven't actually earned. Since at least 1965, Republican policies have created a corporate culture that only rewards those at the very, very, very top of the pyramid. While the average "hourly wage" equivalent for CEOs has gone from $490.31 to $5,419.97 ($11,273,537.00 / year), the average hourly wage for workers has stagnated at $19.71. That's just $40,997.00 / year. The same $40,997.00 that we were earning in 1965. At 2012 inflation. We need fair wages for our work*—in today's dollars. Say that.

3. Never say Employer Paid Health Insurance.

  –Instead, say Employee Earned Health Insurance.

When we say "employer paid," we immediately think of it as something that's given to the employee by their employer. But as I pointed out in my blog post, "It's Not About Who Writes The Check—Stop The Republican Lie About Who Pays For Contraceptives," all employee health insurance is earned by virtue of the employee's labor. That makes it "paid for" by the employee, even if they aren't the ones writing the checks to the insurance companies themselves. Employee health insurance is just one of several forms of compensation in exchange for labor, that include cash, retirement funds, long- and short-term disability coverage, etc.

Employee health insurance is not a "gift," it is compensation in exchange for labor. Cease the labor and the compensation ceases right along with it. Employees earn their insurance. Say that.

4. Never say Government Spending.

  –Instead, say we Invest in America.

When we hear "spending," we automatically think of going shopping and whipping out the credit card. And while government at every level often leverages their ability to borrow at low interest rates to fund their spending, it's hardly the same thing as going out and buying a dress you're only going to wear once and then hanging in the closet until it's out of style.

What governments actually do is invest in our cities, states, country and our people. Government invests in infrastructure that affords us the ability to move around freely. It invests in programs that train people with job skills. It invests in research that cures diseases. There is an actual benefit to "spending" when a government does it, which actually makes it an investment in all our futures.

We are investing in our future.

Say it this way. Every time.

5. Never say Corporate America.

  –Instead, say Unelected Corporate Government or Governors.

Calling businesses "Corporate America" gives the impression that somehow corporations are the same as human Americans. But in spite of what the current Supreme Court would have you believe, they aren't.

In fact, in many ways in our daily lives, we are governed far more by corporations than we are by governments. Corporations govern where we shop, what we pay for goods and services, who gets access and who doesn't, how we communicate and what we pay for that privilege, and so on.

But more importantly, Corporations govern us by buying our legislators to do their bidding with campaign donations, and by actually writing legislation that makes it into our law books. Corporations govern when they privatize formerly-public, taxpayer-funded institutions, like schools, prisons and military operations. And unlike actual governments, they do it solely for their benefit and profits, not those of real American citizens.

And if there's one thing we know the right wing zealots claim not to like the most, it's "government interference in our lives." So what's worse than the government we actually elect to make our laws "interfering in our lives"? It's a government structure that we didn't even elect interfering in our lives.

Corporations are not "Corporate America," they are Unelected Corporate Government. Describe them that way and people will come to resent their presence in our public policy-making.

In closing, turning once again to Professor Lakoff, "Unfortunately, Luntz is still ahead of most progressives responding to him. Progressives need to learn how framing works. Bashing Luntz, bashing Fox News, bashing the right-wing pundits and leaders using their frames and arguing against their positions just keeps their frames in play. ... Progressives have magnificent stories of their own to tell. They need to be telling them nonstop. Let’s lure the right into using OUR frames in public discourse."

Let's start doing that by never saying any of the above five words and phrases again.


Framing the issues: UC Berkeley professor George Lakoff tells how conservatives use language to dominate politics ~ By Bonnie Azab Powell, NewsCenter
Words That Don't Work ~ By George Lakoff (If you read nothing else from the below list, this article and the one immediately above are Must Reads.)
The Debunking Handbook ~ By John Cook of the Global Change Institute, University of Queensland; and Stephan Lewandowsky of the School of Psychology, University of Western Australia
The New American Lexicon ~ By Frank I. Luntz
The Language Police: Gettin’ Jiggy with Frank Luntz ~ By by Nancy Snow at Common Dreams
Frank Luntz Teaches GOP Governors How to Lie More Effectively ~ By Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs
How Republicans are being taught to talk about Occupy Wall Street ~ By Chris Moody at The Ticket
Frank Luntz: New American Lexicon 2006 ~ By Political Cortex - Brain Food For The Body Politic
The Worst Political Failure Of The Obama Administration ~ By Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider (Trust me, it's relevant—and not what you think it is. Great article.)
Raise Taxes on Rich to Reward True Job Creators ~ By Nick Hanauer at Bloomberg Businessweek
Koch, Exxon Mobil Among Corporations Helping Write State Laws ~ By Alison Fitzgerald at Bloomberg
How to qualify for Medicare

*Thanks go to Crooks and Liars member jupiter2 for suggesting the word "work" instead of the word "labor," which I originally had. All input is welcome and considered.

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." ~ Anne Frank

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

It's Not About Who Writes The Check—Stop The Republican Lie About Who Pays For Contraceptives

Jonah Goldberg wrote a piece about the current contraceptive debate in which he opined:
"For Democrats, there's no room for anybody to be personally opposed to paying for someone else's birth control."
This letter to the editor of sums it up thusly:
"[T]he only prudent argument in the debate is: Who is responsible for paying for any woman’s choice of which form they use? Should it be borne by the user, or by those who have no say in the choice?" 
And in his now-infamous rant, Rush Limbaugh called college student Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute because:
"...the women in her law school program are having so much sex that they're going broke, so you and I should pay for their birth control ... What does it say about the college co-ed Sandra Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.
These statements opposing contraceptive coverage in insurance plans based on the allegation that "other people"—one's employer, one's university, religious institutions, etc.—will be paying for insured women's birth control is, to put it bluntly, crap.

It's a straw man argument designed to distract from the fact that the mandate to include contraceptive coverage in all insurance plans isn't about who pays at all, but about once and for all ending discrimination in women's health care.

But since "who pays" is the argument they're making, and all counter-arguments about discrimination fall on deaf ears, it becomes necessary to turn their straw man into the heaping pile of hay that it is, by exposing just who the "who" is in the "who pays" scenario ... and it isn't who they claim.


First, we need to clarify that the notion that taxpayers are the ones paying for "other people's" birth control under the new Affordable Care Act is utterly incorrect. The Act that calls for taxpayers to pay for other people's contraceptives was enacted in 1970 by Republican President Richard M. Nixon, who established Title X under the Public Health Service Act, which provides coverage for uninsured, low-income women to receive taxpayer-funded gynecological exams and contraception.

So taxpayers have been paying for "other people's" contraceptives for 42 years now under a law written by a Republican president that received overwhelming bi-partisan support in Congress. And not once in over four decades has anyone on the Republican side called for repealing Title X because they objected to paying for other people's birth control. Not once.

No, the Limbaughs and their followers only became apoplectic over "forced payment for other people's birth control" when the Catholic church vocally opposed the mandate that insurance policies they negotiated on behalf of their employees include contraceptive coverage under the new health care law that Republicans have dubbed "Obamacare."

So are churches, religious institutions and other "conscientious objectors" really being forced to "pay for other people's birth control" under the new mandate?


University students who are covered by student insurance policies pay their own premiums for those policies. All their university does is negotiate a group discounted rate on the students' behalf. Here is how Sandra Fluke's school, Georgetown University, explains it:
To improve the health and wellness of the community, Georgetown University (GU) requires most students registered as full-time in a degree program to have health insurance. Most full-time students are charged once during the academic year for the Premier Plan underwritten by United HealthCare Insurance Company (United) designed specifically for GU students. This requirement assures some relief of the burden of expensive health care and instills within the students the lifetime responsibility of obtaining quality health insurance.
Georgetown University will not be paying for contraceptives because the new health care law mandates insurance policies include contraceptives in their coverage. The students who are required to take out those policies will be the "who" who pays for them—through their premiums, even if it's the university who writes the check to the insurance carrier.

Employees who have insurance policies through their employers are also paying for their own insurance—100 percent. When a person takes a job with a company that offers health insurance to their employees, it is part of a total compensation package in consideration for the work the employee will be performing. Part of their compensation comes to them in the form of a paycheck, part of it may go to a retirement fund on their behalf, and part of it gets sent to an insurance company on the employee's behalf. Every penny of those payments are earned by the worker, making the "who" who pays for contraception in employee health care plans, the employee themselves, not their employer.

It does not matter that the employer is writing the checks (or making the electronic transfers) to the insurance companies for the employee's monthly premium. That's just a courtesy that makes it easier for the insurer to hold down costs because they won't have to process all those individual payments.

In every case where the debate is about an insured individual, it is always the individual "who pays."


To take a page out of media strategist Frank Luntz's Handbooks on using language to win the debate:

NEVER SAY: "Employer paid health insurance," ALWAYS SAY: "Employee earned health insurance."



Title X: Three Decades of Accomplishment ~ Special Analysis by The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy
Rush Limbaugh's Comments and Sandra Fluke's Testimony - Fact vs. Fiction ~ By Linda Lowen,
Student Health Insurance: Premier Plan Enrollment and Waiver Information ~ at Georgetown University
Birth control agitprop ~ By Jonah Goldberg at American Enterprise Institute
Birth control debate is over who pays ~ From letters to the editor/Gloucester County Times

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." ~ Anne Frank

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Contraceptive Debate: Let's Talk About How Much Women Are Being Gouged

There is an enormous point that has been entirely overlooked in the recent brew-ha-ha over who should pay for contraceptives amid the health care debate: Why are Americans being forced to pay such exorbitant prices for our pharmaceuticals—especially birth control where R&D costs have been long reimbursed to the manufacturers—in the first place?

It isn't that we haven't ever had this conversation before. The subject comes up from time to time, but it is rarely even broached by our politicians, and there has yet to be any kind of comprehensive bill to tackle the problem head on and prevent the mass ripping-off of American consumers.

Senator Herbert Kohl, Democrat of Wisconsin, introduced Senate Bill S. 1699: Prescription Drug Cost Reduction Act in October 2011, but two things stand out: It would only cover those receiving medications through Medicare Part B, and as of this date there is not a single co-sponsor. Not one.

Why don't our representatives in Congress want to fight against unfair pricing practices that severely harm our economy, subject consumers to price gouging, and in many cases prevent access to life-saving drugs? And why, while we're arguing about who should cover the cost of contraception coverage for women, are we not talking at all about what we're being forced to pay?

It has been a number of years since I took oral contraceptives, but when I did, these were the facts:

  • Oral contraceptives for women in the United States were not covered under any insurance plan and had to be paid for out of pocket.
  • The cost averaged between $20 and $30 per month if you bought them in the U.S.

Then I moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Lo and behold, this is what I discovered:

  • The same name-brand oral contraceptives, from the same manufacturers, in the same strengths (in other words, the identical products) were available in drug stores over-the-counter without any prescription required at all.
  • A three-month supply of the identical oral contraceptives I took in the United States cost $3.00.

Yes, the decimal point is in the right place. Birth control pills sold to consumers in Mexico, by the same pharmaceutical manufacturers who sold them to American consumers for upward of $30 a month, cost $1.00 a month. One dollar.

In one of the most Catholic countries in existence.

If the American consumer were treated fairly or equitably by the drug manufacturers, we would most likely not even be having this debate at all. Who would be arguing that women couldn't afford $12 a year for contraceptives? That would be absurd.

It follows, then, that the only reason this is a debate at all is because American women are being ripped off by the pharmaceutical giants, and our representatives in government don't seem to actually care. Big Pharma is still able to wield their power to force us to see a doctor before being allowed access to hormonal birth control, and they keep the price prohibitively high, effectively denying any access to millions of women across this country.

Yet our representatives in government aren't demanding that the prices be brought down to reasonable and affordable levels, they're fighting over who we're going to shove the overly-bloated cost around to!

And in so doing, they're giving the likes of Rush Limbaugh fodder to call women in this country sluts and prostitutes for daring to want to have control over their reproductive and health-care rights and not hand the decision as to who covers the cost over to our employers.

And what they're also hiding from us in this debate, is that "evidence from well-documented prior expansions of contraceptive coverage indicates that the cost to issuers of including coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptive methods in insurance offered to an employed population is zero."
"In 1999, Congress required the health plans in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program to cover the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods. The FEHB program is the largest employer-sponsored health benefits program in the United States, and at the time, it covered approximately 9 million Federal Employees, retirees and their family members and included approximately 300 health plans. The premiums for 1999 had already been set when the legislation passed, so the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which administers the FEHB program, provided for a reconciliation process. However, there was no need to adjust premium levels because there was no cost increase as a result of providing coverage of contraceptive services."
We need to get the conversation on the right track, both for the health of women and the overall economic health of our country. This is not about "religious freedom." It's about forcing women to pay as much as thousands of dollars out of pocket, even when they're covered by insurance, for birth control methods that are made available at a minuscule cost to millions of women around the globe, and at zero cost to employers or insurers when they're included in already existing coverage.

If we take this battle where it belongs—to the unconscionable theft by the pharmaceutical companies from women's pocketbooks for our birth control—and fix that part of our broken health-care system, Republicans will never again be able to turn our reproductive health-care options into a boxing match, nor will they ever, ever have any leverage to wrest control of it from us again.

We should be able to walk into any pharmacy and buy our birth control in exactly the same way men (and women) can buy condoms, and the same way billions of women around the world are able to buy their contraceptives: over the counter and cheap.


Out-of-pocket expenditures for oral contraceptives ~ Study,
The High Costs of Birth Control;It’s Not As Affordable As You Think  ~ by The Center for American Progress
The Cost of Covering Contraceptives through Health Insurance ~ Health And Human Services Brief at

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rick Santorum; Civics Expert, Cell Phone Historian

The notion that the United States of America was somehow founded on a principle of "limited government" is ludicrous on its face. It's bad enough that the GOP keeps puking up that lie, but now Rick Santorum wants you to believe that the supposedly overbearing government we had 20 years ago—when Republicans controlled both houses of congress and we had just come out of more than a decade of Republican presidents—would have prevented cell phones from coming into existence ... even though they were already in use by millions of people all over the world by that time.

The cell phone technology that Rick Santorum declared would not have come to be, had government had its hand in it, was funded in part by government grants, and spurred along by the very bureaucracy he deplores.
"How many people have a cell phone?" [Santorum] asked at a campaign speech in Chillicothe, Ohio. "The young folks here, 20 years ago, there were no cell phones to speak of. And now people who 20 years ago couldn't conceive of a cell phone, now can't live without one ... Let me assure you if the government had taken over the technology sector of our economy 25 years ago, no one would ever have heard of a cell phone. Because what we would be doing is we would be making sure everybody had pagers and allocated them equivalently across everybody."
Mm Hmm ...

(Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in 1987's "Wall Street")

First, let's mention the complete arrogance of Rick Santorum to assume that the United States would be the only country in the entire world that could ever conceive of such a thing as a cell phone. Someone needs to educate him to the fact that the first cellular telephone was invented in Sweden by a man named  Sture LaurĂ©n and a team of engineers at a company called Televerket ... in 1956 (just a few more years ago than 20). Russia, Bulgaria and Finland even beat us to the punch!

And had it not been for the "big, bad" government protecting not only the American consumer from a monopoly, but affording American business ingenuity an opportunity to blossom by breaking up AT&T in 1982, who knows where cell phone technology in the United States (or any other country for that matter) would be now.

From telco historian Tom Farley:
"On August 24, 1982, after seven years of wrangling with the American federal Justice Department, American Telephone and Telegraph was split apart, succumbing to government pressure from without and a carefully thought up plan from within. The Bell System, serving 80% of the American population, and custodian of Bell Laboratories, was broken apart. Complete divestiture took place on January 1, 1984. After the breakup new companies, products, and services appeared immediately in all fields of American telecom, as a fresh, competitive spirit swept the country. The AT&T divestiture caused nations around the world to reconsider their state owned and operated telephone companies, with a view toward fostering competition in their own countries."

A person this ignorant of simple facts, who resorts to telling insanely stupid tall tales, and who has so little grasp of any sort of reality outside our borders, is a dangerous person to even be considering for the position of President of the United States of America. Yet there are multi-millionaires out there feeding his campaign the fuel it needs to fight on, as if he had any business running a gumball machine at a state fair, let alone one of the greatest nations on earth.


"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." ~ Anne Frank


Mobile telephone history ~ by Tom Farley
Facts about the Mobile. A Journey through Time. ~ by mobilen50
Meet The 11 Super Rich Donors Who Are Bankrolling The GOP Race ~ by Grace Wyler at Business Insider