There has been much Washington soul-searching and hand-ringing since the 2004 election about how to “frame” the messages of politics, especially among Democrats. The painful loss to George W. Bush was difficult enough for them, but even worse has been the post-election Republican claims of mandate and their leaders’ triumphal promises to relegate the Democrats to permanent minority status. This Bush has turned out to be more than the “shrub” his left-wing critics predicted, and the hubris of Republican plans to become the majority party, long-term, has political liberals in a state of panic.
So the minority party has been searching, some would say desperately, for the right “narrative,” the overarching metaphors, the best story line, and even the magical words to bring back electoral success. The operative word among Democratic politicians and strategists has become “framing.” How to tell the story has become more important than what the story is. And that could be a bigger mistake for the Democrats than the ones they made during the election.
While language is clearly important in politics, the message will always be more important than the messaging. In the interests of full disclosure, I have been talking to the Democrats about both—message and messaging. But I want to say, as clearly as I can, that one comes before the other. First, you must get your message straight (what are your best ideas, and what are you for, as opposed to what are you against in the other party’s message), and then you figure out how to best present your message to the American people. Message precedes messaging. That’s what both the Democrats and the Republicans need to learn.