"First you win the argument -- then you win the vote," is the now well-known quote from Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. President Ronald Reagan was the last Republican president who understood and used that strategy.
President Barack Obama and his team also understand the phrase and are using it to their advantage. They are making a full-court press in the public arena to lay out their argument against sequestration and for more taxes.
"In a few days," Obama said this week in Virginia, "Congress might allow a series of immediate, painful, arbitrary budget cuts to take place -- known in Washington as the sequester. ... What the sequester does is it uses a meat-cleaver approach to gut critical investments in things like education and national security and lifesaving medical research."
He laid out his argument: "These cuts are wrong. They're not smart. They're not fair. They're a self-inflicted wound that doesn't have to happen."
Regardless of whether you agree with Obama's points, his appeal is emotional and attempts to line up Congress against the American people. While his argument might not be technically true, it is a compelling construct and provides clear delineation between those whom he says he supports (the American people) and those whom he says he opposes (members of Congress who refuse to yield to his tax plans).
In contrast, the Republicans communicate with facts, figures and constructs that are not as emotionally compelling.
"The House has done its work," said Speaker Boehner this week. "It's time for the president and Senate Democrats to do their work. They've known for 16 months that this date was coming -- that's why the House acted twice last year -- and yet Senate Democrats and the president never passed anything. It's time for them to do their work."
"The president got his tax hikes in January," he continued. "The federal government will have more revenue this year than any year in our history. It's time (to) tackle spending. Period."
His argument pits the president and the Democratic Senate against the Republican House, instead of against the American people, whom they are ultimately hurting. While his numbers and facts are correct, they are not communicated in a way that is emotionally connecting and memorable.
Phil Gramm, a former Texas Republican congressman and senator, authored an article for the American Enterprise Institute. "Even after the sequester, the federal government will spend $15 billion more than it did last year, and 30 percent more than it spent in 2007. Government spending on nondefense discretionary programs will be 19.2 percent higher, and spending on defense will be 13.8 percent higher than it was in 2007."
"The actual cuts that will occur in 2013 will be $44 billion. That is a mere 1.2 percent of total federal spending this year."
All factually correct, and might lead one to conclude that the sequester makes sense -- but, again -- the communication carries no emotional appeal and does not connect to the average American, nor does it clearly distinguish good from bad.
If the Republicans want to win the argument and the vote, they will have to communicate with more than facts and figures. Communication must win over the hearts and minds of the voters, and set the president as the adversary of the American people.
As a straw man.
As families around the country sit down at their kitchen tables to figure out how to do more with less, the Obama administration can't decide how to do more with more. Instead, they say they need even more, while you have less. That's not fair. Our government is funded by your money, your taxes -- resources that the administration is furiously and frivolously spending.
Since his re-election, Obama already has pocketed a $618 billion tax hike. But that, apparently, is not enough -- he wants to take more to spend more.
The Republicans understand that every tax dollar comes from the American public. We understand that before we ask the American public for more, the government has to make sure it's spending and investing your money wisely. Right now, that can't be said.
We won't ask for more of your money until we know that it's not being wasted. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has decided it's better to inflict pain on average Americans for political gain rather than to make the kind of decisions that real American families must make every day: How do we best and most wisely spend the money we have?
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