Yesterday, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) acknowledged "naivete" on the part of President Obama and the Democrats in their having expected Republican cooperation on issues such as health care reform. Speaking on a Maryland radio program, Cardin conceded that Obama and the Dems lost precious inertia by dawdling with obstinate Republicans, and that Repubs have been far better at public messaging on health care reform than Dems.
That's not news. But it does get me to considering why Republicans are better at messaging. It's because they have to be – for the same reason that an ad agency has to be more clever and manipulative in selling an unneeded or unhelpful product than it would be in selling a product that actually works.
Think of the Repubs as the ad agency. They are selling bad products (e.g., tax cuts for the rich, status-quo corporate health care) that citizens would soundly reject if they understood them. So the brainy, witty ad creatives hunker down and craft deviously distractive (and false) messages: the jobs generated by lowering plutocrats' taxes, the Obama "death panels," the consumer benefits of a "free-market" menu of "health care choice," and so on.
Think of Obama and the Dems as the poor schlumps who don't understand that their product offerings are up against this amoral ace of an ad agency. The Dems actually offer a superior product, if sometimes marginally so. But they lack both fight and imagination. So they delude themselves into thinking that if they simply stand around and make polite remarks to the effect of, "Well, hey, if you look at our product you'll see that it's actually better," the public will flock to their side. But politics demands much more. It demands a passionate, rhetorically inspiring, relentless championing of one's case and a nonstop and stirring rebuttal of that of one's opponents.
This does not mean that Obama and the Dems need to descend to the Repubs' brand of mean, character-assassinating attacks – the kind of speech that the tragedy in Arizona ought to steer us away from. It means, instead, that the President and his party need to rise up in an uplifting FDR-style offensive: crusading for their best ideas and forcefully and methodically exposing the lies of the opposition.
Standing up for the public interest with passionate, bold conviction is not the same as character assassination. Some publicly-minded sales-pitch maven needs to pull aside the Obama team and explain this to them.