Friday, July 29, 2016

Rhetoric and Reality

The last few nights of the Democratic National Convention had some stirring images and worthy turns of phrase.  For instance, President Obama raised some valuable points here:
We are not a fragile people, we're not a frightful people. Our power doesn't come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don't look to be ruled.

Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that we the people can form a more perfect union. That's who we are. That's our birthright, the capacity to shape our own destiny.
And one might be cheered by the displays of optimism and patriotism in Philadelphia.

Commentators on the left and the right suggested that Democrats were trying to appeal to the middle and to disaffected Republicans through the imagery of the Convention.

However, this project of outreach ran into some headwinds when Hillary Clinton came out to speak.  Clinton's speech focused on three things: a broad sketch of an optimistic vision for the United States, personal attacks on Donald Trump, and the vague outline of her policy agenda.  That third component caused those headwinds to climb above 30 knots.  On free speech, immigration, taxes, health-care, abortion, and other issues, Hillary Clinton is running far to the left.  Democrats might like to run as the party of optimism and unity, but the progressive record has all too often been one of paranoia, division, and disappointment.

The narrative of hope, integration, and limited government championed in the rhetoric of the DNC unfortunately runs counter to much of the legacy of the Obama administration and the projected plans of Secretary Clinton.  It's telling that, at the DNC, Democrats did not run on the autocracy of the pen and the phone.  Nor did they spend much time celebrating the president's divisive record on a host of issues.  Instead, they attempted to divorce rhetoric from policy reality and to cast Donald Trump as a totem of all that is reactionary, angry, and pessimistic.

In order to counteract this Democratic narrative, Trump's campaign will need more specific and disciplined policy messaging.  With targeted and specific policy discussions, the Trump campaign could puncture the gauzy narratives sketched out by Hillary Clinton.  However, it won't be enough to show how Clinton's policies would hurt the United States; that would only play into the narrative of Trump as too "dark."  It will be imperative for the Trump campaign to explain in depth how Trump's policies can help the United States.  By pivoting to policy specifics, the Trump campaign can seize the standard of optimistic change.

No comments:

Post a Comment