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Democrats' August Messaging Plan: 'Call a Fork a Fork'

Israel's DPCC says Democrats too often over-explain. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As House Democrats head back to their districts for the August break, the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee's 12-page "August Playbook" gives a key messaging strategy: Communicate more like Republicans.  

Remember the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee?  Democratic leadership created it at the start of the 114th Congress to deal with perceived messaging troubles — not to mention the issue of what to do with outgoing Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York. It seems one of the organization's duties was to take the August playbook, an annual messaging guide for members traditionally put together by the Democratic Caucus staff, and put a DPCC spin on it.  

A major part of that spin, apparently, is to communicate like Republicans. Or, as the playbook puts it, "Call a Fork a Fork. "  

On the last page of the memo — which is 12 pages and has a glossy cover page resembling a "Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey" scene  — Democratic leadership tells members: "When explaining a policy or issue, keep it simple! Don't fall into the trap that Democrats often do of going into too much detail."  

The document offers an example. Under the heading, "The GOP," the playbook suggests that Republicans communicate like this: "This is a fork," a theoretical Republican explains. "If Democrats get their way, the fork will be more expensive and there will be a fork tax. Period."  

Seems simple enough. Who wants fork taxes?  

In contrast, under the heading "The Dems," the playbook theorizes Democrats communicate like this:

Does everyone get a fork? What is the fork made of? Who has the bigger fork? Are there spoons, too? Do we need an R&D program to study more forks? Do we need less forks? Here's my 42 point plan on forks.
Some Democrats — not to mention voters — might find that communications analysis belittling. (Can't we meaningfully talk fork policy?) But some Democrats, and voters, might find the advice refreshing. (Do Democrats really need a 42-point plan on forks? Wouldn't that be too many points on a fork?)  

Either way, the memo is clear: Simplify the message and speak more in absolute, causal terms. If the Republicans get their way, this happens. You need not get into fork complexities. You need not talk about sporks. Everything is a fork. It's a fork. Call it a fork. Period.  

Democrats met Wednesday with the DPCC and the DCCC to unveil the plan and review some of the topics the party's messaging gurus think are favorable for Democrats. The topics listed in the memo are:

  • Voting Rights Act — ("Post on social media using suggested hashtags: #VotingRightsNow #RestoretheVRA.")
  • Comprehensive immigration solutions — ("Vilifying and fear and will never solve anything.")
  • Make it in America — ("We can stop companies from setting up overseas addresses and dodging their responsibility to pay their fair share of takes here at home.")
  •  Student debt relief — ("Ask constituents on social media to respond with how they would spend the money if they didn't have loans.")
  • A potential government shutdown — ("When Congress returns in September, we face an imminent shutdown.")

Democrats also instruct members to remember their ABCs.

A. Acknowledge that people are still anxious about their financial freedom. Meet voters where they are. B. Be Real. Use real examples of people affected by student debt, inaction on immigration reform, traffic delays, voting suppression and the last shutdown. Use personal aspirations to tell a story. C. Contrast versus fingerpointing. When you open your argument by attacking Republicans, you lose accountability. Instead frame your argument in three points: the narrative, your solution, the Republican position.
The playbook also notes that "the summer 2015 mindset" is "anxiety, not anger" — meaning voters are uncertain and anxious about their jobs and the economy, not angry about it. And the memo declares, "Everything is changing."  

"Our economy is changing rapidly, and hardworking Americans see those changes in their jobs, in their neighborhoods and in their personal finances," the playbook says.  

To illustrate a changing economy, the memo takes pictures of a Radioshack and a Barnes & Noble and points an arrows toward an Amazon.com symbol. (It does the same with a taxi thumbnail and Uber.)  

Finally, the playbook stresses Democrats need to focus more on economic growth over income inequality. In one poll displayed in the memo, 67 percent of moderates are shown to support a Democratic candidate who is focused on economic growth over income inequality.  

And if all that doesn't work, resort to the old Washington favorite : blame Washington.  

The playbook shows an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll asking voters which statement about economic problems facing the country best describes their view: That these are mostly deep and longstanding problems with the economy and that it doesn't matter what elected officials in Washington do, or that these are mostly problems with the inability of elected officials in Washington to get things done to improve the economy.  

According to the poll, 71 percent of respondents said it was Washington's fault.

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