I love Al Franken. Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot (and Other Observations) was as hilarious as it was perfect at framing progressive arguments. In a lot of ways, his book paved the way for The Daily Show.
But Senator Franken has fallen, ever so slightly, into the DC Fishbowl way of thinking and talking, when it comes to his fight for Net Neutrality against Senator Ted Cruz.
Of the plan that would have the Federal Communications Commission declare all data over the internet to be treated equally, Cruz said it would be “Obamacare for the internet” and would make the internet “operate at the speed of government.”
Of course, this is complete crap. If anything, Net Neutrality would ban so-called “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” that would speed up and slow down services, based on how much they paid to a corporate internet provider. No matter.
The argument Cruz makes is fairly effective, because it plays on two narratives that a lot of people inherently believe:
- Government involvement in anything means regulation, paperwork, red tape, and so on.
- A ruling that all data be treated equally sounds like government trying to prevent winners and losers in the free market.
Rather than go right at Cruz, Senator Franken, a staunch defender of Net Neutrality went on the defensive, spending precious time on CNN trying to correct what Senator Cruz got wrong:
“He has it completely wrong. He just doesn’t understand what this issue is. We’ve had net neutrality the entire history of the Internet, so when he says this is the Obamacare… Obamacare was a government program that fixed something, that changed things. This is about reclassifying something, so it stays the same. This would keep things exactly the same. And the pricing happens by the value of something.”
There is more to the interview, but it basically is the same – explaining what Net Neutrality is, against Ted Cruz’s attacks.
What a huge missed opportunity. Instead of defining what Senator Cruz wants, Senator Franken spent time trying to explain why what Ted Cruz said Al Franken wants, isn’t what Al Franken wants.
This is a very common mistake among DC Democrats. They just don’t play the game as well as Republicans, when it comes to messaging.
It’s happened so many times that it is all too predictable:
- Republican says X. (“X” being some completely made up charge about what Democrats want)
- Democrats say, “No, this is what X really is.”
- Republicans say Y (“Y” being a new charge about what Democrats want)
Indeed, this is exactly what happened. After A and B, above, played out, Senator Cruz responded to Franken with a new line of attack.
“What happens when government starts regulating a service as a public utility? It calcifies everything. It freezes it in place,” Cruz says, in a clip from a speech he delivered Friday in Texas.
“Let’s give a simple contrast. The Telecommunications Act of 1934 was adopted to regulate these,” Cruz says holding up a landline phone. “To put regulations in place and what happened? It froze everything in place. This (Cruz puts his hand on the landline phone) is regulated by Title II. This (Cruz holds up a cell phone) is not.”
At this point, Democrats are losing, because they’re explaining, while Republicans like Ted Cruz are on offense, more clearly (yet falsely) defining the debate.
What they need to do is reframe the entire argument, and put it into terms people can understand. If Ted Cruz is winning this argument, because he plays upon a frame that many people inherently believe, then the best response is to attack, doing the same.
This argument should be about Ted Cruz’s Internet Tax.
When I worked on Capitol Hill one of the biggest hoaxes we heard about from constituents was that there was a proposed “Internet Tax.” I can’t tell you how many letters we used to get in the House of Representatives, opposing “Congressman Tony Schnell’s Internet Mail Tax.” (There never was a “Congressman Tony Schnell” and never was a bill to tax the internet.)
Even to this day, I see Facebook shares of pictures falsely proclaiming that Congress is about to tax the internet.
People inherently believe that a tax on their internet is coming. Democrats would be wise to use that, and frame their argument accordingly.
Think about it. What does Ted Cruz want?
Ted Cruz wants to be able to lard up your bills with fees for access to certain websites and information.
Ted Cruz wants to be able to have websites charged a fee to be able to send data over the lines of certain ISPs – costs which will be passed on to consumers, in their internet bill.
Ted Cruz wants to tax your internet.
That is something people can grasp on to, and something over which they can get motivated.
Will Ted Cruz cry foul? Sure. Will he have to start to explain why he doesn’t want to tax the internet? Absolutely.
But he’ll be on the defense. He’ll be explaining. And then, he’ll be losing.