Winning Progressive Message & Strategy

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MESSAGE MEMO: Defining “them”


There’s no doubt that Elizabeth Warren is person who elicits the most electric response from progressives. She speaks loudly and clearly on the economic issues that progressives most care about, and already is showing that her straight-forward, no-BS dissection of the issues has the power to move an entire caucus.

But this video, released by in support of an effort to draft her into the presidential race, highlights her extremely smart messaging, and a template progressives need to remember, moving forward.

Right at the start of the video, she corrects a flaw in what, too often, is the progressive message:

“Government does work. It works really well for those who can hire armies of lobbyists. It works really well for those who have armies of lawyers. It works really well for those who can make big campaign contributions. It’s just not working for American families.”

Note in the “us” vs. “them” argument, who she frames as the “them.” It isn’t “the rich.” It isn’t even “corporations.” It’s those who use their money and power to further rig the system in their own favor, at the detriment of our families.

It’s a small, but extremely important, qualifier.

I was reminded of this piece, from earlier in the year, in which a former conservative voter explains why he constantly voted against his own economic interests – for the party “of the rich.”

“I voted to give rich people tax cuts, because somewhere deep inside, I knew they were better than me. They earned it.”

He thought the rich were better than him. Republican messaging always plays into that. You’ve heard it before. “Why do you want to punish success? That’s a disincentive against people trying to become successful, and that will hurt jobs and the economy.”

Indeed, there are plenty of very good, kind, honest rich people. In fact, one of the issues with progressive politicians running against “the rich” is when they attend fundraisers put on by the mega-wealthy of Hollywood, New York, or the San Francisco Bay Area. Maybe they’re decent people, but it smacks of hypocrisy.

So, back to Elizabeth Warren. She’s very careful to segment out the real culprits – the folks that no one thinks are better than themselves. The people that most Americans would agree are a problem.

That’s a message that doesn’t just resonate with Yankee progressives. It’s a message that can win in the deepest, reddest parts of the south.

“Become a millionaire or billionaire honestly, with hard work and elbow grease? God bless you. Use your money to rig the system so you can get richer and fatter simply by getting special treatment from the government, and stealing tax dollars from the rest of us? Then we have a problem.”

That should always be the start of our argument.

I’ll continue to write more about message and strategy that can get the progressives back on track for some wins in 2016 and beyond.

But, for now, following Elizabeth Warren’s lead on messaging would be a great first step.

Update: Just as I was writing this, Senator Warren hit it at of the park again.

Author: Eric Schmeltzer

That progressive guy. Very different from that Progressive Girl (aka "Flo"). Also an independent PR consultant.

4 thoughts on “MESSAGE MEMO: Defining “them”

  1. Well don’e, Schm-o, that Progressive Guy


  2. Pingback: Conservatives Are Ready for Warren? | Winning Progressive Message & Strategy

  3. Pingback: There’s Something Happening Here…. | Winning Progressive Message & Strategy

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