Repackaging is not winning

Campaigns have always been a war of words as well as ideas. The belief that Republican mastery of that game was key to their success in 1994 spurred Democrats into a search for their own sleight of tongue that goes on to this day. The architecture of a message matters; but this exercise has been carried to the point where it can become a substitute for thought and persuasion. One expert, George Lakoff, who regularly instructs Democratic senators and members of Congress at their retreats, has urged progressives to make income taxes more palatable by calling them “membership fees” and trial lawyers less controversial by labelling them “public protection attorneys.” The national debt piled up by Bush, he says, should be re-branded the “baby tax.” Most of this hasn’t been tested rigorously; some of it is transparent and needless. Isn’t “debt,” as in “national debt,” a negative enough phrase? But 1994 left some Democrats thinking that they didn’t really have to prosecute the battle of ideas, just find the nomenclature to repackage them…

– Robert Shrum, No Excuses

An interesting example of a failed attempt at repacking a message is National’s “mixed ownership model”. Labour’s success in getting their “asset sale” line to stick was one of the great triumphs of messaging in the 2011 campaign. I noticed almost constantly throughout the last few months of the campaign (when I did manage to catch the news) that the media were referring to nothing but asset sales. Labour won that battle, and the long term impact of this minor victory will be much larger than a simple battle of words.

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