Just as the first three rules of real estate are said to be, “location, location, location,” the first three rules of the new Republican Congress should be, “language, language, language.” Have you noticed that the opposition to the pro-life movement doesn’t call itself, “anti-life”? Instead, they speak of being pro-choice. Could it be because “anti-life” is a losing phrase?
Republicans on the other hand, don’t bother with language. They are against the minimum wage, they oppose equal marriage laws (gay rights), and they reject universal healthcare. When they support something, it is couched in neutral language. Republicans promote voter I.D. laws instead of “fair voting laws.” No matter what the content of bills the new Republican congress offers, the name of the bill just may matter more. Have you noticed that the pro-life movement did not roll over and adopt the language of anti-choice? They stuck to their principles and they insisted on framing the debate around life, not choice. The pro-life arguments are more popular now than they were two decades ago. Do you think that would have happened if it were the “anti-choice” movement?
It is vital that we insist on using our chosen name even when the opposition and the media don’t use it. The New York Times, The View and most of Hollywood and mainstream media do not want to make conservatives sound good or even reasonable. Letting them set the agenda is a losing battle. All Republican legislators need guidance on how to express their ideas. I once heard an illustrative story from the chair of a large state’s Republican Party. At a national meeting of the fifty state chairmen, she suggested that national Republican headquarters issue talking points. This would insure that certain phrases were carefully crafted and used universally. The terrifying response of someone extremely high up in the national party was, “What are talking points?”
Ideas only matter if people listen to them. Liberals promise utopia – better health care for more people at a lower price. Who could be against that? Obviously, only evil and selfish people. Before the average citizen, whose political views are formed by late night comedians, can even be slightly exposed to real-life facts, he needs to be willing to listen. Someone against raising the minimum wage is a greedy businessman, certainly not anyone who should be given the chance to make an argument. However, if instead of being against the minimum wage, Republicans have a counter suggestion, perhaps the “leg up opportunity” bill, more ears will pay attention.
Ted Cruz movingly tells of his father coming to this country as an immigrant who didn’t speak English. He got a job as a dishwasher and certainly didn’t earn enough to support a family. However, because his pay was so low, the restaurant owner kept him on rather than replacing him with a machine. That allowed him to prove himself as honest, responsible and eager to learn, someone worth advancement and more money. The job gave him time to hone his English skills. He did not stay at minimum wage for long. Before we can tell stories like Senator Cruz’ as indicative of why increasing the minimum wage might be harmful, we need to accustom people to listening. We can do that by being for opportunity, not by being against a living wage.
The election has provided Republicans with a slight opening to speak to the American people. They need to enlarge that crack and take advantage of it by speaking every single day in language that appeals to ordinary citizens. They need to do so through voices that appeal as well, which means that Mitch McConnell, John McCain and most other senior members should work hard in the background and let younger, more attractive legislators speak. Let’s hope the Republicans do so. Otherwise, they will have squandered the chance to deserve a hearing in a national, presidential election two years from now.