Have you wondered why the Democrats seem incapable of stopping the George Bush agenda, even after taking control of both chambers of Congress? Could it be the fact that they won their majority by electing more conservative Democrats to replace some center-right Republicans? Perhaps because their agenda doesn't have the allure that Democrats thought? Or perhaps their leadership has just proven itself incompetent?
According to one staffer on the Hill, none of those present the biggest problem for Democrats. They just don't tickle the amygdalae:
Democrats are losing the battle for voters’ hearts because the party’s message lacks emotional appeal, according to a widely circulated critique of House Democratic communications strategy.
“Our message sounds like an audit report on defense logistics,” wrote Dave Helfert, a former Appropriations spokesman who now works for Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii). “Why are we defending [the State Children’s Health Insurance Program] instead of advocating a ‘Healthy Kids’ plan?”
Helfert sent the memo this week to an e-mail list of all Democratic press secretaries and communications directors after staffers met on Monday to discuss rolling out the Democrats’ latest message.
Helfert falls into the same trap as those he criticizes, however, when asked to explain his reasoning:
His memo is sharply critical of Republican policies but also suggests a neurological explanation for Republican message success: By using emotional appeals and warning of dire threats, Republicans can trigger neurons called “amygdalae” in the temporal lobe, which is the seat of the “fight or flight” response in the brain.
“Almost every Republican message contains a simple and direct moral imperative, a stark contrast between good and evil, right and wrong, common sense and fuzzy liberal thinking,” Helfert wrote. “Meanwhile, we’re trying to ignite passions with analyses of optimum pupil-teacher ratios.”
Yes, and I can see why a treatise on the amygdalae would help get Democrats to sound less wonky.
Perhaps Helfert should look elsewhere in rhetoric to explain the Democrats' failure to achieve victories. For instance, one could look to the amygdalae-friendly screams of surrender by Harry Reid while our troops remained in the field -- and winning battles. Another example might be the reversal on Iran that Democrats have managed to make, using amygdalae-stimulating accusations of warmongering against Bush while spending most of their time simulating testicular fortitude on the same subject for themselves. For a good amygdalae tickle, one can't get any better than Pete Stark during the S-CHIP debate, when he accused Bush of sending troops to Iraq so he could enjoy having their heads blown off.
The Democrats have no problem exciting the amygdalae of their followers. The problem comes when the rest of the people use the rest of their brain to analyze their agenda and their tactics. Helfert might want to have the Democrats address those issues if they want to discover why they keep getting outboxed by a lame-duck President.
UPDATE: Michelle has pictures, and a suggestion for surgery to remove rabies from the Democratic brain.