Imagine a closely contested criminal court case. Both sides have done a bang-up job of presenting their sides of the argument to the jury. The members of the jury are torn, swaying one way or the other during the course of the trial. It’s compelling, all around.
The defense lawyer puts forth his closing argument. It is brilliant, Johnnie Cochran-level to the point where he’s got them eating out of the palm of his hand. He rests.
The judge nods to the prosecutor. She stands. And says, “The prosecution rests.” She doesn’t make an argument, she did all that work during the trial, only to give ground to a well-skilled opponent at the end.
She figures, for some reason, the judge will intervene if the jury is compelled to decide the “wrong” way.
This is how Democrats more often than not approach politics.
Oddly, it is better now than it used to be, but it’s still pretty bad. In the years between Clinton and Obama, Democrats were strong believers in fact dumps. They believed that simply delivering a pile of facts rebutting conservative claims would compel the press to rule on a winner, and in the wake of such a decision, sway the public.
Except it doesn’t work. The press is no longer the voice of God it once was, whether you like it or not (we’re better off now, in my opinion). So in the minds of the public, while it’s a net good to have the press fulfill its watchdog function and call out truth-tellers and liars, it’s only a small part of the overall battle.
Elected officials and prospective candidates have to make the argument all the way up to the end of the trial. They can’t sit back and let the opposition throw fecal matter all over the place, assuming that a neutral judge will come in, say “tsk, tsk” and rule in their favor.
There is no judge. Nobody in American politics has that gravitas anymore. Walter Cronkite is deceased, and hardly anybody knows the names of the anchors of the nightly network news broadcasts anymore.
The voice of God will not save Democrats, they must save themselves.
Extraordinarily politically talented figures like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are good at making closing arguments, but faced with opposition like Donald Trump and Mitt Romney, Democrats shouldn’t have to sit around and wait for the second coming of Obama and Clinton.
Democrats can’t just lead the press and public to a point on the map in the vicinity of where they want to go – they have to explicitly take us all there rhetorically. If the point is that your opponent is a serial liar and louse, don’t just throw out a bunch of well researched material “making the case.”
Say it. And say it again. And again. And again. Repeat it until you’re blue in the face. Say it like you’re the only person saying it, and say it on every platform you have available to you – TV, YouTube, stump speech, Facebook, Twitter, smoke signal – and repeat it again and again.
When you think you’re tired of hearing the closing argument, repeat the entire process again, because in the modern media environment you can’t hope your message breaks through, you have to pummel the entire field into abject submission.
There isn’t any judge. There is no black-robed figure who will weigh in on your behalf at the end. There is only you and your message, and too many people are relying on you to leave any of it up to chance or the mercurial whims of the press.
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