Patrick Skarr, Account Supervisor
In 2010 a white-hot electorate delivered a tidal wave unlike any other in history. Voters’ actions roiled state capitols, tossed long-tenured office holders to the curb and delivered a massive class of new members to the U.S. House. While this was “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” on the political calendar, the messaging and battle for ideas rages on and unfortunately it sounds like a record on repeat.
The tidal wave of 2010 led some to believe flat-out opposition of anything and everything was a winning messaging strategy that would be successful through multiple election cycles. The thinking was, Americans were supposed to be opposed – vehemently opposed – to anything and everything and joining them in opposition was a safe bet. But 2012 demonstrated that outright opposition was a glib and unsuccessful electoral strategy.
Opposition to a bill, proposal or party should always be grounded in a forward-looking alternative. It is very easy to get mired in discussion over process, but that is too easy a trap to fall into. If the minority party’s only refrain is procedural opposition, then they have fallen prey to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Procedural opposition is the junk food rhetorical crutch of legislative debate. It makes for a decent sound bite and feels good initially but it won’t withstand the test of time or influence future elections. These types of appeals work with partisans and one’s base, but not with independent and swing voters, whom ultimately tilt the scales of power.
This isn’t to suggest that the loyal opposition should compromise on principle; quite the opposite in fact. The path to the majority is to build momentum through an alternative vision for the future and that requires real ideas to be communicated in a way that resonates with a majority of the population.
For the sake of absurdity, extend the argument over process to a hypothetical election platform. Would you feel comfortable running on a pledge to, “read the bills,” or have your stump speech begin with, “I think Congress or Springfield acts too damn fast!” That would be an enjoyable campaign to observe, but I certainly wouldn’t want to attend that election night party.
However frustrating and annoying the floor tactics may be, it is important to remember to maintain a higher purpose in opposition messaging. Considering that a block of persuadable “low information voters” exists, it is an acceptable assumption that they probably don’t have an active interest in the legislative process either.
We’re entering an exciting time in the 2014 electoral cycle. Potential candidates are getting their sea legs, developing policy platforms and beginning to interact with voters. Only time will tell if these candidates will run on ideas and policy, or fall into discussions of process. I sincerely hope it is the former.
The latest article from Sabato’s Crystal Ball , “Filibusters as far as the eye can see,” suggests that a narrowly divided senate is highly possible through the 2018 elections. Let’s hope candidates and their legions of press hacks and speechwriters recalibrate their messaging and get beyond a debate over process.
After all, politics is a better sport to observe when they are sparing over ideas, not rules.