Last night I actually bothered to watch the Democratic debate. Often times I just rely on the reports, but next week I actually get to vote, so I thought it was high time to check in.
I thought both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did very well, and I’m still undecided. But for this post, I’m not going to dwell on the candidates themselves. Instead, I want to point out one of the questions and the responses to it.
As part of a question on paying for health care, Doyle McManus asked Obama:
The Republicans are going to call you “tax-and-spend” liberal Democrats, and that’s a charge that’s been effective in the past. How are you going to counter that charge?
First of all, why ask a question loaded with a conservative talking point at all? Couldn’t it simply have been asked, “How are you going to pay for it?” But I don’t want to dwell on that either.
“Tax-and-spend” liberal is a long-standing and, yes, very effective label used by conservatives. Personally, I felt that Obama did pretty well, calling the Republicans out on being the party of fiscal responsibility after all of the financial damage they’ve done. But his answer still felt to me like he was dancing around the phrase itself.
I’m sick of liberals having to tip toe around these conservative labels. It’s similar to the dance liberals have to do around the word “liberal” itself. I would much rather see something like this:
Hell, yeah, I’m a tax-and-spend liberal!
Look, taxes are the price to pay to live in a civil society. Government has a legitimate and important role to play in the nation’s life. “We the People” use government, though our democratically elected representatives, to achieve common goals and produce common goods. Taxes are the way we get together and pay for those goals and goods. So, tax and spend? Of course! Give me a break!
Now, we can disagree about how to structure taxes and how to spend the money. But for crying out loud, stop taxing and spending altogether? What do conservatives want? Anarchy?! I think conservatives should either get serious or get their heads examined.
One more point – I’d much rather be a tax-and-spend liberal – helping people who can’t help themselves to achieve as much in life as possible – than a tax-and-spend conservative helping my already wealthy cronies to the hard-earned tax dollars of the rest of the nation.
Now, I realize that a nationally televised debate might not be the best place to say all of these things in exactly this way. But I sure think that liberals can start using this sentiment and this attitude when attacked with the “tax-and-spend” label, as they surely will be.
By the way, I’m well aware of the research that shows, basically, don’t use your opponents’ labels. It’s only bound to backfire.
I agree. We need our own language and our own approaches. However, we also need to be able to attack and redefine their talking points, as well. It’s a two-pronged strategy.
Let’s face it. Rhetorically speaking, liberals and progressives are largely fighting on conservative ground right now. Conservatives have defined the cultural environment. I say let’s put up the best damn fight we can on their ground, thanks to Doyle McManus putting us there, then slowly shift the fight onto our ground.
At least then we can avoid the uncomfortable tap dance.
Here was a another take on the debate that addressed the tax-and-spend question.