Dee Dee Myers gets it right!


What the world needs from Joe Biden: A week went by before we saw it.

Yesterday, we finally saw a major pundit explain what was wrong with last Wednesday’s performance. Dee Dee Myers did the honors on Hardball.

In our view, she got it right:
MYERS (10/10/12): The president’s problem wasn't that he was too polite. The president’s problem was that he didn’t come with a strong narrative frame, right, both for defending his own accomplishments and his own record, giving us some idea of where we’re going in the next term and holding Mitt Romney accountable for having 87 positions on every issue.

Yes, it gets repetitive, but if you continue to frame the issue, you know, in a more elegant way, which we know the president’s capable of, you can remind the audience over and over, because Mitt Romney has flip-flopped over and over.

So, I hope we see not only a— And the president can remain polite. I just hope we see a more aggressive defense and a better frame, a better narrative around who he is and what he’s done and where we’re going as a country.
What does she mean by “a “narrative frame?” Essentially, she means this: You have to have a central point, a central claim you’re making.

Last Wednesday, one of the candidates had such a frame. The other candidate had agreed to take a couple of questions.

Mitt Romney had a basic claim. Here's what it was: That fellow over there is a nice enough guy. But he can’t do the job. I can! Just listen to all my ideas!

Obama had no central point. He had agreed to take questions.

As incumbents in a difficult time, Obama and Biden face a tough task. But they have to be making some sort of a point. As incumbents, there are three basic approaches they could take:
Approaches Obama and Biden could take:
They could stress the things they’ve achieved over the past four years.
They could stress the things they plan for the next four years. (Problem: They don’t seem to have any such plans.)
They could stress the three million things that are wrong with Candidate Romney.
Obama had no narrative focus—no central claim. Tonight, we need one from Biden.

One final point: If you’re going to say what’s wrong with the other guy, you have to know what the other guy’s saying. Last Wednesday, Obama chose to make Romney’s tax proposal the centerpiece of his early statements.

But Obama seemed hugely unprepared. He seemed surprised by the things Romney said, even though Romney has said those same things many times in the past. Beyond that, what was his central claim about Romney?

Candidate Obama was disastrously under-prepared.

Obama has a very tough day job—and everybody screws up at some point. But the lack of prep was disastrous last week. Tonight, Biden needs to assert a strong central point.

Dee Dee Myers got it right. Let’s hope Biden does too.

Matt Miller got it right: We still think Matt Miller did a good job defining a central framework for Biden. To peruse his "primer for Biden," click here.


  1. From Matt Miller on what Biden should say:

    "First, on taxes: The single highest priority of Mr. Ryan and Republicans in Congress has been to cut taxes on America’s top earners..."

    But, oh no, Ryan will point out that, as Bob Somerby notes, Romney says he will cut tax rates! (Sometimes he says other things too, but whatever...)

    Bob, if you accept that Romney's revenue-neutral tax rate cuts are something other than an absurd lie, then you can never refute the Romney argument. If, in fact, we can reduce rates and maintain revenue, then we should definitely do it.

    1. I wouldn't say "definitely." As the cliche goes, the devil is in the details.

      If you reduce rates and maintain revenue, then you have to broaden the tax base by taxing more income. You do that only be repealing or reducing certain deductions, exemptions and credits that now exist.

      And the consequences of doing that will be enormous.

    2. Bullcrap!

      "If, in fact, we can reduce rates and maintain revenue, then we should definitely do it."

      Uh, WHY in the world should we definitely do that?

      "So that we can change the balance of who pays" is the only answer I can come up with.

      So we "definitely" should be wanting some groups to pay (or pay more) and some other groups to pay less, I guess is what you're arguing...

      So, which people should pay more and which should pay less?

      If the starting point is a rate cut, all signs point to it being the wealthiest paying less.

      But hey, math...

    3. The Rs like to call this 'Tax Reform' but it will not play out that way neither in the short run nor in the long run. The Rs assert this is a platform for growth.

      I think this is nonsense.

      If they try to make this plan revenue neutral in the short run assuming those beefy 20% cuts up front, there would be a great risk of economic disruption of the housing market which could blow their happy assumptions about how this will 'grow the economy'. After all we are a housing driven economy. In the short run then we would either have a recession or greater deficits. I would bet on the latter at least for 5-10 years as they would phase out these deductions to avoid 'politicide'.

      I think we liberals focus on the lack of math, but really we should be focusing on the lack of thought around this so called tax reform. Its a trojan horse and we are Troy. Grover does not care about this IMO - he wants above all to starve the beast and turn the social safety net into a corporatist managed monopoly where business sucks all the value out of these revenue streams.

      All the Rs need is a veener of policy to give the new bold moderate Romney a fire hose of malarky to bamboozle the low information workers and our punditocracy. Biden's reframing last night is the way to neutralize this.


    1. Collins = Seamus
      Somerby = Our own Rhodes Scholar

  3. Lordy, every debate is preceded by easy, lazy "What the Candidate Has to Do Tonight" primers. Will you forgive me if I don't really want to read any more, and will watch the debate with my own two eyes?

    I also believe that the central point in that Hardball discussion with Myers (though these discussions get jumbled up in my addled mind) was that the Obama campaign made a clear decision to go after "Severe Conservative Mitt" and paint him as out of touch with mainstream America, and to at least hold off on "Flip-Flop Mitt" for later.

    Now that a new Moderate Mitt has emerged, now is the time to use the "Flip-Flop Mitt" and play To Tell the Truth, for those who remember that old game show: "Will the Real Mitt Romney please stand up."

    1. But really, how lame is it for the Obama campaign to claim they were surprised that MITT ROMNEY flip-flopped?

  4. The Gish Gallop is second nature to Mormons; it is the animus of the entire culture.

  5. IMO, Obama failed by attacking the size of the Romney tax cut, rather than the fact that it's nonsensical.

    Better Obama: "Candidate Romney claims he want's to cut everyone's taxes by 20%, and reduce deductions to make up the difference. Problem is:

    1) studies say it can't be done
    2) it's not obvious this would even be desirable if it could be done
    3) even if it could be done, and was desirable, he hasn't named a single deduction, so there's little reason to believe it's politically feasible

    I, on the other hand, want to increase taxes on top-earners, and Romney's claim that this will be a massive burden on small businesses is bullshit because blah blah blah.."

    1. Then Romney simply says, as he did last week, "I am proposing nothing like that. I want to cut tax rates, not taxes. My proposal is revenue neutral and will not add to the deficit."

      And his nose will grow.

      And Somerby will write a post about how Romney is right and Obama is wrong when he says Romney proposed it 18 months ago.

  6. His central claim about Romney was "Everyone says I'm a genius and a speaker on par with Lincoln. The MSM will back me up so all I need to do is what I've been doing for 4 years, stand here and bask in my own glow."

    1. Right. And please drop that pearl of wisdom on the Romney campaign. I would love to see them conduct the rest of their campaign on that basis.

  7. "Mitt Romney had a basic claim. Here's what it was: That fellow over there is a nice enough guy. But he can’t do the job. I can! Just listen to all my ideas!"

    I'm not certain we watched the same debate. Actually, I'm not sure any more that we live on the same planet.

    But if that was your take on Romney's brilliant "basic claim," then no wonder these insights can't find a broader audience than this blog.

    In fact, it is the kind of insight I'd expect from a clever high school senior watching his first debate. Utterly simplistic and daft.

  8. No doubt you would have done a much better job summarizing Romney's narrative. Please do enlighten us.

  9. Here is Ryan in the debate sticking to their 20% tax rates, contrary to what Bob says. I've lost a lot of respect for Bob in the last week or so; I wonder how much more I will end up lose.

  10. Can we talk?

    An effective response to Romney's tax plan would have been to note in passing that it doesn't add up, and then focus relentlessly on that fact that, if it did add up, there is no earthly reason to believe it would do any good.

    A revenue-neutral tax reform that lowers marginal income tax rates and ends or reduces deductions and credits? That's their revolutionary tax policy initiative?

    Here's the thing: Exactly such a tax reform was passed in 1986. Where is the evidence that it did any good? Was 87 a boom year? Or 88, or 89, or 90, or...?

    Moreover, this is the sort of tax proposal that pointy headed intellectuals and Washington pundits love (for its supposed miracle-working effects on "incentives"), but that has very little popular appeal.

    Even rank and file conservatives are likely to be cool to the idea, if they take it seriously. Reagan is revered for his 81 tax cut, not for his 86 tax 'reform'.

    At bottom the right wants *lower* taxes--especially on high-incomes--not a mere redistribution of the tax burden, and particularly not one that doesn't even redistribute that burden downward.

    So how about this as a counter-message:

    Let's give Romney credit for meaning what he says. He's only going to cut taxes over here, if he can increase them over there.

    Well guess what? We're going to cut them for working middle class Americans, period.

    In fact, we've already done it, with our payroll tax cut, that kept the recession from getting even worse.

    But the economy is clearly not out of the woods. So now, instead of letting that big working middle class tax cut expire, like the GOP wants, we're going to make it bigger.

    In fact, we're going to suspend the entire payroll tax, or FICA which is the biggest federal tax most working Americans pay.

    Don't take our word for it, look at your pay stub and see for yourself how much that FICA line item makes up--and that's *with* the current Obama tax cut!

    And we're not going to suspend that tax for just a year. We're going to keep it suspended until this economy is roaring forward. Until that happens, its crazy to be taxing work and every dollar of working Americans' pay.

    And all we need to do this, is the for Republicans in Congress, who oppose this kind of bottom-up tax cut for all their worth, to get the heck out of the way.

    1. But of course this will never happen. But the reason why it will not happen has got nothing to do with style or narrative.

      The reason is that the Democrats are just wrong on the policy. They're maybe not *as wrong* as the GOP, but their still wrong.

      They believe erroneously, that the deficit is a problem. They accept *that* frame, which is the ultimate conservative club for smashing progressive policy to pieces.

      In fact, they seem to be earnest in this belief, whereas American conservatives at least have the good sense to disregard deficits in practice, and persue the policy agenda regardless.

      Theirs is not the most intelligent policy agenda, but at least they don't *in practice* let worry about a non-problem (deficits) get in their way.

      As long as the Democrats take this fundamentally anti-progressive, anti-Keynesian, ultra-austerian framework seriously, they will always be at a huge disadvantage in going up against the GOP.

      Here is a golden opportunity to get out of this trap: Call Romney's bluff. Assume he can work the magic he claims to possess. Then what?

      Then nothing. It is a fiscal policy gun loaded with blanks. Lower rates and fewer deductions? So what? We get, in theory, less 'distorted' incentives. And that gets us what?

      How does it result in more spending, more sales, more orders? And if it doesn't, then what possible relevance does it have to our current predicament which is exactly a shortage of these things?

  11. First, framing comes out of the embarrassing Lakoff strategy, and has everything to do with getting people to parrot your soundbites. It's a highly elitist, anti-Enlightenment, anti-Reason. The particular variety Lakoff practices has its roots in liberal academics like Walter Lippman and Freidrich Nietzche, whose central belief tended to be the average person's need to submit to someone more wise.

    Second, a central claim is necessary for any statement. It's the definition of a sentence.

    Third, Romney "won" because they were arguing from business premises. Take "energy independence." Romney's statistics came out of a Citigroup study. 4 million jobs is a nice promise. Obama didn't say he was wrong did he? So it's not a debate, more of a contest in spin techniques.

    1. Good points, but since when was Nietzche a "liberal academic?" Is this a different Nietzche than the philosopher?

      AC / MA