Dr. Bob Archive: “Can Democrats Learn How To Talk About Fear?”

Originally Published Tuesday, September 9, 2008 on Bob’s Arizona Republic Blog

By now the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid!” is pretty darn well known as the Clinton/Gore ’92 campaign mantra

Forgotten over time and the nearly 8 years of insanity that’s been enough to toast my brain cells, if not yours, is the question that produced the now famous response.

Without being locked in that particular “War Room,” I’ve been in enough of them to take a guess that’s probably darn close: “What are voters really concerned about?”

1992 answer: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Flash forward to 2008.

Substitute the word “fear” for “concerned” to reflect just how badly the Bushies screwed up both the country and the planet.

The result, I believe, is the central question for the 2008 Election: “What do voters fear the most?”

The McCain campaign under the direction of Karl Rove — what did you think Rove was doing, fly-fishing? — has been feverishly trying to keep their “fear of terrorism” campaign going because that’s about all they’ve got left.

When they decided to stick Governor Palin next to McCain to suck up all the media, they also added enough  “fear of pretty much everything else” to get their base off life-support and at least somewhat conscious again.
Afraid of Gays? They’ve got you covered.
Afraid of losing your right to own a gun? Check.
Afraid of anyone who is not White? Double check.

Republicans doing this “be afraid…be very afraid” routine is nothing new. And many of us had hoped the Democrats had learned how to deal with this nonsense.

But the jury is still out on that since the Obama campaign is still talking “hope” and “change.”

Now, its not that I don’t like “hope” and “change,” I do. In fact, within Democratic Party primaries, they are pretty much the dynamic duo. But in 2008, facing a Republican “fear” machine that’s all juiced up on having a ‘war hero’ AND ‘a hot Babe’ who shoots guns and speaks in tongues, we really need to make some slight message alterations.

For instance, Senator Obama is right on target talking about health care, but the message is framed as part of “hope.” He’s promising to get health care for every American.

That’s a good thing.

But right now things have been so messed up with health care for so long, that our “hope” is pretty much offset by Rove’s deft use of the GOP’s “health care fear” button.

You know that one, right? Okay, all together now:

“Government run health care where you don’t have a choice of doctors it will all be run Hillary Clinton.” Oops.

Make that “Barack Obama.”

And that’s just the beginning. The Republicans have a long list of “fear buttons” that, to their credit, they simply make up.

In response, and for use as you see fit, here’s an incredibly short list of fears that Democrats can begin to toss back:

Fear of being hit with medical bills that will destroy a family.
Fear of not being able to get treatment for a child.
Fear of our kids being killed on the other side of the world.
Fear that we can’t afford to take our children to the doctor when they’re sick.
Fear that we’ll always be just one paycheck away from some deep money problems.
Fear of losing our homes.
Fear of not being able to afford another one.
Fear that we’re both working so hard just to keep from drowning, we’ve lost touch with each other.
Fear that we will grow old without our dignity.
Fear that we can’t trust what our own government tells us.
Fear that we can’t trust what is in the food we eat or the water we drink.
Fear of the neighborhood in which we raised our children and still live, becoming dangerous for our grandchildren.

Our list of “fears” is bottomless, but only rarely mentioned by Democrats with the awareness needed to make a connection and spark action.

Sure, we will include a few of the more common “fears,” like the one’s that even candidates for state legislative offices can even rattle off, but typically without the personal emotion behind it to acknowledge the reality.

Then we scurry back into “Policy Land” as fast as we can mistakenly believing that reciting a policy soothes the “fear.”

It doesn’t. At best It tugs at our hopes.

In every single role I play out in my life and with every professional hat that I wear, I am dealing with other people’s fears. It is in rare and wonderfully touching moments that I see their hopes.

It was clear to me that Barack Obama saw the “hopes” of Democrats and that they were touched by his acknowledgement; by his reflecting their truth back to them.

That is what one does to reach out to Democrats because, as the Party of the “not rich & famous,” having “hope” keeps us breathing when all common sense says to ‘hang it up.’

But talking to the rest of the country is different; not all voters respond to their “hopes.” In fact, I believe that most live their entire lives in reaction to their fears — real, self-imposed or imagined. So, we need to acknowledge their “fears” with the same awareness, empathy and respect that we show to the “hopes” of fellow Democrats.

The list of American fears is endless.

While we tug at our fellow citizen’s “hopes” we have both the responsibility and the opportunity to remind them that what they fear was created by the Republicans.

And that things will continue to get worse if the Republicans are kept in power.

We’ve got less than 60-days.


About Bob Grossfeld

Robert "Bob" Grossfeld has 30 years of experience as an award-winning, political strategist and media consultant. He has twice served as Senior Advisor to Members of Congress, Special Assistant to the Arizona State Senate Majority Leader, and Communications Director at the Arizona Department of Education as well as the Arizona AFL-CIO. He also launched and was the Publisher of the groundbreaking online political paper, 'The Arizona Guardian." He has produced award-winning media campaigns and strategies for ballot measures, candidates for Congress, Legislature, municipal offices, and Native American Tribes. Bob is President of POLITICARE and Founder of The Media Guys
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