Democrats are Losing the War of Words

Words matter.

The language we use shapes our ideas, often without us realizing it. Words frame how we see the world, and shape our worldviews.

Over the years, Democrats have let Republicans frame the issues through their use of words. Their carefully chosen language (by Frank Luntz and others) makes it seem like their stance is the moral one, when actually the opposite is more often true.

To fight back, Democrats need to reframe the issues in their own language. By consistently, regularly repeating these phrases, we can start to change how the public views these issues. By using slightly different words we can create very different framings in the minds of the voters.

Look at how Republicans took the popular sounding “Affordable Care Act” and dubbed it “Obamacare” (which Obama, regrettably, went along with) to connect it to a president they despised, and to frame it as a “government takeover of healthcare.” This framing made it seem like Obama was getting in between you and your doctor. Nevermind that the ACA was built on Republican principles, and that the individual policies were very popular. The name, along with repeated lies like “death panels,” were successful in making it unpopular for years — until recently when people started to use it and grew to like it.

Democrats can change how their policies and ideas are viewed by changing the words. For example:

Don’t say “regulations.” They are protections. They protect people from the greed of corporations. Corporations exist to make a profit. There is nothing wrong with that — we are still a capitalist country and will continue to encourage innovation, growth, and success. But corporations continually prove they have only their shareholders’ interests in mind; not people or the planet. Therefore, we must have protections in place.

Don’t say “gun control.” It’s gun safety. Most gun owners are responsible and take gun safety seriously. We should do the same as a nation. We must enact common sense measures that incrementally help reduce the massive number of gun deaths we have in this country, far more than any other industrialized country.

Don’t say “tax relief” or “tax burden.” Taxes are investments in our community, world, and future. Taxes shouldn’t be seen as a burden that we need relief from. They are investments in a better society and community for everyone, and should be seen that way. Not to mention that taxes are at historic lows today.

They’re not Pro-life, they’re Anti-Choice. We’re helping women have a choice when it comes to their own bodies, and puts them in the best position to properly care for a child. (By the way, if they were pro-life, they’d care if that baby has health care after it’s born).

The government isn’t taking over your health care. It’s giving you health insurance. We’re not trying to get between you and your doctor. We want to rework how health insurance works to make sure every person can get the health care they need. Yes it will be cheaper in the long run, but more importantly, it’s the right and moral thing to do.

They’re not “entitlements.” They’re earned benefits. They want you to believe that moochers and takers feel they are “entitled” to programs like Social Security and Medicare. But really, we’ve all been paying into these for many years, and have earned the right to them.

It’s not the mainstream media. It’s the free press. The free press is a core pillar of a functioning democracy. Its role is to hold the government accountable, and we must fight to protect it.

As I argued in my previous article on Democratic branding, Democrats focus on campaigns during election years, while Republicans work to shape the narrative at all times. Democrats must start using our words and phrases to bend these ideas back towards the truth, and away from how Republicans want them to be seen.

We have to repeat these words, early and often. Repetition is how ideas stick in the mind. This is true physically — neuronal connections in the brain get stronger the more an idea gets repeated, and eventually it becomes an accepted way in which we see the world. It’s ok to sound like a broken record. In fact, it’s the best way to make your ideas stick.

Republicans use language to shape ideas, and to date, Democrats have let them get away with it. That needs to end. The truth is too important.

Words matter. Use them wisely.

This is the third article in a series on Democratic branding. Here’s the first, on how Democrats fail at branding. Here’s the second, on what the Democratic brand should stand for.

Please share this with anyone you know involved with, or interested in, Democratic politics. We need Democrats to sit up, listen, and make changes to how they communicate. Time is running out.

Branding Consultant. Author of Brand Seduction: How Neuroscience Can Help Marketers Build Memorable Brands.

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