What's the Message?
What's the Message?
Promoting the Message
Connecting the Message
Issues & the Message
Messengers of Democracy
Threats to Democracy




Sandwich Rule
If you are communicating using only facts, figures, policies or programs ...STOP.  Theme your topic like a sandwich between two slices of the same value word.  For example, talk about renewable energy policy as a health or freedom issue.  Here's a live before and after example.




What's a Frame?

Courtesy of Frameworks Institute, frames are...

"Labels the mind uses to find what it knows."

Frames are a composition of elements — visuals, values, stereotypes, messengers — which, together, trigger an existing idea. They tell us what this  communications is about. They signal what to pay attention to (and what not to), they allow us to fill in or infer missing information, and they set up a pattern of reasoning that influences decision outcomes. Framing, therefore, is a translation process between incoming information and the pictures in our heads.



Framing Exercise

This exercise uses a values theme (fairness) and  metaphors (birth tax, credit card Republicans) to frame an issue:

"Let's talk about FAIRNESS and the skyrocketing Republican deficit.  Is it fair that every baby born in America today is born with instant debt?  Is it fair that every baby born today has to begin life with a whopping $36,000 share of the deficit?  Let's call it what it is — a "birth tax".  Think about it — credit card Republicans are taxing our babies with their reckless "borrow and spend" habits.  Contrast that to our last democratic President where babies were born with a big, fat trust fund — money in the bank in the form of a budget surplus.  Democrats pay as they go.  Now that's fair.  Only under Democratic leadership will a budget be balanced and fair to future generations."


"Progressives built the middle class in this country, by ensuring opportunity and integrity in the market, and to do it we had to fight Republicans every step of the way, every day.

Republicans were and are the enemies of opportunity and justice for all."

—Eliot Spitzer, NY Attorney General


  "We the People"

Progressives are the Party of the People.  We support the needs of the American People over the profiteering of unrestricted corporations.  We are the protectors of prosperity for the common man and the defenders of The American Dream.  We contrast our belief in broad prosperity for the People to the radical Republican's belief that America's wealth, power and privilege should be concentrated for just the elite few.

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Let's take a deeper look at the populist message that Democrats champion by restating our mission, reviewing our values and laying out our hopeful vision for a better future. 


  Our Progressive Mission

A mission statement tells people what we stand for as a Party. There are several great discussions (here and here and here and here) on the Internet that seek to clearly define what Progressives stand for.  This is an important goal if we are to compete with the lockstep Republican message machine.  The Republicans have crafted their short mission statement.  We are crafting ours. Here is one Democrat Mission Statement that gets close:

"We believe in individual freedom and shared responsibility, and we're for fiscal responsibility, a government of, by and for the people, American values, and our strength as leader among nations." (Regards to Michael in Chicago at MYDD)


  Our Progressive Values and Principles

The core values upon which this Country was formed are the same values that guide our conscience and our actions as Progressives today.  These time-tested, moral values are the foundation of our Democratic policies, programs, words and deeds.  Trusted sources, including Rockridge Institute and basic marketing principles, suggest that in order to promote our progressive mission, we need to organize around our values.  When we all learn to speak in terms that others understand — using our values to frame facts — then we will achieve the agreement and broad coalition of a successful movement. 

1.  Know our values:

Community, Mutual Responsibility, Unity

Opportunity for All, Justice, Fairness

Safety, Security and Protection


Respect, Dignity, Diversity

Cooperation, Caring, Generosity, Compassion

Trust*, Honesty and Accountability

Open Communication

  * Denotes shared values with Republicans but achieved in contrasting ways.

2.  Follow our values to our progressive principles:

Strength through Community

Broad Prosperity

A Better Future,
Fulfillment in Life

Effective Government,
Fiscal Responsibility

Equal Rights, Equal Protections


3.  Arrive at our progressive programs that reflect our values and principles:

Social Security

Minimum wage


Public schools, University system

Civil Rights and other anti-discrimination legislation

Peace Corps

GI Bill

Pell Grants

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health)

FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation)

Headstart for children


  Join the Values Movement

Use our value words as themes for your conversations, presentations and written communications.  Give your communications meaning by sandwiching your facts and issues between a repeated value word (see left sidebar for an example).  Include the facts and statistics that back up your point, but don’t let facts speak for themselves.  They don’t.  Policies, facts and programs mean little to the average person, but our core values are alive with meaning and motivation.  Use them —liberally.

Repetition is the key.  The more you use our values in all your communications, the more power you give our Party.


  Our Progressive Vision

Progressives see America as it can be: a strong and prosperous Community united under the shared principles that help every American to realize a better future.

We believe in building a strong America in which every citizen is protected, accepted and allowed an equal opportunity to succeed.  When every member of our shared community is strong, we form a strong alliance.  We prosper.  Our families and our friends prosper.  Through the strength of mutual responsibility and interdependence, all good things are possible, including a future that is better than today.

Protectors of the American Dream

The American Dream has been a great source of inspiration for us.  In our shared history, we've had great leaders who believed in it.  We want good things for ourselves, for our families and friends and for every American.  We want each generation to inherit a better world, to live a better life.  We believe that a productive, safe and happy life is the guaranteed right of every person in America. The American Dream should remain within reach of every American willing to work for it. 

America as One Strong Community

When Americans are united, we are strong.  When all community members are protected, accepted and respected we are strong.  However, it's the strategy of the radical Republican to divide us so that we can be snapped like sticks for power and profit. 

We cannot be divided and conquered if we refuse to stand apart.  The good fight is not among ourselves, but with those elite extremists in government and business who would put the health and welfare of profit-centered, polluting corporations over the health and welfare of honest people who deserve a better future.



Keep the Big Picture themes in mind

Democrats, the Party of the People

Strength through Unity

Democrats, Defenders of Civil Rights, Protectors of the Constitution

One America by John Edwards.  Here is a terrific example of how to talk about who we are and what we stand for, using values and metaphors.  Inspirational. 

On revitalizing The American Dream —  A Democratic Blueprint for America's Future by Senator Edward Kennedy

Understand our divisions and the economic populist message which we should return to, read What's the Matter with Kansas?  by Thomas Frank

Learn more about Strategic Framing from the Rockridge Institute


Values First:  How people think

It's important to know how people process information so that we can deliver a message that's easy to understand.  According to Rockridge Institute, the following are the three levels of conceptual understanding.  The higher the level, the more sentences it takes to explain your point.  Make it easy on yourself and on your audience.  Frame your discussions and presentations using Values First.

Level 1: Values — (fairness, opportunity)
Level 2: Issue Area—(civil rights)
Level 3: Policy—(affirmative action)  

Framing: More Than a Message — Stories and values form the message.  Rockridge Institute.

Help build a Progressive Values Movement!


The Power of Language  

Remember the old adage "believe half of what you see and none of what you hear"?  Good advice. 

Language is a powerful tool.  It can be used to enlighten and benefit or it can be used to manipulate and deceive.  We are bombarded with a hundred thousand messages a day from lots of media.  It's tough to get complicated information through to busy, distracted people.  But it can be done.  Ask the radical Republican if he knows how.  "Yes!" he'll grin and say.  "Language is the key to our success.  We can sell anything by keeping our message simple and repeating it over and over in unison.  We've got a handbook that tells us what to say.  And before that, we had a hot memo from Newt Gringrich, Language: A Key Mechanism of Control, that taught us to memorize key words that describe our virtues (true or not doesn't matter!) and to memorize and repeat the words that demonize our opponents."  The radical Republican knows how to reach busy, distracted Americans!

So what gets through?

  1. Simplicity
  2. Repetition
  3. Emotion

Did I say to keep it simple?  Well, let me repeat it.  Now let me repeat it again and this time with emotion. 

Keep every communication themed and simple — and don't be afraid of repeating yourself.  If you've got a metaphor that evokes a feeling or instant understanding, please put it to use. 

Encourage others to reuse our keywords and themes.  Until we too have a handbook that helps amplify our shared messages, we must learn the how's and why's of persuasive communications. 

Want to know more about the radical Republican control of language?  Read this eye-opening article from Deborah Tannen at The American Prospect.

President Johnson signing
the Civil Rights Act, 1964

Words to live by:

"Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

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