Thursday, April 12, 2012

How Not to Talk About the Budget

Gene Sperling, Director of the White House's National Economic Council, is a smart man. But he was caught badly off guard by CNBC's Maria Bartiromo in an interview on Tuesday.

In a sad scene that we see time and time again, Bartiromo played the part of the clueless media figure parroting right wing talking points, which in this case were false claims about taxes and the budget. (Brian Beutler has a nice rundown of Bartiromo's faulty line of questioning regarding the budget. In short, Congress passes budgets - not the President.) Meanwhile, Sterling was the typical Democrat who struggles to explain complicated issues and ends up coming off as defensive and out of touch.

Here's a link to the full interview and the most talked about part of it:

In the spirit of our mission to help progressives improve their messaging, I'm going to suggest some ways that Sperling could have done a better job in the interview. (I'll only focus on the material in the clip above.)

  1. First off, it appeared that Sperling was unprepared for Bartiromo's aggressive line of questioning. Knowing that she hosts a show that caters to Wall Street, Sperling should have been prepared for attacks on the budget and the Buffett Rule.
  2. Instead of saying "There is about zero truth to anything in the question," Sperling should have said, "Maria, why are you misleading your viewers?" or "It looks like you don't understand how the budget works." In so doing, Sperling could have gone from defense to offense and controlled the rest of the conversation.
  3. See her smile at the 31 second mark in the clip? That's probably in response to Sperling's decision to defend the White House's budget proposal by saying, "It's the most detailed thing that is out in the United States right now." This is true, but it is ineffective political language. When Bartiromo asked, "What budget?," Sperling should have responded by saying, "Haven't you read it?" Again, this puts her on the defensive and shows her for what she is - totally clueless about how government works.
  4. Sperling wisely ignores Bartiromo's question about why no congressional Democrats supported the President's budget. But he could have used this as another opportunity to demonstrate how dumb she is by saying something along the lines of, "Maria, do you not understand that Congress never approves the President's budget proposal?"

There's more to be said, but my main takeaway from the exchange is that, when confronted with right wing talking points, progressives need to avoid the trap of explaining their position on the issues. Instead, one can be more effective by seeming surprised that anyone would believe those talking points. 

If you engage with right wing talking points, even to debunk them, you legitimize them. You play by their rules and on their territory.

If, on the other hand, you treat those talking points as so silly and stupid that you can't believe your conversation partner would believe them, you come off as an authority figure, which we know appeals to moderates and conservatives.  

1 comment:

  1. Patrick - you should post this on dkos (if you didn't already) - it's awesome!