Message to Democrats: Hit Us With Your Best Stuff

Conviction is critical in persuasion and negotiation. Yet the Democrats are constantly beginning their sentences with "I think," "We think, "We believe."

The Democratic leadership's recent letter to the president is a case in point.

Equivocation has its place. And softening a stance with an occasional disclaimer is often wise. Going a bit around an argument can have merit. But a steady diet of these kinds of hedging tells people you're either afraid, not doing your homework, or way out of your league.

What you think, believe or kind of feel is rarely relevant in business and politics. I tell my negotiation and persuasion students to hit me with ONLY their best stuff. This requires prioritizing issues, prioritizing arguments, prioritizing support, and keeping embellishments for later. You have to separate the main message from the clutter.

Consider the third paragraph of the Democrats' letter. It begins with this placid comment: "Unfortunately, your stay the course strategy is not working." The rattle in my car dashboard is unfortunate. What's going on in Iraq is appalling both in terms of leadership and the tolerance this administration has for loss of life.

People have short attention spans, even the most intellectually inclined. So, the next sentence in the letter probably put George Bush into a coma: "Even the administration's most recent report to Congress on Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq indicates that security trends in Iraq are deteriorating, and likely to continue to worsen for the foreseeable future." Why not tell the president that security is nonexistent in Iraq. Get rid of the phrase "trends indicating deterioration." I can write like that too. As I recall, it was required for tenure. But this kind of obfuscation doesn't belong in a letter to this President -- to be read by Americans who will vote in November.

I fully understand that respect is often accorded via indirectness and understatement. But not when so much is at stake. It's an outrage not to be outraged at this point. Failing to get their best messages out there in clear, memorable ways is the Democratic Party's greatest liability.

No more "we think," "we believe," "we feel," about matters as significant at national security, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, new talk about Iraq being only "one of the fronts." The Democrats need to show that they have done their homework. Their messages to us must be incisive, supported (not merely based on thinking or believing), passionate, brief and repeated.

Anyone who thinks the next election isn't about words but solely about ideas hasn't been paying attention. Ideas don't sell themselves. Not even the best ones.

see also "Favor Bank/politics of talk"