January 31, 2006
Word on the StreetBy Steve Feinstein
There is a lot of talk these days about the 'street.' What's the word on the street? What does the average person think? How do upper—level policies actually translate down to day—to—day reality?
The antique media use the 'street' term mostly in relation to the so—called Arab street. Will U.S. actions in Iraq and elsewhere anger the Arab street or win it over? Will we get credit from the street for liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein and helping Iraq establish a democracy, or will the Arab street rise up against us every time the U.S. commits some real or imagined transgression?
However, there's another street that the administration needs to be aware of: The domestic liberal street.
On a business trip recently to the east—coast bastion of hard—core anti—Bush liberalism—Metro New York City and Northern New Jersey—the liberal street made its presence felt quite strongly and unequivocally. It's painfully obvious that the current administration's policies and communications are not even coming close to filtering down to the street.
While visiting an upscale retail client in NYC, one of the owners remarked that while their business was good and they had no complaints, the general tenor of their clientele was uncertain at best. Immediately, the other principal chimed in,
More important than the preposterous nature of the statement itself was the desire on the individual's part not to want even the slightest credit to accrue to a Republican administration for the current good economic climate. My associate, our local NY representative, eagerly agreed with the retailer's assessment:
Then, abruptly changing subjects, he added,
What logical economic analysis hatched that point of view?
Later, this gem spewed forth from my companion while listening to a radio report in the car that one of the 9/11 NYFD firefighters had died from lingering effects of materials exposure at Ground Zero:
It was both surprising and unsurprising. Certainly, in Chuckhillaryville, fed their news by the Times, the notion that such warp—think is prevalent is no shock. But it underscores a more serious shortcoming of most Republican politicians in general and the Bush administration in particular. Most Republicans seem to feel that issues will be decided by a rational presentation from each side in the public arena, whereas most Democrats seem to understand—correctly—that the public responds mostly to quick, memorable soundbites, regardless of their relative verity.
These are all Democratic soundbites. The operative point is this: parallel Republican soundbites similarly embedded in the public consciousness are difficult, if not impossible, to name.
The antique media don't ever hold Democrats accountable for their inaccurate, misleading statements, and the absence of any media counter to Democratic claims is de—facto confirmation of their pronouncements' truth in the public's mind. As has been noted before, Republicans need to work twice as hard to get even half of their message across, undistorted by the MSM.
But incredibly, the GOP doesn't do the work needed on a consistent basis.
President Bush seems to score reasonably well when he goes on a concerted public relations offensive, as he did last Fall when his poll numbers slipped into the 30's. But he has since retreated at least partly back into his erratic PR shell. With his SOTU address tonight, he'll receive some renewed attention and his (and by important extension, the Republican Party's) numbers should rise somewhat in the aftermath of his speech.
Why the Republican Party continually seems unwilling or unable to play the soundbite/news cycle game remains a frustrating mystery to conservative political observers. A sharp, street—wise White House communications team could dictate the pace and tempo of the game and define the rules, instead of constantly fighting the opponent's fight on their home turf.
A street fight is a somewhat messy affair, but that's where the Word originates, so it's a fight that must be fought.
Steve Feinstein is a frequent contributor.