Meeting Minutes from inSPIRE Social on April 22, 2006  

We had our third social event of 2006 at Dave and Shamah Gamrath s house in beautiful West Seattle. We had a remarkable turnout, with 35 people attending. Special thanks to Shamah for being so willing to host! And thanks to all other attendees for bringing such a great array of potluck dishes I think we outdid ourselves this time!

Guest Speaker David Domke
We were honored to have author David Domke as our guest speaker. David is an Associate Professor and Head of Journalism in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. Over the past decade his research and teaching interests have focused on the relationships among U.S. politics, journalism, and public opinion. This research agenda has produced more than two dozen articles in leading academic journals and a 2004 book that examines the strategic religious rhetoric of the Bush administration and the mainstream press s response, God Willing?: Political Fundamentalism in the White House, the War on Terror, and the Echoing Press. He has been interviewed by CNN, BBC, Fox News, MSNBC, NPR, The London Times, USA Today, and many other news organizations. In the last year he has spoken about politics and communication with academic and political audiences all over this country, and is currently working with Democratic Party leaders in several states. Merging this research with a broader commitment to higher education also has been a priority for him, and in 2002 he received the University of Washington s Distinguished Teaching Award, the university s highest honor for teaching.

Professor David Domke provided our group with a very interesting and compelling presentation. Afterwards, David socialized with our inSPIRE gang and signed many of his books for people. A high-level summary of this is provided below:

David has spent a tremendous amount of time studying the language used by the leaders of our country to shape public opinion. In these efforts, working with many of his graduate students, David has studied, in great detail, our last four presidents (Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II) to track key sets of relationships in the rhetoric they provide to the media.

After the events of September 11th, George W. Bush was remarkably successful in manipulating and shaping the media. Of particular interest was the use of religious rhetoric used by Bush. In essence, Bush gave Osama Bin Laden the religious war Bin Laden wanted. Bush did this by using constant religious rhetoric Bush framed his war on terror as a religious war of good vs. evil . Again and again in public speeches Bush used phrases such as the liberty we value is God s gift to the world , I.E., he brought the upcoming military actions by the United States into actions necessitated by no less than the will of God himself. Domke and his team studied thousands of communications. It was easy for them to see how Bush fully controlled communications.

David next shared the results over the past dozen years of Pew Research Polls. David shared the results of six questions that Pew asked the public in regards to the political landscape in America. This data showed distinct trends in the country from 1994 to today. Questions asked included (paraphrased):
- Are you satisfied with the direction that our country is going? (Recent results, with 71% of people saying No , resembles the period just before the midterm elections in 1994 when Republicans swept into control in Congress).
- Do you think that the current Congress is accomplishing more or less than others? (Recent results are that only 7% say more and 41% say less, indicating it may be time for a change )
- Who is to blame for how things are going in Congress? (Today s results: Republicans 58% and Democrats 13%, confirming displeasure currently with our Republican lead Congress)
- What word best describes how you would describe George W. Bush? (In May 2003 the top words were: Honest, Good, Arrogant, Leader, Great I.E., four of five very positive. In February 2004 and February 2005, the top three words were also very positive, such as Honest, Fair, etc. However, by March 2006 the top five were: Incompetent, Good, Idiot, Liar and Arrogant, I.E., a dramatic switch in public opinion.)
- What word best describes your view of Iraq? (Of the top twenty four answers in the March 2006 survey, twenty were negative , such as Bad, Sad, Vietnam, Disaster, Etc., and only four were positive .)
Important points:
- If one wants to discuss Iraq with people, and wants to really connect with them, ask them how they would describe Iraq.
- Don t try to make people feel bad about their previous choices, opinions or votes! Don t attack them! Don t call them idiots for making what you may think of as a mistake! That s in the past and it s time to move forward!
- Would you like to see most members of Congress re-elected? (Recent results, with 53% of those surveyed saying No , resemble the feelings of the public just before the November 1994 elections, once again indicating that the American public isn t happy with Congress.)

In summary, the results of the Pew survey indicate that our country may very well be ready for a change of leadership . But it takes more than people being dissatisfied with Republicans. Democrats need to do the things necessary to connect with the American people.

Time and time again, people agree with Democratic policies but end up voting for Republicans anyway. Why? Because Republicans have been much more effective at campaigning. Republicans have figured out how to connect with the average American . Key to this is an understanding that displaying important values and principles is more important than sounding intelligent. Intelligence does not win you elections in America! Americans in general look for a couple of key things: are you trust worthy and are you principled, with the top two principles they are looking for being competence and integrity. So, will Democrats benefit from the recent Jack Abramoff scandal? Probably not, because most Americans believe both Democrats and Republicans take bribes.

David next discussed the subject of Contemporary Strategic Politics. Key points included:

- Today s Americans are very busy and detached from politics. This isn t necessarily a wrong way to be , either. People are busy, and frequently they can t quickly see how being involved in politics matters to them.
- So, activists (us caring inSPIRE members!) and politicians need to make things matter and real.
- In recent decades Republicans have done this better at this than Democrats.
- Historically, the Democratic Party has been made up of two distinct groups professionals (more upper class ) and blue-collar working folks. Professionals tend not to fully understand the daily struggle that the blue collar folks face everyday.
- Professionals tend to use language that sounds elitist to the common American
- Democrats need to begin to speak American! Quit this mountain top language and use language that will be accepted by the base of the American public!
- Democrats need to quit trying to come across as smart!
- Bush has figured this out. Domke analyzed Bush s 1994 debates with Ann Richards for the Governorship of Texas. In these debates Bush spoke quickly and was fully up on the details of policies.
- Over the next few years, Bush learned to talk Texan . He slowed way down and quit trying to impress his audience that he was intelligent or knowledgeable. He was the opposite of what people view as the elitist liberal and he became extremely popular.
- In America, being brilliant does not make one popular. It is way more important to connect with people using what the majority of folks would consider everyday conversation.
- Republicans are brilliant at talking American . This is the key to winning a campaign.
- One gets into the White House (I.E., elected President) via being a past Governor. Republicans have figured this out. Democrats keep running Senators or Congressmen for President. Only two members of Congress have been elected President in the past one hundred years.
- The GOP has capitalized on the re-emergence of Christian Conservatism in American politics since 1980. In this, they have employed three key things: God talk
- Sexual morality
- American Exceptionalism (the idea that Americans are better than the rest of the world s inhabitants and are justly deserving of God s blessings, etc.)
- Since September 11th 2001, Bush has employed the terms Freedom and Liberty constantly into his discourse with America.
- Bush has effectively developed a theological version of Manifest Destiny
- In Domke s study of Bush s speeches he found that after September 11th Bush was using freedom and/or liberty in one of every three paragraphs.
- Then, the press picked up Bush s rhetoric. The press not only repeated this language as something that Bush spoke , rather the press conveyed it as being reality!
- This showed how hugely successful Bush was at framing. Bush got the press to amplify his messages. Bush s religious rhetoric became the speak of America .
- This really connected with White Evangelical Protestants. 55% of White Evangelical Protestants identify themselves with Republicans, but even a greater percent of them vote conservative, thus giving Republicans over 70% of their votes. And, they are the biggest voting block in America.
- So, this is a key Republican campaign strategy: start big time with the religious talk in June of an election year to get the base fired up!
- A recent survey showed that 55% of Americans identified Republicans as the party friendly towards religion. Only 29% thought that Democrats were the religious-friendlier party.

So, how do Democrats combat this? Again, it comes to a key but straight forward strategy. Again, Democrats need to make things (our messages) matter and real.

- First: talk in moral terms. American is not a live and let live society.
- Show absolute conviction to establish trust and leadership.
- Move issues to a moral level
- Many of these things were covered by George Lakeoff in his book Don t Think of an Elephant
- Second: speak in nation-enhancing ways. Don t let Republicans frame the discussion.
- Democrats tend to be uncomfortable and even afraid to use this type of language. But to win, we must recognize how much principles matter and the need to show moral conviction.
- Democrats need to do the hard work of translation from professional discourse to common language .
- We need reasoned, rational and robust public discourse
- Third, confront your opponents calmly.
- Forth, use personal stories.

David showed a fantastic example of this in a video clip of Phil Donahue on the O Reily Factor Fox TV show, where Donahue put these tools into practice and ate Billy s lunch!

Minute taker comment: This Donahue video was absolutely a pleasure to watch, and brought many of these teachings home. Seeing Donahue put these ideas into practice made these practices seem very doable and not at all like trying to speak like a lying Republican . We can do this!

Many other questions were asked and answered, but, alas, your humble note taker once again got caught up in the discussion and failed to write it all down. In summary, this was an amazingly interesting and enlightening discussion, and a great opportunity to hear rare insight as to what strategies have really been employed by the Bush Administration in particular and Republicans in general to gain control of the American political scene, and also to learn what we need to do as Progressives to win that control back.

Our many thanks go out to David Domke for his time, energy and patience with almost two hours of questioning!

Current Activism Efforts by inSPIRE Members

Yes on I-937! This initiative will help the state s economy, environment, and rural communities by assuring electric utilities implement energy efficiency measure and purchase 15% of their power from clean and renewable resources by 2020. About twenty other states have passed similar measures, and now it s time for Washington! We were gathering signatures at the social.
If you want to help, please contact:
Washingtonians for Energy Security
150 Nickerson Ave #109, Seattle, WA 98109
(206) 283-3335, Fax: (206) 283-3336,

inSPIRE Book Club! we didn t have time to give a quick assessment of our latest read, Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, an insightful read about trying to get by on minimum wage in today s America. We really enjoyed this book and had a good discussion on it last week at our meeting. Our next book is Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins. To join the book club and get on the list, just send an email to 


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