Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Draft Platform: Broad Brush Strokes

I once went to lunch with John Walsh about a year ago and he had a particularly great quote about political messaging: "paint with broad brush strokes." That way, people see what they like and like what they see. Just one quick look at speeches from Obama and Hillary Clinton and you can quickly see the difference between Obama's broad strokes and Hillary's wonkish policy details. Hillary comes off as competent, Obama comes off as inspirational.

However, there's a difference between a political speech and a party platform. Sabutai is correct to note that the platform's about to be watered down this year -- and it's in that very same quest to paint with broad strokes that John and I talked about at that lunch. Except, when it comes to a platform, a broad document is no longer inspirational -- it's a cop out. Who isn't for higher education excellence, or paying teachers fair wages? Even Republicans are for that. The difference - or should I say Devil? - is in the details.

What we needed -- and what I thought we were going to get based on what I was hearing from party insiders -- was a one-page "this is who we are" type document that acted as a mission statement, to be followed by a more detailed and nuanced platform - the best of both worlds. Maybe that's still the intention, but if so, why water down the other 11 pages?

As Obama and Patrick showed in their campaigns, one can paint with broad strokes and be detailed at the same time. Having a 1 page mission statement that quickly covers what it means to be a Democrat in Massachusetts would be an excellent thing to pull out as we convince people to register as a Democrat, but what if these people wanted to know more on a specific issue? As Obama and Patrick had detailed platforms and plans on their websites, so should we have a party-endorsed, detailed platform. People don't care about agreeing on every technocratic detail, but they do want to know if our party is going to stand up and believe in something. We should never be afraid to express our hopes and aspirations as a party through our platform. That's why the platform exists in the first place.

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