These days in politics, while compromise seems to have gone the way of wearing white after Labor Day, polarization is in, like our sudden appreciation for funk, fast-casual eateries, and feathers, I guess. Between ideological foes, there certainly seems to be a lapse in communication. So what do politicians actually do up on the Hill or in the White House if they aren’t working together? They aren’t just twiddling their thumbs. In a time when there aren’t as many
opportunities for actual governance, sending a message has become of utmost importance. One need not look any further than the events of the past month to see what I mean.
Let’s start with the newly Republican-dominated Congress. On January 21st, the House passed the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which bars federal funding for abortions. Although the Hyde Amendment has debatably served this purpose since the 1970s, Republicans considered it important to send a message on the 42nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, and to cast an anti-abortion vote on the eve of this year’s March for Life. While concerns over loopholes in the Hyde Amendment due to the Affordable Care Act exist, the timing of this vote was obviously symbolic. Only a day after the vote, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) capitalized on the event by blasting out a letter to her constituents stating that she “acted yesterday – on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade – to protect the lives of the unborn.”
Next, in the first week of February, House Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act again. For the 56th time. While repeal now has a chance to pass the Senate, I doubt anyone believes that President Obama would willingly dismantle the crowning policy achievement that colloquially bears his own name. Yet, it was still important to vote on, according to Speaker John Boehner, because the 47 new Republican members of Congress “have never had a chance to cast their vote to repeal [it].” Indeed, the vote gave freshman representative Gary Palmer (R-AL) a chance to post fresh material for his Facebook page, where he linked a press release voicing his opposition to the healthcare law and his floor speech against it a day later.
Meanwhile in the White House, the lame-duck President has been determined to not fade quietly into the night. He started off the year by proposing free community college tuition for two years for eligible students, with the government picking up the tab. With budget-minded, anti-entitlement Republicans fully in the driver’s seat in Congress, the proposal has little chance of gaining traction. While the White House’s domestic policy chief, Cecilia Muñoz, has claimed that the proposal is serious, others say that it’s more about—you guessed it: sending a message. Even Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), an Obama ally and former community college trustee, said the proposal “isn’t a finished product,” and that it’s really just a “conversation starter.”
In a world where stories are often cut down to sound bites, and information comes as quickly as you can hit refresh, it’s no surprise that crafting great messaging is king. However, it’s also important for messaging to cut through the static, reaching—and helping—its target audience, and leading to meaningful action.