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Mar 1, 2008

TPM: Taking Positions

The Political Manual: How to Take Political Positions

As professionals, we share your amusement that the public is concerned about the political positions that you take. If you remember the positions that you have taken in your career, they are certainly on every side of the issues. In the past, you did this randomly and by instinct. You will need to plan ahead in the big leagues.

Do not let your amusement show. The public is serious about your policy views, because they feel that their lives are in your hands.

The public cares despite the obvious fact that you spend your time arranging favors and getting campaign contributions. Hope is a powerful emotion. The slightest indication that you care about policy plays on that hope.

You will need something positive to put into your campaign commercials, like "Senator X has a long record of attention to The Issue". You must take many, weak positions along the way, or you will have to support the one position that you adopted, or worse, name one in the commercials. Announcing your position in a broadcast commercial is going to alienate some people.

You may wish for that happier time when you could say something different to each group over dinner, and only the local paper would report the results. There were no camera-phone videos to play side by side on YouTube.

Don't be spooked by YouTube. Only a few, young adults will see those clips, and they don't vote much anyway. YouTube won't matter unless you manage to have your sexual activities recorded.

So, tell each group what they want to hear, and Never give a reason for your position.

If you give reasons, then you will need to remember a lot of stuff and understand how the stuff interrelates, numbers and such. Worse, you won't be able to change your position, because people will nag you about whether the reasons have changed, or ask why you didn't consider the new reasons at the time that you considered the old reasons.

You will pick the best one or two positions that work at election time. If the gnats ask why you flip-flopped, reply that you have always supported the policy that would be best for your state or country. They can look up the details on your website.

The smartest members of the public may be put off by this approach. So few that you can ignore them. Most people will remember that you agreed with them at some time, and will assume from your vagueness that you altered your opinion a bit only to get some more votes, which is true.

Remember and apply the tested technique for keeping two girlfriends. Tell each one that you love her, but that you must keep the other relationship for now, distantly, because you share business interests, and a breakup would cost a lot of money.

It takes discipline to manage your political positions. Don’t be fooled by the fact that everyone you talk to supports you, and is giving to your campaign. After all, you are giving them government contracts and favors. It is more difficult to win the support of the public. Fortunately, if you can break even on the ideological support of the public, the people who are getting your favors will give you the election.


A great example of proper positioning is the recent report by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, discussed at PowerLine.

Democratic senators took positions in 2002 that supported the Iraq War, said that Saddam Hussein was a severe threat to the U.S., and voted for the war. Later, after nuclear weapons were not found in Iraq, they said that they were misled by the Bush administration's interpretation of the prior National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).

Some argue that the Senate Democratic leadership should have made that decision based on their own review of the facts, and not on the position of a President in the other party.

If they had given a reason at the time, such as "I made my decision after reading the NIE", they would be sunk now. By giving no reason at that time, they can say that they were misled by Bush, who provably did read the NIE.

Next: Talk At Your Own Risk

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