How Democrats Can Learn To Win Elections From “Law & Order”
Convict, Don't Beg
Think of the climactic court room scene from your favorite legal drama. For instance, think of Sam Waterston as his iconic character, prosecutor Jack McCoy from Law & Order.
McCoy has a deadly serial killer directly in his crosshairs. He has conclusive DNA evidence, fingerprints, eyewitness confirmations, hair samples, and even videos of the crimes being committed.
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The lawyer points to the evidence, piled high on his table. He then turns to the jury, who are all leaning in his direction in anticipation of his speech to come. But then, instead of launching into a stem-winder of a speech as the familiar background music swells behind him, McCoy instead waggles his eyebrows, vaguely points to his evidence and then back at the jury. “Eh?” he tantalizingly asks them, and then just as suddenly, he turns to the judge and says, “the defense rests, your honor.”
Insane? Prosecutorial misconduct? Bad television? All of the above. Guilty as charged, or more likely, not guilty.
But those inept courtroom tactics are more often than not how the Democratic Party has gone about making its case to the voters of America. They compile compelling evidence making a damning case, showing beyond a shadow of a doubt the culpability of their political rivals, the Republican Party, only to step away at that critical juncture without having made a case.
Democrats often assume that American voters can “just figure it out.” They frequently see the act of making a case as a bridge too far, an action suffused with crass politics and — even worse — marketing. They can’t have marketing, that behavior is for unscrupulous con men and soulless mega-corporations.
“We can’t lower ourselves to that level,” Democrats argue, and walk away from the table even when victory is at hand.
The problem is the public does not reward such high-minded behavior. There is the world of the ideal voter, carefully weighing one set of policies against another, coming to a cool and rational conclusion and ultimately deciding on the package of policies most likely to help themselves and their fellow man (ideally).
In the real world, the one that we inhabit, voters don’t work that way. You have to sell to them. They have to be marketed to. While you could leave it up to chance and hope they choose the better of two options, that leaves the decision wide open to a hucksterish flim-flam man who possesses no other serious skills besides a mouth that is always marketing, for better or worse. Sometimes that person will win and his mismanagement will lead to economic collapse and the death of thousands.
Democrats should instead do what Jack McCoy and his cohorts did in nearly every episode of Law & Order: Make the case.
They should use the evidence they have accumulated as the building blocks of a well-crafted story about the opposition, the risks they represent to the public at large, and the better path that can be chosen with a vote for the Democratic candidate.
They should convict the bastard.
Juries, or voters, are already leaning in and ready to be told a story. They want to vote to convict and just have to be walked to the finish line. Democrats must stop hoping for the best and instead give the jury no other choice but to vote for conviction to keep the streets clean and free of criminal filth.
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