Don’t miss opportunities to frame

One of my first posts here was on framing. And a piece of news out of Washington today was a great example of missing an opportunity to frame a situation to your advantage as a communicator.

One of the many issues being discussed as November’s Midterm Elections approach is the impending expiration of the tax cuts that then-President George W. Bush passed during his first term. Since they were passed using the Senate’s Budget Reconciliation process, they have to be renewed by the end of this year or they’ll expire. Letting taxes go up, let alone doing so during a recession as deep as this one, is normally a huge political no-no. But Rep. John Boehner, the Republican’s leader in the House of Representatives (and the man in line to become Speaker if the GOP regains control of the chamber), gave Democrats a great opportunity to frame earlier this month when he said he’d be willing to accept extending those tax cuts only on the first $250,000 of annual income.

And the Democrats squandered that opportunity right away.

All the Democrats had to do was bring a bill to the floor extending the tax cuts only on the first $250,000 of annual income. If the GOP had used the filibuster and/or other procedural tactics to kill it, the Democrats could frame the debate as them being on the side of Middle Class Americans and the Republicans being on the side of the rich and big business. That would have been a very strong talking point.

But the Democrats announced today that they won’t even try to bring the bill to the floor. They won’t even try to pass it. And in the process, they squandered the framing opportunity and lost the message war on two fronts. Republicans can now frame the Democrats as wanting to raise taxes, and the Democrats’ base has even less reason to take the time and jump through the hoops needed to cast a vote this November.

The ability to frame issues and debates to your advantage is critically important in politics. Part of that requires speed. But you also have to seize opportunities when they’re there. Your opponent(s) certainly won’t frame it to your advantage.

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