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Donna Perry: The Scare Campaign for Congress

Thursday, September 27, 2012


During some election seasons, there are unpredictable tail winds that propel a major fall campaign away from one corner and off into another direction. This fall, the high profile campaign in the First Congressional district race between incumbent Congressman David Cicilline and Republican challenger Brendan Doherty has been overtaken by gale force winds that could have been predicted and have managed to send jobs and the economy tumbling off to the side and have blown Social Security, Medicare, and the national Republican Party into the center of the turbulence.

But this storm, like everything about Congressman David Cicilline, is completely artificial. It’s being generated by a tightly written cynical script that comes with a distinct set of talking point arguments and talking point charges. But make no mistake about it, if you are of a certain age and live in the First Congressional District, the script calls for you to be “afraid---very afraid” (bold italics are likely written into the talking points) of what Brendan Doherty would do if he were elected to go to Congress.

The emphasis on what Brendan Doherty would—or would not—do (it seems Doherty’s opponent knows better than he himself what he would do, and who he would listen to, if you follow the Cicilline campaign arguments) if elected with regard to Social Security and Medicare, is the central talking point for the Cicilline campaign.

Though there was back and forth squabbling a few weeks back about the implications of certain polls, clearly the scare tactics have captured the attention, and likely the concern of voters as the newest numbers suggest a tight race. Though it should not come as a surprise to anyone that Cicilline is relying on a highly disciplined talking point campaign to resurrect his candidacy with skeptical voters, it should be noted that he has taken the script to a new level by attempting to talk voters out of support for the opponent based on the potential for future actions—and not based on Doherty’s past career record. It’s a strategy that can work for some campaigns, but it requires a high level of spin skill.

What the Doherty campaign did not know is that apparently they are partly running against a crystal ball and have to start talking about what they expect they won’t do 6, 12, or 18 months down the line. What’s next, does Cicilline plan to introduce Tarot Cards into the campaign? Seniors, and women, the main targets of Cicilline’s ads and mailers, who may be soaking up the reassurances that their current Congressman will keep them safe from the opponent associated with the evil other party, may want to pause a moment, however, if they can think past the talking points.

The senior who relies on the signature safety net programs of Medicare and Social Security, may also have young grandchildren who are likely never to have that same safety net decades down the line if reasonable adjustments to shore up the program never occur because it was too politically difficult. Women, who are being barraged by a script that assumes their only concern in the world is their own personal birth control options and costs rather than worrying about the fact they can’t secure good paying jobs and have an empty bank account, may consider thinking beyond the scary mailer arriving on their doorstep.

But just as David Cicilline managed to move up and away from Providence City Hall two years ago before the true status of the city’s finances were revealed, he will be long gone from Congress when the 5 year old grandchild of a Rhode Island senior today approaches his or her retirement and finds there’s really no safety net left because many politicians were willing to lie to their constituents about the true fiscal condition of the fund and mischaracterize their opponent’s position on options that exist to shore up the troubled program. The script you won’t see from Cicilline’s campaign is that they believe it’s better to let the program ultimately collapse in the distant future rather than consider politically unpopular modifications to secure its survival.

He won’t be around to face that senior’s grandchild sixty years into the future when they turn 65 to tell them, “hey I had to win an election…. if it meant scaring people, so be it.” Come to think of it, that’s probably not in the talking points.


Donna Perry is Executive Director of RISC, RI Statewide Coalition - http://www.statewidecoalition.com


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