Turn­ing debt sta­tis­tics into sto­ries

Repub­li­cans need bet­ter mes­sag­ing to il­lus­trate the com­ing dan­ger

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - Richard Ber­man is the pres­i­dent of Ber­man and Com­pany, a pub­lic re­la­tions firm in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

fear that ledger en­try? Al­ter­na­tively, we could send ev­ery­one an in­voice and then threaten to turn the dead­beats over to the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice. That would be trans­for­ma­tive.

In the real world, Repub­li­cans need to have a bet­ter op­tion that pre-empts the moral­ity is­sue. De­fen­sive mes­sages about our grand­chil­dren hav­ing to pay the bill are not go­ing to work. Im­me­di­ate de­tailed cuts in ser­vices are more threat­en­ing, es­pe­cially to the mil­lions who don’t have grand­chil­dren.

The San­dernistas in the Demo­cratic Party have de­vel­oped a bet­ter game plan. Ex­hibit A is the 2012 po­lit­i­cal at­tack ad sug­gest­ing Paul Ryan was push­ing an old woman off a cliff. That was of­fense. And of­fense re­quires telling a set-up story. Can the Repub­li­cans be­gin to show peo­ple what must hap­pen to their tax rates or gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits if we don’t change course?

There was a time in my life that Medi­care didn’t ex­ist. The mod­ern food stamp (now called SNAP) pro­gram was started in the 1960s. Cut­ting back is not sci­ence fic­tion. It is Greece, Puerto Rico and now Illi­nois. In the short his­tory of our coun­try we have never been here be­fore. Today we are fund­ing the enor­mous and un­prece­dented med­i­cal and re­tire­ment needs of the baby boomer crowd who are turn­ing 65 at the rate of 10,000 peo­ple a day. And that gen­er­a­tion will keep ex­pand­ing at that re­tire­ment rate for an­other 11 years. Can we tell that story? How many peo­ple do you think have heard it?

Can we talk about So­cial Se­cu­rity and food stamps be­ing frozen for 5-10 years at their cur­rent pay­out? Can we speak in terms of cut­ting a penny of ev­ery dol­lar in nondis­cre­tionary spend­ing? Yes, but only if we spend se­ri­ous time and money cre­at­ing a voter base of com­mon knowl­edge that these cuts are the lesser of po­ten­tial evils. And that mes­sag­ing must over­whelm the free-lunch crowd that con­tin­ues to vi­o­late the moral in Ae­sop’s ant and grasshop­per fa­ble.

Can Repub­li­cans con­nect the dots for peo­ple? Bet­ter yet, can we re­veal the dots that many peo­ple don’t know ex­ist be­fore we con­nect them? It can be ac­com­plished if we rely on sto­ries more than sta­tis­tics.

The left is suc­cess­fully sell­ing fears of a cli­mate break­down with vi­sions of flooded coastal cities. Once they metas­ta­size fear in the vot­ing pub­lic, it’s a short step to trig­ger anger at those who cre­ated or abide the sit­u­a­tion.

Can we show with sto­ries what will hap­pen if we don’t stop our credit card men­tal­ity? There are plenty of ways to de­scribe a fu­ture-com­pro­mised life that ar­rives long be­fore Antarc­tica melts. Our prob­lem is that dis­ap­pear­ing ice sheets and stranded po­lar bears are too eas­ily imag­ined. Debt is just a num­ber. And the men­tal gym­nas­tics re­quired to com­pre­hend $20 tril­lion is be­yond most mor­tal be­ings. Re­sult: You pay at­ten­tion to what you un­der­stand.

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