Immigration reform: Nancy’s hurling lemons – here’s how John can make lemonade

by Peter Watts Paskale

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Speaker John Boehner might want to remember that advice when Nancy Pelosi unveils her discharge petition for the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill at a press conference tomorrow morning.

Immigration reform is a difficult topic for John Boehner’s caucus in the House. That’s exactly why Nancy Pelosi is so dramatically raising it and is also precisely why Mr. Boehner wishes that she wouldn’t.

It’s not all bad news for Boehner though. There are specific communication measures that he can take to escape from the political corner Mrs Pelosi is attempting to push him into. Here’s what to look for in a considered GOP response:

Step One: The Silent Judo Throw

In rhetoric there’s a technique called concessio. This basically means “agree with your opponent”. It’s very hard for somebody to stay on the offensive when the other side just agreed with them.

Debaters think of this as a judo throw because just like in the martial art, it takes your opponent’s momentum and uses it against them, so that they overbalance.

The question is: Where exactly should John Boehner agree with Nancy Pelosi?

Step Two: Find the Common Ground and Agree With It

In whatever Nancy Pelosi says at tomorrow’s press conference, there will be areas where John Boehner can agree – even if it’s only in a single sentence. For example, if somewhere Pelosi makes a statement such as “Immigration policy is a mess”. That’s a sentiment that Boehner can readily endorse.

Concessio will have been achieved, and the Pelosi momentum will have been temporarily checked.

Step Three: Understand the Hidden Common Ground and Appear to Ignore It

The next step would be invisible to the watching public, but John Boehner’s areas of agreement with Nancy Pelosi might go deeper than we think. For the sake of argument, let’s say that Pelosi has three main goals:

  1. Re-energize the stalled debate about immigration reform
  2. Put John Boehner into a difficult position with his own caucus
  3. Provoke Tea-Party types into some potentially vote-losing statements

John Boehner won’t be in agreement with points one and two, but point three could be quite interesting for him. The GOP has several primaries coming up where the Tea Party are challenging establishment figures – Mitch McConnell for example. Something that provokes those candidates into regrettable statements that render them unelectable could be just what John Boehner quietly welcomes.

Rather than causing a GOP headache, Mrs. Pelosi’s strategy could go some way to removing a couple of them – if the response is properly handled.

Step Four – Attack the Stratagem, not the Policy

There is a large difference between the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill that Mrs Pelosi is promoting, and the means by which she’s doing it. The GOP response can move into it’s attack phase by disagreeing not with the policy itself, but with the stratagem of using a discharge petition, which is after all, something of a procedural firework aimed at the media.

Step Five – Seize the Initiative

Unlike for Nancy Reagan with her anti-drugs message of “Just say No”, the same statement is regrettably not an option for John Boehner when it comes to immigration reform. If the Republican’s have any new ideas about immigration, then this would be a good time to indicate them. Nancy Pelosi will have provided the news platform – John Boehner will then have the opportunity to take advantage of it.

Step Six – Carefully Consider the First Responder

Speaker Boehner himself might not be the best person to lead the response. The immigration debate is a highly charged one, so it would be smart to use a speaker who is already seen as being positively invested from the GOP side. Marco Rubio could be a good choice, or even GOP elder statesman John McCain.

Tomorrow’s press conference need not be the Boehner-trap that it first appears. The damage done will depend entirely on how he directs the response – and that is directs the response, not delivers it. If handled correctly, the GOP lemonade stand can come out of this with increased credibility on a difficult topic. If handled badly though, the party, and Mr Boehner, can expect to be spitting out lemon pits from now until the mid-terms.

The question is, can John Boehner and his top-team avoid taking a great big bite from the lemon that Mrs. Pelosi is about to so gleefully offer them?

With the right communication plan, it’s completely possible. We’ll find out tomorrow.

Rand Paul at Berkeley: Why his speech worked

by Peter Watts

Senator Rand Paul is a hero. Or at least that’s how several of the nation’s news organizations would have it. Just for once though, we’re not talking Fox News. The San Francisco Chronicle for example rejoiced with this morning’s headline: “Republican Rand Paul fires up a Berkeley crowd”, while the New York Times compared him with Ronald Reagan, who found Berkeley such a tough audience that he sent in the National Guard.

All the applause would suggest that Senator Paul heroically entered a lion’s den and then persuaded the occupants to roll over and have their tummies tickled. To an extent, that’s just what he did, but this wasn’t a miracle. This was rhetoric at it’s best. Lessons can be learned!

Lions on Leashes

First of all, the audience was tightly controlled. Paul set a clear title for his Berkeley appearance and it was calibrated to the interests of the audience: privacy. He could pretty much guarantee that so long as he kept to the prepared script, the audience would keep a respectful silence. The problems were always going to come with the Q&A.

When we got to the questions however, what did we get? Pre-selected (for which read “heavily vetted”) questions. There was nothing there to open up any embarrassing civil-liberties type areas. Indeed, several of the questions such as “If elected President, would you curtail Executive Power” were directly chosen to enable the speaker to polish-up his credentials.

Millennial Momentum

Millennials are deeply suspicious of state authority. Paul’s chosen topic offered perfect synchronization. Throw in frequent references to cellphones, the web, and the threat posed by a snooping government, and rapt attention was guaranteed. Rand Paul is a clever, and thoughtful speaker. His isolation of this one particular aspect of Libertarian belief was where he and his audience would overlap. The audience were enthralled. So much so that they didn’t notice the giant logical chasm – and opportunity – that Paul was delicately tip-toeing around.

“What you do on your cellphone is none of their damned business”

This line was used twice, and to applause each time. Rand Paul passionately believes that nobody, just nobody has the right to interfere with you and your phone. Except….. the curious amongst us would love to know how that adds up if you are using your phone for some sort of gay dating purposes. If the phone company should manifest devout Christian views, would they have a right to cut you off? After all, Rand Paul also believes shops should have the right to turn away LGBT customers.

This vital question was left unasked, but then again, all the questions had been vetted anyway.

Academic Style

Something that I do personally enjoy about the Rand Paul style is his love of history. He speaks in an academic style – hence he sometimes rambles – and this address was full of quotations from what to many would have been obscure sources:

“Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England,
as I trust shall never be put out.”

Only Rand Paul could get away with Tudor history in a modern American political speech, quoting Archbishop Cranmer’s famous last words as he and the unfortunate Ridley became human barbecue on Bloody Mary’s sixteenth century execution pyre. Again, the quote was perfectly chosen. It’s an academic quote, and this speech was being given in an academic setting to an audience of high academic style. At once the quote supports Paul’s message, and flatters the audience. It winks and insinuates “I’m clever, and I know you’re clever. Let’s both be clever together.” The lions of Berkeley just rolled over and purred. Daniel himself could not have done better.

A Feinstein Love-Fest

Paul went out of his way to pour praise onto a lady with whom he would not normally share much political currency, Senator Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein’s significant if dull speech of the week before came in for substantial praise, right down to Paul’s account of how he walked across to the Senator to congratulate her on it. Again, the Lions purred their approval. Why?

Senator Feinstein is from California. Berkeley is in California. What the audience responded to was the political equivalent of a speaker standing up to praise the home-team. “Go 49ers!!!” It was another subtle little aside, that was calculated to please.

Paul endorsed Snowden!

Almost The absolute heart of the spell however was Rand Paul’s continuous flirtation with Edward Snowden. The first reference came a mere three minutes into the speech, tucked neatly beside Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Paul almost seemed to be flirting with the subject, until out of nowhere, we found ourselves in a comparison between the wrongdoings of Snowden and what Paul perceived to be the wrongdoings of NSA Director, James Clapper.

This strange dance of logic led to the statement that “If Clapper is innocent, then Snowden is innocent.” What just happened? Did Rand Paul declare Edward Snowden innocent? The audience certainly seemed to think so, and responded warmly. In actuality though, Paul did no such thing. He merely posed an interesting question that allowed the audience to gleefully assume that Rand Paul shares their views. Yet more approving purring.

Full marks to Senator Paul. This was a masterful assessment of the audience, and a message fine-tuned to their viewpoint.

There were so many ways in which this appearance at Berkeley could have gone wrong. So many topics where speaker and audience could have clashed. So many difficult questions that could have been asked. Not one of them came to pass. Many are seeing Daniel emerging unscathed from the lion’s den having performed some form of political miracle. Look a little closer though and you’ll see the natural results of a good speech, a well planned message, and above all, a flattered audience.

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