Editor's note: Drew Emery is a filmmaker and writer. His most recent film is Inlaws & Outlaws.
Hey there, friendly Tea Partiers:
Apparently many of you think that the press and the pollsters are misrepresenting who you really are. You're getting all this attention but no one seems to get you. Bummer. It's like you're actually really awesome people with legitimate grievances and great ideas on how to make America better – but all that's getting lost under a cloud of insinuation and heavily edited sound bites.
Are you getting a bum rap? Sounds like you need a makeover! Luckily, you have the power to change your public image so that it better reflects who you think you are.
Allow me to offer you a few friendly public relations tips:
Problem: Apparently a lot of people think you're a racist mob.
Solution: Ouch. Even Fox News knows that doesn't play well on TV. But we can fix that! If you don't want to be seen as being racist, try this little trick: Next time someone at a rally hurls a racist epithet or shows a photo of Obama as a witch doctor, why don't you be the first ones to disavow it? If something unfortunate happens, like someone who happens to be at your rally happens to spit on a black congressman on his way to work, quick, blow the whistle! Condemn the action with your megaphone!
I hear you saying "But... but...some of my best friends..." Stop right there. Never rationalize or deny or make excuses, and God no, do not suggest that the perpetrators are really "plants" from among your detractors. Defensiveness and denial are classic PR mistakes. Never works. This just draws more attention to the problem.
Problem: There seems to be a growing perception that too many among you are bat-shit crazy and willfully unhinged from reality.
Solution: If you think that seeming crazed or unreasonable might possibly hurt your cause, then why not loudly disavow any association with anyone who spouts crazed and unreasonable views? Things like Obama wasn't really born in Hawaii and is secretly Muslim, or "death panels" are going to cull the elderly and disabled, or even the Obama administration is going to outlaw sport fishing... you get the picture. Rule of thumb: Crazy unsubstantiated assertions tend to make you look, um... crazy. You so don't need that.
Problem: Too many are quick to dismiss the substance of your ideas, in particular your calls for smaller government and less deficit spending. (Boy, that must be frustrating.)
Solution: If you want to be seen as having a legitimate concern about spending and the deficit, let's try something counterintuitive. How about rather than ranting about a bunch of tax increases that haven't happened, go ahead and flip this one on its head and loudly and vociferously condemn the huge increases in deficit spending that occurred first under Reagan, then under Bush. Better yet, if you want people to think your goal is to get back to surpluses and pay-as-you-go, then demand a repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and restore the Clinton budgetary guidelines. Problem solved! Steal that issue from the Dems and you've got yourself a winner there!
Problem: Too many people think you are hypocrites when it comes to your condemnation of policies that borrow from socialism.
Solution: If you really want folks to believe that you genuinely hate socialism and think it's the death of our country, then demonstrate that you even understand what socialism is. Here's a fun idea: Gather round the TV cameras and burn your Social Security cards and Medicare reimbursement checks. (Think of it as throwing tea into the harbor.) Nothing says patriot more than a little self-sacrifice!
Problem: You're dressing up as Founding Fathers but too many people see your tactics as un-American.
Solution: Yeah, it's so hard to control your image. Try this: if you want to be seen as being patriots enamored of the Constitution, then how about you make it clear that your followers need to respect other's First Amendment rights rather than shouting them down at town halls and at rallies. (Bonus points for loudly condemning threats and hate speech against duly elected representatives of We the People.) This might sound crazy, but taking the high road might provide the side benefit of having people actually listen to you... Wouldn't that be cool?
Problem: Credibility. No one seems to believe you – like that whole incident of Tea Partiers supposedly yelling racist and homophobic slurs at Congressmen on the Capitol steps? I hear you. Without instant replay, it's a classic case of He Said/They Said and no one's taking your side!
Solution: Don't despair. There's a surprisingly easy way to gain credibility in situations like this. Stop lying. Does that seem too simple to be true? Trust me. It works like a charm. (If it's a habit, it's going to be hard – but take it one day at a time and yes you can.) Stop lying. You see, when so many of you who make it onto the TV machine keep peddling easily disprovable falsehoods, no one takes your incoherent arguments seriously. And, from a PR perspective, that's not helpful.
So, next time you have a gathering or a bus tour, why not hire an independent fact checker – like an ombudsperson – and then give that person a big loud gong to chime every time someone says something demonstrably false like Obama's raised our taxes (instead of cutting them), or healthcare reform is going to give free insurance to illegal immigrants (when in fact, they are explicitly excluded from even buying their own coverage). Or the debt has quadrupled under Obama (when even Wikipedia knows better than that).
It's true that the truth will out! But to get the full benefit, it's got to be true.
Summary: Your movement has potential. You are right that there are lots of serious problems out there and, yep, it's darn frustrating that they're not getting solved. With a little makeover, you can be part of the solution rather than being perceived as being part of the problem.
So go for it! Put a little touch up on that racism and homophobia and jingoism and mean spiritedness and historical myopia and hysterical crazy talk and lying bullshit lies. It's the little things that make you look bad.
Consider this: Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King both excelled at civil disobedience and built powerful movements around ideas – and, guess what? They succeeded. Why? Because their tactics generated sympathy, not disdain. Admiration, not revulsion. When they maintained their civility, it drew out the ugliness in their opponents and created a unity of purpose that was impossible to ignore.
It also helped that they were on the right side of history.
So, if you really really really believe you are on the right side, then get your shit together and look and act like it. Right now you're not even acting like you want to succeed.
It's more like you're acting out.
Maybe your anger is therapeutic – but take it from a PR guy, it's neither attractive nor persuasive.
Still, good luck all the same.
Your friend Drew
P.S. Hey by the way, I was wondering: why do those creepy LaRouche folks feel so at home at your rallies? If I were you, that question would be gnawing at me.
Below: Can you spot the PR no-no's? Look closely.
Crossposted from OpenSalon