Leaders on Capitol Hill: Please stop listening to communication staff. That's strange advice from a communications professional and former Hill staffer, but as an American who wants to see our country recover, that's my advice now. Congress Daily recently reported that the National Republican Congressional Committee has advised GOP lawmakers to hire high level communications staff—and that it's happening "at the expense of legislative assistants." ("Republicans: Bulked Up Machine Pushes GOP Message," February 25, 2009). The Republican leadership is hiring press staff from the recent presidential campaign known for "rapid response" techniques. So they are spending fewer resources on the professionals who can actually help them think creatively about new ways to grow the economy, or fix our health care system, in favor of someone who can make sure their boss gets on "Hardball." Those of us from the campaign world view our victories in terms of getting our spin into a story. The way to do that is to present the most outrageous and diametrically opposing opinion from our "opponent," in this case President Obama. That is how we win the day. But that is also in direct opposition to actually getting anything done in Congress.Hill press staff wants to win the day too. They want to get their boss quoted; it's a competitive environment. Reporters won't admit this readily, but they gravitate towards whoever will give them the best quote or the sharpest spin. So press staff pushes the message in that direction, driving the agenda rather than letting the actual policy or position speak for itself. You end up getting the boss into the story, but now he's on the record trashing the President or the policy or the bill. That makes for a great clip, but is it really productive? It creates hard feelings amongst the Members (I assure you they do read each other's press releases) and makes for even harsher elbows amongst the staff. We should keep the campaign tactics where they belong: on campaigns. This is the time for letting the legislation and the solutions drive the message, not the other way around.
Leaders on Capitol Hill: Please stop listening to communication staff.