Republicans in Washington should be strapped to a chair and forced to watch the 2012 Chilean movie "No." It's loosely based on a 1988 political advertising campaign designed to take down Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet.
Pinochet reluctantly called a democratic referendum that year under pressure from Pope John Paul II and other international figures. A "yes" vote meant eight more years of Pinochet; a "no" vote meant free elections in 1989. Each side -- and the Chilean political left had dozens of factions -- was given time on the national news each evening to make its sales pitch.
Enter advertising executive René Saavedra. His challenge? To make an inherently negative word -- "no" -- a positive. How to make Chileans unaccustomed to voting excited about pulling the "no" lever.
Until Saavedra's arrival in the film -- and again, it is loosely based on reality -- the parties opposed to Pinochet ran wince-inducing ads. Their TV spots were angry, dogmatic and filled with ghastly images of torture and murder victims that they claimed were the product of Pinochet's death squads, which many probably were. The ads made viewers want to look away or flip the channel -- certainly not vote. After all, what was their underlying message? Oppose Pinochet and wind up in a ditch.
Saavedra unifies the parties in "No" and persuades them to run an upbeat marketing campaign, which really did happen, under the banner "La alegría ya viene" ("Joy is coming").
The "No" ads became colorful and cheery, replete with catchy jingles and smiling faces. Think Skittles commercial rather than 1964 Daisy ad. "No" became an affirmative, and Pinochet lost the plebiscite 57-43.
I mention this story because Republicans find themselves in a similar quandary today, minus the torture and death squads, of course. The party finds itself, inherently and necessarily, the party of "no" in trying to stop the Obamacare train wreck. President Barack Obama is all, "Sí, se puede!" -- Yes, we can! The GOP is all "No, no puede!" -- No we can't (go through with Obamacare). How do you sell that without coming across as a bummer?
When you think of it in those terms, the answer is obvious. Republicans must convince voters that, well, joy is coming somehow. It must lay out an alternative vision for the future with a happy ending. It has not done that. It has only convinced a majority of Americans that Obamacare will have an unhappy ending.
The public gets the arguments against Obamacare. Polls show that. But Republicans need to better lay out what comes after its delay or defunding. What's the plan to keep the parts of Obamacare people like, such as protections against pre-existing conditions, while getting rid of the parts they don't, including significant rate hikes for some and perverse incentives for businesses to cut employee hours. Republicans have ideas, but they haven't figured out how to sell them yet. Watching "No" might shake loose some ideas.
The purple apoplexy coming out Democrats these days is helping the cause. Their hyperbole may be even more alarmist and depressing than what's coming from their distinguished colleagues to the political right. "I believe, Mr. president," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Friday, "that we are at one of the most dangerous points in our history right now. Every bit as dangerous as the breakup of the Union before the Civil War."
Really, senator? Nancy Pelosi is calling Obamacare opponents "anarchists," while Harry Reid calls them "Thelma and Louise" fanatics.
There is no joy in Mudville or Washington. The party that restores it will control the future.
William F. B. O'Reilly is a Newsday columnist and a Republican political consultant.