Sunday, January 31, 2010

STFU Already

We're coming off the week in which the President tried to reset the agenda button for his administration. By many objective standards he's done OK, particularly given the big steaming pile he was handed by the Republicans.

To no one's surprise, the Republicans have been out to sink this Presidency - just as they were out to sink the Clinton Presidency from day one. Fortunately, these two Democratic office holders are not given to panic, and not given to losing the battles they face. Clinton overcame the "vast right-wing conspiracy" (remember how the press mocked Hilary for saying that - turns out it was true). I'm sure Obama is going to do the same.

What I'm less sanguine about are the chances for the Democratic party as a whole. One of the reasons I'm less sanguine about that is because of the tendency of the press to make the controversy the whole story. A second reason is that the left leaning pundits continue to insist that it's there way or the highway.

Arianna Huffington, for example, has long insisted that the Obama economic stimulus plan is all wrong, is a big give away to big business and the big banks and oh, we're going to have a terrible time if we don't adopt her plan.

Robert Reich, likewise, has been sounding increasingly shrill. George Lakoff, who I find eminently sensible, began his latest column at Huff Po sensibly. Look, I think he said, we're not going to get anywhere by all trying to tell the President what he should have said. But then he went on to make the argument he'd made in "Try Not to Think of an Elephant" and that Thomas Franks had made in What's the Matter with Kansas. We're voting against our own interests, attacking our own President, because we progressives have lost the framing war. We've "talked down" to conservatives, particularly rural and southern conservatives (85% of Texans are against Health Care Reform, only 66% of Texans have Health Care Insurance).

I think Lakoff and Franks have points, but they miss some crucial evidence - the Right Wing and Popular Preachers are constantly telling their acolytes what they ought to do. They talk down to the flock and do so rather cynically. Watch Sunday morning TV.

I suspect that a young woman I heard Extemporize yesterday got closer to the truth.

This young woman was given the topic, "What must the Democrats do to hold on to their majorities?" Her answer, win back the people's trust. That's pretty obvious. It starts with not fighting among ourselves. It continues with some holding of the tongue on the part of the chattering classes.

One thing this young woman said that was particularly telling, "Democrats (her family voted Democratic in the last election) should stop picking on Republicans." Really, that's happening much?

It isn't, but the pundits and the news are making it seem like it is happening, and Republicans are quick to cry "Oh, uncle, you're hurting me." Then, when the Democrats back off, the Republicans, in true bully spirit get up from the ground, throw sand and run report us to the principal.

With press assistance are now living in a politically toxic slough of despond.

Charlie Brooker, a British journalism critic, describes how this works in his report on Radical Islamic Critic Anjem Choudary (Can't embed, sorry)

Brooker's point is to demonstrate how the news value of conflict, when followed by reports on the reporting about the conflict create the publicity that both sides denied was the goal of the newsmaker. In other words, people get a view of the world that isn't true because the news demand for greater and greater controversy.

Russell Peters observed the same thing, but in a comedic fashion:
Russell Peters - Stereotypes
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So, what's the answer.

Bob Cesca writes:

Yelling at the president won't change the fact that a considerably large chunk of the American electorate is moderate and independent. The Democrats need the middle in order to win because the left simply isn't large enough. But if we systematically and deliberately change minds -- if we're disciplined about taking the longview approach and convincing voters that progressivism is the best way to govern, then we will eventually force politicians to move leftward as the electorate does.

Until then, we need to accept (albeit begrudgingly) the political reality that the president will occasionally have to do things that appeal to the middle in order to get other things done.

It's a good idea. It's not unlike my idea - that we should STFU at least for a little while. Let's end the toxicity by stopping being toxic ourselves.

For three months, two months, maybe even just two weeks, let's see if we can't support the President and keep some of our critical speculation to ourselves. Let's even see if we can't make my young forensicator's complaint (Stop picking on the Republicans) a reasonable request.

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