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2005.03.15

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Chris Clarke

Yes!

[Insert Dean Scream here]

Greg

I've been hearing a lot about the Democrats needing to come up with a message that will appeal to more voters, too, or the "left" if the commenter doesn't care to specify a party, but always it's coming from the other side of the aisle, as it were. The Democrats, the left, aren't saying the message needs to be recast, the opposition is, as part of their usual strategy to frame the issues in the public debate in their own favor. The princples espoused by Democrats and liberals generally aren't the problem, and allowing the right-wing punditry to push us into believing otherwise simply adds power to their own position. So yes, it is a matter of getting the message out: this is what we believe and this is why our beliefs are good. I elect my representatives to act for the benefit of all, whether it's building roads or providing healthy food to underpriviledged children in public schools or ensuring there's some measure of financial future for the elderly. I support socialized medicine and fair taxation on the wealthy and on big business. I want the environment protected instead of exploited and support government funding and research into alternative fuel solutions. Why would anyone believe these are bad, except from selfishness?

Harrison

I feel paralyzed. A book by Zizek reminded me of what Winston Churchill, of all people, had to say about the most important decisions that you make: they are always arbitrary. Otherwise they wouldn't be important.

If the choice were clear, the decision would seem easy, would not even present itself as a decision.

And so it goes with decisions about political strategy.

denisdekat

A big part of the problem is big media. Try bringing in someone fresh and watch them adopt all sorts of republican speak (much like they did with Dean). They can run Arnold, a son of a Nazi, a liar (he lied about soviet tanks remember), a non-Christian when it comes to sex and sexual practices, and yet this country is ready to vote for him. It is the power of Media.

This is why I have a bit of faith in blogs and the internet. They provide fresh points of view, and they can gain momentum without the media having to lead us to their false dilemmas...

Jimbo

Go, Rana!

Yeah, see, we're just like them only not as bad. We've got balls, too, they're just not as big. We can run the poor into the ground, too, we just won't be so efficient about it.

And by moving constantly to the "middle" the dems allow the discursive norm to shift ever more to the right so that now Reagan is practically a dirty liberal. After all, he was the head of a union...

No, I've never understood the willingness of the dems to accede to the values of the right rather than defending their own. I imagine that it has something to do with the heat of political campaigning, where more and more the campaigns are being conducted in a mediascape dominated by rightwing discourse where it appears too arduous to defend an alternative value system in the time available. But I agree that not to do simply assures that dems will lose more often than not; and there is no hope of motivating anyone. That's also one reason I no longer think it makes much sense to play to the middle. I just can't imagine that someone more middle of the road than Kerry would have fared any better than did Kerry.

jwb

Jay

With all due respect, Rana, I have to disagree. At least to some extent. I think that you are confusing policy, which shouldn't be a popularity contest, with politics, which actually is. Politics is about winning elections, pure and simple. Policy is about what happens after.

The Republicans, unfortunately, recognize this better than we do. They didn't campaign on a platform of the atrocities they are committing, but that doesn't stop them from shamelessly pushing them through and then winning reelection by distorting the positions of both us and them.

There is a flaw in your high school analogy, which is this: in high school the stakes are so inconsequential that being above the popularity games doesn't really matter. Here they do. Losing elections has real consequences for real people. In politics you have to "obsess about what people think of you" because losing on principle means that you can't enact the policy that you want, even if you can feel good about your purity.

I blog more about this here

Rana

Well, I guess we'll just have to disagree, then. See, I don't think that politics is just about elections.

Yes, elections are important, in that they presumably translate the general will of the voting public into representation by chosen agents. But elections are a tool -- NOT the goal.

If all one focuses on is "getting out the vote," it's too easy to reduce each individual to a punched chad and each issue to a soundbite. Sounds great, in theory, but in practice...

What you end up with is representatives who value shallow posturing and slick appearances over actual substance. So Joe Smooth gets elected because he's telegenic. Is that going to ensure that once in office he's going to do anything that might make him less the media darling, even if it is in the best interest of his constituents?

What that sounds like to me is electing entertaining reality show contestants, not selecting responsible public servants. What good does it to get your man elected, if all he's good for is smiling at the camera and talking mean on tv? I want people who are actually qualified to govern. Yet no one's talking about that. It's all style, style, style, while refusing to acknowledge the hollowness at the core -- it's like the clothes have no emperor!

And this is not about "purity." That's a fucking rude thing to say to a die-hard lefty feminist Green who's been holding her freakin' nose to vote for Democrats ever since she was old enough to vote, all in the name of being "practical." Well, look what it's gotten us. Bupkis!

Basically, what it seems to me you're saying is that it's all about the style; screw the substance in order to "win."

But what if you define success as overturning this notion of shallow famewhoring? How exactly is being a shallow famewhore going to counter that?

See -- this is what I'm trying to get across. STOP TRYING TO OUT-REPUBLICAN THE REPUBLICANS. Don't spaz out trying to find another hollow emperor to run against their hollow emperors -- point out the fakeness, and run someone _real_.

That includes strategy and tactics -- partly because it is playing the game by their rules, but largely because their tactics are an inherent rejection of liberal values, and to employ them is to be a hypocrital vote whore.

You don't lie, cheat and steal and then claim that it's okay because you're really against lying, cheating and stealing, and if you don't lie, cheat and steal to get elected, the "real" liars, cheaters and thieves will stay in power.

It's people who think that this is a viable "strategy" who are living in a dreamworld.

Rana

And, I should add, adopting such tactics is saying, in essence,

"Our policies are wrong and unpopular and so the only way to get people to vote for us is to trick them."

The reason Republicans employ them is because they can not sell them on their own merits. Clear Skies? That's acknowledgement right there that even Republicans know that the average American thinks clean air is a good thing. Ditto Healthy Forests. Ditto the PATRIOT Act. Ditto No Child Left Behind.

They use deceptive, aggressive tactics precisely because they know that no one would vote for them if they knew the real deal.

So the answer isn't to do the same.

I don't disagree that liberals could do a better job marketing their ideas. If nothing else, the Republicans have grasped the essentials of marketing.

But think about this: they succeed because they are marketing our product.

So we should stop trying to emulate them, and start pointing this out.

Our ideas are already popular. That is not the problem.

The problem is that the other guys are getting credit for our ideas.

Pretending to be them will only reinforce this misperception, not correct it.

Jay

"Our policies are wrong and unpopular and so the only way to get people to vote for us is to trick them."

That's not what I am saying at all and not what I believe. What I am saying and what I believe is that our policies are right and that they should be popular and the only way to get them implemented is to win elections. And that doesn't mean pretending to be Republicans. What it does mean is exactly what you said above:

elections are a tool -- NOT the goal.

Exactly. Elections are a means to an end. Nothing more and nothing less. That means that elections and the methods we use to win them are not a test of who we are as a party or a coalition. The test of that is what we do after we win.

Unfortunately, the Republicans have taken that to heart more than we have. And we are living with the results. Personally, I'm tired of it. And my solution isn't to govern more like them. But it is to accept the world that I live in and try for the best possible outcome I can get under the circumstances. And if that's not good enough for you then that's fine with me. If you can come up with an idea that will actually get me my single payer health care system within my lifetime and also makes you feel better about the people that you vote for then I'll gladly sign on.

But I have to say that I don't understand this one at all:

tactics are an inherent rejection of liberal values

To me liberal values are about things like ensuring equal opportunity for all, making sure that people's basic needs are met, having an enlightened foreign policy where we respect the rights and dignity of others, responsible stewardship of the environment. Those sorts of things. Strategy and tactics, however much you disdain paying attention to these things, are how we get them.

Rana

I think we're talking past each other a bit, Jay. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm speaking some form of parallel English, or what, because it's happened more than once.

What I'm resisting is the notion that we have to be big badass sexist mofos and that we have to choose our candidates on the basis of whether or not they can "play a politician on tv."

I am NOT (and I am so, so tired of saying this) saying that we need to sit in sniffy purity about not wanting to get our hands in the mud.

What I AM saying (and obviously I have not found the right way to say it, yet) is that

If your values are such that being a sexist is wrong, you don't gain power by acting like a sexist. Tactics.

If your values are such that tricking the public is wrong, you don't seek power by tricking the public. Tactics.

If your values are such that selling out the public in favor of corporate donors is wrong, you don't seek power by cozying up to corporations. Tactics.

If your values are such that a fair and free press is an important aspect of civil society, you don't act in ways that reward partisan infotainment at its expense. Tactics.

It's not enough to have tactics that work. You need to have tactics that are in service of the larger strategy. You seem to think that this strategy entails getting elected; after that, a different strategy and tactics would apply. I disagree; I see both stages as part of a larger operation.

For me, the strategy I care about is changing how politics are done in this country. My strategy is to delegitimate the tactics the Republicans use, with the larger goal of denying them their current means of gaining and maintaining power, and thus forcing them to act on grounds more favorable to us, like honest debate and use of facts. How we get to that is a matter of tactics, I agree. But using tactics that reinforce the very structures I'd like to see undermined makes no sense to me.

See, when Republicans employ the kinds of tactics I described, they ARE acting on their values, and thus reinforcing their larger strategy. They can use sexist tactics, for example, because they are sexists. They can dupe the general public in order to give bennies to corporations because they don't care about the general public.

If we think people are stupid sheep who need to be tricked into doing the right thing, I would argue, we are NOT liberals. We would be self-serving opportunists who play liberals on tv -- and isn't that _exactly_ what the Republicans are?

It's also a profoundly elitist stance to take, which, again, is right out of the Republican playbook. Liberals are elitists who will do anything to get elected, they say.

So we're going to defeat them by proving them right? Huh?

Rana

See, you say things like

To me liberal values are about things like ensuring equal opportunity for all, making sure that people's basic needs are met, having an enlightened foreign policy where we respect the rights and dignity of others

-- and yet, it seems to me (and I'd really like to be wrong about this), that at the very same time you're implying that in order to "respect the rights and dignity of others" we need to toss respect and dignity out of the window. Again -- huh?

I'm honestly not getting this AT ALL.

I literally do not understand how one can simultaneously promote a given set of values while engaging in behavior that is a refutation of those values.

It's like an alcoholic saying, I need this drink to get up my courage to stop drinking. Um, hello?

It just seems to me that so many of the tactics used by the Republicans are so antithetical to liberal values that they are unusable. Yes, this does handicap us somewhat in the short term. In the long term, though, I think we'd be much closer to having the sort of society we aspire to if we eschew these easy fixes.

I do understand (I think) that what you're advocating is a sort of mole; we sneak our way into the organization, then transform it from within.

If that's the approach, though -- shouldn't we be trying to infiltrate the Republican party itself, not diluting the Democratic "brand"?

Rana

(It's not like we had such great success selling Kerry as a non-liberal Democrat, right? So why do we want to keep repeating this strategy?)

Jay

You seem to think that this strategy entails getting elected; after that, a different strategy and tactics would apply.

Yes, I do think that to a degree. And I don't really apologize for it. I freely admit that I gave up on voting as a way to express my most deeply held values several elections ago and now look at it as an exercise in civic virtue where I try to make the best decision I can each time for myself and my fellow citizens. The triumph of pragmatism over idealism and all that.

But I think that there is room to adopt this philosophy without turning into a lying, sexist, corporate sellout. Example number one being Howard Dean. For all that people were excited about him running the DNC because he's "not being afraid to stand up for what he believes in," I'm just as happy because he has the Bill Clinton philosophy towards politics: when someone punches you in the nose you take a cleaver and whack their hand off.

I really think that our ambitions aren't that orthogonal in the end.

dale

Then there are people like me, who actually line up much better ideologically, for the most part, with Republicans, but who have always lived unhappily in the Democratic Party because we loathe Republican policies. We're not talking about changing or disguising our convictions -- these have always been our convictions. Every once in a while there seems to be some hope that the Democrats might treat us as partners, rather than contemptible pawns, so we peep a little -- just enough to get the clear message back that we will never be considered legitimate Democrats. So we shut up again.

Rana

Jay, I do think we're probably only about 15 degrees apart on this. Cursed language issues.

dale, I agree. There are some issues, like an energy policy that moves us beyond oil, that I think most people on both sides of the political spectrum can agree on. Heck, I was raised by an old-school Republican NRA member and an Independent.

The thing is, though, I'm not sure that the Democrats can really be all things to all people, and currently they're doing a pretty lousy job across a wide range of political stances. They're feeble leftists at best, ineffective liberals, wishy-washy centrists, and second-rate conservatives. While it's nice to have a big tent, it's also hard to chart a firm decisive path while everyone's bouncing around in that overly large tent.

This is part of the reason why I hate a winner-take-all two-party system; lack of focus, or leaving people out of the process. Neither is good.

dale

Well, to me the two-party system necessitates viewing the two parties as simply conglomerations of policies. But most people really want their politics wrapped up as an ideologically consistent package. That's the underlying problem here, I think. I don't like Democratic ideology -- insofar as it's possible to identify such a thing -- but I find their policy package a lot more palatable than that Republicans. So I keep voting for them. In a two-party system, now that I think of it, I really shouldn't be looking for anything more.

Rana

I don't like Democratic ideology -- insofar as it's possible to identify such a thing -- but I find their policy package a lot more palatable than that Republicans. So I keep voting for them.

Yes. This is pretty much the position my father finds himself in these days. The Democratic ideology, such as it is, doesn't entirely appeal to me either, over here on the left, but I vote for them in national elections for much the same reason.

bitchphd

The overwhelming impression I get is not of principled individuals struggling to find effective ways to defend and advance their system of values, but a bunch of popularity-obsessed nitwits desperately trying to be part of the cool kids' clique by picking on their fellow nerds.

This is how it feels to me too.

Rana

You know, now that the latest blog gender fuffarah is swirling around again, I'm seeing some interesting parallels. Hmm...

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Ravens