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August 23, 2008

Comments

"It's the Britney-Paris ticket."

One hopes that this is the election that the Society for the Advancement of Ignorance, Torture, and the Concentration of Wealth is laughed out of office, but probably not.

That Barack Obama, he's just doesn't know his place.

I'm increasingly taking the poker view: the last few weeks were to see what cards McCain would try and play. Biden nicely undoes a number of those gambits. What's McCain got left now? (Besides Romney.)

I thought you made that quote up until I clicked the link.

Well, you obviously can make this stuff up. But it will leave you feeling all slimy if you do so. Some people apparently enjoy the feeling.

Sure. And houses are like neck ties.

I never realized analogies could be so easy!

Okay, nothing too stupid on C-Span yet (aside from the callers, as usual), but I'm going to have to turn it off as Jim VandeHei gets into the deep analysis of how Obama and Biden were dressed. Couldn't they get Robin Givhan?

Do we suddenly have more vertical space between comments? I guess it makes it easier for people to tell that the attribution line goes with the comment above, but it seems excessive.

It's obvious Biden is only on the ticket because of affirmative action. Also, has anyone seen his birth certificate?

I am waiting with some interest to hear what Fred Clark has to say on Biden, him being a local boy and all....

Time for me to be sexist!

I have never imagined Joe Biden naked. Also, the Joe Biden sex tape? I'm not thinking its too popular.

(If there are senior Democratic statesmen groupies out there, I'd love to hear it, though.)

How long do you need to write about national politics before you stop writing "No one could possibly argue that..." or "No one would be so craven as to say..." in your articles?

With respect to both parties, the GOP in particular. Now excuse me while I go find the source of the "this ain't bean bag" quote.

Here it is: Finley Peter Dunne. The second part implies that politics should exclude women, children, and prohibitionists.

(If there are senior Democratic statesmen groupies out there, I'd love to hear it, though.)

Dear God no, please don't go there. The internet being what it is, there's bound to be some subgenre of slash fanfic out there just waiting, and I'm all out of brain bleach this week.

Also, has anyone seen his birth certificate?

Fox News is reporting that the certificate has been found, but it has the name Neil Kinnock crossed out and Biden's name written in instead. The kerning is being checked by experts as we speak...

Joe Biden. As Paris Hilton.

C'mon, don't you think he'd be totally hot in a bikini and pair of Jimmy Chos?

Accessories make the man, I always say.

Thanks -

OK, I enjoyed the above comments too, but this is a HUGE unsolved problem for the Democratic party and the progressive movement generally.

Republicans now dominate two of the three branches of government. They dominate the government, and they regularly win presidential elections, despite the fact that polls show voters do not agree with them- the voters want national health care, out of Iraq, etc. The Republicans can do this because they ALWAYS tell outrageous, extreme lies about the Democratic candidate. (Al Gore is an egomaniac subject to delusions that he invented the internet, John Kerry's wounds show he was running away, Obama is a drug-using terrorist Muslim who hates America, etc.)

The Democrats have never effectively countered this. Unfortunately, psychological research shows that there probably is no way of countering this- that people are hardwired to degrade their opinion of someone they've heard bad things about, even if it's clearly demonstrated that these things are not true. If, for example, I spend a fortune on TV ads that say "Hilzoy is an embezzling, baby-eating slut" people will not vote for her even if Hilzoy proves- PROVES- that she's none of these things. People apparently think, "well OK, she didn't embezzle THAT money, or eat THAT baby, but folks on TV wouldn't say that unless she'd done SOMETHING pretty bad..."

That's why the Republicans have a veritable industry of unaccountable surrogates (Coulter, Limbaugh, et all) who can- and regularly do- tell outrageous lies about Democrats. The internet makes adds to the problem, as the worst stuff spreads by email. And the John Edwards thing was a disaster- seemingly an outrageous slander spread by a despicable source, and it turned out to be true. Result: the next slander will be more readily believed.

We desperately need a reliable strategy to deal with this.

The Democrats have never effectively countered this.

A useful example might be Jim Webb's campaign against George Allen in VA.

You know, George FELIX Allen.

You don't even have to tell lies. You just have to make very, very clear that you won't take crap. You do that by not taking crap.

Webb was able to do that at kind of a street level that was appealing to a lot of people. I'm not sure Obama has that in him, but I think Biden does.

Biden's not my favorite guy, but I think he's a good choice for Obama's VP.

Thanks -

Anne E,

The problem is that our news media are neither analytical nor investigative. They rely almost entirely on narratives, which are much cheaper and easier to produce and are what the audience really wants (to tell the truth), especially if they arrive in the studio as a shrink wrapped gift from one of the political parties (just reheat and serve!). The Republicans have been much better at gaming this system than the Democrats have.

The Democrats need to get better at packaging themselves and their ideas as narratives - which is essentially the art of telling a story. We need better storytellers. FDR was the last really truly gifted story teller in Democratic clothes, although a few others (JFK, LBJ) have come close. Time will tell whether Obama measures up or not.

I'm wondering if hilzoy has caught the musical-titles bug.

Let me clarify something which I did a poor job of expressing in my previous comment:

"especially if they arrive in the studio as a shrink wrapped gift..." refers back to the "cheaper and easier to produce" part, in my last comment. I did not intend to imply a connection with "what the audience really wants".

"especially if they arrive in the studio as a shrink wrapped gift..." refers back to the "cheaper and easier to produce" part, in my last comment. I did not intend to imply a connection with "what the audience really wants".

Call me cynical, but I'm not so sure that most of the audience dislikes the current media's 'reporting.' Of course I'd like to hope that most Americans are sick of politics as usual and there just isn't an effective way of voicing that, but you never go broke underestimating the public.

Funkhauser, "Politics ain't beanbag: 'tis a man's game, and women, children 'n' pro-hy-bitionists had best stay out of it." was said by Finley Peter Dunne's character, Mr. Dooley.

A couple of other such quotes apply to today's Republican Party:

"A fanatic is a man who does what he thinks the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the case."

"A lie with a purpose is one of the worst kind, and the most profitable."

I suspect that many Republican consultants, when the English composition instructor said to make one's slogans pithy, thought that (s)he was thpeaking with a lithp.


10 Points for the first person who catches a McCain surrogate arguing that him owning between 3.14159265 and 12.i houses is a good thing because it's part of McCain's effort to prop up housing prices by soaking up excess supply.

Call me cynical, but I'm not so sure that most of the audience dislikes the current media's 'reporting.'

I agree. My correction was meant to point out that this is because the audience likes narratives (who doesn't like a good story, with good guys and bad guys, and a plot, and a nice moral at the end), not necessarily that it has to come shrink wrapped from one of the parties. That latter part just makes the media's job easier to do since they don't even have to go to the trouble of thinking up a narrative on their own time.

As far as the audience is concerned, it is all about having a good story line.

See sports coverage for an analog. Good (as in effective at drawing an audience) sports coverage is all about making up subplots. That is why some of the most effective political commentators today come from a sports journalism background (e.g., Rush, Keith). The parties are teams and their supporters and much of the audience are fans.

The only difference is that in the sports world the color commentators do a much more effective job of hiding their sympathies and pretending to be neutral.

Think about how much the TV coverage of our political campaigns resembles a sports broadcast:

- The story line is consistently about who is currently ahead "on points".

- The preference for a desk chaired by a small (1-3 usually) number of primary commentators who give a play-by-play account of the main events, with a larger panel providing color commentary during breaks in the "action".

- The use of former practitioners for color commentary.

- A reliance on short snippets of video to encapsulate and summarize larger events in the same manner as a sports highlights show like ESPN's Sports Center.

- The use of graphics and charts is following in the footsteps of the techniques developed for visual presentation of statistical information in the sports world.

- The studio set design is the same, and has been copied from the sports world.

The political candidates should be hiring consultants from the production side of sports broadcasting, if they want to do a more effective job of presenting themselves in today's MSM.

ThatLeftTurn:

Your comments about the importance of narratives is spot-on, but I think the Republican use of outrageous lies is the main reason the Democratics never succeed in deploying a successful narrative.

Kerry had a narrative in 2004, remember? It was "proven war hero reporting for duty". (The SAME narrative McCain is successfully using today.) Kerry's narrative flopped because the Swift Boaters raised enough doubt about Kerry's war record that voters basically decided "hard to tell what really happened, better not take a chance on him".

If McCain was running as a Democrat, I absolutely guarantee that the "confession of war crimes" that he made under torture would be all over the right-wing media, and they would label it "TREASON".

If FDR were running today- well he really WAS an insulated, elitist rich guy until he got polio. Rush Limbaugh would be ranting about the hypocrisy of a man of the people living on inherited money, and Ann Coulter would be insinuating that he was practically insane because of the polio!

I'd like to see a national educational mandate for a media deconstruction class, taught in every grade from at least 4th on up. Start with TV commercials, move on to speeches and what is left out of a news story. If it turns out there's time, you could add an advanced segment in spotting statistical manipulation techniques.

In other words, we should revive the trivium as a defensive technique.

It's a pipe dream, of course. Parents would be outraged that we were teaching their little darlings to question the preacher, toy corporations would squelch the idea before it got started, and political parties would never stand for it.

But wouldn't it be nice?

Anne, what do you think Charles Coughlin did say about Roosevelt? I'm not sure anybody came up with the polio-insanity meme, but they sure called him a hypocrite, a communist, a secret Jew (real name, "Rosenfelt"), etc., etc. There was a good one about how he sent a fleet to retrieve Fala after leaving him behind.

This stuff isn't new.

But wouldn't it be nice?
What a grand dream.

That was an essential element of the teaching of Rhetoric. Looked at askance it was the means of manipulating an audience; but more importantly it was the means for an audience to see through manipulation.
A professor of Rhetoric once memorably pointed out to me that the arts of rhetoric and democracy developed at the same time and place and understanding rhetoric was central to the health of democracy.

Kerry had a narrative in 2004, remember? It was "proven war hero reporting for duty".

Problem is, it isn't much of a narrative, is it? So what happens after the war hero reports for duty? Who is he going to fight and win against?

You need to have a cast of both good guys and bad guys, a plot with a real story arc, and a satisfying conclusion where "good defeats evil and the hero beds the heroine* ", to steal a phrase from Roger Zelazny.

*(or the odd congressional page, as the case may be)

The GOP tells better stories than the Democrats do. They are pitching "Star Wars" while we are showing up with "Goodnight Moon" and "The Little Engine that Could".

One of the reasons they tell better stories is that a ripping good yarn needs an antagonist who is worth hating, and the Republicans are more comfortable declaring somebody to be an unambiguous object of hate than the Democrats are.

The only really good hate object the Dems have had in years is George W. Bush, and he's been very conveniently written out of the script for this year's drama. In fact, he is in danger of being turned into a sort of national scapegoat for everything which has gone wrong for the last 8 years, leaving the GOP (who of course had nothing to do with anything that happened during the Bush administration) to fight this year's election on the basis of circa 1999-2000 party loyalties, as if we'd all just woken up from a national coma.

The GOP tells better stories than the Democrats do...

One of the reasons they tell better stories is that a ripping good yarn needs an antagonist who is worth hating, and the Republicans are more comfortable declaring somebody to be an unambiguous object of hate than the Democrats are.

I think that really nails one of the Republican's reasons for success. To extend the story metaphor, I have no problem hating Sauron and some generic orcs. They're evil and that's all there is to it. Its pretty hard to empathize or have sympathy for someone (or something) that's utterly incapable of doing good. On the other hand, I kind of understand Gollum. Of course he's not a good guy by any stretch, but he does do good things. And of course the elves, hobbits, and dwarves are standing strong against evil incarnate.

Democrats (or more generally liberals) are just like the orcs to a lot on the right: we only have evil intentions and only care about ourselves and our power. Listen to Rush Limbaugh (and if you can take more than 10 minutes, I salute you) and all you'll hear is that everything is about amassing power. Conservatives, on the other hand, are the hobbits and the elves and all the good guys. And even when they do bad things, well nobody's perfect.

To be honest, the ease with which the bat sh!t conservatives label liberals as evil scares me a little. Being the opposition is one thing, but being the enemy is entirely different. Opponents are equals to be defeated, enemies are to be destroyed.

"What's McCain got left now? (Besides Romney.)"

Just as Obama didn't want to pick Hillary, I've always gotten the feeling McCain doesn't want Romney -- although, in many ways, I think that makes the most sense.

I just don't see all of this conjecture about Lieberman or Tom Ridge. Just when McCain has whipped up his base, I think a pro-choice sidekick would really knock the enthusiasm out of the GOP balloon.

That seems to leave Pawlenty -- or Romney.

Or McCain might be going back to the drawing board.

I'm not sure if his camp knows how to best counter the Biden pick -- which is stupid thinking. McCain should go with the guy he thinks is best for the job, which Obama did.

Good time to be a Democrat: Our No. 2 choice, to me, is every bit as presidential as the top of the ticket for the Republicans.

Gosh, yes, just exactly like Paris Hilton.

He's ridden the train home to Delaware every working night of his four terms as Senator to be with his sons.

It occurred to me that for all Bill Kristol's gnashing of teeth about Hillary Clinton, this is actually quite good for her in a way. Biden will probably be too old to run in 8 years, and that means that there will not be a Democratic heir apparent, if Obama wins.

Further to FDR and polio and Republicans:
There is an old anecdote, which I suppose is true, but I've no good source for, about that.

Eleanor Roosevelt addressed some classy ladies' group, and in the question period some classy lady asked very sweetly if the polio had affected the President's mind. Mrs Roosevelt replied, with due upper-class fake politeness, that it had indeed affected his mind: it had given him a new understanding of the victims of terrible afflictions.

The brain-damage idea never got much traction.

We need Democrats like those two. Which reminds me, Michelle Obama's turn is coming soon. You may think she has already been attacked; and Hillary Clinton may think she's seen misogyny, and she's right; but the real fun hasn't started yet. Pretty soon all that's happened so far will look like mere good-natured joshing. Not going to work, though, if the campaign is now issuing licenses to fight back.

Usually the brain damage is attributed to syphilis not polio but I don't know whether anyone in the US insinuated that (the Nazis did, although Churchill was the more "popular" target for that).
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I'd not be surprised, if the GOP smear artists tried to use Biden's son's (coming) service in Iraq against him (I could think of at least 3 ways).
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I'd not put it beyond them to claim that Biden is too old for the job and lacking fresh experience because he was in the Senate too long.
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Bill Kristol accuses Obama of sexism for not choosing Hillary Clinton and preferring the loser Biden to her, the near-winner.


I'd like to see a national educational mandate for a media deconstruction class, taught in every grade from at least 4th on up. Start with TV commercials, move on to speeches and what is left out of a news story. If it turns out there's time, you could add an advanced segment in spotting statistical manipulation techniques.

In other words, we should revive the trivium as a defensive technique.


That was an essential element of the teaching of Rhetoric. Looked at askance it was the means of manipulating an audience; but more importantly it was the means for an audience to see through manipulation.
A professor of Rhetoric once memorably pointed out to me that the arts of rhetoric and democracy developed at the same time and place and understanding rhetoric was central to the health of democracy.

Excellent points both, although the curriculum would need to be updated to deal with visuals as images are much more prevalent and powerful in our post-literate culture.

"It's the Britney-Paris ticket."

Calling it the Obama bin Biden ticket will have a better effect.

...if the desired effect is to make the speaker sound like an utter moron.

Isn't that the desired effect of using "Democrat Party", Gromit?

ThatLeftTurn: this isn’t intended as an adversarial or argumentative post, since I think this is a hugely important issue for Democrats/Progressives to figure out. You are really helping me fine-tune my thinking! (Not, of course, that Obama, Clinton, or Biden are lining up to receive my brilliant insights…)

I agree that “proven war hero reporting for duty” is not much of a narrative. (For example, it’s obviously possible that a hero not be very smart. Forrest Gump, anyone?) What concerns me is that this “not-much-of-a-narrative” is WORKING for McCain (does he have ANYTHING to offer beyond “former POW”?) but it did NOT work for John Kerry. We need to understand why.

I’d totally agree that Bill Clinton did mount an effective narrative (“came from dirt-poor trailer-trash underclass- as a result, he cares about people like you”). Yet a similar narrative (“son of a single mom- family needed food stamps- scholarship student”) is not working for Obama. Why not? I’d also point out that Clinton’s successes- both of them- depended on Ross Perot taking a large number of Republican votes. (Also, both Bush41 and Bob Dole were less than stellar candidates.)

I’d also have to say- how did GWB get “conveniently written out of this year’s drama”? In 2000, Clinton’s adultery was hung around Al Gore’s neck, despite the fact that (as far as anyone knows) Gore has been an exemplary husband and father. Yet McCain gets to shed GWB, despite the fact that their policy ideas are the same? Why is this happening, and why do we let it happen?

Anne E: What concerns me is that this "not-much-of-a-narrative" is WORKING for McCain (does he have ANYTHING to offer beyond "former POW"?) but it did NOT work for John Kerry. We need to understand why.

There is a simple answer to that -- the Winter Soldier investigation and Kerry's subsequent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.

You and I may regard that as courage but we are probably in a minority.

Anne E, what makes you believe that Clinton's narrative worked and Obama's isn't working, especially if you think Clinton's win depended on Perot? (As I recall, polls showed Perot drew equally from Clinton and Bush, with some Perot voters who wouldn't have voted at all if he weren't in the race, but Perot's presence during the campaign pushing anti-Bush points no doubt helped.)

KCinDC- I agree my last post was probably logically inconsistent (Clinton's narrative worked, but he only won because of Perot). That's ok, because I'm in brainstorming mode here- consistency is not my priority, enlightenment is.

I had thought the polls indicated that Perot's voters came mostly from Republican ranks, while adding some folk who normally didn't vote. I might be biased because my ex- with whom I was living in 1992 and 1996- is an extreme conservative from rural Lousiana. He voted for Perot in 1992 and 1996 to protest deficit spending under Reagan and Bush41. He would literally have died before voting for a Democrat.

I remember polls from the time of the Clinton impeachment that indicated that a majority of voters thought "yes, he's a lying, cheating, perjuring slime, but he does care about low income Americans". By contrast, Obama has been successfully branded as an arugula-eating upper class twit (despite his modest beginnings, and despite the fact that his arugula statement in no way indicated that he ate the stuff!)

This might be TMI, but I grew up with a mentally ill father who regularly beat me (severely). When I asked my mother to protect me, she always told me that I had it better than children who had died in the Armenian famine. How is this relevant? When McCain is asked "what are you going to do about this or that problem that middle class Americans face?" he ALWAYS replies "hey, that's not as bad as my time as a POW". However, just as my mother should have aspired for something better for her children than dying in a famine, McCain should seek something better for the American people than what he experienced as a POW.

Anne E,

re: your TMI story, I'm very sorry that this happened, you must be a very strong person to have come thru it. Good for you, and bless you. No need to reply on this topic if you don't wish to, I just wanted to send supportive thoughts.

re: the political topic, I'm very much in favor of exploratory thought and analysis, so no need to apologise, I certainly didn't read any adversarial tone in anything that you wrote. As for argumentative, that's part of what we are here for, isn't it? You don't need to be deferential, please do weigh in as I always like to get help in taking my half baked speculations and trying to make something useful out of them.

With regard to the differences between the Kerry and McCain Vietnam vet narratives, I see several differences.

One is that McCain has a more supportive media, although there are a few cracks starting to show in the facade just recently. For example Joe Klein, Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, and on occasion Chris Matthews seem to be adjusting their attitudes as McCain-narrative-fatigue sets in, and these are pundits who normally would be faithfully enrolled in the MSM clone army as a sort of occupational hazard.

[Darth Vader voiceover: "I find your lack of faith dis-turb-ing...pwurrr-shiishhh", raises hand and makes choking gesture. Gurgling noises ensue...]

Another is that Kerry's biography was in some ways more complex and ambiguous as a result of the Winter Soliders investigation, as ral noted above.

A third, which ties in with my point above, is that McCain's story has a very clear and concrete set of antagonists (his captors and jailors), which were lacking in Kerry's case. In a simple story, the hero is opposed by a villain (or some reasonably compact set of villains). Who is the villain, in Kerry's story? What did he do to overcome them?

I think that is part of the difference between Democratic and Republican narratives - the GOP stories have a clear cut cast of villains, and the Democrats do not.* Look for contrasts there rather than looking just at the heroes of these stories.

*I think some of this is a result of the Democratic preference for sociological explanations, which have the side effect of depersonalizing the issues, making for colorless and/or faceless villains and boring narratives as a result.

Regarding the politics of the 1992 election, my recollection is that Perot's effect in that election was broader than just which side he took votes away from. He was an anti-establishment candidate (inevitable with a 3rd party), and that changed the overall narrative of the campaign into more of a referendum on GHB that it would have been without Perot in the race, which allowed Bill Clinton the luxury of running as an agent of change without having to do so much heavy lifting making a positive case for himself.

I think Obama was hoping to gain a similar position in this election, but McCain has succeeded in making this election a referendum on Obama rather than on George W. Bush, because the latter has faded into near invisibility so far as the news is concerned. Our very future oriented media culture is no longer interested in any of that old stuff from the past, which is oh-so-last-year.

On re-read, I don't think I made my main point very well. What I meant to say was this: McCain is using the POW thing as an all-purpose excuse to say up front that he has no intention whatever to address the issues that concern low income and middle class Americans. In a very real sense, he is saying "because I was a POW, I can run for president WITHOUT being expected to address the economic issues a president is normally expected to address".

Mortgage crisis, unemployment? "Hey, I didn't have a kitchen table in the Hanoi Hilton." Health care system unraveling? "I got no health care for five and a half years". I'm not even exagerating for effect- McCain is literally saying precisely these things.

As far as I can see, McCain wants to be president so he can be commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and has no intention of exercising any other aspect of the president's responsibility. He doesn't even seem to realize the president HAS any other responsibilities.

As regards Obama "losing the narrative" to McCain? I blame laziness in the media. Most voters literally do not know that McCain has flipped on every single issue since his insurgent days. We really need a way to get that message out. I'm getting VERY frustrated with Obama's apparent inabilty to do so.

Dear Hilzoy: I trust you are well.

And I continue to have only CONTEMPT and scorn for Obama. The fact he chose Joe Biden as his running mate increaes my contempt for Obama.

Why? Because, by choosing a pro abortion, safely liberal "Catholic" Obama is making a crassly transparent ploy to win Catholic votes. reject Joe Biden because of his DISHONESTY in claiming to be Catholic while still supporting abortion. Does Obama really think all Catholics are that stupid?

Sorry, Joe Biden STRENGTHENS my determination to vote for Senator McCain.

Sincerely, Sean

Does Obama really think all Catholics are that stupid?

No, he expects them to read Matthew 25:31-46. Single-issue concern trolls voters who wouldn't vote for "The AntiChrist" wouldn't be convinced by a VP pick.

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