Friday, December 31, 2004

Mea Culpa

I owe Joe Trippi an apology. In my previous post about campaign consultants I unfairly lumped him in with some of the worst examples of political consultancy and completely misstated his actual power within the Dean campaign.

Here is Joe's response to that post:

Uh....I had absolutely zero control of the Dean campaign's check book. Governor Dean specifically placed someone in the campaign who was in charge of budget and spending because of the situation to describe. The fact is that at the time of my hiring I told the Governor that I did not want to get paid -- it is also fairly well documented that I received $165,000 for the 13 months of work on the Dean campaign. And Alice is right consultants try to get hired by the winner before the race even starts -- the front runner almost always has more money and you end up with a better win/loss record. So you got to wonder what I was thinking when I went to work for a guy who was zero in the polls, had less than $100,000 in the bank, and when he wanted to hire me I told him I didn't want to be paid. Could it maybe, just maybe, be that I actually gave a shit?

Also in defense of the 8 time loser rap on Shrum and others -- I could point out that since 1968 63 Democrats have run for Pres

Thanks for the clarification Joe. I knew that you weren't in charge of the money, but it was one of those facts that slipped through the cracks. I can only plead temporary insanity.

I still think it's irresponsible to keep putting people with losing records in charge of important campaigns like Kerry's. That "63 Democrats" number means that Shrum has been in charge of 1/8 of all Democratic presidential campaigns since 1968 and every one a loser. That's not exactly an inspirational record. Is it really a surprise that many Democrats might start questioning that kind of record and why Dems keep hiring the guy?

(BTW, I have heard from others that Shrum has a much better record running state level races. Maybe he should stick to what he is good at.)

The title to that post was facetious. I don't really want to kill the consultants. I just want the campaigns to be more like Dean's, where it was the supporters that were the #1 force (in tandem with the candidate of course) and the consultants are only in service to that force.

The payment structure for consultants can be a corrupting influence even if the consultants themselves are not corrupt. Worse, it can also breed suspicion within the minds of the campaign supporters. A fact I am sure you, Joe, are well aware of considering some of the criticism you received from Deaniacs after the Dean campaign imploded. When Democratic leaders start losing the trust of their supporters then the party is really in deep crap.

Still, I shouldn't have lumped you in so casually with this criticism since you are an innovator in the very thing I am advocating. For that I am profoundly sorry. It was both a thrill and a horror to see that you read this little old blog of mine (the horror being the context). I hope you will stick around.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

"My nation is silent"

The best disaster eyewitness interview

(Courtesy The World)

Right-Wing Safari

I've generally avoid most right-wing blogs because any time I have read them it has usually resulted in nothing but increased blood pressure. I've decided, as part of my effort to expand my horizons in the blogosphere, to start paying more attention. I won't be following most of them on a regular basis, but I will use the DAOU REPORT as a launch point for explorations into right-winger land.

This paid off already earlier today when I followed a link to an interesting post by Patrick Ruffini. While Patrick speaks from a different perspective than myself, he still offered some useful insights into what Republicans did right in 2004.

Maybe this won't be all that bad?

Of course, now I went and read a post by Adam Yoshida. The shorter version: All our present problems are because Bush didn't go far enough. On 9/11 he should have declared war on the evil that is Islam and dropped a few nukes on Afghanistan. No one would think we were wimps after that!

Ah well.

First thing we do, kill all the political consultants!

Reading the reports of Bob Shrum (8 time loser consultant) getting paid $5 million by the Kerry campaign brings up an obvious question: why aren't these consultants fees at least partially based on whether the candidate actually wins?

How about a double-up bonus? Double your consultants fees if the candidate wins! As it is, the current consultant payment scheme the Democrats use doesn't appear to have any incentive for winning.

How are the American people to trust Democrats when they say they can manage money better than Republicans when those same Democrats keep paying millions of dollars to losers like Shrum?

(Note: Dean isn't immune from this criticism either since Joe Trippi had a similar stranglehold on that campaign's money.)

Update: Just noticed on the discussion linked above that the idea of a "win bonus" is being discussed. Someone made the valid point that such bonuses would encourage consultants to gravitate towards only sure thing candidates, thus hurting dark horses. Perhaps there is a way this could be structured that the impact of this wouldn't cause much problems but would still create the incentive necessary to get the consultants on the side of the candidate that hired them.

Lessons Learned

Speaking of learning from the other side, Patrick Ruffini writes in response to the same Washington Post story linked previously and adds some interesting insight into the effectiveness of 527 groups and blogs:

Case in point: The Media Fund spent $135 million on TV ads, but never got a dime of earned media beyond the perfunctory process stories. Why? Not because they couldn't "coordinate" with the Kerry campaign -- the excuse Tad Devine and Harold Ickes would have you believe. But because they were cookie cutter and focus-grouped-to-death on outsourcing and prescription drugs and they weren't interesting. And if you're working outside the Presidential campaign and you're trying to get attention, you have to be more interesting and more outrageous than the candidate. The Democratic 527s were neither.

In the smaller ambit of blogs -- smaller just for now -- there was quite a bit of debate on which side had done a better side mobilizing blogs. Pre-GOP convention and pre-Rathergate, this debate was focused primarily on money. These discussions tended to overlook the blogosphere's potential importance in driving stories and changing the campaign environment in which money was spent. A week later Rathergate hit. It changed the way people think, and it turned out to be orders of magnitude more important than all the money contributed through blogs this cycle. Important voices like Power Line, Captain Ed, Blogs for Bush and Red State were able to jolt the MSM from its rotational axis not because they were better funded, but because they were more interesting.

Patrick's point about independent expenditure groups (527s like MoveOn, Media Fund, etc.) is spot on. They work best, I think, when they push the borders of political dialogue in ways that the official campaigns cannot. The Swift Boat Veterans were a prime example of this. The Bush campaign would have been ripped to shreds if they had pushed the crap the Swifties did (as it is they still got some heat because everyone knew that the Swifties were working with approval from the GOP even if no one could prove it.) I might disagree with Patrick that none of the Democratic 527s pushed the outrageous envelope. But they certainly didn't do it to the extent that the Republican groups did.

His point about blogs being used to push stories into the mainstream media is also correct, though I think he doesn't give due credit to the coordination with the other wings of the Republican machine that makes that possible. Left wing blogs simply don't have an equivalent to FOX nor are they likely to any time soon.

But, just as important is the fact that the Democratic party has not yet fully recognized the utility of left wing blogs like the Republican party has. The GOP pays attention to the chatter on the right side of the blogosphere and when something interesting pops up they figure out how to use it to their advantage. The Democratic party, on the other hand, appears to run away from any kind of association with the more colorful elements of the lefty blogosphere. There are plenty of examples of important stories breaking in Democratic friendly blogs, but rarely do you see the party pushing those stories into the mainstream.

Its this form of Democratic elitism that hurts the party the most.

Political Modernization

Over on the New Democrat Network blog there is an interesting post on technological modernization (link). It is a response to Washington Post article on the GOP's own technological mastery (link). The Republicans, under their incoming RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, have become very good at integrating market research methodology into their political apparatus. NDN says that Democrats need a leader who can do a similar job for them (e.g., Simon Rosenberg, who just happens to be the head of NDN :-).

I'm all for this. But we shouldn't become to enamored of whiz-bang technology. Modernization shouldn't be seen as a panacea. It is just one of the many things Democrats need to get better. We should be careful not to get into a political technology race simply because we will never be able to match the Republicans dollar-for-dollar in their market research efforts.

Nor do I think Democrats have to. 

Democrats have one advantage over Republicans in the race for political hearts and minds: the people are naturally inclined to vote Democratic. Why do I say that? Because, traditionally, Republicans outspend Democrats 2 or 3 to 1. Yet Democrats, despite that disparity, continue to remain competitive in the political arena. This tells me that, given an election without all the market research and Madison avenue glitz, the people are more inclined to vote for Democrats than Republicans. It is through their monetary advantage that Republicans are able to persuade some of those voters over to their side.

Democrats should know their strengths and work with them rather than simply adopting a "take what works for the Republicans and replicate it" strategy. We should always be willing to learn lessons from what works for the other side. But we should take those lessons and integrate them into the Democratic way of doing things. We shouldn't just graft them onto the Democratic body politic like some kind of weird Frankenstein experiment.

That's the kind of mistake the DLC has made.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Time for business to reconsider its support for Republicans?

Brand America not such a hot commodity anymore.

More additions

MaxSpeak, You Listen!


I must once again recommend Jeffrey Feldman's excellent Frameshop series of diaries over on the DailyKOS. Link over and subscribe. He's doing yeoman's work on this stuff.

Following up

Say, whatever happened with this? Anyone gotten any responses from the FCC?

Also added

The Rude Pundit

Lean Left

We're sorry for your loss, now pay up!

Is it any wonder that America has a bad image when shit like this happens?

And remember, this was the way American officials treated American citizens!

"It's my job to be impatient"

I like this Jan "don't be stingy" Egeland guy. He may have backtracked slightly from his initial comment, but his slap to the face of certain parties has resulted in the kind of action that needs to happen.

[Egeland] praised the rapid international response to the crisis, singling out the United States and Europe for their generosity.

Countries have contributed or pledged nearly $100 million in the first few days after the disaster “and it is going up,” Egeland told CNN. “It’s a massive, massive relief effort.”

But “it is sad that there has been a global decline in money available for foreign assistance and humanitarian assistance — and that happens in a growing world economy,” he added. “It’s my job to be impatient, I’ve seen too many starving children.”

Words fail

100,000 and growing

Emergency Action

Check out the Emergency Action Blog for more on what you can do to help.

Feel the Links, again

Special mention should go to Avedon Carol's Sideshow. Avedon does an excellent job of linking to other blogs. It's even a regular feature to highlight stuff from around the blogosphere.

Blogroll Update

Also added:

Bad Attitudes

Seeing The Forest

Helping out

Suburban Guerrilla has a good set of links for making donations to help out the tsunami victims.

Feel the Links

Given my recent comments about the need for bloggers on the left to increase linking to other blogs I figure it behooves me to follow through. As such, here are some new additions to my blogroll.


Crooks and Liars


Louded Mouth


Through the Looking Glass

Blogger Tsunami Challenge

LoudedMouth has issued a Blogger Tsunami Challenge.


Barbara O'Brien of The American Street has some good comments on Stingygate(tm).

Don't Think of an Elephant

One of the arguments George Lakoff has made is that the simple denial of an accusation can add weight to that accusation. He uses the example of Nixon's "I am not a crook" comment. Before he made it, few people openly talked about the possibility that Nixon might be a crook. But, once he uttered that famous phrase, the question of Nixon's crookedness became topic #1 on everyone's lips.

I am reminded of this by the recent events surrounding the disaster in southeast Asia. The United States initially pledged $15 million dollars towards the relief effort. This was actually the largest initial pledge of any country, but it garnered some criticism for its paltry size when compared to the magnitude of the catastrophe and the economic power of the United States. Comparisons of the amount to the estimated $40 million being spent on Bush's inaugural didn't help any.

An obscure UN official named Jan Egeland made a comment about richer nations being "stingy" in their pledges. He didn't specifically name the United States, but the Bush administration was quick to respond to the comment as if it were directed at them. Colin Powell made the rounds of the morning talk shows yesterday angrily stating that "The United States is not stingy."

Mr. Powell, meet Mr. Nixon.

Now the question on everyone's lips is whether the United States really has done enough (the pledge has been raised to nearly $45 million now, but that is still pretty "stingy" compared to the magnitude of the disaster). It has forced Bush himself to come forward and answer the criticisms (though only in a taped statement). Thus elevating the story to an even higher level.

I am unsure whether the accusation is a fair one, at least as far as the initial dollar amounts are concerned. Powell and other administration defenders are right that this was only the initial amount and latter funds would follow once a clearer assessment of where those funds were needed had been made.

But, as public relations go, there presentation on this matter is quickly turning into a disaster. The money is really not the issue. It's the attitude that matters even more. Bush's refusal to cut his vacation short looks bad compared to the quick responses of people like German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who did what Bush has not. The administrations subsequent comments dismissing "feel your pain" type public appearances at the site of disaster areas completely misses the point. Yes, these are a form of political grandstanding, but they also reassure disaster victims that public officials really are taking their pain seriously.

And Powell's response to the "stingy" issue just makes the administration look defensive, which makes them look guilty, which just adds weight to the initial criticism.

Well, at least the cloud of the tsunami disaster has at least one silver lining.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Blogger nationalism, Part III

An anonymous commenter over on Cernig's blog made the point that some people just don't like blogs that are nothing more than collections of links to other blogs:

I prefer to read posts that are written by a person, rather than look up loads of links proving points.
In fact, if there is a post with loads of links I usually ignore it.
Anybody can quote any other body these days to back them up, and the fact that many people ignore the links leaves the impression that the poster has proved a point because he has lots of back-up.
In fact, the opposite is usually true.
I am interested in what comes out of a person's head when he needs it, and not what comes out of a computer when he is lost for words.
Besides, the best learning experience is listening to other people's opinions.

This comment is very telling. I have at least one leftist friend who gets very upset at me when I just send him links to stories I find interesting and/or that convey some of what I am trying to say. His feeling is that unless I can express my thought in my own words without using the crutch of someone else's thoughts then it just isn't worth his time to read it.

There appear to be some in the blogosphere, such as this anonymous commenter, who hate blogs that are nothing more then collections of links to other blogs. They want original content, not warmed over hash.

I can understand, but it misses the point: a lot of people like warmed over hash. It's the way they are used to receiving the information they need to get through life. They don't have a lot of time for four course meals. They just want their Big Mac and their Super Sized fries, thank you very much.

The last sentence of this comment betrays another aspect of this mindset: it assumes that everyone else wants a "learning experience". This is a faulty assumption. Many people do not have that drive to learn more. They think they've learned all they need to know and anyone who tries to convince them otherwise just comes off as a pushy busy body. To that type of person, a blogger that devotes most of their content to elucidating new thoughts is just a show off.

But a person who can present their thoughts in small bite-sized portions (such as a quick reference to a more substantial bit of reporting/thinking) is a much more appetizing meal for their minds.

I really don't know if this is inherent in the nature of left-wing vs. right-wing thought. It may just be that the egghead syndrome has found its home on the left these days, but could just as easily reside on the right at other times. I strongly suspect that left-wing thought can be presented in bite-sized portions that are consumable by the vast hordes of people who just don't have the desire to engage in a new "learning experience". But the left has become enamored not just in its own thought processes but appears to revel in looking down on the low-brow nature of right-wing thought.

This attitude of, "if it isn't original and illuminating than it isn't worth my time" is a form of elitism and it isn't a surprise that it turns off the masses.

Hell, it turns me off and I usually agree with what the "elitists" are saying.

More Blogger Nationalism

Yesterday I commented on a post by Jesse Taylor where Jesse talks about how, in the blogosphere, the right is better at promoting lesser known voices than the left is. Instapundit, the most widely read right-wing blog, devotes nearly all of its content to links to other blogs while the most popular blogs on the left (Atrios, Kos) sometimes actually look down on this practice. Atrios does a fairly good job of pointing out other people's work, but I never get the sense that Duncan is doing so out of any sense of obligation to elevate those people's opinions. DailyKOS, on the other hand, has gone the community/diary blogging route which has created another layer of incestuous linking (diarists link to each other more than they do to other blogs).

I must confess that I didn't actually read the blog post by Cernig that inspired Jesse's post (how ironic <snerk>). If I had I would have read some really good thoughts on this whole phenomena:

A few days ago, I was reading comments on one of the big liberal blogs that complained about how the largest right-wing bloggers seem to find, groom and promote other right-wing bloggers. The gist of the comments were that it was all a conspiracy to find extra propagandists for the Republicans, extra mouthpieces to spout Bush's agenda. The comments seemed incredibly shortsighted to me. For one, magazines like Capitalism Magazine or Reason are continually publishing new work from new commentators because they, like MichNews online, realise that fresh voices, fresh perspectives, on their shared ideology are a very healthy thing. Without encouraging new blood, a movement can too easily become trapped into incestious back-patting and stagnate - exactly what MoveOn have accused the DNC of doing. Secondly, even if it is all a right-wing plot, why the hell not? It's an incredibly effective tactic to raise up another friendly voice and say "our opinions are not exactly the same on every issue but we recognise our common ground is greater than our differences", far more effective than the faction fighting which may yet become the club which the right will beat the progressive movement to death with. If liberals are elitist amongst themselves, what chance of convincing the man or woman in the street to vote against the right?

I don't want to go so far as to say that the top bloggers on the left really are elitist. But it would be perfectly natural for them to fall into the trap of only linking to each other and less and less often to the "insignificant microbes". That the left blogosphere appears more susceptible to this problem gives rise to the question: is there something inherent in leftist/progressive politics that leads to this kind of self-imposed isolationism?

Like Cernig, I will acknowledge that this kind of post may just be interpreted as sour grapes. But that is really besides the point. I don't want to promote myself (well, I do, but promoting myself is not the point of this post). The point is whether this is a real problem and, if it is, what do we do about it?

Tough Sell

Plan for Social Security relies on an immediate, familiar Bush strategy

WASHINGTON -- The run-up to President Bush's plan to deal with Social Security is looking a lot like the run-up to his plan to deal with Saddam Hussein.

The expected Social Security shortfall has been a perennial domestic concern in much the same way that Hussein's intransigence with arms inspectors was a perennial foreign-policy concern: From the White House to Congress to think tanks, policy makers worried about it, but presidents (including Bush) felt no immediate need to deal with it.

Then Bush decided to focus on it, and suddenly a long-term concern became intense and immediate.

"Perennial concerns" are a common feature of governance. Every government in the world has had to deal with problems that persists for long periods of time (short like the last decade with Saddam, long like the centuries long conflict over the holy land). These are frustrating problems because, despite the best efforts of the most honorable men and women, they remain unfixable. Often what happens in these cases is not a permanent solution but a acceptable stalemate (e.g., the "One China" policy with respect to Taiwan). These compromises may not eliminate the problem, but they keep the problem from blooming into a full blown crisis.

That kind of solution is not acceptable to George W. Bush. Bush doesn't like stalemates. He doesn't like problems that continue to itch at the edge of his consciousness. He just wants the problem to go away.

This is an understandable position. Who among us wouldn't want those bothersome problems to "just go away"? Who among us wouldn't be tempted to use the vast powers at Bush's disposal to do just that?

But that isn't how the real world works. Attempts to make the problems "just go away" usually create even worse problems in their wake. Maturity requires understanding that you can't fix every problem. It requires accepting a certain level of disorder in order to prevent an even greater level of chaos.

If you really tried to kill every disease carrying germ in your body you'd kill yourself in the process.

Unfortunately, this kind of realism doesn't sell politically. George W. Bush's "just fix it dammit!" has much greater appeal. The problem for us in dealing with Bush is to make realism an acceptable alternative again.

Reality is a tough sell.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Defining victory

Markos Zuniga gives Salon and its readers a crash course in the philosophy behind the new politics:

Editor's note: In an item assessing the rise and fall of political blogs in 2004, Salon's cover story on Monday included the following quote: "Readers of Daily Kos funneled half a million dollars to a 'Kos dozen' of congressional candidates, and every single one of those lost at the polls." Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the man behind Daily Kos, argues that Salon has missed the point.

The point, as I wrote repeatedly on the site, was not to win those contests. It was to contest as many seats as possible that the party was ignoring. I personally helped Stan Matsunaka get in the race against Marylin Musgrave, and Daily Kos readers pumped in nearly $60K into the race. For that investment, Musgrave had to spend $3 million of her own money, and the NRCC had to spend another $2 million, in order to eke out a 51 percent victory.

That district went from being uncontested four months before the election, to costing the GOP $5 million to defend. That's $5 million that couldn't be used in more at-risk seats.

This is a point I've been trying to make since the "failed" Dean campaign. Victory in politics is not simply a matter of who wins or loses a particular race. The victor is the one who controls the political dialog and can direct the policy direction of the political community for the near term. The latter certainly requires electoral victory because without it you simply don't have the power of the state to back up your policy proposals. But the former is a more amorphous goal that can be achieved without necessarily winning more votes than the other guy. If you can dictate the pace of the campaign and the message of the campaign then you are controlling the political dialog. Dean succeeded at this by forcing the Democratic party to start paying attention to whole swaths of its constituency that it had come to ignore. And, as Markos points out, many Democrats forced Republicans to change their political calculations in the face of unexpected threats.

Yes, this did not ultimately translate to electoral victory. But would not having run these campaigns have done any better? Indeed, would allowing the Republicans to get away unchallenged have allowed them to achieve even greater electoral success? Winning also means not losing and Democrats didn't lose all that many elections this cycle. It could have been considerably worse. Indeed, I am convinced that a non-Dean goaded Kerry probably would have lost by a considerable margin in 2004.

A central message of 2004 is that we must not be dismissive of success just because it isn't as successful as we would like. I have been saying for some time now that reversing the trends of the last 30 years could take an equal 30 years of effort. That we came as close as we did to unseating a war-time President as we did speaks volumes. It is a hint that it may not take us the 30 years I previously thought it would take.

I remain optimistic about the future.

Framing != Lying

Chris Nolan responds to some of the responses he has gotten to his criticism of Lakoff (not mine in particular):

Well, my problem with Lakoff is a little different. I think the Lefty fascination with his emphasis on how things are said belies a condescension that persists among a lot of "progressives," a word Lakoff favors instead of "liberal." The idea, as far as I can make it out, is that since the Republicans lie but disguise their lies as pablum, then Democrats must do something similar to capture votes from folks who aren't sophisticated (that's elitist code, by they way, for "stupid) to understand the smoke and mirror show that's so misled them and caused George Bush to be elected president. Lakoff's take on "framing" and other sorts of talking tricks is, for many, the best way to do remedy this state of affairs.

This is ridculous. It's a thesis that rests squarely on the cynical premise that politics is made up of folks who are totally insincere and that winning is all that matters. Since no one needs to be sincere or truthful to win elections, it doesn't matter what you say, what matters is how you say it. That, my friends, isn't a slippery slope, it's an abyss.

Chris once again betrays his failure to read what Lakoff has said. Lakoff has gone out of his ways on multiple occasions to say that framing is not the same as lying (or spin or disguise or whatever). He makes the point that the most effective frames are those that are truthful even if they only present one side of an argument. The point of good framing is not to sugar coat your ideas but to present your ideas in a way that doesn't immediately cause them to be rejected for unrelated reasons.

The best salesman will tell you that a good salesman doesn't need to lie in order to sell their product. They just have to understand how their product fills a need in the buyer and get the buyer to understand the same thing. 

Yes, there is always the temptation to twist, spin, distort and outright lie. But Lakoff also makes the point that when you resort to these tactics it is a clue to others that your position is a weak one. He uses the example of the "Clear Skies initiative" as an Orwellian term that shouldn't upset us. It should instead alert us to the fact that the Bush administration knows that the policy is anti-environmental. They only have to couch it in such terms in order to get it past people's bullshit detectors.

I think I understand where Chris' distaste comes from. I have always hated sales. For years it has always seemed to me to be nothing more than a legitimized confidence game. So anything that smells of anything but the most honest and forthright pitch immediately turns me off.

But, George Lakoff's message is that marketing of ideas, the framing of ideas in order to advance them, is not simply a necessary evil. It is, in fact, the way of all human communication. We use framing all the time whether we realize it or not. Rather than rail against it we need to learn to embrace it and make it work for us.

Blogroll Update

I've gone through and done a much needed overhaul of my blogroll. It pretty much covers every blog that I follow on a regular basis. The one characteristic they all have in common is a working RSS feed. There are a couple of other blogs I follow but not on a regular basis simply because they don't have such a feed (hint hint).

Blogger nationalism

Jesse Taylor makes an interesting observation:

Cernig has an important point on the need to build up an actual blog community on the left. Although I think that part of the conservative interlinkage has to do a lot more with the idea that they're building up some sort of aboveground underground resistance (think Harriet Tubman, but with an advertising budget and a lot more white property owners), and so the very act of blogging is, to them, a statement, some sort of glorious revelation handed down from the good folks at Moveable Type.

You can see it in the year-end conservative blogger fellatings - blogging is a transformational tool reserved solely for the right, and, at this juncture, it's a critical move to push liberal bloggers out of the conversation. Even the most breathlessly wrong "fact-check" makes the conservative rounds in a few hours, whereas it's seemingly much more difficult for a liberal post to get around. Part of it is simply how memes spread - the conservative side of the blogosphere, from my reading of it, when not citing bad TCS columns tends to interlink to one another in a continual reaffirmation of the position and of the importance of the communal declaration of belief. In a Norquistian twist, conservative bloggers promote communalism and liberal bloggers tend to promote individualism, at least in my reading. [emphasis mine - Chris]

I'm not sure if it's elitism as much as it is a lack of the same romantic idealization of this act, but it's definitely something to think about.

Being a low-level blogger (hit counts in the hundreds per day), I notice it whenever someone links to me and such linkage has become rarer and rarer these days. Now, that could just be because I'm not as interesting as I used to be. But it could also be that the rise of community blogs like The DailyKOS have encouraged a sort of blogger nationalism. On The DailyKOS, everyone can write a diary and people frequently link to each others diaries but less often to the outside world, and then only to prominent bloggers.

The rules of diary posting on The DailyKOS say that people who write a lot of diaries should consider getting their own blogs. But my experience is that making that kind of leap actually reduces the level of attention the diarist turned blogger receives. There is a real disincentive to strike out on ones own when it is much safer to just remain in a safe and secure community.

Sunday, December 26, 2004


A question for budding and not so budding economists out there. It has been said that the transitional cost of the President's suggested Social Security privatization plan is around two trillion dollars. That is, when people start diverting some of their contributions to SS into private investment accounts, it will be necessary to "borrow" money from somewhere to make up the shortfall in money necessary to pay the current beneficiaries of SS. The argument from the "reform" crew is that if we don't do this then the SS trust fund will go broke in about 40 years.

My question is this: what would happen if we were to simply borrow that two trillion dollars and feed it directly into the Social Security trust fund? If we did that, when would the trust fund go broke? Would it ever go broke?

If this would fix the "crisis", why not just borrow the money and have done with it? Why add on to it the whole complexity of setting up these forced investment accounts? Especially considering that there is a real question as to whether these accounts would pay better dividends for retirees down the road than the current system.

This is an honest question even though I suspect I already know the answer.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Confusing the messenger with the message

Chris Nolan has been talking about George Lakoff and is pretty unimpressed. He reposts an email he received that generally approves of his criticism of Lakoff and those who follow him. I'd recommend reading it even though I have a serious disagreement with both Nolan and his correspondent. I've seen these kind of complaints from others (Kevin Drum for example) and I think it is time to clear up what appears to be a fundamental confusion: George Lakoff is not equal to the whole issue of political framing.

Lakoff has provided a valuable service to many Democrats who have a fundamental difficulty understanding the communication problem they face. I know many Democrats who simply can't understand why anyone in their right mind would find George W. Bush appealing. They continually express amazement that anyone with an ounce of brains could be bamboozled by this charlatan.

What Lakoff has done is describe precisely what it is that Democrats haven't been able to get on their own. He has done it in a way that has allowed a lot of Democrats to understand just why the Republican message might be appealing. For that accomplishment alone he has earned a place in the Democratic heavens.

But Lakoff has also provides Democrats with the tools they can use to fashion a more appealing message without necessarily sacrificing their core values. Democrats have been trying to re-fashion themselves for years now, but much of that work has come in the form of actually changing those core values. Something many Democrats have rebelled against. Lakoff has given Democrats the hope that there message can still resonate if it is properly presented. Again, another accomplishment for which he deserves praise.

But now we get down to the core of the problem. While Lakoff has done yeoman's work in analyzing the Republican message and in describing tools that Democrats need to fashion their own message, his own personal attempts at fashioning a Democratic/Progressive message have been weak at best. The "Nurturant Parent" is just not a model that appeals, even to a lot of Democrats.

It is the latter problem that I think gets on the nerves of people like Kevin Drum, Chris Nolan and Chris' correspondent. I don't have a problem with that. It doesn't appeal to me that much either (I've described my problems with it elsewhere). The problem I have with Mr. Nolan and the others is that they appear to reject Lakoff and any who follow him in toto simply because they don't like this particular aspect of his work.

Mr. Nolan's correspondent is absolutely right that George Lakoff the man will never appeal to the kind of people Democrats need to appeal to. But that's not the point. George Lakoff the man is not the message we are trying to sell to the American public. He is simply doing some of the grunt work that will be necessary to develop that message.

I know very few Lakoff fans who have embraced Lakoff's "Nurturant Parent" model. But it is not that model for which he is praised. For Mr. Nolan and others to criticize us simply because they don't like one aspect of Lakoff's work is just silly. Using pejorative terms like "Doormat Democrats" is especially ironic since many who are in the reform movement see Lakoffian analysis as one of the keys to kicking out the very "Doormat Democrats" that Mr. Nolan criticizes.

Hell, I've been criticizing "Doormat Democrats" for years! Do Chris and others really think I want us to go back to that?

Lakoff is just this guy, y'know. A pretty smart guy, but not the be-all and end-all to this discussion. His work is just step 1 and 2 in the 100 step program to taking back this country. Don't harsh on the guy simply because you don't like his suggestions for step 3.

Job Description

"How about we change Rummy's title to Secretary of Self-Defense?" -- djinniya, commenter on this post on the DailyKOS

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

More of the same

Third Presidential Debate, Oct. 13th, 2004:

SCHIEFFER: Let's go to a new question, Mr. President. Two minutes. And let's continue on jobs.

You know, there are all kind of statistics out there, but I want to bring it down to an individual.

Mr. President, what do you say to someone in this country who has lost his job to someone overseas who's being paid a fraction of what that job paid here in the United States?

BUSH: I'd say, Bob, I've got policies to continue to grow our economy and create the jobs of the 21st century. And here's some help for you to go get an education. Here's some help for you to go to a community college.

We've expanded trade adjustment assistance. We want to help pay for you to gain the skills necessary to fill the jobs of the 21st century.

You know, there's a lot of talk about how to keep the economy growing. We talk about fiscal matters. But perhaps the best way to keep jobs here in America and to keep this economy growing is to make sure our education system works.

I went to Washington to solve problems. And I saw a problem in the public education system in America. They were just shuffling too many kids through the system, year after year, grade after grade, without learning the basics.

And so we said: Let's raise the standards. We're spending more money, but let's raise the standards and measure early and solve problems now, before it's too late.

No, education is how to help the person who's lost a job. Education is how to make sure we've got a workforce that's productive and competitive.

Got four more years, I've got more to do to continue to raise standards, to continue to reward teachers and school districts that are working, to emphasize math and science in the classrooms, to continue to expand Pell Grants to make sure that people have an opportunity to start their career with a college diploma.

And so the person you talked to, I say, here's some help, here's some trade adjustment assistance money for you to go a community college in your neighborhood, a community college which is providing the skills necessary to fill the jobs of the 21st century. And that's what I would say to that person.


About 90,000 students could be disqualified from receiving Pell Grants and other forms of federal and state financial aid under a change, scheduled to be issued on Thursday by the U.S. Education Department, in the formula the government uses to calculate a student's need for aid.

The department plans to announce in the Federal Register that it is, for the first time in a decade, updating the amount it forgives most families for their state and local tax payments when determining how much income the families have left over to pay college costs.

According to an analysis by the American Council on Education, about 1.3 million students and their families will see their eligibility for federal financial aid drop next year, when the formula change takes effect, because the new formula will show them to have more money available for college than before. The families of some of the 90,000 students disqualified from Pell Grants could also appear to be rich enough under the change, according to the council, that they will be ineligible for state and institutional aid as well.


Over the last several weeks, Bush-administration officials had been cagey about whether they were going to exercise the authority they had been given. Lobbyists were not surprised that the department's leaders decided to announce the change two days before Christmas.

"It's not unusual for federal agencies to release unpleasant news when people aren't paying attention," said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education.

(Courtesy Suburban Guerrilla)

The scam

What really ticks me off about the whole Bush Social Security "Reform" scam is the blatant hypocrisy of the whole thing. If the Republicans honestly believe that people would be better off managing their money the way they see fit then they should simply propose a cut in the payroll tax and then let the people invest or spend the returns as they see fit. Bush's proposal does the former but then requires people to put that money into government regulated investment accounts.

What is conservative about that?

Bush's Complex Social Security System

A commenter on the DailyKOS has come up with a great idea for an attack on the Social Security "reform" movement (link):

Average Guy (not a redneck, just a decent looking middle-class guy) sitting on his couch watching a TV. Kids running in and out of the house.

Wife calls out from the kitchen: "Honey, the privatized Social Security account is due."

Husband: "Gee, Honey, I just don't know whether we should go for the hedge funds or the junk bonds this time. What do you think?"

Wife: "Oh, I don't know hon. Maybe we should call the family stockbroker."

Husband looks into camera dumbfounded: "Uh, family stockbroker?"

CAPTION ACROSS SCREEN: Privatizing Social Security is for People Who Don't Need It. Count on the party that created it to save it. THE DEMOCRATS

This is an aspect of the privatization debate that most people just haven't thought about. There may be more people involved in the stock market today than ever before (I have a 401k, but hell if I know what I am invested in right now), but there are still a lot of people who have no experience with it and don't want any experience with it!

A winning argument in this debate is that the current Social Security system is simple. It doesn't require a whole lot of thought to deal with the current system. Bush wants to replace this simple system with a complex Frankenstein monster of investment options. The Bush system will require people to hire accountants if they want to understand what they are getting into. Either that or start to learn the meaning of terms like dividend, price/earnings ratios, market capitalization, and so on.

Isn't having to do our taxes once a year complicated enough?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Art Of Political War

I said in my previous post on Social Security that we should allow the question of motives to distract us in the attack on those who want to destroy Social Security. I want to expand on this a bit because it is a very important point.

Let's be clear on something: questioning the motives of the opposition is perfectly legitimate line of attack. It's just that we have to remain focused, laser-like, on the most essential point of this debate: the mythical "crisis" in Social Security. Any other debate is a distraction.

Democrats have a tendency to go for broad based attacks, under the theory that attacking on multiple fronts will show the oppositions position as being weak. We make two mistakes when we do this.

The first mistake is not realizing that we don't need to defeat the opposition. We only need to win over the audience.

The audience is the mass of voters who have to decide which position makes the most sense to them and to whom they will throw their support. This audience is made up of people who do not devote much of their attention to the intricacies of policy debates. It just doesn't interest them. This is not a fault. It's just who they are.

Now, to such an audience, an attack on multiple fronts may actually appear to be a sign of weakness on the part of the attacker. It can look like the attacker is just flailing around, looking for a weakness, and failing repeatedly. "If they had a legitimate argument to make", thinks the audience, "they wouldn't keep shifting gears while making it."

The second mistake is even more fundamental and it is one I actually learned of while playing video games. I learned that when attacking an opponent, it pays to focus all of my firepower on one target at a time. While doing so I will suffer cuts and bruises from several angles, but by focusing my power I can quickly destroy that one target and thus reduces the overall firepower that is directed against me. If I repeat this process, a large force will be steadily weakened until it can no longer harm me effectively. I then let my forces go hog-wild on the remaining stragglers.

The second mistake is in thinking that the hits you will take from leaving the secondary targets alone will make you vulnerable to defeat.

The same principle holds true in politics. If you focus your attack on one or two targets, especially the most formidable ones(*), you can destroy that target quickly and reduce the overall firepower of the opposition without necessarily sacrificing a lot of your own blood in the process. The most formidable target in the current debate is the multi-year propaganda campaign that has instilled in people the idea that Social Security is one step away from total collapse. It is that idea that must be destroyed before any meaningful debate about the future of Social Security can progress. It is that idea that is the main weapon in the Republican arsenal. It is that idea which Democrats must not give any credence to as doing so will only strengthen the Republican position.

So, in short, the attack on motives is not a bad one. It's just that there is an even better target of opportunity that will produce better results.

Ironically, it is often the case that a proposal that is weak on multiple fronts may actually have a greater chance of success. When you have so many target opportunities the temptation can be strong to attack on multiple fronts. This can spread your forces so thin that the proposal will get through and win passage despite its many failures (the same irony abounds in the ascendancy of George W. Bush).

When taking down an enemy like the effort to gut Social Security what you need to do is focus your attack on one or two key points, break the lines of the opposition, and then destroy them from within. You may be surprised just how weak the enemy is once you dispatch their greatest weapon.

(* This is a key element of Karl Rove's political strategy: always attack the opposition at their strongest point. Once you defeat that the rest will be nothing but a mop-up operation.)

Believe it or not, I learned this lesson from video games.


I just discovered that Blogger now offers its own commenting system. I've turned it on for now just to see if it is any better than Haloscan. I'll leave the Haloscan comments on for now (Haloscan is the first comment link, Blogger is the second). Let me know which you prefer.

The Battle For Social Security

In the upcoming battle over Social Security "reform" Democrats need to be united in their opposition to the Republican plan to gut the signature program of Democratic politics. But we also need to deal with the inevitable claims that such opposition is simply a knee-jerk opposition to reform. We can't do it by simply denying it nor can we do it by offering counter reform proposals. The first will just lead to a childish "are-to/are-not" debate while the latter will simply give weight to the underlying argument of the critics of Social Security. They want people to believe that Social Security needs reforming. If Democrats offer a counter-proposal then they have already ceded 3/4 of the battlefield to the Republicans.

We must repeat again and again and again the following mantra: "Social Security is the most successful government program ever instituted and is as healthy as it has ever been". Then challenge the nay Sayers to prove otherwise.


Challenge that assumption in any form it is presented.

If something needs to be fixed then that means that it is broken. Social Security is not broken. It has the most stable funding base of any government program in existence (even defense appropriations have to be approved from year to year). It is as solvent today as it was the day it was created.

We need to be clear on this. Democrats are not opposed to reform when reform is needed. In the case of Social Security, it is not needed.

Once you adopt this as your baseline then the rest of the argument will follow, including the fact that the proponents of reform are being consistently disingenuous (i.e., lying) about the need for fundamental change.

NOTE: Avoid getting into a debate about the motives of the reformers. Doing so will simply divert the debate away from the essential point that "Social Security is the most successful government ever instituted and is as healthy as it has ever been."

This is absolutely essential. Technically, we don't have the votes to stop them gutting Social Security if they want to. But if they have to do it in an entirely non-partisan fashion then it will be a lot harder for them to get some of the more moderate Republicans on board. Just as an example, the Save Social Security blog (an essential resource in this fight) has the Republican Senator Gordon Smith from my own state of Oregon listed as being on the fence ("Recognizes the need for some kind of reform, but has not decided on either the measure or the depth of the fix required"). That's a big clue right there that the Republicans are not united behind Bush on the need for fundamental Social Security reform.

If the Democrats can stay united on this they can hang this albatross around the Republicans and make them pay for it big time (think the hurt Democrats went through in '94 after the Clinton Health Care plan failed).

If the Democrats can stay united they might even be able to break the Republican coalition and hand Bush a defeat on the signature issue of his second term (so much for that "political capital" eh?)

But this can happen only if Democrats do not give the Republicans a bi-partisan lifeline. This is why any Democrat who is even considering cooperating should hear the message loud and clear that they will suffer dearly if they go along.

Democratic leaders must learn to fear their own constituency more than the squawking of the Republican right. But this will require that we are united in our efforts to keep the Democrat leaders united.

This is the line in the sand folks.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Crucible

I recommend reading the latest from David Sirota on the debate going on about the direction of the Democratic party and his role in it. David openly admits to being provocative in his writing on the matter, but he does so with a purpose:

I make no apologies for saying some of the taboo things Democrats’ have for too long ignored (ie. corporate money has hurt the party, support for a corporate free-trade policy has hurt the party's ability to communicate with working class voters, etc.), and I make no excuses for naming names. I have made a career fighting in the trenches of the partisan wars – on Capitol Hill, on campaigns, and in my writing. My loyalty to a Democratic Party that has the guts to stand up for working people is clear.

It is in keeping with that loyalty that I engage in this current debate. The party will only get stronger if it finally has a discussion about what has happened to its core ideology, and how to get it back. Many of the debates over the DNC chairmanship and direction of the party right now are focused on a shallow debate over “new” vs. “old" - with Beltway-centric Democratic elites shamelessly bashing grassroots organizations like and other constituencies. As this USA Today story shows, the debates among the party’s elites still seems more like a forum for shamelessly self-promoting operatives to try to grab power, rather than a discussion about the fundamental principles of the party and its leadership moving forward.

But in my writing, and the back-and-forth with my hard-fighting opponents, I am trying to push a debate about more than just which hack is going to get ahead, and which operative is going to climb the ladder. I am trying to get us all talking about what the party actually believes in. And the more we have this discussion now, the stronger the party will be in the future.

David's is a crucible style of debate: It deliberately provokes in order to burn away the weaker parts of the argument. It doesn't allow people to rest comfortably on talking points that have become like life-preservers in a sea of turmoil. It encourages people who otherwise haven't given much thought to core principles to do just that. When people have to defend themselves it can lead to a better understanding on their part as to why they actually believe the things they do.

Years ago I used to participate in Usenet discussion groups. I made the comment then that I wasn't participating in online debates in order to persuade others to my side so much as I was find out more about my own stance on the issues. Without that test there was no way to know whether my beliefs will held up under fire.

David is right that this kind of debate, as uncomfortable as it may sometimes be, is essential. If we are going to argue our values we first have to know what those values are. Democrats became too comfortable in conventional wisdom and lost the ability to argue their beliefs. They replaced it with wonk-speak and knee-jerk rhetoric.

We have to argue our core values before we can argue over the finer points of policy. If we can't sell people on our values then we are lost.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Selling the other guys brand

Chris Bowers of MyDD (link) quotes this Arianna Huffington/George Lakoff passage (link) that I have seen popping up around the blogosphere (I've quoted it myself):

As cognitive psychologist George Lakoff told me: "Democrats moving to the middle is a double disaster that alienates the party's progressive base while simultaneously sending a message to swing voters that the other side is where the good ideas are." It unconsciously locks in the notion that the other side's positions are worth moving toward, while your side's positions are the ones to move away from.

I'd like to add something to this: Some political strategists interpret recent Republican success as an indication that their program sells better with the swing voters. They argue that it is therefore logical that Democrats base their appeal on the same program in order to win the swing voters back from the Republicans.

This is a fundamental misunderstanding a swing vote psychology. They don't vote for a particular candidate or party because of ideology. By definition a swing voter is someone who does not have an ideology. What is really happening is that the swing voters are buying into whichever program is most successfully marketed to them. It is marketed by the Republicans, of course. But the Democrats are selling it as well by openly making the same appeal.

Democrats are going into the red states trying to win back votes while wearing the "Vote Republican!" slogan on their shirts!

What does this mean? It means that Republicans don't have to try as hard to sell their program to the swing voters because the Democrats are doing it for them!

And don't think the Republicans aren't getting a big laugh out of that!

Dirty DeLay

The Pigpen of modern politics

(Admittedly this is unfair to Pigpen).

Don't be telling me there is nothing we can do

Digby provides a timeline for the Republican's defeat of Clinton's 1993 Health Care Reform effort (link). It is a helpful reminder to people that being in the minority does not mean you are powerless.

The Day Journalism Died

Gary Webb is dead

Since hearing the news yesterday I've been trying to compose a tribute to Mr. Webb, but every time I start I just seize up in anger and frustration. The death of Gary Webb is a journalistic tragedy of the first order. It is a tragedy of the first order not just because he was an excellent journalists unfairly drummed out of the corps by an establishment media more interested in protecting their turf ("How dare some Podunk hack think he can break an important story like this?") than in actually committing journalism. It is also a tragedy because so many journalists won't even understand just how much of a tragedy is his death. That is how complete Webb's contribution has been expunged from the journalistic record.

If you want to understand Webb's contribution, buy, beg, borrow or steal his seminal work, Dark Alliance. Then understand this: for all the poo-poohing of this story by the establishment press, virtually all of Webb's original reporting has been shown to be correct (note: the story linked about about Webb's death continues the lies).

I think Don McLean expresses my feelings best in the song he wrote about the death of Buddy Holly:

A long, long time ago,
I can still remember how that music used to make me cry.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while.
But February made me shiver,
With every paper I delivered.
Bad news on the doorstep.
I couldn't take one more step.
I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride.
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.

Wanted: Democratic Hacks

The left side of the blogosphere spends to much time in meta-level self-analysis. That is the verdict of Daphne Lasky of "Left in the West" (link).

I agree. I've come to realize that I spend an inordinate amount of time talking about what Democrats should do and not enough time actually doing what I say we should do. It's the old rule in writing: don't tell me when you can show me. Lead by example instead of by analysis. I would suggest that the best bloggers of the left do just that (Atrios being the best example).

Of course, both Daphne's post and this post are yet another example of meta-level self-analysis. But sometimes it takes a dragon to slay a dragon.

Brad Plummer also has an excellent post on this topic (link). Shorter version: "Too much 'Let's do it this way.' Too little: 'Yeeeeaaaargh.'" His suggestion: we need more hacks, people who will take the fruits of the analytical side of the left and actually put it into action but who won't spend a lot of time doing their own (public) analysis.

The hacks are the foot soldiers of a political war and the Democrats just don't have enough of them.

Got Wood?

Digby gets hard.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Dean on MTP

The Left Coaster has the transcript of Howard Dean's appearance on today's Meet The Press (link). I won't comment on the whole thing, otherwise this post would go on forever, but there were a few passages that really stood out for me:

MR. RUSSERT: You just spent the weekend in Florida meeting with the state Democratic Party chairs. Are you close to running? Were they encouraging to you?

DR. DEAN: I am going to run if I think that I can win, if I think that they really want me. This is an institution and the people in the institution know that they have to change, but the pain of change is always greater. Until the pain of changing is less than the pain of staying the same, they aren't going to change.

I had a lot of debates with myself about whether to try to change things from the outside or change things from the inside knowing it was going to be a significant institutional resistance if I try to change things from the inside, but I concluded it's faster to change the party from the inside.

Dean wants the job. But he doesn't want it unless the people on the inside are willing to let him have it. In other words, he isn't interested in the job if he is going to have to spend all of his time dealing with party insiders who will be sabotaging his efforts. He recognizes that real change can come faster from the inside, but only if those on the inside are really willing to change. As he says somewhere else in this interview, the DNC has to reach the point where they realize the pain of changing is less than the pain of not changing. It is not yet clear whether they have reached that point.

MR. RUSSERT: Harry Reid, the new leader of the Democrats, was on the MEET THE PRESS last week, and he said he would be open to Antonin Scalia being appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court. There may be some ethical problems, he said. If he could get by those, he was very much impressed by the brilliance of his mind.

DR. DEAN: I like Harry Reid a lot. He's a straight shooter, and I think he's going to be a good leader. I disagree with him on this one. I think Antonin Scalia ought not to be on the Supreme Court, let alone chief justice, because I think he lacks judicial temperament.


DR. DEAN: I have appointed a great many judges [in] my career as governor. The second thing - after a work ethic that you look for when you're appointing a judge or a justice - is judicial temperament. That means - in our judicial system, it's very important for the loser and/or the winner in any case to feel like they've been treated fairly and respectfully by the court system. That's the glue that binds us together as a society. When you are sarcastic and mean-spirited, as the justice [Scalia] often is from the bench, it leaves the loser in that case feeling as if they were not respected by the judicial system, and that's why you don't put people with bad temperament on any court, and I certainly don't think they should be on the Supreme Court of the United States.

I like Dean's approach here a lot. He avoids the whole question of ideology or qualification and gets right to the issue that is most important in judicial appointments: can you trust a judge to give a fair hearing to those they might be otherwise inclined to disagree with? Dean is absolutely right that the cornerstone of our system of justice is that the results of deliberations be acceptable to the loser. If the losing parties start consistently refusing to accept the results then the process fails. If this loss of faith becomes endemic then the entire system of justice collapses.

We need judges that even the losers can say they feel they got a fair hearing and Scalia just doesn't pass muster on that test.

Neither does George W. Bush for that matter.

BTW, Dean shows an increasingly adept talent at dealing with potential hostility within the party. He praises Terry McAuliffe where he deserves to be praised, but points out his failings as well. He doesn't take the criticisms of Bob Kerrey or The New Republic personally and says that there is always going to be a diversity of opinions. He doesn't back MoveOn in their recent "We bought it, we own it" email, but he lauds them for the great work they have done. I think he has learned a lesson from the primary campaign that it doesn't help the reform effort to personalize the fight over reform.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Talkin' to the Morally Elite

I agree with Mathew Yglesias that "moral elite" is an excellent frame (coined by John Holbo). Matt makes an important point about framing that is not talked about enough:

There's a fascinating point in their about the modalities of the term "elite." On the one hand, given the grand US tradition of populism and Jackson/Toqueville democracy, an elite is a bad thing to be for political purposes. Americans (rather oddly) rebel at the notion that anyone is better than anyone else or should have any ability to claim superior wisdom about anything than anyone else. At the same time, however, when "elite" is thrown at you as an accusation, you can hardly deny it. America lauds achievement, accomplishment, etc., so when someone castigates the "intellectual elite" you're hardly going to turn around and say, "no, no, you've got it all wrong -- I'm an idiot!" You're stuck in a weird American cultural void, unable to deny that you think you're better than others, but unable to admit it either.

Negative frame (used against an opponent, as opposed to a positive frame used to boost your side) have many different levels of sophistication:

Level 1: It is relatively easy to come up with frames that paint the opposition in a negative light.

Level 2: What is more challenging is to come up with a negative frame that the opposition will have difficulty countering because they, at least subconsciously, agree with it.

Level 3: What is even better is to come up with negative frame that the opposition adopts themselves!

Democrats have a mixed history with Level 1 negative frames, but they have rarely formalized the process. They have had much less success at Level 2 and Level 3.

Republicans have become masters of all three levels, which is why their talking points dominate the public debate.

We need to do better.



Reconsidering Lakoff

I've been thinking a lot about George Lakoff, Elephants and Framing. I am a big fan of Lakoff's work and have distributed multiple copies of "Don't Think Of An Elephant" to many interested parties. I consider it essential that progressives and Democrats learn from Lakoff's work. But, as much as I enjoy his work, there is something that has still not allowed me to accept it fully.

Lakoff has done, I think, a superb job of identify the Republican frame. The "Strict Father Morality" explains so much of the Republican program of the last 20 years that it is hard not to believe it is correct. The source of my discontent is Lakoff's counter frame for Democrats and progressives. The "Nurturant Parent Morality" just doesn't ring true to me as the heart of progressive morality.

There are two aspects of it that gnaw at me:

  1. "Nurturant" is a framing word that still entails a sense of namby-pamby, bleeding-heart liberalism. The kind of weak-kneed, jellyfish, why-won't-anyone-love-me frame that has painted Democrats, liberals and progressives into a corner.
  2. "Parent" is a framing word that invokes a paternalistic sense of relationships. If Democrats and progressives are supposed to be "nurturant parents" doesn't that, of necessity, infantilize the people we are dealing with?

The first problem can be dealt with if we realize that "nurturance" is the frame, not the framing word. We want to invoke the concept of nurturing people to a better life without necessarily using the word "nurturance". Unfortunately, the explicit discussion of framing within the progressive community has lead to people using "nurturance" explicitly, which leads in turn to the entailments discussed above. You don't see Republican's talking about "strict fathers" but plenty of Democrats have started talking about "nurturant parents". If anything, the lesson Lakoff offers us is that words are dangerous and we should be careful how we use them ("Back off! I've got a dictionary and I'm not afraid to us it!")

It is the second problem that I think is more damaging to Lakoff's approach. The Republicans may have a "Daddy knows best" approach. But Lakoff is advocating a variant, a "Mommy/Daddy knows best" approach, that can be just as domineering. At least in the "Daddy knows best" approach the Republicans have a frame that explicitly embraces the authoritarian model. Lakoff's frame is just as authoritarian, it just won't admit it.

Progressives, on the other hand, eschew this authoritarian approach to human relations. They don't view humanity as a family made up of parents and children. They view it as a community of shared interests.

This, I think, gets to the heart of the problem: both the "Strict Father" and "Nurturant Parent" frames are built on the "Family of Man" metaphor, in which all of humanity is viewed as members of a family, some parents, some children. But that is not the only viable metaphor for human relationships. An alternative metaphor would be the "Community of Man" metaphor, in which all of humanity is viewed as being equal members of a community.

In the "Community of Man", each of us has an equal right to a certain level of human dignity ("Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness") while at the same time we have a shared responsibility towards each other to ensure we all have the opportunity to reach our fullest potential. In the "Community of Man" there is no parent. There is no all-knowing poobah who is responsible for raising us and teaching us right from wrong. There may be people who have temporarily been given authority over certain sub-groups in order to achieve certain goals. But those people are not assumed to be on a higher moral plane by virtue of their position.

In the "Community of Man" there are people who are wiser, stronger, more intelligence and/or more natural leaders than others. But in the "Community of Man", such people are not elevated to a position of moral superiority simply because of those qualities. In the "Community of Man" it is not assumed that those who are blessed with greater skills are thereby entitled to a greater say in the future of the community. Indeed, in the "Community of Man", people who are blessed are all the more obligated to use those blessings for the betterment of others ("Mankind was my business" - Marley's Ghost).

The "Family of Man" metaphor naturally leads to a bifurcation of society.  The "Family of Man" encourages dictatorial rule (Fascism under "Strict Father", Communism under "Nurturant Parent"). The "Community of Man" metaphor is naturally immune to this defect.

Now this is very important: when I argue that the "Family of Man" metaphor has defects I am not arguing that the "Community of Man" has no defects of its own. It most certainly does. For example, its reliance on mutual cooperation and shared responsibility can encourage the avoidance of responsibility. If the entire community is mutually responsible then no one is individually responsible. This can open the "Community of Man" to destruction through decay or attack from an external "Family of Man" society. For example, the "Community of Man" approach of a Mahatma Ghandi would have ultimately failed against the "Strict Father Family" approach of Adolph Hitler.

It is my personal belief that a functioning society is one in which the "Family of Man" and the "Community of Man" compete with each other. It is only in the struggle between them that society as a whole continues to survive. It is when one metaphorical approach dominates that a society risks corruption and destruction.

America is currently in danger of total domination by a "Family of Man" approach. Lakoff's "Nurturant Parent" frame, far from countering this danger, may simply encouraging it in another form.


Bad move from MoveOn

First, let it be known that I am a big fan of MoveOn. I've supported them from the beginning when they first started as a counter to the Clinton impeachment. I've defended them against Peter Beinert's call to purge them from the Democratic party. I will continue to defend them as a valuable partner in reforming the Democratic party.

Having said that, I think their declaration of war on the Democratic establishment is a serious tactical error.

I agree with the essence of their latest campaign (I've signed the petition) that the next DNC chair should be someone who represents the Democratic base instead of corporate lobbyists. But I think they made a mistake in personalizing the campaign by attacking Terry McAuliffe by name.

This is not because I don't think McAuliffe isn't worthy of criticism. But, by personalizing the campaign, they have forced the hand of establishment Dems who actually might be sympathetic to our cause. They have needlessly created a dividing line within the party at a time when we need to come to a mutual understanding about our future. Just as an example, I heard Rep. Barney Frank on Air America this morning defending McAuliffe against MoveOn's attack. Frank is a good guy who is on our side. But MoveOn's broadside essentially forced him to close ranks.

Bad move.

This is something people on this side of the Reform aisle need to understand: we can't succeed in the reform mission if we don't win over some of the people on the other side. We can do so without compromising our principles. We can do so by persuading them with argument and with achievements. We cannot do so if we needlessly personalize the struggle.

Peter Beinert made the same mistake in his call to purge the Democratic party of Michael Moore and MoveOn. MoveOn is making the same mistake in their call to purge the party of Terry McAuliffe.

They are two sides of the same coin. A coin we can't afford.

Republican vs. Republican-Lite

J of Value Judgment comments on my post where I wondered if members of the Democratic establishment have ever bothered to come to a meetup, adding some valuable insights of his/her own. He/She concludes with this:

Have they become like the Republicans? Afraid to let a few actual facts get in the way of their pre-conceived notions of how the world is? Once again, I will wander through my day wondering wtf is wrong with these people.

I don't think they have become like Republicans. I think they have just become establishment, which means they have lost touch with the rest of the party. There is nothing Republican about that. It's just human.

I think we should avoid the reflex to label anyone who disagrees with us as "Republican". I think Dean went over the line during the primary campaign when he started saying that. We need to adopt our own version of Reagan's 11th commandment. We can criticize each other for the actions we take, but we should avoid getting personal about it.

Note: "Republican-Lite" is not the same thing as Republican. The essence of the "Republican-Lite" charge is that Democrats shoudn't sell out their principles in order to achieve quick victories by simply stealing Republican thunder when there is plenty of Democratic thunder lying around.

The potential is there if only Democrats would use it.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Feel the love

Ann Coulter: "[Canada] is lucky we allow them to exist on the same continent as us."

Tucker Carlson: "Canada is a third-rate country, like Honduras but colder and not as interesting."


Framing Reform

Kos borrows from Eliot Spitzer to define reform (link):

Eliot has a good working definition for the word "reform" that can be applied to everything from the DNC race, to Democratic runs at all levels of government:

"We sorely need to re-energize state government, make it smarter, more efficient, responsive and accountable," said Spitzer, who on Tuesday formally announced his run for the Democratic nomination for the 2006 race.

Smarter, more efficient, responsive and accountable. Sounds about right to me.

Everything that Bush is not.


Steve Gilliard gets straight to the point: the DLC are many-time losers. Why should we listen to many-time losers?

What isn't being said in all this is the fact that this is probably the first time in the history of the Democratic party that this many Democrats have ever cared about who will be the chairman of the party. How many of us even knew what the process was for selecting Chairman one month ago? And somehow the Democratic establishment feels threatened by this turn of events?

Why don't the Washington Insiders just come to Meetup?

Maybe it's just a matter of where you are watching the battle from, but I come to an assessment that is completely opposite of Nick Confessore's with respect to the coming battle for the DNC chair (link):

The problem for Dean is that, while he is generally on the reform side, and is himself a New Democrat in all but name, his grassroots political constituency consists largely of antiwar liberals who are full of inchoate fury at Democratic leaders for being a bad opposition party and not blocking the Iraq invasion (fury that is not entirely misplaced). So to get elected DNC chair, Dean has to convince them that the bad guys, the rump establishment, are the DLC and the ex-Clintonites. The DLC makes this a little too easy for Dean because, although they acknowledge that his policies aren't liberal, the tacticians there see his anti-war vibe and Northeastern roots as sending exactly the wrong message to the rest of the country. They don't want him running the party. So the DLC used to pretend Dean was a liberal when really he's not. They've more or less given that up, to their credit, but once the DNC chair fight commenced, Dean had a renewed interest in stoking the food fight. Thus many of the outside-the-Beltway supporters of party reform have come to view it as a battle between Washington centrists and grassroots liberals -- even though it isn't.

I am a founding member of that "grassroots constituency" that Nick speaks of (I started going to Dean meetups in March of 2003). I have seen the Dean movement from its beginnings, at its highest and at its lowest, and I can say without a moments hesitation that Dean's constituency DOES NOT "consist largely of antiwar liberals". Yes, the anti-war crowd gravitated to Dean during the election, but anti-war has never been the defining issue of the Dean movement. The defining issue, at least as I see it, is that Democrats have been allowing themselves to get rolled repeatedly by the Republicans and we are SICK AND TIRED OF IT!

Dean demonstrated that the Democrats could act like an opposition candidate and actually achieve some measure of success. Dean may not have won the nomination, but he went from being a vanity candidate to a real "threat" to win the nomination, shattered previous Democratic fundraising and volunteer records, and managed to come the closest to defining a viable alternative course for the Democratic project. By nearly any measure I consider the Dean campaign to have been a success. John Kerry, bless his soul, ran as much on Dean's message as his own (of course, that may have just contributed to the confusion about just what Kerry stood for).

But my disagreement with Nick goes even beyond this, because Nick sees it as the outsiders who have come to view it as a battle between centrists and liberals. Yet didn't he just label Deanies as primarily "antiwar liberals"? It is the insiders, like Nick, Peter Beinert and the TNR crew who continue to portray the Dean movement as nothing but warmed over McGovernite liberalism.

I actually agree with much of what is in Nick's post. But this paragraph proves that he still "doesn't get it" about the Dean movement.

My question for the insiders is a simple one: how many Dean meetups have you been to? How man Deanies have you really talked to? And I don't mean just the most fringe elements of the group (every group has fringe elements). I'm talking about the large group of meetup attendees who don't follow the works of Noam Chomsky or listen to Air America religiously. I'm talking about the large group of meetup attendees who are coming to the meetings because they "want to do something" but the Democratic party isn't offering them an outlet for their frustrations. These people are the core of the Dean movement. They are the ones who have made him as big as he is.

They aren't scary do-good peaceniks. They are nice people who love their country and are worried about where it is going. Maybe you should come out of your Washington, D.C. salons some time and meet them. You're more than welcome to attend any time. Just click here and find the nearest meetup in your area (next one is on Jan. 5th).

(You know, I think I'm beginning to understand the "heartland" church-going crowd and their complaints about elitist liberals looking down their nose at them.)

A national disgrace

Spencer Ackerman points out that Rumsfeld's disrespectful performance yesterday wasn't just limited to the question about body armor (link). Lord Rumsfeld was condescending to several of the questioners and, in essence, treated them like a bunch of hostile reporters at a Pentagon press briefing.

Changing the story

Anyone else notice that some of the more recent reports on yesterday's incident with Rumsfeld in Kuwait has been trimmed down to exclude the sound of the cheers Army Spc. Thomas Wilson received when he questioned Rumsfeld about armor?

It's almost like they are trying to turn the story into a conflict between one disgruntled GI and Lord Rumsfeld.

It's not just me. There are several commenters on this DailyKOS thread that have noticed the same thing.

Chose wisdom before wealth

Howard Dean has a column in The Hill today (man, for a "loser" he is certainly everywhere these days) in which he talks about the use of the web in politics (link). He points out what has become obvious to us but may still be lost on the older generation of political operatives: the web is more about organizing than raising money.

I am reminded of the story of how God offered the gifts of wisdom or wealth to Soloman. Soloman chose wisdom and that wisdom helped him to eventuallly achieve great wealth.

The web makes a similar offer to politicians: you could treat it as just another money source and it will probably work for you that way. But the much greater riches the web has to offer comes in the form of greater citizen involvement in your campaigns. That involvement has a greater capacity to spread your message, get out the vote and, ironically, increase your campaign contributions.

Put this way: you could spend $1,000 developing a web-site that will ask for contributions and will produce $10,000 in response. Or you could spend $1,000 developing a web-site that will encourage organization and involvement and will produce 1,000 volunteers who will spread your message to 10,000 voters who will contribute $100,000 to your campaign!

The message: if the message is good and the organization is good than the money will follow.

Now that's the kind of message legislators weary of constant glad-handing should welcome!


Josh Marshall, a self-professed liberal hawk, weighs in on Beinert's article (link). I won't quote it extensively (read it yourself, please), but Josh gets to a key point when he points out the uncomfortable (for some) truth that the threat of Islamic terrorism is just not of the same degree as the threat of Soviet communism:

Let’s survey the world stage the ADA folks faced in 1947 for some points of comparison. Having vanquished fascism, the democratic world faced in world communism a political movement that in its basic hostility to democracy and liberalism was more similar to than opposed to fascism. Russia, half of Europe and (in a couple of years) China were all communist. The communists controlled the largest land army in the world and would soon have nuclear weapons. Communism had substantial minority support across Western Europe, including vast support (active or passive) among the most articulate in society. And in the United States many on the left saw communists less as enemies than as errant allies, with whom cooperation was possible on common goals.

Placing context or limits on the danger posed by Islamic terrorism is a hazardous business these days. But unlike communism in 1947, militant Islam simply does not pose an existential threat to our civilization. It just doesn’t. It puts us all physically at risk. And especially for those of us who live in DC, New York or other major urban areas, it could kill us tomorrow.

But aside from middle eastern immigrants in western countries, this ideology has close to no support anywhere outside the Muslim world. As an ideology it controls at best a few small states; and it has possible access to Pakistan's small nuclear arsenal. But where is the danger of the Islamist takeover of any of the world’s great powers? China? The US? Europe? India? Japan? Brazil? Will Germany or Canada becomes ‘finlandized’ by Islamist power? That doesn’t mean the danger doesn’t exist, only that it’s different. And those are fundamental differences we shouldn’t ignore.

Admittedly, the lack of Islamist power, in this sense, will be cold comfort for many of us if al Qaida brings us cargo ship with a nuclear weapon into New York harbor tomorrow. But the difference between an existential threat and a physical one is an important one for thinking about its impact on our politics. Particularly, whether it should lead us to purge folks from the Democratic party or from American liberalism who haven’t yet come around yet to a sufficiently serious view of the threat of terrorism or a coherent and tough-minded national security policy.

As much as people fear the threat of terrorism, that fear, for me at least, comes nowhere close to the fear of TOTAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR WIPING OUT ALL OF HUMANITY that was a constant fact of life during the Cold War. I only came into this world in the latter stages of that conflict, but I can remember sleepless nights during the Reagan years when I lay in bed straining to hear the sound of Russian bombers coming over the horizon. As bad as the destruction of a single city in a terrorist nuclear attack would be, it still doesn't compare to the threat of TOTAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR WIPING OUT ALL OF HUMANITY.

When people like Beinert question our commitment to fighting terrorism because we don't treat it as a threat equivalent to TOTAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR WIPING OUT ALL HUMANITY (last time, I promise) then I have to wonder where his sense of proportion has gone.

Josh covers a lot of other points, not the least being that organizations like MoveOn are not comparable to the communist fellow-travelers of the 1940s (ANSWER is a different matter) and may be the greatest hope we have for a progressive renaissance in this country. Purging the group as a whole would be foolish.

Aside: I have to wonder what the impact on the future will be as our population shifts towards a demographic that has never leaved under the fear of ... okay okay, I promised I wouldn't do it again. Still, the impact of that global existential fear on our psyches as children couldn't help but shape the way our minds work. The lack of that fear must be having a similar titanic impact on the thinking of the next generation.