Where The Votes Are, And Why We’re Not Winning Them.
NOTE: This started as a response to Fred Maidment’s comment here and ended up becoming this … so if this seems disjointed, it’s all Fred’s fault – :-).
Where the votes are is in the “middle” – that undefined muddled plurality of the electorate that is at best marginally informed, that only really pays attention to the “issues” in the last few weeks (when its actually too late) of the campaign, but that has been passively absorbing what they’ve been seeing in the news, on the headlines at the newspaper/magazine stand, in their favorite television shows, at the movies, in novels, etc.
Make no mistake; these folks mostly have no idea what is going on except at the most superficial level. They don’t know who their US Congressmen (i.e. Reps and Senators) are, their local representatives they also don’t know, and far too many don’t even know the name of their Governor. The idea therefore that they have the knowledge to have a “moderate” opinion on wasteful spending, eminent domain (as if they know what that means) enough to be “frustrated” or “concerned” about it doesn’t really comport well with reality.
They operate on perceptions and impressions and go to the polls on Election Day with that to inform their votes. They vote based on their impressions of the issues, of the candidates, of the policy proposals from what they see in the news and from what their more knowledgeable (or equally clueless) family, friends and neighbors tell them. Note that these are not unintelligent people, these include people with Masters and Ph.Ds in useful subjects like Engineering and Medicine (not idiotic nonsense like Transgender Studies), people who have lived admirable productive common-sense guided lives.
I’ve said this many times before; the problem is not a lack of intelligence, it’s a lack of knowledge and an opposition with the wherewithal (thanks to their dominance of the spheres of news media and entertainment) to fill the vacuum.
The Democrats and their allies in the media and the entertainment industry really figured this out in the aftermath of 2004 – when they went to attend classes on “framing” by George Lakoff. Steven Spielberg specifically called on the writers and producers in the entertainment industry to incorporate political messaging into their output in one of the meetings held in multiple liberal Hollywood mansions following Election Day 2004.
Talk of the nation being in a “recession” in the media started in mid-2005 despite all indicators then showing GDP growth and historically low unemployment. And of course, the opinion polls soon after showed that a majority of the population thought America was in a recession when it wasn’t. The Press would then go on to report, as if they had absolutely nothing to do with it, that the nation thinks the economy is in trouble and trot out “experts” to continue the cycle.
This sort of thing was done over and over again with every single “scandal” or “controversy” the Bush Administration was in any way connected to. Information that would put the Bush Administration in a good light was either buried or more likely given the less obvious “flash in the pan” treatment – i.e. one minute in one broadcast or page A32. Anything that could be spun negatively against the Administration got top billing with a specially selected “expert” to hammer through the message, even (or especially) if it was a big nothingburger.
A person that I know is so completely apolitical he probably can’t tell the difference between a Senator and a Representative, was spitting mad at Bush for “illegally” replacing US Attorneys who were “investigating his corporate friends at Enron.”
My response was; huh?
If you want to know just how effective this campaign to toxify anything and everything Republican was, all you need to do is to probe what the people who are mad at Bush for some scandal or other think happened. Most can’t tell you anything that is from this world – all they know is that Bush or Republicans did “something wrong.”
I mean; it’s not exactly an innocent coincidence that from 2005, every time a Republican was caught in a compromising position either personally or professionally, the entire GOP was portrayed as being in the know and accused of playing the role of enabler. Democrats in similar situations miraculously had their partisan affiliation put way down the article in paragraph eleven on page A23.
Just check; ask people – what was the whole so-called “Domestic Spying” controversy all about? The so-called “Valerie Plame” scandal? General Shinseki’s “firing” by President Bush? Why was Tom DeLay indicted? How soon were Federal resources in New Orleans after Katrina? [I'll bet you that the average answer you'll get to the last question would be something in the order of five days.]
TV shows and movies coming out of Hollywood all pounded out the same message; the nation was going to hell in a handbasket. Anyone watching Boston Legal (and that’s just one example) and a host of other shows saw the same thing. I looked forward to seeing Shooter because I enjoyed the book it was based on; Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter. But the politics infused into that movie (with Mark Wahlberg) was nothing short of breath-taking.
What is happening here, and what the other side has recognized is that we’re in a battle for the narrative i.e. the “middle ground.” And we’re not even on the battlefield. The mistake we continue to make is assuming that there is a defined “middle” of the electorate that is in favor of specific defined “centrist”/”moderate” policies and/or approaches to address specific issues. No. The battle for the narrative is the battle to define where the “center” and what a “centrist”/”moderate” policy is; to establish what is reasonable and what is beyond the bounds of reason in voters’ minds.
The Left was successful over the past four years in cultivating, through the news, through pop-culture, through the posturings and false outrage of liberals and Democrats in and out of Congress, the idea that the Bush Administration’s decisions on … well, everything, were beyond the bounds of reason. And they’ve been at it for much longer that being a Republican is something you do not reveal in polite company.
If you want to know why Republican “moderates” seem to be such squishes, so apologetic about being Republicans, so quick to launch missiles at their own side and believe the worst about the Republican base while Democratic “moderates” seem to have no doubt that they’re on the side of the angels, a huge part of it is this.
This is why Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood project is so important, and why the GOP, whether it be the RNC or some outside group needs to invest serious money in making documentaries and politically-themed West Wing like shows (even if only for the Internet and straight-to-video/DVD market). Even if only for the purpose of correcting the record and marketing our party, the money spent would be well worth it.
And even that would just be the beginning.
Unfortunately, I doubt the upper echelons of the GOP would soon comprehend this … and it’s going to hurt us until they figure it out. I don’t know who said it; but I do know it bears the ring of truth that he who controls the past controls the future. Likewise he who controls public perception controls the present.
After 2004, too many of us became over-confident, convinced that the Press has lost its ability to influence the public, that they would soon “implode”. 2006 and 2008 (most especially) proved us dreadfully wrong.
I’ve encountered far too many people, most of them distressingly young and supposedly educated (the voters of the future), who believe, thanks to what they see on TV, what they read in their magazines and watch in movies, that Lincoln was a Democrat and that George Wallace was a Republican, that the Civil Rights Acts were passed over Republican opposition, that the “Southern Strategy” actually is still (or was ever) employed by the GOP.
There are people who believe that jailing women who have miscarriages (not just abortions) is part of the GOP platform, that Republicans want to make Christianity a condition of citizenship, that we want to imprison homosexuals and prohibit certain sexual acts in the privacy of people’s homes. I literally heard an African American woman with a year of college under her belt wail after the results came in on Election Night 2004 that Bush was going to make slavery legal again.
It’s so pervasive in American pop-culture that the GOP is a racist, sexist hate-fueled party that it is something I’ve heard from the mouths of people from the United Kingdom to South Africa, people who have never been to the United States. Worse, I’ve heard it from newly arrived immigrants hoping to become citizens to people just coming to study who have not yet spent one week in the United States.
This can’t be emphasized enough; the Republican Party is in serious trouble because of this failure to engage. And it’s distressing that we’re still missing opportunities to begin to change that narrative. An example? Erick’s post yesterday that the two leading contenders for RNC Chairman are Katon Dawson and Mike Duncan.
Notwithstanding the fact that the 168 Committeemen and women of the RNC are favoring these two men based on a winning record (Dawson) and a good personal relationship/familiarity (Duncan), the fact remains that the man who best excites the base, who has the better, more comprehensive all-front plan for renewal is Ken Blackwell. His race can only be an added bonus.
Oh well … I guess we’ll see after the 29th.
Anyway … that’s my two cents.