FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
SEIU’s populist Cargo Cult plans.
It takes a national union to build a Potemkin Village.
Ben Smith reports that “the Service Employees International Union plans to use its giant political operation to try to build a grass-roots movement of public protest and organization” – which is pretty much all that you have to read of that article, frankly. This is not a slam on Ben; Politico probably doesn’t look kindly on one-sentence articles, and writers need to eat. If your employer wants multiple paragraphs, you give your employer multiple paragraphs.
Still, the use of the phrase “plans to use” and “try to build” gives the whole game away. The tacit admission here is that the SEIU (and the rest of Big Labor) doesn’t actually have the populist support that the Left routinely [claims] to have; something that was glaringly put on display in the last few months in Wisconsin. While groups like these do have the ability to dump large numbers of its members into various anti-reform demonstrations (and near-riots), the results were neither successful in accomplishing any sort of meaningful change, nor in becoming self-perpetuating. For an example of the failures in the first category, note the Prosser/Kloppenburg election – particularly, the interesting fact that Kloppenburg received both less outside money than Prosser did, but more big-donor outside money in proportion. For an example of the latter, note the drastically-reduced protester footprint in Madison, now that they are no longer being artificially stimulated.
All of this is likely to be significant in the coming months as Democrats attempt to duplicate with entitlement reform what the Right (note: not the GOP, particularly) did with Obamacare. It’s currently very slow going, as Slate (somewhat plaintively) observes (H/T Instapundit): there simply has not been any sort of massive pushback against House Republicans for… straightforwardly keeping their collective campaign promise to pass a budget that incorporated serious spending cuts and general budget reform. And Slate even notes the reason, in passing: it’s because the wished-for anti-reform pushback didn’t go ‘viral.’
While ‘viral’ may be a combination buzzword and Holy Grail for New Media types, it is nonetheless a legitimate phenomenon. It’s just not really all that well understood, and getting something to go viral deliberately is very hard. You can do it if your underlying message is both sound and interesting, and if the sensory ‘hook’ that you’ve constructed for it is compelling enough – but to do that you have to have a good idea of what your target audience is like, or is at least interested in. Given that Democrats have managed to put themselves firmly on the “Yes” side of the question Should we keep spending more money than we actually have?, it’s fairly clear that the Left doesn’t really have a clue about its target audience, and is instead planning to just try scaring them some more.
But here’s the thing: the American public is already a little scared. They see a really big yearly deficit and a horrifically large debt, coupled to a miserable economy, and they want all of that to stop. Thinking that telling the American people that the Republican plan to handle all of this is to go kill Grandma is counterproductive… not least because it’s admitting that the Republicans actually have a plan, which is something that the Democrats have yet to come up with. Obviously, we will also have to establish that our plan is not actually evil, but that’s a lot easier in comparison to having to try to convince the voting public that the GOP is taking the situation seriously.
Which, as you might remember, was a problem for our party in 2006*.
Bottom line? The Cargo Cult mentality – which is to say, the belief that you can create your own ‘populist’ narrative, and somehow connive people into joining it – doesn’t really work anymore, if indeed it ever did. I understand that the temptation may be strong to try to divert existing anger and worry into more, ah, productive channels – but it’s almost impossible to do that without forming an inherent contempt for the very people that you’re trying to manipulate.
And, oddly enough, American political history is full of voters deciding to spank groups that treat them with contempt…
Moe Lane (crosspost)
*Which looks better and better every day, when compared to 2011. Hey, remember when gas was $2.20 a gallon and the unemployment rate was 4.4%? What happened with that? …Oh, right, the Democrats won the 2006 Congressional elections.