Fight Fantasy With Fantasy

The past few weeks have been intensely frustrating. Not because of the election — everybody saw that coming — but because of all the unsolicited misdiagnosed advice we’ve had to slog through since then.

It was the economy, stupid. It was always the economy. And it’ll still be the economy two years from now.

Unless, of course, it was the stories.

That’s the remedy a couple of pixel-pushers at HuffPo are hawking — Republicans tell better stories than Democrats:

Conservatives are the heroes of their own stories. Progressives need to internalize that same sense of pride in their efforts and then infuse their policy narratives with political champions.

Before we continue, let’s note for the record that “infuse their policy narratives” is a compelling example of shitty storytelling. In the movie version, the doctor would be smoking like a chimney in the examination room.

Anyway, to demonstrate their point, our heroes quote from a New York Times piece about the Senate passing the financial-reform bill:

Republicans criticized the bill in mostly political terms, arguing that it was an example of Democrats’ trying to expand the scope of government.

This, they say, clearly casts Democrats as villains, and Republicans as heroes.

Contrast this with a quote in that story from The Preznit:

“The recession we’re emerging from was primarily caused by a lack of responsibility and accountability from Wall Street to Washington,” Mr. Obama said, adding, “That’s why I made passage of Wall Street reform one of my top priorities as president, so that a crisis like this does not happen again.”

This, they say, is muddled: The villains are not clearly called out as such, nor is the hero sufficiently self-aggrandizing.

Better, they suggest, would be something like this:

The only thing standing between middle class families and more abuse from unethical bankers on Wall Street are the tough reforms we’re fighting for. That’s why we’ll continue this fight no matter how much Wall Street or the politicians who enabled their abuses object.

Yes, that would be better. Especially if the reforms really were that tough. Especially if we had a President who believed it.

You see the problem. It’s not the messaging at all. It’s the content.

As it happens, a HuffPo commenter had a similar gut reaction, and so we have the rare gift of a response:

I understand the frustration with politicians. However, it is a chicken and egg problem. Politicians will largely respond to their perceived self-interest. If they thought being more progressive would bring greater reward — they would. Therefore, the narrative we suggested in the piece could be a part of realigning the incentives for politicians.

That’s one helluva therefore.

What they’re trying to say is that if the Progressive Caucus would just frame proposals so that Blue Dogs could appear as heroes to their constituents, a lot more would get accomplished.

And really, there’s nothing wrong with that. We learned it in advertising class thirty years ago: Make the product the hero.

Problem is, we also learned something else: It’s easier when you have a good product. And as long as Democrats keep selling pigs, ain’t no amount of lipstick that’ll make them fly.

A Case Against the Undue Modesty of Progressive Heroes [HuffPo, via TPM]

I suspect there’s a grain of truth in both sides of this argument. If Democrats as a whole would stand proudly behind their initiatives and proposals I strongly suspect we’d see better initiatives and proposals.

Problem is, what usually happens is that Democrats make a bold initial proposal (i.e. HCR with a public option), but instead of standing up to fight for it, half the caucus cowers at the first dishonest GOP onslaught against the proposal. Then, instead of working to counter the Republican lies, these cowardly blue-dogs work to define themselves in opposition to the “radical liberals” in their own party.

The saddes and most friustrating thing about the GOP “echo chamber” is not just that the entire GOP party apparatus and righth-wing commentariat can be counted on to repeat the party line verbatim, but there’s a whole contingent of Democrats who can be counted on to join in in a perverse sort of “sympathetic vibration.”

Standing in the rain, outside the gated ‘burb
Not wise enough for life, His brain was too damn slow
Heard the roar of the rich, he could picture the scene
Put his ear to the wall, then like a distant scream
He heard “CUT TAXES”, just blew him away
He saw stars in his eyes, and the very next day

Bought an old three piece suit, in a secondhand store
He knew how to say it as he knew for sure
That one refrain, felt good in his mind, he didn’t really understand
Just one refrain, yelled very loud
Was a one way ticket, only one way to go
So he started yell’n, ain’t never gonna stop
Gotta keep on yell’n, someday gonna make it to the top

And be a contard hero, got stars in his eyes, he’s a contard hero
He took one refrain, contard hero, stars in his eyes
Contard hero, (stars in his eyes) He’ll tell many lies tonight

The only thing I agree with is that Progressives need to appeal to emotion rather than to just facts. Why? Simple neurology. The “average” mind has about 3 times more connections to the emotional areas of the brain than the “logical” part of the mind. This is why emotional appeals (even false) are more powerful than true logical ones.

This is why I want to kick the crap out of any “libruls” who proclaim to be “above it all” because they fail to see that we humans are animals and not lojikal kompooturs. Contards appeal to emotion because that’s all they’re good at. This is why I liked Alan Grayson’s approach. APPEAL TO THEIR EMOTIONS FIRST!! Scare the shit out of them. Paint the HC industry as the boogy man (it’s not like they didn’t earn it.)

I can hear someone (not here) yelling “we’re sinking to their level.” Really? In WAR (not Call of Duty fake war) the “good” guys and the “bad” guys often use a lot of the same techniques as dictated by the Rules of War- death by gunfire, misadventure, explosions, tank tread, shrapnel, napalm, etc. The only real difference at times is each side’s motivation. You’re not going to shoot rainbows out of your ass. Politics is a dirty ass game, a continuation of war by other (less deadly) means. Again, you’re NOT GOING TO SHOOT RAINBOWS OUT OF YOUR ASS.

I’m not against listening to “blue dog” types, but you have to ask who is fooling who? The fact that Evan “Zell” Bayh was their “leading” voice, who was bought and sold like a 3 dollar whore for the HC industry, should really tell any progressive something and why he should really shut his fucking yap.

They have a point. The ‘telling of the story’ from the Democrats has been dismal. They’ve done a lot of good things but no one knows it.

What has appalled me most during the last two years is the way that the left has simply thrown down its cards in a huff and flounced out of the room because they didn’t get everything they wanted. Why should the Democrats stick out their necks when they get no support from their constituents? When all they hear is how far short they’ve fallen? I’m sick of hearing about the AHCA being useless, for example. It’s a point of departure, not the final destination. I’m sick of hearing about DADT. Yes it’s important but right now it’s a side-show. It seems to me that Republican ‘messaging’ has been most effective among Democratic voters. They have knee-capped the president and all we hear is whining about It Gets Better.

The problem was crystalized for me by the recent display of smugness in DC. I haven’t watched those two since. Take to the streets and fight and I’ll be there. But don’t expect me to go to DC to demonstrate the fact that I know how to spell. I am beyond enraged by all of this but I’m mostly enraged by the left. They’re worse than the teabaggers because they don’t have the decency even to get angry. They sit at home and sneer and lament the fact that there’s no one to vote for. They deserve whatever they get.

@ManchuCandidate: I know you exempted us from those who might say we’re sinking to their level. We’re not if we frame arguments in such a way that they’re not only logical and touch an emotional nerve but also cause people to think. You need to have a well-stocked tool kit when you’re trying to communicate an idea or a policy for which you want backing and support, even if you just want people to think and enter a discussion. Getting people to simply think and to toy around with ideas and then to openly discuss these ideas is ideal.

The hardest part of seeking mass support is to not promote or rely on knee-jerk reactions that don’t require critical thinking. I think we steal a part of a person’s humanity, underestimate them or are elitists if we think that the average person can’t understand X, Y or Z, so it’s okay to appeal their lizard brains and manipulate them in that manner. At a very basic level, most people are concerned about survival and reproduction, which is why It’s the Economy, Stupid works so well and is true. A bad economy threatens survival. Even in a good economy, there are people living on the margins, but much like this TSA junk touching, the more people that are fearful for their futures and those of their families, communities, clans, etc., the more attention is paid to a pretty fucked up system.

It’s all about framing the issue.

The anger toward Wall Street has been greatly deflected and diffused while corporate profits were the highest on record last quarter.

Some of that [Wall Street] excess remains. A Morgan Stanley trader recently tried to hire a dwarf for a bachelor party in Miami, asking the dwarf to meet him at the airport in a “Men in Black” style suit, according to e-mail exchanges. The trader, who wanted to handcuff the dwarf to the bachelor, was recently fired.


People (I’m talking about regular folk again and not Wall St. idiots) really aren’t that stupid. That’s where nojo’s lipstick pig mention comes in. The product being peddled is crap (or could be much better), and those left defending it like it’s the invention of cold fusion look like idiots.

Why do people often seem to act against their own interests? Sometimes it’s because they hold other beliefs (based on fact or fiction) that override their best interests — their best interests as someone outside looking in might determine. <– I think that's key, because we are a diverse group of people and cultures and geography who tend to react rather than to plan. We live in a world of single-issue voting behavior, identity politics and other reasons (both bad and good) that affect how we see the world, and the narrative needs to be framed in many different ways if we want to reach the majority of people.

It's kind of like learning styles. Some people are visual learners, some are aural, some learn better through analogies and some need hands-on experience in order to grasp a concept. Most people are a mix of many styles, but an effective educator throws all that stuff into the mix in the hopes that most people will get the idea in their own way.

So, yeah. I agree that we need to appeal to emotions, but we can't stop there, because if we do, then we are sinking to their level. We need a mix of frames, each mix suited to address each issue, and we need to promote policies and goals that affect people directly — that are long on solutions, positive outcomes and tangible results and are short on wisps of Hope™ that it’ll all work out in the wash.

My bad. You’re right. It has to be a multi nuanced approach. I stupidly omitted the part where I would have typed “plus logic.”

@ManchuCandidate: Trial lawyers know this. You don’t win over a jury with a pile of facts. You need to construct a story that appeals to the values the jurors already have and that makes them feel good about voting your way. There are a number of academic studies showing that most jurors vote the same way at the end of a case as they would have voted right after the parties’ opening statements — that is, after they have heard the lawyers’ stories but before they have heard a single word of evidence.

@Dodgerblue: This is true, and I remember learning this a long time ago despite the fact that I’ve never been in court. I see a difference between the courtroom and society, though. The duty to zealously represent your client demands that you craft the story to appeal to the jurors. Maybe I have a blind spot here, but I think that while the verdict always carries ramifications that extend from the courtroom to society, except for extreme cases that deal with issues that affect us all that might set some sort of precedent in jurisprudence, most cases don’t reach very far.

Legislation and enforcement are different in the sense that you need greater buy-in from a whole bunch of people who are being bombarded with more information from all over the place and who don’t have a set of instructions from the judge as to how to apply law to facts.

In the courtroom, the jury is manipulated (not in a bad way, I guess) by the stories, but they’re also constrained by rules. The lawyers are constrained by rules of procedure and evidence, and on. I guess what I’m trying to say (again as someone who has never set foot in a courtroom except to fight a traffic ticket) is that I don’t think that we can extend the process of how juries are introduced to information to political discourse in the country as a whole.

The country as a whole has no rules of procedure or evidence, people aren’t sequestered (as some juries are), and people have to deal with a shitton of competing ideas. What sucks is that these competing ideas aren’t rigorously challenged, tested and debated like they are in a courtroom, so bad ideas slip in and good ideas fall by the wayside. This failure is partially due to efforts to communicate in an intellectual environment that is more like the Wild West than anything else.

Not sure what I’m trying to get across, and I have to hit the road, but I see a fundamental difference between the courtroom and political discourse, and I think that efforts to extend what works in the courtroom at least half of the time ;-) would fail in society at large.

I think your main point was that people don’t tend to care about facts so much as the story that surrounds them, and I agree. But I think that when it comes to political discourse, we need to encourage people to think about the facts in combination with other things. ?

Democrats/Liberal/Progressives/The Good Guys need to paraphrase and live by Patton’s Law of War: “The purpose of war is not to die for your country. The purpose of war is to make the other poor bastard die for his country.”

Crazy people like us don’t last in the Democratic Establishment, however. We scare funders and centrists away. Still, I had to tell someone yesterday that I am retired.

For now.

They do in Canada City.

Jean was a brawler by nature and as a lawyer. The offended upper crust that is Canada City’s MSM whined and moaned about the inappropriateness of this. No one else gave a shit and didn’t hurt Jean’s reelection chances one bit at the time.

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