How We Fell Short

Ace of Spades blog has some insightful ideas about the presidential election. He calls it “Three Unrelated Thoughts” and there is a lot worth considering in them:

I don’t know how useful these thoughts are. It’s a slow news day and these three things have occurred to me, but I haven’t thought about them so much to know if they’re good ideas.

1. The key to winning in politics is not to appeal to people’s best selves and present to them an idealistic, selfless vision; the key is to appeal to their selfish interests but invent a narrative by which the selfish is depicted as selfless, and the low is depicted as the noble.

This is a cynical idea but I have no doubt that this is the central theme of Obama’s politics, and the key to why he won two elections. All of his “poetry” is about aspiring to a heaven on earth in which every man is an angel of virtue, but the actual “prose” of his governance is a series of transactional payoffs to one constituency and then another. Rather than calling these things “payoffs” and “small transactions to interested parties seeking money or government favor,” he calls it “winning the future” or “safeguarding the dream of America” or whatever.

One problem I had with Romney is that he seemed to too much the rationalist. He is swayed by data; he thinks other people are too. They’re not, not in the main. (Present company excepted, as always.)

I don’t think reason really sways people. I think if you want to “lead” people you appeal to what they want to do anyway and you invent an emotional, Purpose-Larger-Than-Self narrative around that and sell them self-interest in the packaging of Idealism. I don’t think Romney did that, and furthermore, I don’t think he was even capable of doing that because he wasn’t grounded in any ideology.

Ideology usually provides a logical (if debatable) connection between proposed policy and desired personal outcomes.

When you listened to Paul Ryan speak, he often connected conservative policy with the people’s aspirations for a better life. Romney didn’t do that himself often enough. As many people said before of him (and more since) he seemed to speak conservatism as a second language, to the extent he spoke it all. Mostly he spoke Managerese.

2. If you want to achieve something, you will achieve it faster and easier if it is more like fun and play and less like work.

I think this is something the Obama team understood — they made politicking and activism a game, offering lots of stupid little FaceBook things and such. They also strongly promoted “organic” activism — people getting together in a precinct leader’s house for social activities, in advance of actual hit-the-street activism.

Democrats have, I think, a natural advantage in this sort of thing because a younger constituency is more interested in this sort of thing. Young people’s lives tend to be socially unsettled — they’re not married yet (mostly), still looking for love, more actively open to new friendships than older people.

I also think they’re frankly a little bit dumber which makes throwing a sheep at other Obama supporters more of a draw than it would be for people who aren’t as, you know, dumb.

That said, while Democrats may have an advantage at this mode of politics, it’s merely an advantage, and either way the “work as play” rule — you work on the clock, but you play whenever you have free time — should and probably must be leveraged for our own purposes.

Given that many more conservatives have kids, and would probably enjoy a chance to do something as adults without the kids, I wonder if our own efforts in this direction wouldn’t involve a few volunteers agreeing to stay behind with all the kids of the other volunteers. That is, a few volunteer to be day-care personnel, freeing up the rest for social activities/activism.

I noticed in some pictures of Obama’s activists they tended to be quite young (no kids yet) or much older (kids all grown up). That would tend not to be the situation among Republicans.

3. I was thinking about this Geraghty piece considering this Goldstein piece on the most politic manner conservatives can comport themselves.

I don’t have many firm ideas on this, except to say that contempt is never persuasive. Contempt has its purposes inside a group — it is natural that any self-selecting group should, among themselves, express contempt externally at those not enlightened enough to join. Contempt to those outside implicitly compliments those on the inside, and thus boosts in-group morale.

Many political embarrassments, however, occur when in-group messaging — such as naked contempt for those in the out-group — is vented publicly. As happened with Romney’s “47%” remarks, and Obama’s “bitter clingers” ruminations.

I’m not sure what to make of this, however. One can hardly fashion a strict rule about such things. Any time I am writing on this blog I am communicating publicly. Sort of, I mean. It’s public but without much actual publicity — to some extent, this is public, but it’s sort of private because who, apart from us, reads this drivel? And you don’t even read this drivel (you’re already in the comments, and have been in the comments since point one), which means, effectively, I’m the only guy reading what I’m writing right now, and I’m barely paying attention to myself at that.

So when Rush Limbaugh makes a statement which is really supposed to be “between us,” entre nous, of course it won’t be. But what do we say then? That Rush should never engage in the perfectly useful and perfectly common practice of in-group messaging against the out-group? That’s frequently what is said when one of these little statements blows up in the liberal media: “He shouldn’t have said that. He’s hurt the movement.”

But is it really realistic to expect someone to act as the most cautious diplomat in every one of his public statements? Diplomats are many things, but interesting they are not.

As I said, I have no idea what to say here, because while I agree we should all be (and I should be) the very most presentable and charming Public Diplomat for the Cause of Conservatism Possible in every single public utterance — and even every private utterance! — this is simply an impossibility and so massively stupid a recommendation it collapses under its own weight. No one could live like this, and no one would want to.

On the other hand, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to keep it in mind that contempt is part of in-group messaging, not intended for wide dissemination outside the group; so when a contemptuous remark gets out in the open, we all shouldn’t run around insisting our politicians double-down on it and “prove to the world it’s right.”

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