Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Feedback & Criticism

A surprising number of humans are weighing in on "Learn to say 'ain't". The positive feedback is, well, positive and encouraging further explanation of these ideas. Wait'll we get to building memes like Legos(tm). The negative seems to be falling into two or three camps.

1.) "This is just another Kerry-bashing article! He was a great politician who was unfairly smeared by the media! He's a very charming guy! You should've seen him work the caucuses."

I am reminded of a section in The Sling and the Stone where Thomas Hammes discusses why the study of the how warfare evolves and transforms was largely ignored by the very militaries who should have been parsing it out. Military establishments considered self-criticizing analysis to have too great a negative impact on morale to engage in.

a.) I'm sure John Kerry is a fine, fine man. Certainly a better man than I. However, he was the last progressive presidential candidate, and he lost.

He lost, guys. Lost. I'm sorry that's not fair. I. Don't. Care. I believe we would all prefer to avoid this outcome in the future. Gore and Kerry lost counties that had been Democratic for six decades. Somebody fucked up.

What's more important -- having frank (even if occasionally incorrect) discussions about political tactics, or tiptoing around the feelings of this man's supporters? I'm not bashing Kerry -- I'm using elements of his campaign as part of the discussion. I may wind up being wrong about a lot of this. But let's pick the corpse clean for all it's worth. If there are no lessons to be learned there, fine. If we follow a false trail or two in analysis, at least we're doing the work. The only thing more useless than clinging emotionally to a failed campaign is the almost pathetic fetishism of Clinton. (Talking to you, Al Franken. Just ask him to the prom and get it over with)

b.) Yes, Kerry was smeared. Yes, the media is biased. Damn those Viet-Cong and their dirty jungle fighting! If only we could fight them on the open ground, we'd win.

We're in the jungle kids. Tell you what, you work on reforming the media, I'll work on trying to effectively manage message presentation within the current framework, and we'll meet in Utopia.

c.) I heard on the day how Kerry worked the Democratic caucuses (had a pal who was a Dean supporter). Spiffy. But you know what, this is exactly the blind spot I'm talking about. The broken way we choose nominees actually hides the flaws the candidate then has when presenting himself nationally. When given the choice between a candidate who wows his own party apparatchniks and the guy who can win the vaguely hostile swing voter, I'll take the road comic. The fact that he can get a farmer who's the state party rep and who's been one for thirty years ... does. not. matter.

2.) "This is just another one of those 'Democrats have to be DUMBER' arguments!"

No, and that's prejudice disguising itself as principle. I'm saying progressives need to make sure that they fall in the "us" camp rather than the "them" camp. If you interpret that to mean they "have to seem dumber", then you plainly feel that the majority of "us" is dumb.

Fuck you, elitist monkey.

One of the great shocks as a road comic is that every audience is as smart as you are. Yeah, that guy over there is an auto-mechanic. Can you fix a car? No. It's a really complex gig. That guy's a doctor. You a doctor? No. I once performed in Butte and had a young rancher explain the nuances of cattle economics to me -- trying to follow the discussion, I felt like a five year old with a head injury. That's why I loved the road. It renewed your faith in humanity's wondrous variety and intelligence.

There were, of course, exceptions. There are sections of Idaho, for example, that ought to be fenced off for everyone's good.

Anyway ... No, my argument is that progressives aren't not connecting on a primal level with great masses of people who should be in their camp; that because of this, no matter how smart either the audience is or progressive policies are, they won't be won over; and that this situation is at least analysable and perhaps manageable. And I'm basing this on years of winning over strangers. If you have a different way of winning over strangers based on a decade's practical experience, bang it out on your blog and I'll link to it. If it's better, we'll study your process.

3.) "Your argument's bogus, because you say that the audience can tell when somebody's lying. Well Bush is lying! He lies all the time! He's a Ivy-League millionaire who fools people into believing he's a rancher! HE'S THE LYINGEST BASTARD ON THE PLANET!! AAAAGGGHHHH!!!!!! WHY DOESN'T ANYBODY UNDERSTAND THIS?!!! AGAGAGAHAHAHGGAAAAAGGGHHHHAAAGG!"

No. (and that is roughly the emotional tenor of some of my friends on this subject)

He's not lying.

Man, a lot of you are going to hate this. But here goes.

He actually THINKS he's a good ol' boy. He hung out with southern fellas, banged stewardesses, drank too much Jack, and wears cowboy boots. When he found Jesus, I genuinely believe he found Jesus. He has no intellectual grasp of the contradiction between Christ's method and his policies, but that doesn't mitigate the fact he believes, and it comes through --

-- oh, and by the way, that's hardly rare. Most American Catholics, when it comes to abortion, nod sagely at the Vatican's pronouncement and declare themselves devout Catholics. But when it comes to divorce, pre-marital sex or especially contraception, they're all "WhoPopewiththewhatwiththewhonow? --

George Bush believes he's a good guy. Dad lived at Kennebunkport and went South when he had to. George, for all his faults, thinks he's a Texan. He's PROUD of his identity as a Texan, because it saved him the effort of actually constructing a personality of his own. If any of his businesses, oil or sports, had panned out, I'd take even money he never would've gone into politics. Karl Rove's genius in finding Bush was finding a guy who actually believed in his own bullshit image.

In the parlance of my business, he's the hack comic who kills every show, and has no idea he's a hack.

Why the hell do you think they never let him do press conferences? Precisely because he's such a shitty liar. When he's on the campaign trail and can talk in generalities, his job is to get you to like him. And, looking at his life, that's all he ever did or wanted: was to get people to like him. But when you put him on a podium, and he has to remember all the facts and figures and not to contradict himself because, well, lying is tricksy, he's crap.

Bush accentuates the "us" parts of his personality. That's different from "lying". That extension I was talking about works for both good and evil, folks. Progressives did a very, very bad job of sliding into "us", and did an absolute shit job of defining "them".

Underestimating your opponent's skill because you hate them is one of the primary errors of warfare. It's one of the reasons the US's war on terror is going so poorly. When the other guy's good at something, just acknowledge it and move on. Figure out how to beat it or neutralize it. Stop pretending it can't be true because you can't allow your opponent that level of skill or ability.

So, swing by every few days. It should be interesting.

57 comments:

1031 said...

This is what I've said for years, about Bush believing his own bullshit. That was the thing that was always maddening to me, that a lot of people didn't get, that the man sincerely believes he's doing God's work, that he's doing the right thing. He's too stupid to lie.

The real bastards of the administration are Rove and Cheney. They're the ones who have been using Bush and his blank slate of a brain to manipulate their policies into existance.

I've always said that Bush would be a fun guy to catch a ballgame with. Get away from politics and he's just a regular schmuck who, like you said, simply wants to be liked, not some evil mastermind bent on ruining America with his idiocy.

John said...

As a touring musician, I've experienced what you've been talking about from the non-verbal perspective. If you're already the headliner, you can get away with going through the motions for awhile, your fans already like you. The real test is an opening slot for a known band. The audience is semi hostile, they don't know you, and they paid good money to see the main act. If you don't hit the stage with passion, you're finished.
Ever wonder why gospel singers are so compelling? They believe what they're singing, and sing what they believe. Sounds obvious, but listen to a wooden stump speech from a smart guy who's trying to hit all his talking points instead of getting down emotionally with the crowd, and you realize how tone deaf some of these guys are.

Gryn said...

NPD, Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If you ever had to deal with one you know that one can "lie" to your face about something that he JUST SAID and make you think you are crazy because he really believes it.

KFMonkey speaks the truth and I concur that Bush really believes in his bullshit aura and can convince any casual observer of the same.

This puts most intelligent thoughtful liberals at a severe disadantage against a willfully ignorant prick like a narcissist. They are always compelled to admit shades of gray where one would be best served to sticking to black & white simplistic rhetoric.

Speaking truth through humor (the jester) is the only avenue I can see to overcome the advantage the skillfully deceptive have.

Emily said...

And of course I'm going to take issue with Part 3. While you make a very convincing argument, I'm very wary of agreeing. It's real easy to forget someone is a monster if you think they're an idiot. Sincerity is not an excuse. While I agree that Rove and Cheney are most likely puppeteers, I don't think Bush's blank state absolves him from a damn thing.

Hannibal Tabu said...

Given that I only started reading your blog as part of my job, since you were writing the Transformers script, I gotta say this is great stuff.

I read your Bush commentary and remembered a certain George Costanza quote: "it's not a lie if you believe it." Bush has been an amazingly well constructed populist creation to fuel some of the most elitist and un-American (depending on your POV) policies ever.

Your analysis is insightful, and Howard Dean as DNC chair would be wise to be looking at Demo governors for just such a populist. As someone who doesn't participate in the process, this is all fine theatre for me, and I can look at it as objectively as you do.

bendavid said...

If everything Bush spewed was a calculated deception, and the truth as far as he was concerened was irrelevant (a "the ends justify the means" approach if there ever was one)... he would have planeted WMDs in Iraq to get everyone off his goddamn back. If he truly felt he was in the right and dishonesty was a total afterthought. Think about it.

Benari said...

The best stand-up comics can walk into ANY room and crush ... and that should hold true for politicians, too.

I think your analogy is perfect - Kerry is the comic that all the COMICS love and he crushes in Cambridge, but they "just don't get his jokes" in the stix.

W is Carrot Top, laughing all the way to the bank while the comics in the back of the room scratch their heads, shrug, and then bitch and moan about integrity, selling out, and Bill Hicks.

Excellent stuff, sir.

Dweeze said...

The original piece was excellent - it hit the nail on the head. (Yeah, I'm playing blog comment cliche bingo.) So the following is offered not as a criticism, just as an observation.

As an Iowan, and a Dean supporter, I want to say that there was more to Kerry's caucus campaign than just working the right connections. The caucus campaign was passionate, it was aggressive, it connected with people. I know just as many people who became active in Democratic politics because of the way Kerry connected to them during the caucus campaign as I know people who became active because of Dean. I had high hopes for Kerry when he became the nominee.

The problem was, the general election campaign was fundamentally different from the caucus campaign. It was boring, it was safe, it did nothing for people. The caucus campaign was played to win. The general election campaign was played not to lose. Instead of sticking with what got them to where they were, they shifted gears and acted as if they were the front runner. It was, ultimately, a fatal mistake, as people who had never seen Kerry before identified him not as the person who aggressively went after the nomination but as the person who passively went after the presidency.

C. JoDI said...

Wow, followed the links froom Majikthise and am really impressed with the analysis. I agree that whining about the media landscape and the apparent idiocy of the electorate is wrong and, more importantly, painfully fruitless.

I find your thesis that Bush believes his own bullshit to be compelling, and a likely explanation for his success. It has certainly confounded me as much as the next person.

Mr. Rogers (may I call you that?), your commentary is trenchant and edifying and completely at odds with the irritating kvetch-fest currently emanating from most of the Democratic/progressive community. Thanks.

benari: W as Carrot Top...brilliant. Just wondering: in a continuation of the metaphor, would Bill Hicks be Robert Kennedy...or Eugene Debs?

Craig Perko said...

I'll be eagerly waiting your memetic construction post.

Well, that sounds like a pointless comment, doesn't it? But, no, honestly - that's what I really want to see. This stuff is just an appetizer.

Rogers said...

Exactly, Dweeze -- the problem is also, it was played to win because that was where the candidates (paritculalrly the Kerry "machine") knew how to play to win.

Anonymous said...

Blah blah. More lazy standard analysis. You've got to 'connect'. What a load of horseshit.

Kerry sucked. He's not a nice man, a good man, or a good candidate.

But instead of arguing with the idiotic Kerry booster drones or psycho-analyzing Bush (yawn), you might consider wondering why Kerry became the nominee. It was pretty fucking obvious he was a bad candidate. Why did the Democratic base - yes, all of you - pick this guy?

Democrats. Always willing to point the finger at Kerry or the candidate, but never at yourself.

Why don't you focus on what you can control instead of getting all self-righteous and preening that you could do it better? The fact is that you couldn't have done it better. How do I know this? Because you weren't there. And showing up is what life is about.

One other thing about life. You get what you pay for and what you vote for.

All of you fuckheads crying about the election should have fucking thought about 'connecting' in 2003 when the primary was going on. Now in 2005 you're pulling the same bullshit.

The Democrats are out of ideas. That's why there's a fucking Republican governor of Mass, NY, and California. WHAT THE FUCK? Why don't you work on the problems in the political system that don't have to do with you telling a Presidential candidate to be himself once every four years?

What a bunch of whiny idiots. This country is so fucked.

Rogers said...

Hate mail in the inbox, my friend. Standard policy at the Monkey.


But I will take a moment to comment.

a.) You have completely missed the point of the article, which is about image, communication and rhetoric. If you don't think those are valid things to discuss about American politics, fine. Just don't tell Karl Rove.

b.) I'm a progressive. Not a Democrat. I vote Democrat right now because the Republican party leadership has forsaken its pro-science, small government roots. It is a particular near-sightedness of Americans to automatically slot everyone into the two camps. one of the reasons this country so desperately needs a viable third party, fi only to change the psychological dynamic.

c.) Yes, well, good point that the Democrats are out of ideas. They don't have spiffy ones like cutting taxes for the rich while soldiers die without armor, cutting taxes for the rich while our students fall farther and farther back in the world, cutting taxes for the rich instead of doing anything concrete about energy independence, cutting taxes for the rich while half of all bankruptcies in America are caused by this shitty broken health system, cutting taxes for the rich while firemen and cops and other first-responders literally FUCKING BEG for money to keep us safe. The wide and amazing variety of ideas on the Right for dealing with these myriad crises constantly leaves me agape.

Your tone is juvenile, your argument vague, you contribute nothing ... and even worse, your logic is crap. You mean the governor of CA with the 47% approval numbers? The governor of MA with the 43% approval numbers? Or the governor of New York with re-elect numbers in the 30's? If those guys are the crown jewels of your arguments -- tsk. Oh, and tell me, if those three governors fall in the coming elections -- will you then turn around and claim that's proof that the Republicans have no ideas? Do you even have that tiny shred of intellectual honesty?

Of course not.

You bore me. All you have is rage and poor reasoning skills. Your kung fu is not strong. Bugger off.

Benari said...

For the record, I think Kerry was a good candidate and I was proud to not only support him, but work for him. Further, I think the John Kerry of 1972 would have walked away with this election and if we could have plucked THAT guy from the time stream, we would have. If only.

However, losing sucks. And the fact is, the election was VERY close...but we lost. There was a split in the country and - although it was close - THEY won. And while I agree with Rogers' point about "playing the room," I don't think Kerry lost so much as he was beaten. Kerry was outplayed, outspun, and upstaged by the soundbytes of fear, hatred, rhetoric, misdirection, and lies. All the things that play well to the "big rooms."

In comedy terms: Jeff Foxworthy is the number one selling comic in America. Are there better, funnier, more talented, more original comics out there? Absolutely. But Foxworthy (right now) connects with the most amount of people. The lesson here is to look at how/why he's the number one selling comic and then learn from it. That doesn't mean aping his material; it means studying his mechanics. It's style over substance, really, and instead of just looking at the substance, we need to also be aware that you DO get points for style.

Roddy McCorley said...

A friend of mine was kind enough to forward your thoughts on the virtues of "ain't." As an ex-comic, I'd amend that to "Learn to say 'fuck.'" Except that when Kerry did say "fuck" it wasn't terribly convincing.

My own feeling is that guys like Kerry need to learn the virtues of setup & punchline. A punchline doesn't have to be funny -- one of the best of all time is "Luke, I'm your father" -- but it does have to be, well, punchy. It has to make its point quickly and cleanly. And you have to get to it as quickly as possible. So your setup has to be as short as possible. Efficient. Every word has to count, has to bring you closer to your punchline.

The GOP gets that, although I'm sure they don't think of it in those terms. The folks at the Daily Show get that. Democrats... not so much. Kerry, for his considerable virtues, was very inefficient as a speaker. Way too much "and."

As for what Bush believes, dead on again. That's what makes it so scary.

1031 said...

Rogers, you're my hero of the smackdown.

Am I the only one who hates it when people post idiotic comments like that without leaving a name? If you don't have the balls to say shit publicly, rather than anonymously, shut the hell up.

Anonymous said...

I know Karl Rove. Karl Rove knows that this game is about ideas, and that effective communication comes from strong ideas. The Republican vision is a cruel one, yes, it means a return to Medieval times. But what is the Democratic vision? There isn't one.

Your silliness about third parties is exactly my point. You whine about Democrats and say 'I'm not a Democrat I want a third party wah wah!' There aren't two camps, by the way. There are centrists, liberals, conservatives, etc. in both parties. Yours is a hack consumer way of looking at politics - if only I had a third consumer brand everything would be better. That's crap. People get the democracy they want.

If you really cared about making the Democrats better, you'd actually be a Democrat and vote in the primary. But you won't. Better to not take responsibility for your country.

And you are whining. Do you think that the stuff you're saying is novel? Wow us Democrats just never thought of that! No one has EVER said anything of the majesty and intelligence of the Kung Fu Monkey blog or connected Hollywood and comedy to politics. It's not like there are hundreds of books written each year about exactly this fucking communications problem. It's not like there is a whole industry of magazines and commenters and a nexus of Hollywoodized communications specialists working in Democratic politics. And it's not like every fucking Democratic candidate is soul-searching about how to 'connect' with people.

Our problems as a party run much deeper than John Kerry, just like our problems as a country run much deeper than George Bush.

My point is this. You can't control what Democrats do, and you don't deserve a hearing until you put that (D) on your registration card, go to a local dem meeting, and start getting in the fucking game.

Otherwise you're a cheap hack in the bleacher seats who happens to be a good writer.

laurean said...

1031> *L* Nice! I guess Rogers is the hero of smackdown.

As for all of this political information, all I can think of in my mind is the quote 'The road to Hell is paved with good intentions' or something like that?

I agree, I think Bush believes he *IS* doing a good job, and honestly, we don't know how much of a real story he is getting.

And yes, the media is biased...if you haven't learned that by now... you should just keep yourself in your dreamworld..and not even try to incorporate yourself with reality.

I also have to strongly agree with what Benari said, if this was 1972 Kerry, I think he would have blown everyone out of the water.

It's sad to say that we as a country have gone from rationally looking at the policies and background of our social workers, to allow ourselves to be placed in categories as 'red' or 'blue' as 'democrat' or 'republican'...and if someone else decides to make slurs at our team, colour, or buddy in office...we as individuals take it as a personal attack on ourselves.

Honestly...what is our democracy coming to if we no longer have a right (or are alienated by our peers) for pointing out the flaws and consquences ANY of our political officers make??

Rogers said...

Anonymous, did you just come over here from the first post? If so, please go back and check out me telling you to go fuck yourself there. It's really funny and cool, and will make you even angrier!

On the odd chance you're a new guy, I'll start fresh:

a.) I'm, errr, not whining. You're shouting.

b.) You know Karl Rove? Wow, you're not heavily invested in the process status quo at all, are you?

c.)I did vote Democrat. So, add that to your list of things you don't know shit about and yet feel superior about. Feel free to apologize. I also contribute time and money to progressive politician who are not from my state (or nation), send money to veteran's groups, support a suicide hotline and basically run a food bank out of my back goddam pocket. But if only I could contribute to progressive causes in the way you find appropriate, and so earn the chance to have an opinion based on years of practical experience.

d.)I'd like there to be a third party because I think multi-party governments serve the people better. It's not a knee-jerk response, thinking it will fix everything. It's based on my international travels and correspondence, and seeing how those governments seem to work at a different rhythm.

e.) I'm not asking anyone to bow down to the genius of kung fu monkey. You're reading a lot of arrogance into my stance.

What I am saying is that we need to look at all the wrenches, and see what works. Some of the wrenches might not have been examined in this way. In six months I may say right here on this blog "Jesus, I was an idiot." But some far smarter human may have thought of something cool based on one of my hare-brained ideas, and so the entire discussion was worth it.

f.) Yes, there are many books on communication. Few are written by guys who have to stand six feet from a hundred drunken, angry strangers. I believe this gives me an insight into the immediacy and nitty-gritty of the process that others may not have. I may not even create tools, but at least be able to help people spot their weaknesses in this regard. Trying to contribute.

I'm also not saying anything Brian Schweitzer, the new governor of Montanan, isn't talking about. Is he also a fuckwit who needs to shut up? Is he idiot for even bringing this sort of discussion up? Is he an idiot for not knowing there a millions of books about this subject? Call him and tell him, his number's on his web page!

g.) You think I'm a good writer? Wow. Thanks. Seriously, that's my big secret fear, and you kind of helped me out there.

Carlos said...

Good post. My answer to the original post was a bit on the first category but I stand by it. Politics is NOT like stand up comedy in that it's competitive. The other side will be criticizing you every step of the way, lying about you, etc. Even you will look bad if after every performance, another comic showed up in stage and started to mock and criticize your act. Then a group of journalists would go on stage and comment on who was better. See if by the end of it the audience still likes you. Good communications skills are not enough, you need the ability to withstand the other side attacks and/or to attack yourself.

opit said...

I've done enough cold calls to just shake my head at what stand-ups do for fun. The blog ? That's entertainment. Yes, you do keep some presentation skills writing.

1031 said...

Hey Rogers, that last Anon was right. You are a good writer.

I'm certainly insecure about my own work, and I forget that even people who get paid and are successful are just as worried that they suck as am I.

So I'd say don't worry about it, but I know you will...so nevermind.

Rogers said...

Carlos ....

Ah, but there you're incorrect, sir, and I'm assuming you're not a standup. Any standup will tell you it is ABSOLUTELY competitive. You are absolutley competing with the other comics, in ways that are like samurai stargin at each other, without drawing steel. You are also in a very weird dominance game/competition with the audience.

You're also underestimating the quantum shift in perception that occurs once you've gotten someone to laugh. Go ahead and put some guys on after a good show. They might shift opinion a little one way or the other, but they will never change the audience's fundamental judgement of your worth.

Anonymous said...

Here's my apology, dickface.

I didn't say you didn't vote Democratic, fuckwit. Obviously you did. I said that if you're not a Democrat then how the fuck do you expect to change what Democrats say or expect anyone who actually deals in politics day in and day out to take you seriously?

It's a pretty obvious point. You criticize who the Democrat nominated. Yet you're not a Democrat.

Well guess what? There ain't a progressive primary, asshole. People who know something about politics deal with things as they are, not as things might be in la la land. It's like comedy. If the audience doesn't laugh it's not the audience's fault. It's your fault. If the Democrats don't do what you say the answer is not to whine at them and wish for a third party.

I'm glad you run a soup kitchen. La di da. All I'm saying is that you should become a fucking Democrat. Then you can whine to your heart's content.

So once again, I'm sorry that you're such a turd. You're obviously very smart, and have no experience in politics. Get some.

Anonymous said...

Also, you're right about Bush not being a liar. He is in a literalist sense a liar, of course, but only if you accept enlightenment concepts, which his culture and politics does not.

He has a vision, though, and we do not. For instance, ask yourself what kind of country you want to see in 20 years. What does it look like?

I haven't met one Democrat who knows where they want the country to go. And that's the problem.

Fuckhead.

1031 said...

Jesus Christ, what an asshole...

Rogers said...

I'm just wondering what his experience in politics is. And how effective he is in that role. Because that is some John Bolton rage right there.

Okay, Anon, I'll try one more time.

a.) There is obviously a social element in politics. The art of convincing people to vote for you is what separates a poltician from a wonk. Both valuable to the advancement of policy. Different jobs.

b.) I've noticed that some Democratic candidates I like don't seem to have some skills I've seen other people use in what one might consider a parallel situation. I'm not saying this is the only answer. I'm not saying this is the cure all. I'm just putting this shit out there for smarter people to discuss and possibly utilize, from a viewpoint they may not have because we have different life experiences, and with a different vocabulary based on same.

c.) Seeing as I'm not some high party muckity-muck, and so cannot affect campaigns directly, I offer these ideas in this forum. (and despite your urge to work tirelessly in the party, you and I both know I could dedicate my entire life to working for the Democratic party and never even come close to a position of authority or influence over major elections. That's disingenuous, and you know it)

There are two really interesting things in your response. First, this whole "politics deals with things as they are, not in la la land." I'm bringing lessons gleaned from years "as they are", the hard job of working crowds. That's a political skill necessary in the real world. Your critique makes no sense.

(And I so tire of condescending cynicism disguised as pragmatism. It's a cheap rhetorical tool. It fights reasoned discourse and the unemotional examination of tools which can aid us in advancement -- both in science and politics.)

Two, and this is the really interesting part. You mention that when an audience doesn't laugh, you don't whine and blame them, it's the comic's fault. And then go on to say "When the Democrats" don't do what I want, I shouldn't whine and blame them. You, in your comparison, put the PARTY IN THE AUDIENCE ROLE. They're not -- the VOTER is the audience. I'm intrigued by how that dynamic works in your head. The dynamic, by the way, which to me is one of the blind spots of the current Democratic leadership structure. It must be tied to the whole "unless you hold a party card, shut the fuck up" thing.

And I'm really, really confused by your almost inchoate rage at the idea that I'd even consider multiple parties, as exist in many of our equally civilized partner nations. Are you honestly saying that reasoned consideration of alternate ideas immediately disqualifes me from having any opinion about the Democrats, because I'm a "traitor"? I mean, I still carry some Nader rage myself, but let it go. I'm also not too fond of the Senate as an institution, but I still write checks to my Democratic Senators (and all the others in close races, by the way).

Oh, and three. Your challenge that most Democrats cannot express where they think the country should be in twenty years. I quite agree. Unlike you, I believe many Democrats have a firm idea of where the country should be -- and their inability to express that, the very problem you mention, is why I began writing this series. You damn near made my point for me there.

Oooo, and one more -- four. You're quite correct in saying that I don't know much about politics. I mentioned that multiple times in the intro to the article. I would cede, quite happily, that you are far, far more experienced in politics than I am. All I know how to do is convince total strangers I'm reasonable, amusing, and they should find my arguments at the least interesting -- mostly because I have connected with them in some way.

Seeing that the entire focus of the article is that someone who's immensely experienced in politics might have a tin ear in conveying their ideas and may instead alienate the listener, while someone of more limited political experience or knowledge may win in the arena of public perception and ideas because of the skills I discuss ...

... and seeing how this little exchange played out ...

... well, I think you certainly as hell made that point for me.

jbou said...

I stumbled over here from Ezra Klein's blog, and I have to say your insights made me laugh. To think I was trying to cutback on my blog reading and now I have another blog I "must read", (I'm shaking my fist at you and I'm cursing).

As for what you said, I agree whole heartedly, a politicians personality and how they are perceived is very important. But the republicans can afford to run delusional fools like Dubya because the republicans have such a solid brand. All the republicans have to do is run a likable guy, because the public already knows where this person stands, because he is a republican.

The republicans have tied themselves in with the right wing branding machine, this is a machine that was built in the early 70's and has been used to prop up republicans who buy into what these right wingers want, and has been used to crush liberal progressives, and has tied in the democrats to the crushed progressives. This article gives you some background on what all my babbling means.

So yeah, the Dems need personable people able to reach large audiences in a single bound but they also need a machine in place selling some liberal progressive ideas, because if the right wingers have already labled them liberal and progressive we mind as well have a platform for these folks to run on. Kerry had to sell his agenda, play defense and be personable, Dubya had to be personable, and play defense, the right wing machine had already taken care of the selling of the agenda.

Anonymous said...

I can appreciate what you are saying about snobbishness, elitism, etc., but the problem is, HOW do you attack the GOP position without somehow claiming you're above this crap and drivel. It continues to astound me that this country elected such a group of unethical liars, interested only in politics not policy. They show daily that they despise the Joe Blow that the supported them in astounding numbers, even when it hurts their cause. If the population in this country is SO STUPID that they can't see through this garbage, how do you talk to them? Just the lying done to promote this war deserves the president's impeachment, yet there is not a single politician whose has the guts to promote this idea, even if it goes nowhere. I was stupid enough to support this man after 9/11, but it did not take long into Gulf 2 that I seen the absolute error in my way of thinking. Anyone wtih an IQ over 85 should be able to decipher this mumbo jumbo! Sorry, but you're wrong!!!!! We don't need to sink to their level. Crap is crap no matter how you elevate it!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm an asshole. I'm not 'nice'. Deal with it, 1031.

Anyway, so many misimpressions, we're really talking past each other.

Am I angry? Uh, yeah.

Are you? Uh, yeah.

That's what motivates comedy. So deal with it and quit pretending that anger and argument don't go together. Ok, that's out of the way.

What I want out of this conversation is for Democrats to start taking their responsibility serious. And you are not doing that.

The fact is, that you are the party. You can bitch if you want, and I welcome it. But you are the party, and so am I. Take responsibility for your politics. If you don't do that one simple thing, and cry about how the Democrats are doing everything wrong while at the same time eschewing any ability to make a difference in Democratic politics, you're just being irresponsible.

Do I like this group of Democrats? No. That's why I'm trying to replace them with people like you who know what you are talking about with regards to communication. Now, duh, it's not as simple as you make it out to be, but roughly, you've got the communications problem down. You're missing the vision thing, and the infrastructure thing, and the addiction to oil thing, but you've got some of the problem down.

But you're not engaging.

If you're not a Democrat, which you apparently are not, then you get what you deserve. Clearly you prefer progressivism, and the most obvious path to get there is to go through the Democrats. You won't do this. Therefore, you are guaranteeing political irrelevance for yourself. Being a high muckety muck in campaigns is not the only way to affect politics.

Seeing as I'm not some high party muckity-muck, and so cannot affect campaigns directly, I offer these ideas in this forum. (and despite your urge to work tirelessly in the party, you and I both know I could dedicate my entire life to working for the Democratic party and never even come close to a position of authority or influence over major elections. That's disingenuous, and you know it)

Give up much?

Seriously, you have just in one paragraph shown that you really do not believe in your own personal responsiblity as a citizen to make this country better. Oh sure, in theory it's nice, and you run a soup kitchen. But it's not really real, we all know, wink wink, because the muckety mucks control everything.

Yeah, whatever. Loser.

Wally said...

Anonymous, what's your name and e-mail, dude? Otherwise, you're just another fucking troll passing by here on his way to spewing on whatever other boards you spew on.

Ross said...

While enjoying this and learning from it, I still did think that Kerry was a good candidate and am still sad that more people did not like his approach. But it was just as purposeful and calculated, and I was inspired to hear him speak. It was nice to think about a potential president who was eloquent, although I agree that his lines could've been tightened up a bit.

I think that my biggest problem with your thesis is how beatable you considered Bush to be. Yes, there are people who despise the guy (which makes his "us & them" factor so boggling to me), but unless that was the majority of people then your fighting an uphill battle against the ones who love their tax cu--er, president, and the many many others who have ALWAYS proven timid about voting out a sitting president in wartime.

I think that he was beatable, but it really would have to have been a flawless campaign that brought him down. And there's a large difference between 'not flawless' and 'greatly flawed.'

Just to respond to Carlos' point--I think the major difference is that while there is a lot of competition, most (or at least many) bookers and owners are smart enough to make their own opinions about a comic's act and/or rely on people they trust instead of just letting every piece of criticism sway their opinion without considering the source.

And to anonymous: your rancor aside (for which you should apologize sincerely) you need to decide if you're a jaded, old political hat or a disgruntled newbie. In any event, I think Edwards worked the vision approach pretty strongly. Take from that what you will.

Chas said...

I didn't respond anonymously to hide anything other than my real identity which could be used against me if anyone was on this site. As far as being guilty of passing by or rancorous, choose what you will. My intent was simply to refute what I consider a poor side of an otherwise insightful argument. I believe it is disingenuous to really believe that Bush did not know he was lying when he presented his case for going to war before Congess. The willingness to sacrfice the lives of these fine young men, while ruining democratic rights, and ravaging this economy is as callous an act as any president has ever committed. For this reason alone, democrats, progressives, whatever, must take every available opportunity to insure that those of his ilk are not elected again.

1031 said...

"Deal with it?" Hey, it's your karma, pal. You reap what you sow, and you seem to sow nothing but hateful rhetoric. I don't have to "deal with it." I can ignore you. You, on the other hand, still have to live with yourself. Good luck with that.

NickS said...

Nice article. I came here via Ezra Klein yesterday, so I hope you aren't tired of
discussing this by now. I have a couple of thoughts.

1) I liked John Kerry and still do, but I say by all means pick the corpse clean
for all it's worth. My only concern is that conversations like this not become a
way to let everyone else off the hook by blaming John Kerry.

To repeat the analogy I used on Ezra's site I feel like saying, "John Kerry
would have been a great candidate if he had JFK's charisma" is a little like
saying "If Shaq could hit free throws like Reggie Miller he would be the
greatest player to ever play the game." Shaq can't hit FTs like Reggie and may
mean that he's not even the best player in the game today. But he's clearly in
the top 5 players in the league and I think Kerry was clearly one of the top 5
candidates the democrats had to offer. Think about all of the things we could
want from a candidate.

i) Progressive
ii) Charismatic
iii) Willing to be completely committed, body and soul, to winning the race.
iv) Coachable / always on message
v) Tall
vi) Capable of being a good president
vii) Good manager who can compile a good staff

etc.

In my opinion John Kerry scores solidly on at least 4 of those criteria.

2) It's easy to say that, in retrospect, the best loved, most successful
presidents were the best performers. That's because for the one's that won, we
remember there best moments. Think about Clinton as an example. We remember him
as the Democrat's "Great Communicator" but for much of his campaign in 1992 he
came of as wonkish and "slick." In my opinion he didn't really get comfortable
"looking presidential" until he'd been in office for a year. I just recently
read _Strange Bedfellows_ a book about the media coverage of the 92 election
and it reminded me how touch and go Clinton's campaign was when he was dealing
with the stories about both flowers and the draft. In retrospect he looks like a
winner because he won, but Perot helped. It may be true that Clinton could have
won in 2004 or that Kerry would have lost if he'd run in 1992 but it may not be
true, I certainly wouldn't be confident in that claim.

I also think about a line in _Before the Storm_ about how JFK went around,
"spouting statistics, attacking carefully chosen enemies and puffing all the
right friends, quoting dead Greeks, never cracking a joke lest he remind the
voters how young he was." (http://tinyurl.com/7vcq4)

That doesn't sound like someone who went around saying "ain't".

Every Politician has their weaknesses that they have to overcome. Of course, if
they lose, it's a sign that they failed to conquer their weaknesses. But it
doesn't mean that there's anything wrong (or exceptional) with having
weaknesses.

3) In an earlier comment Carlos made the point that in politics people are
trying to jump on any mistake. For all of the criticisms about Kerry "playing
not to lose" I think it's worth acknowledging that he had reason to be cautious.
As I understand the infamous "first I voted for it, then I voted against it" was
something Kerry said once, in a small event, and it became a major story of the
campaign. It's all well and good to say that a candidate has to be able to
connect but look at the way a win in the third debate (when people were actually
listening) turned into a muddle after the republicans were able to use the Mary
Chaney comment to confuse the issue.

I may be coming across as more of a Kerry partisan than I intend. I'm not trying
to refute your argument, just frustrated when I see it presented without any
context (as I felt that Frank did in the NYRB article).

Nick

NickS said...

sorry about the line breaks in that last post.

Michael Alan Nelson said...

From my average lay-person perspective, it seemed that part of Kerry's problem in 2004--other than his inability to connect with voters at the same level as Bush--was the way the campaign appeared to be framed. It seemed to me to be framed more as Bush vs. Not-Bush than a solid statement of Kerry's goals for our country.

Why did it seem that way? That's a discussion I'll leave for the more informed adults at the table. But I think it all comes back to Rogers' original article. It's not that Kerry DIDN't have goals for our country, he was just unable to properly articulate those goals, ideas, concepts to the American people effectively.

I've been reading the Monkey every day since it first started for a couple of reasons. First, Rogers is my friend. Second, and more important, is that he has created a little pocket in the universe where Reason is King.

Chas, I highly recomend going back and browsing the archives. Not only are the articles highly entertaining, they are informative and they will give you a feel of the kind of discourse expected here.

The nice thing about KFM is that all opinions, positions, and perspectives are welcome, provided they show the respect due the opinions, positions, and perspectives of others. You may have some very valid points, but you lend them no credence when you couch them in expletives and angry rhetoric.

Most people here have learned through experience that people who feel a need to shout their opinions generally do so because their words have no weight. Screaming does not add substance, only volume.

Okay, I'm heading back to the kiddie table now.

Rogers said...

So THIS is what they mean by comment drift. Wow, I'm barely able to contribute meaningfully, as you're all making much better points than I. Spiffy.

a.) I'm putting a stop to the Anonymous thing now because frankly, he just isn't listening. He seems very angry that I'm claiming to have found the magic carpet ride to electability, when I've said again and again this might be just one way at looking at a problem which seems endemic to progressives. And although the use of the word "progressive" seems to enrage him, I continue with it, because I'm trying to address seomthing LARGER than getting Democratic candidates elected. I hope somebody could use the tools I hope to develop just as much in, say, fighting ID at their local school council as well as larger electoral communication issues.

Apparently, supporting candidates in the media, with financial donations, and trying to engage in honest discussions about how to improve their chances is not enough. I and people like me are eschewing all responsibility for what the party does. Being a registered Democrat who contributes time, material, money and media space is not enough. He sets the standards for engagement, and unless I was willing to make politics my career, it's never going to be enough. Well, agree to disagree, and bugger off. I'll delete his posts, becasue, well, frankly, this site is a hobby and I have no need to play fair. "Deal with it."

b.) Nicks -- excellent points. A certain amount of monday-morning quarterbacking always occurs with successful examples. But again, I'm not saying "This is how to be charismatic and win campaigns." This is not a total image management system or some such idoiocy, I'm selling here. I'm pointing out very specific tools, the tools conveying your ideas in simple, understandable ways and in structuring your interaction with the "audience" so you slide into the "us" camp. Also, much of this has only become necessary with the advent of the modern electoral process.

To be sure, Clinton was a wonk. But when he talked, people thought "regular guy" instead of "Went to Oxford." "Ain't" is just a metaphor. JFK didn't go around saying "ain't", but he conveyed conplex ideas in understandably ways -- oh, and let's not forget, he squeeeeeaked by Nixon in that election. That's always part of the JFK fetishizing we forget.

As far as using the Kerry campaign as the example here -- I'm not criticizing the entire campaign, or the man. I think he lacked a tool, which I'm exploring, and developing the idea this tool may have wider applications. To use your basketball analogy "Shaq can't throw free throws. Well, here's how he might place his feet in order to do a little better in the future."

I am amazed at the passion of the response from Kerry humans who thought I was running roughshod over the man. Sorry.

For example, I agree that the "I voted for it, then against it" flip-flop was a tiny moment that became a big problem. But that problem could've been neutralized, perhaps, by addressing it in plain-spoken ways or turning it into an offensive weapon against Bush. Pretending there was nothing wrong with that, when it spun out of control, was as bad as trying to plow on when a joke bombs miserably.

And the Mary Cheney thing ... well, you're right. They did use it against Kerry. Because that was a bad, bad idea.

c.) jbou - dead on about the media machine, mate. Not my department, however, so I'm offering these ideas as weapons to use on the current situation. They won't level the playing field, but again, maybe help sand the edges off some of the rougher spots.

d.) Ross -- Well worth considering. An incumbent President, during a war? Yeah, that was more of a battle than I make it out to be. Kerry would've had to run a flawless campaign to pull it off ... perhaps. But two things: Bush's numbers right now show that his support was not deep, by any stretch of the imagination. And I'm merely suggesting I might help develop some "retail politics" tools here that we canuse in the future, tools I perceived not to be on Kerry's belt.

Again, Kerry is not the point here. The last campaign was just the spark to help develop these ideas.

Which may or may not pan out.

Wow, way to bail on the pitch, eh?

NickS said...

Thanks for the response.

I don't think we're actually disagreeing. I believe that you're not attacking John Kerry specifically. So I don't have a lot more to add. But a couple comments.

I think when Clinton's Draft letter became public it did make a whole lot of people think that he was one of "them." I think that if Clinton had lost "maintain my political viability within the system." would be remembered the way that Kerry's "I voted for . . ." or Carter's " malaise."

This is just to repeat what smarter people have said that we can't fall into the trap of thinking we need to find someone that's perfect.

As for the JFK example, it's mostly intended to illustrate the fact that people running for president have to speak to a lot of different constituencies simultaneously and that will frequently feel a little awkward. The best manage it better but, again, a little awkwardness is to be expected.

I also think it's easy to underestimate how much running for president presents a different set of challenges than running for other ofices.

To go back to sports there's a cliche that players and teams have to "learn what the playoffs are like" before they will have playoff success. I think the same is true of people running for president. Obviously not many politicians get the chance to run for president twice, but I think it's natural that there's an adjustment process to handling that sort of attention.

The Mary Cheney comment was clumsy, but the rest of his answer was perfect. Moments like that make me sympathize with how difficult a job running for president is.

I'd be curious to hear more of your opinions on why GWB was able to recover from some of his statements that bombed ("Mission Accomplished" or the "I don't think about Osama" line that was referenced in the debates).

The more I think about it, the more interested I am in your perspective on Bush's success. Your offhand comments about him believing what he says are interesting, and I don't think that's all there is to it.

I say again the posts were thought provoking. Thanks.

Nick

Anonymous said...

Asshole anon here. This is why you confuse me:

Rogers post one: I'm a progressive. Not a Democrat.

Rogers post two: Being a registered Democrat who contributes time, material, money and media space is not enough.

Bottom line, and I'm turning my anger off here, is that your analysis is smart but schitzophrantic. It's easy to bitch about what other people can do; it's much much harder to figure out what you can do. It sounds like you are working for change, which is I guess as much as anyone can ask for.

And believe me, I don't want you to support Kerry blindly. He's terrible, and selfish. I want people to start moving away from the DC establishment.

You're in CA, and you're a screenwriter. There's a lot you can do there. Start an anti-Arnold site; make fun of him. The fact is that the single most underused weapon Democrats have is humor, and the only way to take down action hero fakers like Bushco is through mockery.

Karl said...

Just because you register toward a political party, doesn't require or enforce by any notion, that they must state they are part of that party.
It's just that if you're hand is essentially forced with two choices, you're going to pick the one that is going to probably best produce the politician that is more representive of how you want something done.

In other words...

You can register Democrat, but that doesn't require one to consider themselves a Democrat.
It just means that you've picked the side that is going to give you more favorable results for what you really want.

Doctor Memory said...

Hidden amongst some (extremely funny for the jaundiced onlooker) back-and-forth bitch-slapping, asshole-anon makes one entirely sensible point that either got missed in the shouting or our host chose to not fully engage. I think it's worth teasing out:

If you are dissatisfied with the direction of the Democratic Party, there is no substitute for engaging at the Party level.

This does not mean that you have to "dedicate your entire life to working for the Democratic party" (a disingenius reading of anon's point at best), but it does mean that you have to occasionally show up. The selection of Kerry as a national candidate and the continued dismal showing by local candidates in places (*cough* NYC, Los Angeles *cough*) that logically should be Democratic stongholds are both consequences of the same sclerosis at the local level, and the uncomfortable truth is that this problem can't be fixed from the outside or from the top down. You have to engage on the local level, and you have to do so live and in person.

I know, I know: there's nothing more dismal than small-ball politics, especially in the Democratic Party. But the opposition does understand this, and they spent a lot of their post-Goldwater energy making sure that their party is just as efficient and disciplined at the city and county level as at the national level. Decades later, they're reaping the fruit of that investment. We're reaping...what exactly?

TC said...

Think about all of the things we could want from a candidate.

i) Progressive
ii) Charismatic
iii) Willing to be completely committed, body and soul, to winning the race.
iv) Coachable / always on message
v) Tall
vi) Capable of being a good president
vii) Good manager who can compile a good staff
etc.

In my opinion John Kerry scores solidly on at least 4 of those criteria. -- NickS


I'll give you Progressive and Tall.

Charismatic? Only to the man in the mirror.

Committed body and soul? I'll give you half a point. Body and mind, yes. No soul was ever visible. In order to commit your soul, and have people believe that you have, you need to be driven by something a little more respectable than a lifelong intellectual belief that you are rightfully destined to become President.

Coachable? Did you ever see that SOB speak? The only coaches he ever learned from were JFK (badly) and his prep school Latin Oratory teacher (far, far too well). If the entire universe says your speaking style is shit and off-putting and begs you to change, and you don't, then I say to you, my friend, you ain't coachable.

Capable of being a good president? Reply hazy. Policywise, sure. But I know I wasn't looking forward to having that vain and somberly hectoring aristocrat droning at me from behind the big fancy desk. And a year or two as DA, even as a very good DA, is no indication of his likely competence in the galaxy's top executive position. A better indicator would be...

Good manager who can compile a good staff? Not so much. Remember how he announced he was firing his campaign manager while eating a sandwich? And all the sniping, leaking and quitting by careerist staffers who saw their guaranteed cakewalk to the nomination jeopardized? Ted Kennedy had to step in and say, "Here's my chief of staff. She will now run your campaign."

So that's two solid points, one half point, and one indeterminate but dubious point.

Now let's check out Bush:
Progressive? Absolutely! Well, regressive actually, but for him that's the thing to be.

Charismatic? Absolutely! Not to you or me, maybe, but I daresay there were a few Jews around who didn't really get the whole Fuehrer thing either.

Willing to be completely committed, body and soul, to winning the race? Oh, yeah. He committed his soul as utterly and irrevocably as Faust.

Coachable/always on message? Are you kidding? "Thoroughly coached" is his middle name! You think he staggers to his current level of performance just by native genius? And unlike John Forbes Kerry, he's aware that he doesn't have what it takes to go off message.

Tall? Well....no.

Capable of being a good president? Absolutely! As long as by "good" you mean "evil, manipulative and ruthlessly effective in bettering the lot of his supporting elite while maintaining the support of the masses."

Good manager who can compile a good staff? As long as by "good staff" you mean "evil, loyal and ruthlessly effective staff," yes.

That's six points for Bush, and 2.6ish for Kerry.

Whereas Dean, to my mind, gets 5 points, being marked off only for Coachable/On Message and Tall.

TC said...

Doctor Memory said...

Hidden amongst some (extremely funny for the jaundiced onlooker) back-and-forth bitch-slapping, asshole-anon makes one entirely sensible point


Asshole-anon?

They have meetings?

How do they go?

"Hi, I'm George, and I'm an asshole."

"Hi, George."

geoff said...

When I read the other comments, like those above, I get stuck on the little details that are lightheartedly bandied about, and I end up wanting to nitpick them instead of whatever the actual post is about. I find myself more concerned with the fact that things like "fuck tax cuts for the rich!" or the idea that the media is somehow biased in favor of conservatives appear to be generally accepted as truth around here... and around basically any place where the cool kids hang out and make fun of the stuffy old men in suits and laugh at the thick-browed neanderthals down in flyover Jesusland.

It's hard to find any common ground... when it looks like there's so goddamn little common ground to begin with.

This is far from my point, but might serve as an example of what I'm talking about:

Tax cuts for the rich-- Define "rich." You mean the 20% who pay 75% of all income tax? Or do you mean the 1% who pay a third of all income tax?

What's your beef with cutting taxes? When you cut taxes AT ALL, the rich get to keep more money, dollar-wise, than everyone else. Simple math. They pay disproportionally more, therefore they get more back. You think that if we taxed "the rich" more, we'd be able to better educate our students? Well... how are other nations able to produce better results in education with far less money? How do our own private schools do it?

Who cares, right? The solution must be to throw more money at it, so let's tax those damn dirty "rich" even more. What did they ever do for anyone? Maybe I'm the asshole, but I just fail to see what's so "progressive" about taking steps towards policies that are demonstrable failures. As far as I could ever tell, "progressive" is a shorthand way of saying "feeling good about finding ways in which to spend more of other peoples' money."

See, here I am being rude, going off on an absurd tangent.

Stuff like this is why, as I mentioned forever ago, real, reasonable political discussions are nearly impossible on the internet. You end up with an echo chamber until you get one guy (that's Anon) coming in with an opinion contrary to the that of the esteemed host and his loyal e-pals and asskissers, and this guy's steamed, maybe he feels like he's in the teeny tiny minority of opinion and thinks he's got to yell extra loud to be heard, and you trounce him, partially with truth, partially with hip & sexy fiction, but mostly with sleek style, and everyone returns to patting you on the back for laying such a fantastic smackdown on that fool who dared suggest you look inward for answers to the failings of the "progressive" party, and things go back to normal. At least until the next guy comes along (that's me) who thinks you seem like a totally reasonable fella, but then can't even begin to understand how or why someone so otherwise reasonable (that's you) happens to believe tidbit XYZ is true as opposed to tidbit ABC.

I mean... the news media is biased in favor of the administration? Really? Give me a fucking break, guys.

Sadie B. said...

Great work Monkey, thanks.

As an amateur musician and small time politician, I have had similar thoughts myself. But stand-up is a better analogy. After all, an instrument is a kind of shield, and most people know they can't play one, but everyone thinks they can tell jokes.

The trick I worked out for myself that translates across both platforms is to "like them first." I see politics, or maybe life in general, as one big game of Red Rover. You don't win until everyone is on your side. But the only way to get them on your side is by being strongly for your own side to begin with.

Amandarama said...

I don’t pretend to know anything about politics. I’m guilty of drifting through life being a one or two issue voter.

But, I do know that George W. Bush represents something very frightening for me. He wanted so bad to be “just plain folks” in the face of money and Andover and Yale. I went to college with a lot of people like that at my “small Ivy”. Most slacking C students get over it, make up with Daddy and move on. Or become strippers. Not him. He bought into his assumed identity and is now living the Conservative dream. Frightening. Frightening enough to get off my ass and vote against him in the last two elections.

When the last elections were held, the students in my class asked me about who I’d be voting for and why. I told them Kerry and that although I thought it was important to support the individual men and women who went to fight in Iraq, I did not agree with the decision to go to war.

Apparently, my students’ mommies and daddies were all going to vote Republican. The kids were scared about war. They (or their parents) weren’t comfortable with electing a different person with a war going on. Would he end it? Not end it? Other, comments about the Democrats are the party of Clinton, so morally they must be screw-ups on some level. Disturbingly, there was a general sense from the class that Mommy and Daddy were voting to the right and Mommy and Daddy couldn’t possibly be wrong. These were high school freshmen. I never longed for an MTV friendly Democratic candidate more until that moment. I mean, if I can’t make them question their thinking process, surely the tv can. Or maybe I should point out to them that Bush became the way he was because he was rebelling against his parents so, if they really admire him and want to be like him they should rise up and stick it to their parents, ideologically speaking.

Or maybe I’ll just make them read The Wave for our next book in class.

GaijinBiker said...

The Democrats may find it hard to avoid condescending to voters if condescencion is at the center of their entire political philosophy.

Anonymous said...

John: This Rob from the old country. Hope everything is going well for you these days! Wow A-hole Anon is one bitter Repub troll. Hey until the Dems produce a candidate of quality they're in trouble......AND HILARY IS NOT THE ANSWER! Poor Howie Dean. One "Yeeeehaaa!" and its lights out. I do agree w/the fact the Repubs have move away from their former pro-science small gov roots. Its a shame and I'm afraid for America. Anyway again great post!

ChrisO said...

First of all, Geoff, I don't think the problem with anon was that he was offering an opinion contrary to Rogers', and that all of the sycophants on the board were bent out of shape by it. What a skewed reading of the situation. I think it had a little more to do with him calling people fuckwit and dickface. He sounded foolish, and frankly I was disappointed that anyone engaged him at all. I post on a lot of right wing blogs, because I think it's important to engage the other side and point out the lies and hypocrisy that are being presented. But although I might be a little snarky on occasion, I don't engage in a lot of name-calling, because I consider myself a guest on someone else's blog, and because it's an ideal way to ensure that no one cares what you have to say.

Moving on, I've been a comic for about 14 years, and I know exactly what Rogers is talking about, although I never articulated it in terms of comedy. That point is very well taken. But I have shared his frustration as I've watched candidates, particularly Kerry, fail to articulate simple ideas that will resonate with the public. However, I think it is more a matter of style than substance. I don't buy into the current meme that the Democrats "have no plan." Of course they don't. A modern political party is so complex that without a leader, it's pretty difficult to get everyone on board with a plan. When you're at the stage where everyone is jockeying for position in the next election, it's hard to articulate a consensus. And despite Howard Dean's high profile, the chairman of the DNC isn't the guy to come up with the message. Think about 1999. What was the Republican "plan," other than "get Clinton"? And that was a party that controlled both houses of Congress. By contrast, the current Democratic party has no oversight or subpeona power, or even an ability to get bills out of committee, so it's pretty hard to appear effective. It's no coincidence that as Republicans satrt thinking about 2008, and Bush sinks in the polls, so many Republicans are suddenly critical of the White House. That vaunted hegemony disappears pretty darn quick, and I think it's fair to ask what the Republicans stand for now.

There are so many factors now influencing politics that it's simplistic to simply say the Democrats have lost their way. The Republican triumphalism is parroted by a pliant press, and the notion persists that the Democrats are on the run. However, as others have pointed out, let's keep in mind that Gore won the popular vote in 2000, and Bush won re-election by the smallest margin for a sitting President since van Buren, even more remarkable in time of war. The Republican's entire 2004 gain in House seats came because of the illegal gerrymandering in Texas, and Democratic senators represent 55 percent of the population. So it's not as though the country has suddenly turned against the Democrats, as much as the Republicans would like to make it appear that way. Even the example of Republican governors in California, New York and Massachusetts is specious, because all three states have elected Republican governors many times in the last several years. It's not exactly a sea change.

I think Bush's charisma is more talked about than demonstrated, and his free fall in the polls is an indication that he was never the most well-liked guy to begin with. Think about the hits Clinton took without suffering anywhere near the drop in popularity that Bush has suffered. But the Republicans have used one tool very effectively, and this is where I loop back to Rogers' point. Ridicule has become a staple of the Republican arsenal, and they use it very effectively. A commenter earlier mentioned Kerry dressing up like a hunter. Kerry is a hunter, and has been one all of his life, but as soon as photos of him hunting appeared, Cheney ridiculed him with some completely false statements, and that's what stuck (although we probably won't be hearing much more of that kind of thing from Cheney.) Ridicule provides soundbites for the lazy Sunday morning pundits (who have a huge influence on the way the candidates are presented; witness the way they savaged Gore, repeating every false soundbite the Republicans could trot out) and enables voters to form easy snapshots of the candidates. It's a vicious game, but it's the way it's played today. I remember reading on Josh Marshall's blog in 2003 that the Republicans were openly stating that a key strategy wouild be to ridicule Kerry at every turn, because they didn't think he'd do well with it. And he didn't.

The problem is that you have to be able to take it as well as dish it out, and have a healthy sense of self deprecation, which defuses ridicule faster than anything. Kerry could have made "I voted for it, before I voted against it" work for him, but instead it was treated as his most embarrassing moment that would hopefully go away if he just ignored it. I mean, look at Bush. Sure, the country has accepted that he's inarticulate, which is mind boggling in itself, but he's ripe for ridicule in so many ways. It's harder when it's the President you're ridiculing, because people expect a certain respect, but Frist, McCain, George Allen and all of the other potential candidates should be objects of unceasing, merciless ridicule.

One other thing: It would certainly help if all of these Democratic consultants who want to suck up to the press would stop providing all of these "we're fucked" quotes all of the time. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sorry about the length of this post, but I just read both sets of comments at one sitting, so it got me going a little bit.

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Skunkfeathers said...

Entertaining argument about an election a year and a half old, between Rogers and Anon. My two cents: Kerry wasn't a good candidate. Neither, in '00, was Bush or Gore. A mixed bag of 'vote the party line'ers, media dupes, and the worst of the bunch -- eligible to vote and don't bother -- get the blame for what we have, period.

A government of the people -- in our case, a constitutional republic -- doesn't just run on autopilot. It takes public involvement. Public scrutiny and paying attention. Learning. Staying current with issues and events. The people need to remind their elected officials that they aren't blindly-led sheep. And it takes the simplest step, but the single most vital one: REGISTERING AND VOTING. Damn the 50% or so who take the system for granted by not doing so.

I'll add one other thing: it helps to encourage the best and brightest to run for public office. With all the sleazy muckraking that both sides tend to employ against their opponent, most of the best and brightest take a pass. I can't say I necessarily blame them, but regardless: we lack statesmen/women; we get 3rd and 4th rate hacks who say what they must to get the brass ring, and then sell out to special interests to keep the money flowing to their campaign coffers that (generally) keeps them in office.

There are genuinely good Republicans and Democrats who mean well and do their best to do what they believe is best for the country over their respective parties; but they're in the minority just now.

Don't look for any groundswell of change in '06; I'll speak my voice, but it's only one.

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