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.