Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Streams Of Consciousness


Lucky we didn't give up-- now think Joyce Elliott & Ed Potosnak

Nancy Pelosi was overwhelmingly reelected top House Democrat. Obviously she won't be Speaker for the next two years but she will be Minority Leader. She was opposed by the conservative Blue Dog Caucus-- possibly with the connivance of the Democratic Leadership-- which nominated reflexive aisle-crosser Heath Shuler. He got 43 votes, basically from Democrats who would rather join in the demonizing of their own party than in helping their constituents understand that Democrats fight for ordinary working families and Republicans fight for their wealthy career financiers. That may be, at least in part, because the very Democrats who voted against Pelosi take the same tainted money from the very same wealthy career financiers. Shuler was nominated by ultra-conservative Utah Blue Dog Jim Matheson, another Democrat who voted more frequently with the GOP on contentious issues than with his own party.

Virginia Democrat Jim Moran, apparently missing the cynical kabuki nature of the move, wondered aloud why the extremely mediocre Shuler, who rooms with Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn in the C Street cult's Family house, might have thought himself deserving of a role in leadership. "The accomplishments of the last two years have been achieved without Heath's vote," mused Moran to reporters. "And now he wants to be leader?"

Other conservatives who backed Shuler included Blue Dog Mike Ross and perpetually befuddled loser Larry Kissell, one of the incumbents slated to lose his seat in next year's gerrymander.

The Blue Dog Caucus then adjourned to elect their own leaders. Their two top co-chairs, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Baron Hill, were both defeated for reelection. In both cases Democrats and left-leaning independents didn't bother turning out to vote for them since they both voted with the GOP for the last two years. And Republicans, of course, had their own candidates to vote for. Shuler's consolation prize was to be elected as the new Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. The other 2 co-chairs will be the only Democrat more likely to be gerrymandered out of a seat next year than Kissell, John Barrow, plus the most patently corrupt Blue Dog, Mike Ross. And the new Blue Dog whip-- who won't have much whipping to do since the Caucus lost over half its members-- is Oklahoma reactionary (and Bush's favorite shill), Dan Boren.

And speaking of Blue Dogs... I'll be glad to see the end of dishonest Pennsylvania creep Chris Carney, though not because of the startlingly corrupt flaming freak who replaced him, Tom Marino. Can you imagine what a piece of crap Carney had to be to be beaten by this guy?

Although Carney was reelected in the northeast Pennsylvania district in 2008 while McCain was beating Obama by 9 points, his 160,837 (56%) to 124,681 (44%) win was reversed this year as Democrats and left-leaning independents abandoned him and Republicans flocked to the polls, not thinking about how Carney voted for all their issues but just about electing a tribal Republican. Almost half of Carney's 2008 supporters just didn't show up. Marino managed to win 109,603 votes (55%) to Carney's abysmal 89,170 (45%). In a stunning upset, Marino won every county in the sprawling district except Lackawanna and Luzerne, even though Carney spent $1,230,918 and Marino only spent $517,246. (The DCCC also managed to throw away $606,070.20 in Independent Expenditures on Carney.)

And A Little Good News... Even If It's Only Imaginary

Harry Reid owes the Latino community his victory. And he stepped up today and promised to bring the DREAM Act to a vote as a stand-alone bill during the lame duck. Fat chance the GOP won't filibuster that. And I can't imagine any Republicans will break ranks with their racist caucus to break the filibuster. I can imagine several Democrats, even beyond Nelson, helping with the filibuster. We'll make a point of helping Latino voters remember next time any of them face reelection.

Reid also announced today he would make sure the repeal of DADT gets a vote in the Senate, where McCain has already threatened to veto it. Reid:
“During the work period following the Thanksgiving holidays, I will bring the Defense Authorization bill to the floor, including a repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ Our Defense Department supports repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ as a way to build our all-volunteer armed forces. We need to repeal this discriminatory policy so that any American who wants to defend our country can do so.”

Winning Hearts And Minds-- But Not In Afghanistan, In Another Country Threatened By Narrow-Minded Primitive Bigots

When Danny Goldberg was Chairman of Warner Bros Records, he appointed me president of Reprise, something that very substantially changed my life. Although a highly successful businessman, he's basically an intellectual and an idealist brimming with ideas. Today he shared some with readers of The Nation about what Democrats need to do to compete with the surging GOP. It's worth clicking the link and reading his whole post. Here's a small excerpt:
Unless and until progressives change the mind sets of the tens of millions of people who believe right-wing mythology, who never read the New York Times or listen to NPR, who never watch any TV news other than Fox, future elections will have disappointing results for progressives regardless of who is in the White House.

...Changing minds is more of an art than a science. Polling and focus groups are reasonably accurate at determining how people already feel, but the idea that every message to educate or convert can be mathematically tested is illusory. Even more dangerous is the notion that public opinion somehow comes from the sky and is thus impossible to influence. The right wing knows better.

The impulse to reconnect with American identity through the Constitution is not inherently right wing. Yet progressives have largely ceded the language and majesty of the founding fathers to the likes of Glenn Beck, who regularly expiates on his own bizarre version of them on Fox News and to the far larger audience for his talk-radio show. Progressive Christians like Jim Wallis helped remind American Christians that their faith did not mandate conservative politics. Progressive civil libertarians need to recapture the constitutional flag. There ought to be dozens of books, films, speeches, op-eds, and conferences about the liberal values Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson.

The gay rights movement stands as a contemporary role model on how to change public opinion. Gays could not afford to operate solely within the confines of existing opinion and thus were compelled to find ways to change it.  The growth from minority to majority of support for gay service in the military and other issues is due to a morally driven effort across many forms of communication to make sure that gays were perceived as full human beings.

...Today both Democrats and the left (by “the left” I am referring primarily to the larger progressive entities such as labor unions, progressive foundations and public interest groups) are almost slavishly deferential to a rigid political culture that invests so much money and credibility in election season short-term tactics, (driven by polls and focus groups) that there are very few resources left for devising and implementing long-term narratives.

There is currently an obsession among many progressive foundations to limit support to those projects which can be measured mathematically. The buzzword for measuring supposedly pragmatic proposals is “metrics.” This syndrome is part of the dynamic that led to the recent right wing surge. You cab count how many people click onto a web page, how long it was viewed and how many people it was forwarded to but determining how much impact it has on the minds of the readers requires educated guesses and fallible intuitive human analysis. You can measure what people are thinking today but not what they will think a year (or two) from now.

Too little credence is paid to those who look to the future with creative intuition, either in the progressive news media, or the arts and culture or even in advertising.

 This over-reliance on research is not ideologically neutral. It reinforces narrow conventional wisdom. Decades of conservative indoctrination have produced a cohort of “independents” who usually veer toward the right unless there is an extraordinary crisis like Hurricane Katrina. Conservative Democrats are comfortable working within the existing public consciousness because it supports their agenda. Progressives must invest in changing minds not merely measuring them.

In the last election a large segment of the American public decided to blame government instead of Wall Street for their problems. This did not come about by happenstance or an act of God. Corporation worship among the masses has been inculcated by decades of expensive conservative effort in many media and forums. The Koch bothers and others have poured large sums of money into the conservative idea factory. Because the right wing’s primary function is to represent the interests of big business, Republicans and conservatives have long had a more intimate relationship with the dark arts of persuasion than liberals. In The Education of Ronald Reagan, the pro-Reagan author Thomas Evans describes how the future president was hired in the 1950s by Lemuel Boulware, the marketing genius of General Electric, to convince the company’s workers not to unionize. Boulware wrote most of Reagan’s career-changing 1964 speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater. Richard Nixon’s powerful chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman spent twenty years at the J. Walter Thompson ad agency before moving to the White House. Reagan’s “Morning In America” re-election campaign was created by Phil Dusenberry who had created the Pepsi ad with Michael Jackson.

... There is an urgent need to develop funding for progressive media to partially counterbalance the huge investments that various conservative and authoritarian billionaires have made in recent decades. There are numerous under-funded progressive blogs, magazines, radio and video programs etc. on the left that with additional funding could immediately broaden their audience.

The left also needs to frame and express issues in ways that resonate emotionally. The massive audiences that turned out for Barack Obama in 2008 did not typically describe themselves as “informed” but as “inspired.”  George Lakoff, Drew Westen, Michael Lerner and others have developed a language about how progressives can frame and express their beliefs in ways that touch the hearts of audiences but their influence had been marginalized in the election driven short-term research driven culture of supposedly serious political communication.

Progressives need to learn from the mistakes of Air America and Democracy Radio and invest in getting non-conservative ideas and narratives onto the talk radio frequencies where 40 million commuters spend their listening time. In the arts and entertainment progressives enjoy a cultural advantage, but the liberal political establishment tends to have a love-hate relationship with show business, which minimizes this potentially valuable resource. In an era when the mainstream media is weaker and more fragmented than in the past, cultural avenues are vital even though the efforts in the creative worlds inevitably have mixed results.

In a scene in an episode of the fourth season of Mad Men the show’s main character, Don Draper (with guidance from the copywriter played by Peggy Olson) intuits that the way to sell Pond’s Cold Cream is to show women it is a product with which to pamper themselves. A researcher had warned him that participants in female focus groups said that their main concern was whether or not a beauty product would help them get and keep a man. Draper fumed  “That’s because they haven’t seen a year’s worth of my ads.”

Real life leaders in other aspects of culture have similarly recognized the limits of research. Film producer David Brown who, among his many accomplishments, hired the then unknown Steven Spielberg to direct Jaws, explained in his memoir Let Me Entertain You that researchers at many film studios rejected ideas for several films which later became blockbusters including Gandhi (too serious) One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest (too sad) and ET  (only of interest to small children). Both Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen commercially flopped on their first albums but were given the ability to make the subsequent recordings that made them famous because of the intuitive belief of the legendary A&R man John Hammond.

The book When The Game Was Ours recounts a moment in 1991 when Magic Johnson, diagnosed with the HIV virus, was voted by fans onto the NBA All Star team. Some team owners were nervous at a time when many people wrongly believed that HIV or AIDS could be transmitted by bodily contact or sweat but NBA commissioner David Stern insisted that Johnson should take his place as one of the starters for the West Coast team.” Aren’t you getting a little too ahead of the curve on this?” asked one owner. “Why don’t we do some polling?”  “No,” Stern answered, “That doesn’t work for me. I think we can affect the polls.”

Research is seductive because it has the aura of rationality. But public opinion forms in mysterious ways. Attempts at persuasion require experimentation, the risk of failure, crazy ideas and temperamental creative personalities. But if progressives want to “make” the President or other Democrats do anything, they will need to rely less on math men and more on mad men.

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At 10:07 PM, Blogger brad4d said...

What if the peace movement started a write-in campaign for Michele Obama as a chance to show she has more style to end war and he should learn more empathy from raising the daughters . ? . or, think how many would consider writing no confidence . . how do we break eggs?

At 3:51 AM, Anonymous Lee said...


Great article. But emotions are a tough sell to most progressives. My political friends didn't know what to make of me after I wrote this on my Facebook page.

Childhood woundings, Barack Obama and the mid term election!/home.php?sk=mynotes

At 10:10 AM, Anonymous James said...

There is opposition in all things, as you know, Howie. The human subconscious powerfully affects the conscious. The opposite of faith and hope is fear and negativity. Rethugs appeal almost exclusively to people's fear of the other. They make everything a survival issue, a most powerful motivator to action. What is repugnant is that the truth, facts and accuracy have no place in their agenda, only political power. The continued abject failure of their agenda is immaterial in their lust. Meanwhile Dems seek the comfortable middle way and attempt to rely on compassion and empathy, coupled with factual and studied research to persuade. Noble pursuits, but weak tea at best when up against survival of the fittest dogma. Noble pursuits suffer from a lack of long term planning, strategy and MONEY. Without megacorps bankroll we will continue to suffer tidal erosion and possibly irreparable collapse in the arch of justice.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Peace Out and thanks for all you do within and without the tubes, Mr. Klein.


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