There’s a reason that most countries seem to become more liberal over time: the message sounds better. Democrats have a huge homefield advantage: who doesn’t want free healthcare and streets free of guns? Who wants to say that they’re not for helping the poor, minorities, and the environment? The liberal agenda has the built-in advantage of sounding really good in a soundbite.
And yet Republicans keep winning on many of these issues. Why is that?
I’ve recently discovered The West Wing, a masterful piece of political television that I was too young to enjoy or understand when it first came out. The show follows the administration of US President Josiah Bartlet, who is a Democrat. It’s a really engaging look at the politics that go on in the White House. Obviously, it’s fictional, but previous White House staffers say that it’s a realistic portrayal of what it’s really like. The show premiered in 1999 and covered a wide array of hot-button issues at the time.
What’s so fascinating to me is that more than a decade after this show was filmed, many of those same issues are still being fought about. Gays and lesbians still can’t serve openly in the military, we still haven’t ratified the nuclear test ban treaty, we’re still fighting an utterly ineffectual war on drugs, we still don’t have comprehensive gun control, etc, etc. My point is not that we should or shouldn’t have any of those things, just that it’s interesting how little has apparently been done in the last decade, and how prevalent all these issues still are. Democrats don’t seem to have been able to move the ball forward at all in the last ten years; why not?
One of the other things that strikes me about the show is how crucially important tiny minutia can be, from when a piece of news is released, to who is invited to a meeting, to the exact language used to announce something to the public. These tiny details may seem insignificant, but they add up to something substantial. Could Republicans just be better at these kinds of details?
The amazing radio show This American Life recently had a segment about the political process and how Republicans are more skilled at it. One of the things they said in the show is that Republicans are just more organized and on-message. Apparently every morning, a talking points memo goes out to influential Republicans at all levels of government: local, state, and federal, with the issues for the day and the language that the Republican strategists and leaders want people to use. This is why The Daily Show can do those segments where they show 15 different Republicans saying the exact same thing in the space of four hours. It seems funny to the show audience, but it’s actually a brilliant strategy. Most people only pay attention to the news and politics with 7% of their attention, so when they hear a bunch of people saying the same thing over and over, it starts to sink in.
A few days ago, Michael Hiltzik wrote a column in the LA Times complaining about how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and business leaders won’t shut up about the “uncertainty” of the economy, and how taxes must be cut to reduce “uncertainty”, how healthcare reform and financial reform are causing too much “uncertainty” in the market, etc. But here’s the thing about the “uncertainty” meme: it’s working.
I was in the car today, listening to an economic segment on NPR and I heard an interview with a small business owner talking about how he’s been interviewing people again, but he hasn’t hired anyone yet. The interviewer asked him why he hasn’t pulled the trigger on anyone, and this regular guy who owns a little factory in Iowa said this:
“In one word: uncertainty.”
Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, check out The West Wing. And if you’re going to advocate for or against any of the political positions mentioned in this post, don’t bother.