January 30, 2010

Obama In The Year Two

This was an important week for Barack Obama, one which defines where he goes from here. There is a contrast in this week's presidential activities which point out the choices.

First and most infamously, the State of the Union Address. As defined in Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, "{The President} shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."

Obama failed to meet the Constitutional mandate as to the State of the Union to be presented to the Congress, instead presenting topics that dealt with the political differences between the parties and his version of where the blame lies.

As my partner pointed out in his last post, People often vote against their best interests and linked to an article which asks the question ignored mightily by the American Corporate Media: WHY?

It has been my contention that the difference lies in how the voters are approached, and some of this comes from personal empirical research. You can approach people prepared with facts and figures, and as you present your case you can watch them fall asleep. Think Al Gore.

Or, you can have some clown mount the rostrum and tell lots of frat party stories and everyone thinks he's a great guy and votes for him. Think Dubya.

To simplify this further, a candidate's message can resonate with the voters in one of two ways: You can appeal to logic, or you can appeal to emotion. Gore appealed to logic. Dubya to emotion.

The linked article comes to a conclusion that I consider close enough to my own thoughts so as to justify them (I'll crank my head back to its normal hat size later). The article quotes psychologist Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, as finding that "There is nothing voters hate more than having things explained to them as though they were idiots." This approach is too direct, too one way, and doesn't engage the minds of the voters.

Many candidates have won office through tales of their deeds, usually militaristic adventures heroically told. Through the retelling of such tales, a persona is generated in the minds of the voters which, if they create a favorable opinion, results in electoral victory. But not all successful story subjects were military men, nor did they allow others to completely create the persona to be sold and retold to the voting public.

One such was Abe Lincoln. He was very good at creating allegories and story metaphors for discussing the issues of his day, and through their use led the voters to think about these issues before they made their decision on the ballot.

Today's parties generally differ in their attempts at this effort. The Republicans learned immediately after Gerald Ford lost to Jimmy Carter that running on one's record doesn't work against an unknown when that record is a poor one. So by the time that Ronald Reagan ran just four years later, the image machine was stoked and at full steam. Having Reagan draw upon his associations in Hollywood's star-making machinery didn't hurt any.

As notes Thomas Frank, the author of the best-selling book What's The Matter with Kansas, "The Republicans have learned how to stoke up resentment against the patronizing liberal elite, all those do-gooders who assume they know what poor people ought to be thinking. Right-wing politics has become a vehicle for channeling this popular anger against intellectual snobs. The result is that many of America's poorest citizens have a deep emotional attachment to a party that serves the interests of its richest."

The Democrats, however, didn't learn this lesson. They continued to attempt to use facts and figures to win over the voters while Ronnie would tell stories designed to inflame voter passions, such as the Cadillac Driving Welfare Queens. The nature of the story is intended to take advantage of prejudice, and promote through subtle means the party agenda (which would be available off-podium should someone want to peruse it). You know who won.

Barack Obama learned this lesson, somewhat, which was a factor in his victory. It also is a factor in the feelings of many independents and progressives that he failed them with his relative inactivity during his first year in office. The people of Virginia and New Jersey reflected this loss of faith through rejecting Democratic candidates for governor over a couple of guys who knew how to tell the sort of tale that the voters are conditioned to expect. This strategy worked once again in Massachusetts, where Scott Brown could drive his pickup truck around Massachusetts and earn believability with his tales. It worked so well that Coakley may well have lost even if she ran her campaign at least as well as Brown did his.

Based on post-election behaviors, this last loss finally got the message through to the Oval Office that they were in trouble. The first line of defense was to send out the spinmeisters to attempt to limit the damage, but the masterstroke was for Obama to make like Daniel and enter the Liars Den, otherwise known as the GOP issues retreat.

Due to illness, I wasn't following the news coverage as closely as I might have otherwise, but I suspect that it tended to lean in the direction of this confrontation copying a WWE cage match, but I suspect that it is going to prove to be more like a like-named episode of Outer Limits, in which an unexpected result occurs from the practice.

But it really is too soon to tell which, if either, outcome results from this meeting. Generally, the media - including the GOP-friendly New York Daily News - claim that Obama scored a knockout. Something significant did result, for the New York Daily News quoted Conservative Georgia Rep. Tom Price, head of the Republican Study Committee, who praised Obama "for his political skill" and for admitting that he broke an oath promising to negotiate all of health reform on C-SPAN. But since today's Republicans cannot lose graciously, Price launched his parting shots, calling the admission his "only moment of humility" and complained that Obama failed to answer the majority of the questions.

Only in his mind perhaps.

I haven't read through the entire transcript yet. It is so full of political boilerplate on both sides that it takes a while to find the real questions and answers. But I intend to do this and see just how well Obama really did. What I write next will determine how I treat him in my posts.

Right now, he can only go up.

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