Thursday, June 12, 2014

toxic shock jock syndrome

In the halls of Republican K Street a question is ringing out:

"What. Went. Wrong?!?!"

For years the Democrats were screamingly furious as to why the Republicans could run on the "3G" attack - Guns, Gays and Giveaways - "The gay UN stormtrooper is coming to take your gun and give it to those laaaazy black people." It was even more offensive in practice than my description of it here.
Bush tried to start this up last summer - and it spun out of control, Rove doesn't know why it isn't working. The Democrats don't either. But after reading this, you will.

Bush is suffering from toxic shock jock syndrome - Howard Stern his telling his 1.5 million Quarter Hour Listeners - about 8 million are regulars.

Bush is suffering from toxic shock jock syndrome. When Mr. Republican Majority - Kevin Phillips -realizes that it is time to abandon Bush, and recycles "Favored Son" as "The Bush Dynasty", the man with ears on the bottom of his feet knows where the herd is headed. But only the most rarified of audiences notices the Southern Comfort Sage's shift, thinking he has become a liberal of some kind. They miss the point - he hasn't.

But when shock jock, and testosterone on the air poster child Howard Stern venting into the microphone every day, it seems as even the vaunted media handler Karl Rove has lost his touch
We shouldn't be surprised, the media is a creature of demand, and when the intelligentsia went to cable, and thence the internet - to boutique blogs and underground websites for stock tips, media became, increasingly, targeted at the frustrated plugger, going into work, doing his job, and wondering why he couldn't get ahead. The conservatives told him - his taxes were too high, paying for useless bureaucrats and welfare queens. They'd cut out the waste, and, for nothing, send him a check.

The story of ineffectual, at best, and traitorous, at worst - liberal buffoonery and quackery was what he wanted to hear. He wanted to hear that what annoyed him, was the problem.

So the entire visible carnival show was not, in itself, the important question. While liberal hacks might fulminate about how "they" could smear us, and liberal wonks worry that "we" didn't have enough think tanks, the real equation was that when people were unhappy, they blamed liberalism and the government. Now, they blame Bush.

One can see it in the numbers, the erosion of consumer confidence, which peaked, peaked, an -3 in January - Nome Alaska managed better than this for a daily high - being one example. The anger over gasoline - which before was pushed by conservatives as a way of attacking Clinton - is now subterranean, but very real. And it will get worse: the nation is drawing down stocks of gasoline and diesel - because while energy has some pricing power, the kind of sticker shock that would come from a rapid equalizing of the cost at the pump with the cost of crude would freeze the economy at a dead halt
Thus, the change in the wind, and in the media, comes from a shift of this middle of America. They don't see Bush as their friend. Already the game of blaming congress to protect Bush has reversed - now Congress is being held out as passing stimulus and spending, against a stingy Bush. While it has not been loudly trumpeted, on economic issues, the Congress is already treating Bush as a lame duck - demanding that they set the tone. And the tone they want is "borrow and squander". Eager to prime the pump to shore up their own sagging electoral fortunes, they are now as willing spend like there is no end - at least until November.

This is why Bush is beating the war drums. It is the last issue he has which keeps him from being an untouchable. The supporters of the President seem to know that they have to strike out, before the siege lines are completed.

What is happening is a revolt of the very "guys on the make" core who spear carried for the Republicans because they thought they could do more, if they were regulated less. In a sense, they are the precursors of the internet attitude - wanting to move up, but finding that the corporate ladder wasn't to their taste, the pushed for it to be broken, for a nation of ronipreneurialism - taking heads for who ever could pay. They never wanted government off of people's backs, they wanted the road blocks they felt to moving up removed.

Without these - the dogs of war for the dismantling of the old system - Bush has no repeaters, the people who will sternly intone how well Bush and the economy are doing, and silence debate with steely and threatening words about terrorism feeding on the slightest dissent. Without them, Bush is a guy who wanted to be Reagan, and has ended up being Nixon - presiding over a failed leveraged buy out of an election.

And hence, his people are striking  back - not merely with advertising buys, but with every trick in the arsenal - misquoting the enemy, polarization of the debate, and buy an advertising buy meant to staunch the bleeding. They realize that their worries are on their own flank - most soft Bush support isn't moderate - it is conservative. They need to convince that base that it is important to hold on for "Anybody but Kerry".

They also know that Kerry has a bind - and they are following Churchill's maxim that it is always better to be on the attack, to make the enemy worry about his weaknesses and problems. Kerry's problem is that he has softness on the left - which he cannot shore up without creating an opening on his right flank. The soft support to the right is, of course, the hard core conservative anti-Bush vote. They aren't with Kerry yet.

For these people the Bush team has slated a hard core "KITV" attack. Keep In The Vote. They are four letters that people are going to learn, because while everyone likes GOTV - get out the vote - keeping in the vote for the other side is just as important.

An election strategy has to balance Flipping - getting people to change sides - GOTV - getting out their supporters - and KITV - Keeping in the other side's supporters, or deactivating swing voters who might flip. With each of these there is a cost - and a campaign has to gauge what the most effective combination is.

GOTV designed to motivate the faithful. Thus it is popular with activists, because it praises them, their ideas, and makes them feel good. It also tells them to go out and talk to people like themselves, and get them to show up. It's a fun job, preaching to the converted. However, GOTV also activates more and more of the other side. At a certain point, one is getting out more people for the other side who realize "they" are taking over the government and there is a real danger. More GOTV requires bigger and bigger promises, more and more strident rhetoric. Hence, it activates more and more of the other side. GOTV is targeted at voters who have no serious chance of going the other way.

Flipping is work in politics which has both the best reputation and the worst. The best because it is affirming to persuade the undecided. On the other hand, it requires promising less, it requires selling out on those marginal positions that excite the activist base.

Keep in the vote is, of course, convincing the other side's supporters that it isn't worth voting. Deactivating swing voters and activists. Paradoxically the more flipping a party does, the more vulnerable to KITV they are - they've promised less and less, and the basic KITV attack is "it doesn't matter, they are all bums."

In this context the Bush team has made a massive blunder in their original drive to get people to turn out for Bush. Same marriage seemed like a perfect attack
Well, what went wrong? They are asking. Well, no, it is what went right.

The old liberalism - modern liberalism, built by Wilson and FDR - was to get people into the system, because the system worked better with everyone in it. To do this, they made a promise "join the system, and the system will take care of you." Paradoxically it was on the left that this first broke down - the Vietnam war drove many out of believg the system would take care of them, because it was shipping them back from a jungle without a name as bodies without faces.

In the 1970's, the system broke down, and the pressure of inflation forced Americans to work around the barriers, to find the gaps and the holes. As a result, the "drop out" of the left, was joined by a middel that increasingly looked for every trick to shave a few pennies off their expenses. They began to hold on to, more and more, the accoutrements of holding on. Low gas prices, the ability to move away and set up their own castle.

The "Me" generation became the "Mine" generation.

They clung to churches and other organziations that allied people based on affinity. These communities of affinity became more central.

This is why the three G's worked. The Republicans told Americans that the only way to get ahead was to find a flaw in the system - and that it was always important to be able to "go it alone". It was a grungier America that was born - one that would still rouse itself to make the system "work" when they could not leave that system - but otherwise, they wanted whatever tools they had to get by. Guns were symbolic of this ability to "fend for yourself". Giveaways hit at the jealousy - "why is it taking care of them, and not me?". And homosexuality struck at the heart of the communities of affinity - churches and the military - which had drawn so many in.

But then came the internet generation, which had faith, not in the ability to "pull the plug" - as the localist left did, and as the radical center does - but in "being connected". If you are connected to enough people - one of them will be the right mate for you, have a job, will buy your stuff, will read your blog. A big enough Netropolis, and everyone could find the people they need in their lives.

And connected is what the Republicans don't want, can't do, and their rhetoric of separating and scraping by can't speak to. This is why equal marriage has such resonance - it is about people wanting to be connected, and wanting to be connected to communities as that fundamental unit - the couple - which all communities recognize.

The new politics, being about connection, and about faith in connection - is inherently unRepublican. Or at least, un post-modern Republican.

The reason, you see, that Guns, Gays and Giveaways worked is they struck at the fundamental story, that last line of defense. People yell just as their lie is about to be uncovered, and they scream politically when their last line of defense is threatened. As people came to see that they cannot evade the great waves of globalization and technology - they have come not to believe the rhetoric.

Thus the Republicans have to run to "self-centered" rhetoric in the last places it works - in the narrative of terrorism. "You have to look out for yourself, buddy" is the story behind the aggressive rhetoric Bush uses - but it is working less and less, because people believe it less and less. The sneering at international institutions, so popular once, is now falling apart because going it alone - which Americans had to do as inflation ate away savings and comfort zones in the 1970's  - is no longer what we want to do.

And that is why, this time, this election, we shouldn't worry about a last minute smear, but instead be ready to turn it back on the Bush campaign, to show how he wants to pull the plug on the only thing which gives us hope for the future. The faith in the connection between individuals which the new politics has harnessed into a new political community.

The election is swinging - races in the Senate written off are now in play - in Pennsylvania and Colorado for example. The presidential race is already tilting away from an increasingly vulnerable Bush. Even a heavily gerrymandered congress no longer seems as easily done a deal.

The rhetoric has changed, because how people view their relationship to others has, instead of trying to grab on to their own and claw by themselves, they want to Ebay their way to a better job and a better life.
And the Democrats have been, for almost  a century, the party of binding the nation together, and reaching out into the world.