Saturday, December 8, 2012

Take It Back 1

I started Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future, by Democratic strategists James Carville and Paul Begala.  This book was published in 2006, but it was written before the Democratic victories that year.  The setting of this book is the aftermath of the 2004 Presidential election, when George W. Bush beat John Kerry, and even Republicans whom Carville and Begala considered to be quite looney defeated reasonable Democratic candidates. This was a time when the Democrats were tired of losing.

The question that Carville and Begala ask is why the Democrats did so badly.  In my latest reading, they offered some answers: the Republicans crafted a narrative about John Kerry being an elitist flip-flopper, whereas John Kerry failed to convey a coherent narrative and even to attack George W. Bush adequately; the Republicans were able to identify people who were likely to vote for them and knew what buttons to push to get those people to the polls; and there was a feeling among a number of low-income and middle-income people that the Democrats did not share or even honor their values.

There were at least three noteworthy passages in my latest reading.  First, Paul Begala had a moving story about when he and his son were taking a ride back to Begala's farm.  They passed a trailer that had a new Bush-Cheney sign in the window, and Paul's son asked why poor people would vote for Bush and Cheney, when the Democrats are the party that cares for the poor.  Paul replied that they feel that the Democrats do not respect their values (i.e., religion, guns, right-to-life).  This has been a common narrative: that Republicans in the lower economic classes vote out of values rather than their economic interests.  But I can think of reasons that they'd be drawn to Republican rhetoric on economics, not just values.  They may value individualism and see dependence on government as a bad thing (even if they find that they have to receive government assistance in order to get by).  Perhaps they pay taxes----not federal income taxes, necessarily, but other taxes----and they feel that they are over-taxed.  And they may have seen or experienced government regulation of business and found the government's demands to be arbitrary and unreasonable.  Would Republican economic policy help them?  I doubt it.  But I can understand why they would be economic conservatives, not just social conservatives.

Second, Carville and Begala portray Tom Coburn as one of the looney Republicans who won in 2004.  As they say on page 2: Tom Coburn "called for the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions.  He also called his state legislators 'crapheads.'  And he decried 'rampant lesbianism' in Oklahoma schools.  He won.  By 12 percent.  Against Democratic congressman Brad Carson, who is a Rhodes Scholar, a former Defense Department official, and a member in good standing of the First Baptist Church of Claremore, Oklahoma----not exactly a dangerous extremist."  I myself remember Coburn being portrayed as an oddball in 2004.  And yet, my impression is that Coburn since then has come to be regarded as a reasonable and highly-respected public servant.  Coburn is one who is willing and able to work with the other side----he even sat by Chuck Shumer at President Barack Obama's State of the Union to take a stand against partisan rancor, after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords.  People can surprise you!

Third, I got a chuckle out of what Carville and Begala say on page 12: "But absent an overarching story----or a clear, specific rationale for firing Bush and hiring Kerry----the [Kerry] campaign's issue litany didn't have any resonance.  Or, as Bush has said, 'It didn't resignate with voters.'  Sure, he mangles the nomenclature, but Bush...sure understands the concept."  Lol.

So why am I reading this book?  Barack Obama triumphed in 2012.  If there are any people these days who feel like ineffective has-beens who need to do serious re-evaluation about their stances and strategy, it is the Republicans, not the Democrats.  The reason that I'm reading this book has to do with where I am ideologically more than where the country currently is.  I believe in God and go to church.  I have long believed that life begins at conception.  But I have become disenchanted with the Republican Party on such issues as economics and health care.  Yet I wonder: does the Democratic Party speak to certain values that I hold, such as my respect for the life of the unborn?  If not, can it?  After 2004, the Democrats were chastened, they were humbled, and they were willing to acknowledge strengths in the ideology of the "other side", if you will.  Perhaps this book by Carville and Begala can help me as I struggle to define and to formulate my political ideology.

3 comments:

  1. Hi James, I'm quite interested in why people vote the way they do. One problem is that those voted for offer policies on a variety of issues, so the voter might agree with some and not others, so it is necessary to decide if one wants some at the expense of others, even if there are moral objections to the others. Plus, one has to think the policies one wants can be implemented, or at least get nearer to being implemented, and I suppose it would help if one thought the policies one doesn't want won't be able to be implemented.

    "they feel that the Democrats do not respect their values (i.e., religion, guns, right-to-life). This has been a common narrative: that Republicans in the lower economic classes vote out of values rather than their economic interests." Can it be that the Republicans have a package of policies different than that of the Democrats that tends to be one that corresponds with the package of a lot of people? (So that there is not much conflict, as I suggest in my first paragraph.)

    "I can think of reasons that they'd be drawn to Republican rhetoric on economics"
    "I have become disenchanted with the Republican Party on such issues as economics and health care."

    These pull in different directions! I surmise that you can only mean that people who don't properly think the issues through might feel they had reasons.

    "absent an overarching story" - you mean, that people don't know what the Democrats and the Republicans stand for, and need to listen to their cobbled together stories before each election? Or, do the parties chop and change their policies as well as their stories just to get votes? Or, are there really major new positions the parties have to map out to present for every election because of changing world circumstances?

    Have you any ideas on why the Democrats came good the last two times, and the Republicans seem finished, when the Republicans were calling the shots before that, and the Democrats seemed finished? Why the massive reversal? Surely it can't be based on anything substantial, so it must be something to do with flighty bits of feelings sweeping people now one way now another. Hardly satisfactory for a major power in the world to have such a population! Or, if "After 2004, the Democrats were chastened, they were humbled, and they were willing to acknowledge strengths in the ideology of the "other side"" has something to do with it, maybe you could spell out what difference that made.

    I'm not sure what you are saying about Coburn. Do you mean he is not now espousing looney policies? And, how is it he won so resoundingly? (His opponent, Brad Carson, re the topic "How Would Jesus Vote?" wrote afterwards: "My own view is that Jesus would probably not vote at all, given the organized corruption that passes for modern American politics." Here's the whole article by Brad Carson, about more than Jesus voting, which I read after writing almost all of this reply. Can Brad be right? http://www.tnr.com/article/vote-righteously# How can people be so backward in what should be a civilisation that has learned a thing or two since mediaeval times? But, even so, why don't the Republicans ALWAYS win?)

    Not only do I not think that life begins with conception, but even if it does that doesn't seem to me an adequate basis for thinking abortion wrong.

    davey.

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  2. Those are a lot of good questions, Davey! I won't be able to do them justice because I have some things to get to, but here's a stab.

    "These pull in different directions! I surmise that you can only mean that people who don't properly think the issues through might feel they had reasons."

    I don't think that's the case all of the time. There are plenty of smart people who thought things through and came at a different position than I did. I'd say that they probably value certain things more than I do, and vice-versa. Plus, they may think that the policies I support do more harm than good. Personally, I think most positions have a positive and a negative aspect. It's one's personal judgment call where one goes.

    On the overarching story, I'd say people pretty much have an idea what Republicans and Democrats believe before the election takes place. But Republicans and Democrats aren't entirely running against each other in the abstract, for there are real personalities involved, and one way candidates try to win is by crafting a narrative that's simple, an overarching story. Bush did it in 2004 by portraying Kerry as an elitist flip-flopping liberal. Obama in 2008 did it by portraying Romney as, well, an elitist flip-flopper who is out of touch with the concerns of everyday people.

    On massive reversal, I think it occurs because people are disappointed. People were disappointed with the length of the Iraq War in 2006, and so the Democrats got back Congress. People were disappointed with the economy in 2010, and so the Republicans got back in. Maybe that can happen again, I don't know. On the other hand, there is talk today about Democrats being able to command a more permanent majority in terms of elections, since the voting base is becoming less white.

    On Coburn, I guess what I was saying was that I remembered when he was portrayed as a crazy when he first ran, but since then he impressed me, plus it appears to me that he is now more regarded as a voice of reason. Just recently, he said he's open to tax increases.

    On life beginning at conception, I'm open with hearing your view. I did a series on a book I read on abortion, and someone on my Wordpress blog left a lengthy comment about how the embryo is a parasite and does not have the same rights as the already born. It was an interesting comment.

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  3. Hi James,

    "It's one's personal judgment call where one goes"

    The 'facts' are more clear-cut than that, Republicans don't tell an honest story about their approach to the economy, about how their purpose is to shovel money from the poor to the rich, and they dishonestly say it is because without doing that the poor will be poorer, and with that the poor will get richer. You might look at a dishonest story told last Thursday on BBC TV 'Question Time' by Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, for the Conservative Party. I looked up the issue on Internet, and things are not a matter of personal judgement on which smart people might differ.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/9707029/Two-thirds-of-millionaires-left-Britain-to-avoid-50p-tax-rate.html

    http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2012/11/28/the-telegraphs-claim-that-all-the-rich-have-run-away-because-of-50p-tax-is-completely-bogus/

    "one way candidates try to win is by crafting a narrative that's simple, an overarching story"

    "On massive reversal, I think it occurs because people are disappointed"

    "the voting base is becoming less white"

    "portrayed as ... now more regarded as"

    All these phrases you use indicate that emotional reactions and not proper consideration of the facts carry the day!

    Plus, there is spin:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spin_%28public_relations%29

    "In public relations, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing an interpretation of an event or campaign to persuade public opinion in favor or against a certain organization or public figure. While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, "spin" often, though not always, implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics. Politicians are often accused by their opponents of claiming to be honest and seek the truth while using spin tactics to manipulate public opinion."

    And the ridiculous Laffer curve is often invoked by the dishonest rich:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laffer_curve

    davey

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