Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Political Musings . . .

I started this blog with the intentions of finding some avenue of expressing some of my political ideas. It's not that I particularly feel they're relevant, it's just that I really like to hear myself ramble on, lol!

So, inspired by listening to some podcasts via the new Itunes 4.9, and fully recovered from my UK election prediction coming true... sadly the Cons made gains and Labour polled a miserly 37%, I'm ready again to exploit this opportunity to express my thoughts about stuff... maybe this time around a little more generally.

The first and only thing I want to say about the U.K. election is that too many people read into the popular vote. The reality is that the voting system itself contributed to Labour's poor showing while maximizing their majority. Labour's sharpest drops were in some of their safest seats, and I think it's fair to assume that if everybody's vote was competitively in play, in say for instance a PR contest, then I do believe the result would be marginally different, with Labour polling probably somewhere around 39% and the Tories perhaps gaining or dropping a point. More of the people who had the luxury of staying at home or making a protest vote wouldn't have entertained that prospect if they new they were voting in the context of a result which wasn't already obvious, as it was in many safe seats around the country.

In fairness this applies to the US election of 2000, also. The popular vote is not a stick you can beat gov't with when a voting system isn't proportionate, because within constituencies or states, the voting dynamics are completely different than if they applied to the entire nation as a whole.

Recently I've been paying a lot of thought to the way in which political messages resonate with the electorate as a whole.

One of the things that I've always found impressive, and equally depressing, is the way the right in America have completely redefined the public's political dialogue. By reducing Liberals to two dimensional stereotypes, and defining the argument always in terms of people's fears they've really immasculated the Democratic party, and made people generally wary of the reality of them governing.

It's obviously not simply a question of expressing your views. Kerry did a great job of winning the argument on every single issue during the last election: the economy, Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, social security... you have to do more than that. You have to set the agenda, you have to define the debate... A discussion about Iraq can't be based around the ideas of a growing global threat to the safety of the US... it has to be based around the reality of the current situation, and the mistakes that created that reality... the viability of criticising Bush in Nov 2004 for his actions in Iraq depended on where you came from with your perspective... personal and national safety, or a vivid picture of the shambolic mess Iraq, and the US and Uk soldiers that serve there, were in.

The public and press agenda shifts organically, as is the case right now, where people are more critical of Iraq because they are not so concerned about US security... but the test of a great political movement, like Clinton in 92, is its ability to redefine the context within which the political dialogue takes place. Suddenly in 92, the discussion about the economy was defined by the reality of people struggling to find work, pay bills, afford healthcare... because Clinton was masterful at connecting with that pain, connecting with the uncertainty of so many, and evoking that as the basis from which the back and forth in the press would evolve.

You have to define the basis of the argument, otherwise winning the argument means absolutely nothing.

You also have to connect emotionally. Kerry shows this better than anybody. For all he was labelled a Massachusets liberal, it never stuck like it did with Dukakis in 88... Kerry lost because he didn't emotionally connect with people, he intellectually connected with people, but those kind of rational understandings of issues aren't what compell people to vote, it's what people feel in their heart.

In the last debate Kerry beat up Bush so bad on every issue. Bush was adrift, making no sense, grasping, while Kerry was informed, studied, precise, and impressive. Argument by argument if it was a boxing match, Kerry was circling Bush in the ring, landing jabs, and quick combinations, and technically winning 10 - 9, 10 - 9, 10 - 9, round after round... and as the end approached it had become clear that Bush needed a knock out.

And he got it... watching it with my girlfriend at the time, I couldn't have felt more confident that, bar that stupid idiotic comment about Cheney's daughter, Kerry had dramatically outshined Bush... until the very last question, when both of them were asked about their wives.

Both gave sincere answers but Bush was explicitly honest, touching, beautiful, kind, caring, etc, etc, etc. Obviously he loves Laura, depends on her, needs her... you could not help but be uplifted by the goodness of what genuinely existed in his heart for his wife. And with that, regardless of every intellectual argument Kerry had won, Bush won the debate. It was a moment as significant as Bush in 92 demeaning a questioner who asked about how the Defecit affected Bush's life on a day to day basis, before Clinton magically stood up and asked the more pertinent question to the questioner... how does it affect yours?

What we feel is what really connects and trasforms us, what we think, intellectually, is transient, and peripheral unless it connects with us emotionally. To win a political argument against as impressive a foe as the Bush Cheney campaign in 04, Kerry needed to redefine the principle emotional consensus of fear and affection for the President, into uncertainty and the potential for hope. The guy just didn't have the emotional depth to do it. Edwards did, but he didn't have the gravitas to assert himself. No matter who was the Democratic nominee in 04... the Democratic party would have lost. Whether Hillary, or Obama can be different in 08 we'll have to see, I doubt it... but, whoever it is, Kerry will make a fantastic running mate, and I remain a huge fan or his precise, and informed perceptions on a whole range of policy issues.