Tactical Animal: On Politicking Cont…
Sep 2012 27

Tactical Animal: On Politicking Cont…

Posted In Activism,Blog,Politics

by ChrisSick

Or a further examination of the alternate realities of Republicans worthy of an episode of Star Trek and the consequences of deciding that it is more important to defeat your opponent than to be victorious.

I’d like to open this column by saying, simply:

You’re welcome.

I’ve spent the last hour, in preparation for writing this piece, reading through The American Spectator, National Review Online, The Washington Times, The Washington Examiner, and The Weekly Standard. These are reliable barometers of conservative opinion, and their contents are not apt to be easily discarded as just the shrill manifestations of the fringe extreme of the right the way, say, Breitbart or FreeRepublic might be.

I just want to make one thing perfectly clear. I do this because I love you.

“Enlightened” by these right-leaning media source, here’s what I found out, among various other things (like how the President loves Muslim terrorists):

1. Nothing has improved under Obama’s first term.
2. Polls are meaningless because they’re only polling Democrats.
3. The media is shamelessly campaigning for Obama.
4. The 2008 Stimulus was a complete and utter failure.

The interesting thing about these articles and these sites is that this is the face of conservatism that you’re likely not seeing if you read reliably liberal sites talking about what conservatives are saying. These are, bluntly, not the sites I tend to link to when I’m trying to mock conservatives or conservatism here in my column.

These are smart, well-educated, and articulate conservatives. I wouldn’t want to have to debate one in a public forum, regardless of how secure I am in my beliefs and values, or even my facts. Because, if nothing else, these people are devastatingly talented rhetoricians. But rhetoric is, primarily, about swaying your audience, not telling the truth.

So when Arthur C. Brooks, writing for National Review Online, talks about the Stimulus failing, he makes a pretty compelling case. He does so, first, by focusing on the well-documented drop in sales of new cars after the end of the Cash for Clunkers program. He ties this into a spirited defense of free-market principles as voiced by the current crop of Republicans, citing a wide-ranging study that links economic freedom — as defined by tax rates and government regulation — with economic prosperity.

All in all, its a pretty compelling argument. There’s one major problem with it: he narrows his focus to one program largely judged to be a failure without taking on the rest of the program, a third of which was focused on tax relief. He also doesn’t bother to engage the fact that most economists believe the Stimulus worked. These facts, of course, are inconvenient to his argument, so in the hope of swaying readers, he ignores them.

I, oddly enough, faced a similar choice tonight while writing this column. I wanted to include the line I’d seen repeated a few times around the rightwing noise machines, that Romney’s 47% comments were actually a winning argument. But when I searched the publications I listed in my first full paragraph, damned if I couldn’t find one.

I was shocked to discover that — near uniformly — the more “respectable” conservative publications had roundly denounced Romney’s comments as both misleading of the economic realities that go into the tax code and who pays and who doesn’t, and both tactically foolish and not indicative of conservative policy as they argue for it.

So I deleted the line and thought it was worth mentioning that I started with a perception that research turned out to be false, so I changed my perception, rather than ignore evidence to the contrary. The links I provided above are a small sampling, but what I saw fairly consistently in them was writers ignoring contrary evidence to a position they clearly wanted to argue for, rather than engaging it.

Why is this important?

Because these are the sharper tools in the conservative shed; these are the adult tables at the conservative Thanksgiving dinners, these are whatever your metaphor of choice is for the smart, intelligent, articulate end of conservative media. And they get kinda crazy sometimes and aren’t shy about ignoring evidence that contradicts their comforting narratives. These people are, after all, in the business of attracting readers, not being bold truthtellers.

And this is the high watermark of the conversation. From there you get down to conservatives who lie — constantly — complaining that the media is lying to get Obama elected, that voter fraud is running rampant despite all evidence to the contrary, to attacking facts as objective things that can be checked or verified. And then, thankfully for the lolz, there’s always Fox News.

And a lot has already been written about this subject by writers more experienced and qualified to do so than myself. I’d suggest James Fallows at The Atlantic as a great starting point on the topic of conservatives totally losing their shit – legislatively, in the media, and intellectually – during the drive to go all-in against Obama. As someone who’s beat is the strategy and tactics of a modern election cycle, this concerns me for one primary reason (as an engaged citizen in a floundering democracy, I’ve got a fuckton of other reasons I’m concerned)…

Because it leads to bad tactics. I’ve been saying since this election started in January with the beginning of primary season, Republicans have made a strategic choice — it is more important to them to defeat Barack Obama than it is to win the White House. These two goals sound like they’re more or less the same thing, but there’s a great strategic difference between the two.

I said in my last column that this is a base election. Both candidates are charting a tactical course that is more about making their opposition so incredibly unacceptable to voters, because they — at bottom — have nothing worth actually running on themselves. They can’t convince you to vote for them, but they can convince you to vote against their opposition.

Since the beginning, Mitt Romney’s campaign has set out to tell you how bad this President has been, thus convincing voters to vote for him as the only alternative. He’s yet to offer detailed policies, but he has plenty of attack lines and corresponding attack ads. Alex Pareene — among others — offers an interesting theory of why, just maybe, this strategy has a lot to do with the perceived media bias against Romney, and he gets to swear so I always link to him rather than more staid commentators:

“But it’s true that the president is currently getting a lot less bad press for his campaigning than Romney. It’s because he’s better at campaigning than Romney. (Here’s Obama’s One Weird Tip for Getting a Pass: The president is, personally, nearly always respectful and fair to his opponent, even when his campaign is in slash-and-burn mode.)

The answer for Mitt Romney isn’t ‘be more substantive’ or ‘make it about real issues’ or ‘be more detailed’ or any of that shit. Romney’s totally correct to be as vague as possible about the specifics of his proposals. The answer is a lot simpler: Just bullshit the press better!

Here’s how Mitt Romney can earn himself much kinder media coverage: Talk like Jon Huntsman. If he wants the press to let up, all he needs to do (and he should have been doing this since the day he wrapped up the nomination) is sound ‘moderate’ in public and leave the nutty stuff to vaguely affiliated allies and targeted niche media.”

Or, to put it another way: bad news, conservative friends your candidate is losing because he is a bad candidate running a dismally bad campaign. Polls aren’t weighted against him, they’re using a variety of methodology and generally finding that the President is winning. The media isn’t out to get him, Romney just keeps making stupid mistakes. His campaign is so deeply in trouble that convention speakers used their time at the dais to pitch for themselves rather than for a Romney presidency.

Because their aim has never been for Mitt Romney to win the presidency. It’s been to deny another term to Barack Obama. This is why we’ve seen we’ve seen endless pieces about the so-called vetting of the President that routinely uncover nothing. This is why each potential scandal is suggested to have Watergate-proportions behind them, yet reveal nothing of the sort. This is why — in Pareene’s formulation — Mitt Romney fails to bullshit the press, because his greatest applause lines, that his audience is dying to hear, are about how the President is a filthy liar, or un-American, or a secret socialist. They’re not about how great President Romney is going to be for anyone who doesn’t define “great” as the guy who repeals 100% of Obamacare on day one.

And in that alternate reality, where all those horrible things are true, the good news, for Mitt Romney at least, is that he’s winning.


[Above: Courtesy of UnSkewed – Where they boil the liberal bias out of every poll]

Next week is the first Presidential debate, so I’ll be back after that with less dense reading and much more swearing.

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Tactical Animal: Sorry Folks, Election’s Over, Donkey Out Front Shoulda Told Ya
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