Battlepanda: The Anosmic party


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Anosmic party

We can talk all day about the root causes of what ails the Democrats. But the proximate cause of our failure to thrive is quite clear to me -- we, or our leadership, to be more precise, are politically anosmic -- we cannot smell the blood in the water, and pounce on weakness. Sure, we've pounded Bush and good on the Dubai ports deal. But so did many Republicans, giving dems the sense that it is a safe issue on which to take the president on. I wonder what would have happened if no Republicans broke rank with the Bushies...I'd bet that the Democrats would have meekly dropped the issue, dollar to doughnuts.

Now they're letting Russ Feingold twist in the wind over his call to censure Bush over the NSA scandal. What a colossally bad move. I am of the belief (without denigrating the intelligence of my fellow Americans) that we go through life convinced that we've got firm views on most issues, but when pressed, are actually liable to make up our mind on the spot grabbing the nearest available evidence*. This wouldn't be so bad except that once we make up our minds more or less on the fly, we then fool ourselves into thinking that it was what we believed all along, and is loathe to change our opinion.

Now lets take this NSA scandal...I don't think most Americans go around with firm conceptions of what kind of spying behavior and what level of government powers is or is not acceptable. When they are first presented with any issue they're not immediately familiar with, their opinion is very malleable. They pick up on cues that are not what we generally think of as facts of the case, but is very salient to people nevertheless. If you appear outraged, certain of your case, loud and vociferous, people are going to pay attention to you. If you skulk and appear keen to strive for middle ground and afraid to appear too strident, people discount your case without even bothering to look into it. When Russ Feingold put himself out there calling for Bush to be censured, and his own party backed away from him, that is sending a message to the American people loud and clear -- "this domestic spying stuff is no big deal...even his party are not on board...the Republicans are louder and more they're probably right." The Democrats are trying to chase public opinion in their public appearances when they should be striving to be shaping public opinion with those appearances instead.

The sad thing of course is that the domestic spying stuff is really material that had the potential to resonate for all the right reasons. Feingold said, and I think he's right, that "I’m amazed at Democrats, cowering with this president’s numbers so low. The administration just has to raise the specter of the war and the Democrats run and hide." We think we're running and hiding from an unpopular position. We don't realize that it's the running and hiding that's making us unpopular.

*As an example, let's walk through this thought experiment -- we all know Bush's approval rating skyrocketed after 9/11. Now, let's imagine reassembling the last group of polled voters who gave Bush crappy job approval rating asking them if they changed their minds after the attacks. I'm not talking about a demographically similar group -- I'm talking about the very same people who were just asked the same question days before. I would imagine that most of them would say "Gee, what happened on 9/11 was really terrible, and I feel like it's important to support our president in this time, but I really didn't think Bush was doing a good job before the attacks, so obviously I'm still going to give the same answer." Now imagine asking the group of voters who gave Bush sky-high ratings right after 9/11 and asking them how they felt about Bush all along. I'm sure they'll say "Well, I've always liked President Bush...because of [whatever]. Did I change my mind on Bush just because the World Trade Towers went down? Of course not. What do you think I am, some kind of suggestible moron?"

So, although as a collective we've obviously allowed our opinion of Bush to be swayed by the patriotic fervor that swelled in the wake of tragedy, as individuals we won't admit that logical inconsistency. Those who are forced to come to a firm opinion about Bush before the disaster would probably stick to that opinion. Those whose opinions weren't fixed in the same way, however, come to view Bush more positively and convinced themselves that this was the way they felt all along.