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Ira Glass asks a good question

In today’s NYTimes By the Book post, Ira Glass says  he likes to read non-fiction, and that Michael Lewis’ book on the financial collapse of 2008, The Big Short, is one of his favorite books.  (Here’s my review.)  I like his selections but I’m a little surprised that he didn’t have his nose stuck in a book when he was a kid like I did. I just assumed Glass was more well read than I am but maybe he’s just a whole lot smarter.  Go figure.

Then the interviewer asks him “What’s the one book you wish someone else would write?”. And Ira says what’s been on all of our minds lately:

Could someone please write a book explaining why the Democratic Party and its allies are so much less effective at crafting a message and having a vision than their Republican counterparts? What a bunch of incompetents the Dems seem like. Most people don’t even understand the health care policy they passed, much less like it. Ditto the financial reform. Or the stimulus. Some of the basic tasks of politics — like choosing and crafting a message — they just seem uninterested in.

I remember reading in The Times that as soon as Obama won, the Republicans were scheming about how they’d turn it around for the next election, and came up with the plan that won them the House, and wondered, did the House Dems even hold a similar meeting? Kurt Eichenwald! Mark Bowden! John Heilemann and Mark Halperin! I’ll pre-order today.

We’ve been wrestling with that question for four years and still don’t have an answer.  The closest I can come to it is that Democrats represent a lot of competing interests and currently will not nominate a leader that will unite them around some common themes with the kind of energy they need.  And because they opted to go the easy route, ie “take the money and run”, they’ve been co-opted by the very same people they need to craft a message against.

But even if you can get a unifying message together, you still need to hire someone good to deliver it and Democrats have a nasty habit of picking candidates who are cool “intellectual” types who don’t look like they want to get their hands dirty practicing politics.  The fact that so many Democrats hate the last Democratic president who was actually a master politician tells you everything you need to know about why the Democrats have voluntarily hobbled themselves.  I’ve suggested a big, unibrowed, Genghis Khan, FDR style Democrat.  Maybe someone like Ed Rendell.  But Hillary would do just as well.  As James Carville once said of Hillary, if she gave one of her balls to Obama, they’d both have two.  But the secret is to get a politician who likes politics and doesn’t think that being political is beneath them.

So, competing interests, co-option, lack of unifying principles and strong leadership.  That’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.

Forget Heileman and Halperin, please. {{rolling eyes}} I’ll write the damn book.  Just offer me an advance.

Does anyone else want to take a crack at this?


Republican strategy meeting post election 2008:

19 Responses

  1. My thesis is that the Democratic Party has been taken over almost entirely by corporate interests. There is no FDR-style politician because the party does not WANT an FDR-style politician. There is no clear message, because the party does not WANT a clear message; it would interfere with propping up the corporate state-its mission right now. It speaks the language of populism because it sells, but its governance is pro-bailout, pro-mandate for the rich. It wants a pro-corporate accommodationist which basically accepts the notion that elite, top-down control of the economy is desirable, and issues like income and wealth inequality, and full employment are subordinate to the economic interests of a few large industry cartels. In Barack Obama, the party gets what it WANTS no matter how detrimental the policies to all of us.

    Look what has happened to the party since 2008; it’s most liberal presidential candidate was muscled aside to make room for a smooth-talking poser with no record of accomplishment to speak of. He has since pushed pro-corporate policies with only token, PR ” reforms ” for the rest of us. The 50 state strategy built by Howard Dean has been rolled up and captured by Tim Kaine and his DNC authoritarians. Every so-called “progressive group” has been brow-beaten and threatened to tow the line…or else. This is not our grandparents’ Democratic Party anymore.

    • The fifty state strategy is what gave us such stellar Democrats like Heath Schuler and Claire McCaskill. I am no Howard Dean fan. As far as I can see, he’s part of the problem.
      Which is this: The Democrats think much too highly of their intellectual gifts. From what I can see from the past 12 years, they shouldn’t be so quick to point at low information voters because they am some.
      Ooo, *that’s* the real explanation. The Democrats are actually superb at getting their message out. You are right, they were taken over by elements from the bonus class and rolled out a message machine so powerful in 2008 that it overrode the brain circuits of the people who really should have known better. They were flattered, “Oo, baby, baby, you are such a bright young thing, so beautiful and smart and creative. Have we got a guy for you”. Then they did a Charlotte’s Web on Obama and the stupid gits bought it hook, line and sinker.
      We need to make a rule that if you can’t carry California, you can’t be the nominee. That ought to shut this crap down.

    • I fail to see why someone as “intelligent” as an Ira Glass remains fascinated by the belief that there is something worthy of interest, called “The Democratic Party”. There is no way to correct a “Democratic” party to effectively act as a representational instrument of enfranchisement for a segment of ordinary people’s interests.

      The state of party politics in the US, Canada and the UK – to each their varying degree – is an exercise to sequester from most people any ability to have a meaningful say in how they are governed – while extending the illusion of representation and consent through popular voting.

      The tenuousness of maintaining this illusion requires that the actual electoral process must be predictable and managed – therefore we can view low voter turnout being a feature of Party managed political systems, and not a defect.

      The parties are the captive tools of rapacious corporate power and entrenched, minority interest. Neither are they reformable, nor are they replaceable within a system they have been instrumental in completely subverting. How would a new popular party function, were it to chimerically manifest, in the context of a government that can no longer be reconciled with the fundamentals of its own constitutional foundation?

      The real character of this situation was best illustrated as a parable by Douglas Adams in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Iw as fortunate to again run into this passage in an entry by Paul Raven, on the Futurismic blog.

      It is only Science Fiction – you know, like that which Jonathan Swift wrote, in the 17th century:

      [An extraterrestrial robot and spaceship has just landed on earth. The robot steps out of the spaceship…]

      “I come in peace,” it said, adding after a long moment of further grinding, “take me to your Lizard.”

      Ford Prefect, of course, had an explanation for this, as he sat with Arthur and watched the nonstop frenetic news reports on television, none of which had anything to say other than to record that the thing had done this amount of damage which was valued at that amount of billions of pounds and had killed this totally other number of people, and then say it again, because the robot was doing nothing more than standing there, swaying very slightly, and emitting short incomprehensible error messages.

      “It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”

      “You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”

      “No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like to straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”

      “Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”

      “I did,” said ford. “It is.”

      “So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”

      “It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”

      “You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”

      “Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”

      “But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”

      “Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”


      “I said,” said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, “have you got any gin?”

      “I’ll look. Tell me about the lizards.”

      Ford shrugged again.

      “Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happened to them,” he said. “They’re completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone’s got to say it.”

  2. It’s a really good point. Drew Westen’s point, the Political Brain, is about exactly this, the failure of Dems to even attempt to cummunicate important things as simply and effectively as possible, with some concrete suggestions about how to go about it. For the last four years, he’s critiqued the messaging failures of the Obama administration and suggested alternatives, and his reward has been to get savaged by guys like Scott Lemieux at LGM and Jonathan Chait.

  3. The genius of the 12 word Platform (pick your words, mine are: “jobs for everyone, end the wars, tax the rich, Medicare for everyone) is that it’s understandable. There’s no wishy-washy gooble-dee-gook.

    If the Democratic Party would adopt their version of the 12 word platform then it wouldn’t take a book to explain what they believe. It would be self evident.

    • I would add my own little sentence full of fightin’ words to that.

      ” Free Trade is the new Slavery. Protectionism is the new Abolition.”

      • On further reflection, I would add three more words to that . . . ” Abolish Free Trade.”

  4. My Congressman,

    Exclusive: FBI probed GOP trip with drinking, nudity in Israel

    During a fact-finding congressional trip to the Holy Land last summer, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) took off his clothes and jumped into the sea, joining a number of members, their families and GOP staff during a night out in Israel, the sources told POLITICO. Other participants, including the daughter of another congressman, swam fully clothed while some lawmakers partially disrobed. More than 20 people took part in th

    “A year ago, my wife, Brooke, and I joined colleagues for dinner at the Sea of Galilee in Israel. After dinner I followed some Members of Congress in a spontaneous and very brief dive into the sea and regrettably I jumped into the water without a swimsuit,” Yoder said in a statement to POLITICO. “It is my greatest honor to represent the people of Kansas in Congress and [for] any embarrassment I have caused for my colleagues and constituents, I apologize.”

    I’m outraged, I tell you!!!

  5. I don’t really have anything novel to add.
    Mainly I want to express my complete agreement with Greg T’s comment above.
    To Drew Westen’s name I’d also add George Lakoff and Bryant Welch who have also written popular books on political psychology.
    Political psychology is not a new subject.
    Training adult politicians in messaging (political propaganda, whatever you want to call it) etc is not a new thing.
    All candidates for major offices have access to armies of consultants and academics who each have decades of study and experience in how U.S. politics works and why it works the way it does.

    If the Democratic Party actually opposed Republican policies, there is nothing that would prevent them from adopting something like Katie’s excellent 12 word platform.

    Walter Karp long ago provided an explanation for the strange non-oppositional phenomena we see in U.S. politics: Indispensable Enemies: The Politics of Misrule in America.

  6. I think a large part of it is that the Democrats really don’t have the tools to get their message out. The Dems don’t have a news channel.

    Yes, I know all about MSNBC. But the anchors there don’t toe a party line handed to them each and every day by the DNC. If ever the DNC tried that trick, the newscasters would all complain — loudly and in public — the Fox Newsers would gloat and both you and I would register our dismay.

    The Republicans have more discipline. In a very real sense, they are far more collectivist, far less individualistic. Think back to every time you’ve ever heard someone tell you “There’s no I in TEAM.” A conservative said it, right?

    In a broader sense, the Dems don’t have the same kind of media infrastructure. They certainly don’t have the think tanks system. Let’s face it — think tanks have devolved into a racket. Nowadays, they exist to spew propaganda.

    The think tank system moves a party toward its extremes, since the task of the think tanker is to come up with intellectually respectable rationales for extremist solutions.

    • I call bullshit. When they had majorities in the house, senate and WH, they had the power to configure the FCC anyway they wanted. They could have taken PBS. They could have enforced the Fairness Doctrine, written net neutrality into iron clad law. They might have even put off that stupid telecomm immunity bill until *after* the elections and then used it as a bargaining chip to make the carriers do their bidding.
      BUT they are in the pocket of these very same people so they did nothing to control the message. It never occurred to them to get ruthless with the people who gave them money.

      • Wasn’t Al Gore recently (currently?) involved in a cable TV channel? The Democratic Party has some friends in the big money investment world and hedge fund world. Money doesn’t prevent the Democratic Party from creating an aggressive Fox News type channel.

        RiverDaughter hits the nail on the head. Democrats had majorities in the House and Senate and they owned the White House. They had all the power they needed to do whatever they wanted. So they followed and implemented Republican policies.

  7. Do you believe this from Newsweek?

    Newsweek, which ran a cover of Obama after Hillary won her comeback victory in the New Hampshire Primary, in which Jonathan Alter opined that it was time for the Clintons (and those their age) to step aside, in which Anna Quindlen gushed about her daughter’s new bff, and who’s managing editor compared Obama to god…

    I’ll always wonder how many of us cancelled our subscriptions, and if we deserve the credit for Newsweek’s financial demise.

    • There are a bunch of pundits that I never take seriously because they have their own agenda and it’s usually in service of the bonus class. Niall Ferguson is one of them. Ed Klein, Dick Morris, Larry Kudlow are others. Whenever you see anything in print by them, just ignore it. Mark Halperin is another I’d never trust. In fact, read everything in Politico skeptically. CNBC is fatally tainted and Maria Baritiromo is an idiot. In other words, check the biographies of every pundit very carefully and ask yourself what they have to gain from anything they say or print.
      The minute you said Niall Ferguson, I knew everything I needed to about his piece. That doesn’t mean Obama doesn’t need to go.
      Peg, I don’t know how long you’ve been following this blog but I am NOT a Republican sympathizer. Nooooo, not even a little. In fact, I don’t think the Republicans have anything to offer to former PUMAs that they should take seriously. Everything the Republicans are planning to do is going to hurt anyone that isn’t already rich.
      As far as I’m concerned, there are only two reason to despise Obama: 1.) He ruthlessly bought and strongarmed the primaries to get the nomination and he did it by disenfranchising voters with the consent of the DNC and 2.) He’s a really bad president who doesn’t like politics. There are no other reasons to despise him. No, seriously. My opposition to Obama is not personal, has nothing to do with his race and I believe he is a naturally born US citizen who meets the constitutional test to run for president. So do I. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone vote for me.
      So, just because I don’t want Obama to be president and my reasons are sound, that doesn’t mean I would prefer a Republican or that Republican policies suddenly look good to me just because they might be useful in getting Obama out of the WH. Nothing could be further from the truth. Republicans are not really a political party anymore. It’s more like a frenzied mob run by manipulative con men.
      And the Democrats are just sell outs. The choices are not great this year. I recommend third parties.

      • Ferguson thinks it was an awful shame that the British Empire went the way of the dodo and predicted that the (anemic and insufficient) stimulus would initiate ruinous inflation. He’s a hack. I have enough hacks in my old party (Klein, Yglesias, Lemieux, Marshall) and don’t need to put new ones up on a pedestal.

      • And the ones who aren’t sellouts themselves appear to have Stockholm Syndrome. What else would explain the failure of the so-called “progressive caucus” to resign en-masse from the Democratic Party and announce the start of a legitimate political party of their own, which their voters could either join or fail to join?

        What does pro-working class Kaptur or New Deal loyalist Harkin have in common with the party of Catfood Obama any more? Why do they stay in that party anymore?

    • Oh, and taking a brief look at that Newsweek Cover, I can see where clever graphic artists could use the same cover and change the wording to say : Hit the Road, Barack. Why We Need a New Nominee.

      They could make it into thousands or millions of posters at thousands of different publishing points and distribute them all over everywhere before Newsweek could sue for Copyright Infringement.
      Imagine millions of such posters planted in millions of front yards.

  8. I don’t know what you mean. Their message is clear. “Vote for us cuz we are cool, and hip, and urban, and smart.”

    It worked well in 2008. And they think it will work again in 2012. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t.

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