|I discussed this back in October in my diary, "Hissy Fits In Historical Context--Health Care, Racism & The Authoritarian Divide-Part 2 ", where I followed Digby's original diary on hissy fits by turning to an essay "The Practice of Ritual Defamation". While that original claimed it could be used by any and all groups, I presented an argument that it was uniquely suited to be used by ingroups against outgroups or their members, and thus was inherently suited to conservative political practice, particularly as understood through the lens of social dominance orientation.
So, hissy fits are out (though not legitimate outrage), but what of the more ambiguous strategies and tactic? I've long echoed George Lakoff's argument that progressives fail to understand.that politics is much, much more than just a set of good positions on the issues, or even a set of popular ones. And there's no reason at all why progressives can't be passionate, ground their politics in their values, and tell compelling stories to communicate both how they see the world, and how it can be made better.
Still, there is a difference between doing that and doing
the "let's all use the same loaded phrase" thing at least with mind-numbing repetitiveness.
As I wrote myself in a followup/response diary:
We need to find ways of acting that are true to our values and cognitive styles and strengths. That's the main post [sic] of his diary, and I agree 100%. But it's also true that learning how to adapt and use different tools for different jobs--to think situationally--is also a liberal strength. And so while it's a bad idea to want to be like that all the time, I think it's a good idea to be able to act like that on occassion, when it would be particularly good to do so. We maybe don't want to be fast-ball pitchers. But we want to be able to throw one when we need to.
Conservative Talking Points On Economics
Given how effectively conservatives have used the uniform talking-point approach over the years--both as strategy and tactic, it would be foolish for us to ignore its potency, even if it would equally foolish to try using it as slavishly as conservatives do. Let's take a look at recent example--something I originally intended to write about last weekend, in fact. I noticed several items at Talking Points Memo while I was over there participating in the book discussion, two of which related to economic policy. They show the potency of talking points, regardless of how foolish the underlying policy may be. And they sharpen the question of how we ought to respond--not just in the moment, but in the long run as well.
First was "Chao Praises Bush Economy, Rips Dems: Unemployment Was 4.7% In 2007", which read, in part:
Appearing on Fox News today, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao -- who is also the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) -- said that the economy is entirely the Democrats' fault, not the Bush administrations, by citing the low unemployment in 2007.
Chao dismissed Democratic objections that the Bush administration was responsible for the bad economy, through the costs of war spending and other issues. "You know it's pretty audacious of them to still claim that. Basically, this is their economy," said Chao. "In 2007, the unemployment rate was about 4.7%, and now with all this massive government spending the unemployment rate is 10.2%."
TPM goes on to marvel at Chao's magical disappearance of 2008 from the historical record--especially since she was still Bush's Secretary of Labor during that disastrous year.
But there was more to what Chao said in the video clip TPM had, and while it was less spectacularly outrageous, it was much more revealing of the conservative rhetorical strategy on economics, which becomes particularly evident when you look at some other items on the TPM site at the same time. First, here's more from Chao:
This Administration does not seem to understand that it's the private sector that creates jobs, and when there's too much uncertainty, when there's the specter of increased taxes, massive government regulations, robbing the workers of their right to a secret ballot election, these are harmful to job creation.
So, community organizing is not going to create jobs. Nor is holding meetings going to create jobs. The government's role is to create the environment through which the private sector can create jobs. Two-thirds of the jobs created are from the small businesses.
The idea that the private sector "creates jobs" is part of an entire ideology of business-class valorization. In reality, the private sector does not create jobs. Indeed, taken as a whole, its only purpose is to create profits. If it can make profits by creating jobs, it will do that. If it can make profits without creating jobs, it will do that. If it can make profits by destroying jobs, it will do that. If it can make profits by outsourcing them to Mexico, Honduras and China, it will do that. Jobs are of great rhetorical and political value to the private sector (when fighting environmental regulations, for example), but when given a choice between jobs and profits, jobs don't even come in second. Or third. It's profits, profits, profits, profits, profits, profits, profits, profits. Profits constitute the entire top 10. The top 100. The top 10,000. Need I go on? There are, of course, individual exceptions. But that's all that they are. They are exceptions to what's true of the private sector as a sector.
So what does create jobs? Simple: all else being equal, what creates jobs is demand. And when the private sector cannot create enough demand itself--say because unemployment is so high that even those who still have jobs are so afraid of losing them that they're cutting back on spending--then it's up to government to create demand. That's what Keynesianism is all about. And if it was good enough for Ronald Reagan, it should be good enough for Chao.
A similar line was pushed by Orin Hatch, as reported in "Hatch Doesn't Know Why Dems Are 'So Doggone Stupid'":
"Q: The criticism, though is that if you give tax cuts to small businesses that they'll just keep the money, that they won't necessarily use it to hire more people. How do you answer that?
Hatch: Well, I've never seen that happen. If you give tax cuts to small businesses, most small business people want to do better. Most of them can't do better without more employees or more product, and so generally they come up with more employees, more product, more opportunities, and more economic development. That's been the history of our country. I don't know why people on the other side are so doggone stupid that they think the federal government is going to produce jobs. What they're producing are small-time government jobs. What they're producing are small-time government jobs. That's what they're doing. And it's just awful.
Q: I like the way you don't mince words. Senator Orin Hatch."
The surface of what's going on here is pretty simple. Once again, it revolves around the narrative valorization of the small businessman. And as befits a valorization narrative, it's generalized in the extreme--which his part of what gives it its surface plausibility. Over the long run, it's true that "small business people want to do better," and in order to do better they need "more employees" and "more product." But what's true in general is not true in all situations--such as during a recession, for example, not to mention the mother of all recessions. During a recession, what they need most is demand, and until they get that demand, they are not going to be hiring anyone, thank you very much.
What Hatch is saying is like saying that since Denver is a mile high and New Orleans is at sea level, then the entire trip from New Orleans to Denver must be uphill--the same logic of "more employees" and "more product" must hold all throughout the journey. But that's like saying that if you drive from New Orleans to Denver, it's impossible to drive into a ditch along the way, because that mean going downhill into the ditch--and that would be impossible.
That's what's going on at a relatively surface level--although apparently it's too deep for most Democratic talking heads to know how to handle. But there's something much deeper going on that takes us back toward the underlying thrust of this diary--the role of the authoritarian black-and-white worldview. If there's the private sector and the government, you've got a simple black-and-white setup potential there, and conservatives have been playing that for all it's worth for well over a hundred years: the private sector creates jobs, and the government destroys them. Think about it. Earlier this year, Michael Steele--a former Lt. Governor, i.e. government employee said that government has never created a single job. It's not just absurd, coming from a former government employee, it's downright ludicrous. But saying ludicrous things is no impediment for conservatives. They do not believe in facts. They believe in themselves, out of a narcissistic belief in their own superiority. The big picture ideological justification is an identification with God--for religious conservatives--or some other unquestionable God-substitute for those who are not religious. (Sociopathic egotism in the case of Randians, for example.)
Even if there was originally only the foggiest justification, endless repetition of the claim that government is the problem and private enterprise the solution turns this claim into a catechism, a species of holy writ, and simply by virtue of association, by the fact that one is repeating holy writ, one becomes imbued with a sense of infallibility--which is particularly helpful when one is uttering utter nonsense--as Steele was when he claimed that government had never created a single job.
When Chao said, "So, community organizing is not going to create jobs. Nor is holding meetings going to create jobs," she was invoking that underlying conservative framework: Government can't create jobs, only private businesses can. So of course politicians meeting can't create jobs. How could they? She then goes on the explain--only by creating the environment so that private businesses can create jobs Only by doing what private businesses tell them to do. Only by acting as servants of private business.
Of course the evidence is quite contrary to this belief. Although far from being the anti-business demons of conservative's imagination, Democrats as a whole are significantly more balanced in terms of their economic policies, and they are far more successful in terms of the economies they preside over. But, of course, as already noted, truth is irrelevant for conservatives. The only thing that matters is the identity of the person making claims
So what's the alternative? Well, for one thing, it's helpful to note that the underlying dichotomy is entirely false. In fact, there's virtually no such thing as a private sector without government. This is so in so many ways it's not even funny. No government, no laws, no protection of property except for your own force of arms... welcome to the advanced capitalist economy of Afghanistan... if you were to be extremely lucky.
On the other hand, the identification of capitalism with the free market is equally false. Conservatives rarely argue for capitalism, they're always arguing for the free market. But capitalism and the free market are utterly at odds with each other. Capitalism is based on the accumulation of capital, and capital can only be accumulated when someone is making a profit. OTOH, the free market means unfettered competition, and the natural result of such competition is that profits are driven down to zero. Of course, free markets have never existed, which is why capitalism can do so well, in its own terms. But the reality of capitalism--especially the obscene concentrations of money and power in the unworthy hands of so few--is so distasteful that it must always be justified in terms of its de facto opposite: free markets.
What underlies the two above critiques is both a more systemic view of how things work, and a more critical view. This, in turn, relates to greater levels of cognitive complexity, and to operating in a less fearful environment, where ideas and alternatives can be contemplated in a more clear-headed fashion. In short--it takes a non-authoritarian mindset to sustain a clear understand of the deep problems behind the babbling of blowhards like Chao and Hatch.
Of course the authoritarian black-and-white/good-vs-evil dichotomous worldview is hardly limited to economics. It shows up everywhere in conservative narratives. Consider a couple of other stories that popped at TPM in the same time-frame.
First, from Eric Kleefeld, comes "GOP Rep. Foxx Denounces Liberal 'Character Assassination,' Previously Said Health Care Bill Scarier Than Terrorism":
First, Kleefeld reports:
In a profile piece for the Winston-Salem Journal, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) made an interesting declaration about Democrats -- that without ideas, all they have to use against the conservative opposition is character assassination.
"I'm a small-government conservative, and that's not very fashionable in Washington," said Foxx. "The liberals have no new ideas, and so they're reduced to character assassination."
Then he observes:
The accusation of character assassination seems a bit peculiar, coming from Foxx. She has previously said of the health care bill: "I believe we have more to fear from the potential of that bill passing than we do from any terrorist right now in any country." And she's also implied that the Dems' health care plans would "put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government."
One might also note that over the past 11 months it's been the GOP that's been noticeably lacking in ideas--to the point of being downright embarrasing, in fact.
But if one looks at the original story, there's a lot more crazy going on. The story goes on to cite a number of her more high-profie one-liners
all of which drew negative national attention:
- In April, during a House speech on a Democratic proposal to ban bonuses for some executives, she used the term "tar baby," a phrase that has carried various connotations over the years but is now seen by many as a racial epithet.
- A few weeks later, she said it was a "hoax" to characterize the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard as a hate crime. Witnesses during the murder trial testified that Shepard was killed because he was gay. When Foxx made her comments, Shepard's mother was in the House gallery to watch a debate on hate-crime legislation. Foxx later issued a quasi-apology.
- During debate over health-care reform, Foxx said that Democratic proposals would "put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government." Later, she said, "We have more to fear from the potential of that bill passing than we do from any terrorist."
- Most recently, on Nov. 19, Foxx said it was Republicans, not Democrats, who were mainly responsible for passing civil-rights legislation during the 1960s.
The article then goes into more detail on the last remark:
A narrow point
That last remark caused some commentators to note that the Civil Rights Act was pushed by Presidents Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and was sponsored by Democratic leaders in Congress.
Still, Foxx's description had a degree of factual accuracy. Although more Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act than Republicans, the Republicans had a higher percentage of their members supporting it.
"On that narrow factual point, she is correct," said Harry Watson, a professor of history at UNC Chapel Hill and an expert on the Civil Rights Movement.
But Watson added that Foxx is wrong to omit the political and historical context. Most of the opponents of civil rights were from the South, and most Southern congressmen at the time were Democrats. The passage of civil-rights legislation ushered in a political tide that allowed Republicans to dominate the South.
"The people that the Republicans recruited into their party, and which came to dominate it, were by and large unfriendly to civil-rights legislation," Watson said.
Foxx said that the political ramifications after the Civil Rights Act was passed are irrelevant to the point she was trying to make.
When she made her remark, she said, she was responding to a Democratic House member who accused Republicans of having a weak record on environmental issues. Foxx was arguing that, contrary to what some Democrats claim, Republicans actually have a strong record on the environment, just as they do on civil rights.
As usual, the objective academic was pretty damn useless--though of course it's impossible to lay blame, since he may well have said some much more critical things that didn't make it into print. But the end result was lame in the extreme, regardless. The reality, of course, is that Democrats supported civil rights despite the fact that it was extremely costly to them politically. And Foxx is just flat wrong that ' it was Republicans, not Democrats, who were mainly responsible for passing civil-rights legislation during the 1960s'. The Democrats controlled both houses of Congress with substantial majorities, and the Republicans couldn't have passed anything by themselves--even if they had wanted to. Yes, the Democrats had substantial internal oppostion from their Dixiecrat wing, and they needed GOP support to help them overcome it. But without Democrats initiating the process, nothing would ever have been done. Indeed, even the much weaker 1957 Civil Rights Act was passed by a Democratic majority in control of both houses--most notably with LBJ as Majority Leader in the Senate. The Republicans who did support civil rights legislation have almost entirely vanished from the party at the federal level. They're sneered at and jeered at as RINOs now--Republicans In Name Only--by the crowd that wildly cheers Foxx. But when Foxx needs cover to paint herself as part of the party of saints, she just can't get enough of those RINOs--forget hstorical reality, she says, think only about the name.
The exact same thing is true of the environment, of course. Teddy Roosevelt would be as hated today by the GOP base as Abraham Lincoln would be.
Such is the mendacity of the authoritarians, when their side of the black-and-white divide turns up with the black hats.
Which brings us to the last story from TPM at that time, the GOP senators' poutrage at Al Franken for the fact that they voted to protect gang rapists:
Eric Kleefeld again, this time writing, "Senate GOPers: It's Al Franken's Fault We're Being Attacked For Votes Against Anti-Rape Amendment". This one is so short, I'm going to quote it in full:
The Politico reports that Senate Republicans are outraged at Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) due to their votes against an amendment he introduced, to crack down on the rape of employees of military contractors, now being used against them:
The Republicans are steamed at Franken because partisans on the left are using a measure he sponsored to paint them as rapist sympathizers -- and because Franken isn't doing much to stop them.
"Trying to tap into the natural sympathy that we have for this victim of this rape --and use that as a justification to frankly misrepresent and embarrass his colleagues, I don't think it's a very constructive thing," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said in an interview.
"I don't know what his motivation was for taking us on, but I would hope that we won't see a lot of Daily Kos-inspired amendments in the future coming from him," said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, No. 4 in the Senate Republican leadership. "I think hopefully he'll settle down and do kind of the serious work of legislating that's important to Minnesota."
No, this is not The Onion.
No, at this rate, The Onion is going to be out of business.
But this brings us right back to Dan's original point. The idea of piling on in response to the GOP's piling on to Franklin would be stupid. They're revving up all this energy to make themselves look like fools. Get the fuck our of the way when they do this!
But make damn sure that you use this against them when they come up for re-election. Use it mercilessly. Use it repetitively. And use it in context:
Your GOP senator voted to protect gang rapists, and when they were criticized for it, they didn't have the decency to admit they'd made a horrible mistake--instead, they blamed the senator who introduced the bill in the first place--a bill that 10 of their Republican colleagues had the good sense to vote for, even if it was proposed by a Democrat. Don't vote for a stupid Senator, who can't even admit when he was clearly in the wrong. We all make mistakes. But when we do, we clean up the mess ourselves. It's called "responsibility." Clean up the mess. Take responsibility. Give our state a senator we can be proud of once again.
Don't act like the authoritarian GOP. But don't let them shut you up, either. Stand up for your values. Stand up for your beliefs. Stand up for those who support you. Stand up for truth. Stand up against the lies.