Saturday, December 26, 2015

Scattershooting some after-Christmas sales

-- Why try to understand complicated things like demographics for the decline of your faith when you can blame gays and liberals for waging a “war on religion?”

Among the Christian Right, and most Republican presidential candidates, it’s now an article of faith that the United States is persecuting Christians and Christian-owned businesses—that religion itself is under attack.

“We have seen a war on faith,” Ted Cruz has said to pick one example. “His policies and this administration’s animosity to religious liberty and, in fact, antagonism to Christians, has been one of the most troubling aspects of the Obama administration,” he said.

Why has this bizarre myth that Christianity is under assault in the most religious developed country on Earth been so successful? Because, in a way, it’s true. American Christianity is in decline—not because of a “war on faith” but because of a host of demographic and social trends. The gays and liberals are just scapegoats.

-- "Things are going great, and they're only gettin' better.  We just haven't sold it like we should." -- paraphrasing Barack Obama:

“Now on our side, I think that there is a le­git­im­ate cri­ti­cism of what I’ve been do­ing and our ad­min­is­tra­tion has been do­ing in the sense that we haven’t, you know, on a reg­u­lar basis, I think, de­scribed all the work that we’ve been do­ing for more than a year now to de­feat ISIL,” Obama said. Mean­while, he blamed “the me­dia” for “pur­su­ing rat­ings.”

The pres­id­ent also said dur­ing an off-the-re­cord con­ver­sa­tion with colum­nists last week that his Oval Of­fice ad­dress hadn’t gone far enough, a short­com­ing he at­trib­uted to his own fail­ure to watch enough cable news to un­der­stand the depth of anxi­ety.

In oth­er words, the strategy is work­ing, and the White House just needs to com­mu­nic­ate that bet­ter. The fights against do­mest­ic ter­ror and IS­IS alike are go­ing great, if only people would un­der­stand it.

I can't decide whether this astounds me or is just more of the same BS coming out of the White House for the past seven years.  A fairly constant refrain from partisan Democrats produces the latter of those two feelings: the "Look at everything the president has accomplished, and imagine how MUCH MORE he could have done if it weren't for an obstructive Congress!" consistent Facebook meme-ology.  That ceased working for me in the fall of 2011.  You know, once Obama refused to spend any of his political capital influencing the recalcitrant conservative Democrats in swing districts to vote for the legislation that bears his name.  Not just in 2009, but as late as 2013, when one of the many repeal votes came up prior to an election year.

This is humbl­eb­rag polit­ics: I’m not great at ex­plain­ing it, but man, am I great at policy. But does it ac­cur­ately un­der­stand the prob­lems, or what mes­saging en­tails? Obama views bat­tle­field suc­cess against IS­IS as the goal, and mes­saging as a simple pro­cess of tele­graph­ing that. Mes­saging can be something great­er than just the wrap­ping pa­per on the policy solu­tion he has chosen. It’s about per­suad­ing people to come around to your side, not just telling them why your side is right.

This isn’t the first time Obama has in­sisted that everything’s go­ing great and it’s just the wrap­ping pa­per that needs spru­cing up. After the 2014 midterm elec­tions, which saw de­feats for Demo­crats on all fronts, Obama told Bob Schief­fer the prob­lem was that he hadn’t com­mu­nic­ated how well his ad­min­is­tra­tion was do­ing:
One thing that I do need to con­stantly re­mind my­self and my team is it’s not enough just to build the bet­ter mousetrap. People don’t auto­mat­ic­ally come beat­ing to your door. We’ve got to sell it, we’ve got to reach out to the oth­er side and where pos­sible per­suade. And I think there are times, there’s no doubt about it where, you know, I think we have not been suc­cess­ful in go­ing out there and let­ting people know what it is that we are try­ing to do and why this is the right dir­ec­tion. So there is a fail­ure of polit­ics there that we have got to im­prove on.

Policy as a product to be sold, via teevee advertising and brand research marketed by consultants (polling, etc.).   I'm so old I can remember people complaining when we sold the actual politicians like laundry detergent during a soap opera.

Nobody watches those any more -- if you're a monolingual English speaker, that is -- because the writers and actors cost too much to produce the shows.  Five hosts on a chat-and-chew, or just one, offering free media to the celebrity of the moment is a real budget-maker for those cost-cutting networks with falling ratings.

Thank goodness for SuperPACS and multiple presidential candidates coming to the mainstream media's financial rescue, amirite?  Back to Obama and messaging.

After the 2010 midterm “shel­lack­ing,” Obama had been some­what more con­cili­at­ory, say­ing, “I think that what is ab­so­lutely true is voters are not sat­is­fied with the out­comes.” But even then, he wasn’t say­ing Re­pub­lic­ans were right to op­pose his stim­u­lus; he was say­ing he hadn’t en­acted an ag­gress­ive enough ap­proach to cre­ate enough jobs. He wasn’t say­ing the price tags for the stim­u­lus were too large; he was say­ing they seemed too large to many people.

In fact, many eco­nom­ists agree that he should have pur­sued a lar­ger stim­u­lus. There is wide­spread sup­port for many com­pon­ents of the Af­ford­able Care Act taken singly, des­pite the many more people who op­pose the law in total. But it’s likely that many people would have op­posed these ef­forts any­way. Some would have done so out of par­tis­an, tri­bal loy­alty, which mo­tiv­ates many people’s polit­ic­al po­s­i­tions. Oth­ers would have done so out of es­sen­tial op­pos­i­tion to big-gov­ern­ment pro­grams. (Obama ac­tu­ally got at this, say­ing, “I think people star­ted look­ing at all this and it felt as if gov­ern­ment was get­ting much more in­trus­ive in­to people’s lives than they were ac­cus­tomed to”—though that “ac­cus­tomed to” seems to again pre­sume that with enough time and the right wrap­ping, they could be con­vinced.)

Many Demo­crats have long thought that white, blue-col­lar voters, who have gradu­ally deser­ted the party since Ron­ald Re­agan was run­ning for pres­id­ent, were just wait­ing for the right ap­proach to lure them back. Demo­crats look at them as clear al­lies who are vot­ing against their own in­terest, if only they could be made to see that. Obama touched on that idea in his In­s­keep in­ter­view, too:
But I do think that when you com­bine that demo­graph­ic change with all the eco­nom­ic stresses that people have been go­ing through be­cause of the fin­an­cial crisis, be­cause of tech­no­logy, be­cause of glob­al­iz­a­tion, the fact that wages and in­comes have been flat­lining for some time, and that par­tic­u­larly blue-col­lar men have had a lot of trouble in this new eco­nomy, where they are no longer get­ting the same bar­gain that they got when they were go­ing to a fact­ory and able to sup­port their fam­il­ies on a single paycheck, you com­bine those things and it means that there is go­ing to be po­ten­tial an­ger, frus­tra­tion, fear—some of it jus­ti­fied but just mis­dir­ec­ted. I think some­body like Mr. Trump is tak­ing ad­vant­age of that. That’s what he’s ex­ploit­ing dur­ing the course of his cam­paign.
This is really just a more del­ic­ate ar­tic­u­la­tion of Obama’s in­fam­ous com­ments in 2008 about voters who “get bit­ter, they cling to guns or re­li­gion or an­ti­pathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-im­mig­rant sen­ti­ment or anti-trade sen­ti­ment as a way to ex­plain their frus­tra­tions.” (In­s­keep, in fact, men­tioned those com­ments later in the in­ter­view.) And it’s not un­like Tom Frank’s What’s the Mat­ter With Kan­sas? thes­is, about cit­izens vot­ing against what lib­er­als see as their own self-in­terest.

Many of the dis­agree­ments here are about more than mes­saging. Per­haps those white, work­ing-class voters aren’t get­ting what they want out of the Demo­crat­ic Party. (Group iden­tity, rather than policy ig­nor­ance, prob­ably goes a long way to ex­plain­ing the dis­crep­ancy.) Maybe people wouldn’t be rad­ic­ally more sup­port­ive of Obama’s do­mest­ic-policy agenda if they just un­der­stood it bet­ter. The fact that no one else has a bet­ter idea for com­bat­ing IS­IS may in­dic­ate the mag­nitude of the chal­lenge, not vin­dic­a­tion for Obama. Ex­plain­ing to voters why you’re right of­ten re­quires first tak­ing ser­i­ously why they think you’re wrong, and ad­apt­ing un­der­ly­ing policies to ad­dress their con­cerns. Someone should fig­ure out how to mes­sage that to the pres­id­ent.

-- And that leads to this.

The democratic process relies on the assumption that citizens (the majority of them, at least) can recognize the best political candidate, or best policy idea, when they see it. But a growing body of research has revealed an unfortunate aspect of the human psyche that would seem to disprove this notion, and imply instead that democratic elections produce mediocre leadership and policies.

The research, led by David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, shows that incompetent people are inherently unable to judge the competence of other people, or the quality of those people's ideas. For example, if people lack expertise on tax reform, it is very difficult for them to identify the candidates who are actual experts. They simply lack the mental tools needed to make meaningful judgments.

As a result, no amount of information or facts about political candidates can override the inherent inability of many voters to accurately evaluate them. On top of that, "very smart ideas are going to be hard for people to adopt, because most people don’t have the sophistication to recognize how good an idea is," Dunning told Life's Little Mysteries

You can't reason with the Idiocrats, so you might as well push their fear and greed buttons.  Seems to be working for the GOP pretty well, yes?  Happy New Year!


meme said...

I would say it is working very well, other than the Presidency how are the Democrats doing. People are mad and there is no candidate including Bernie Sanders that will right this country, because he is one them with a different message.

Gadfly said...

Very good post. Other than some strategic triangulation with alleged non-nutbars in the GOP, it's the message of Hillary Clinton and the Hillarybots, too, with the implied "we can do it even better" following.

Gadfly said...

Greeting cards started the "War on Christmas" 140 years ago, Ted:

Gadfly said...

Oh, and Merry Christmas from Saint Marx: