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Sunday, January 08, 2006

the limits of outrage

Like all hardened life-long Democrats, I'm hoping for a sea-change in American politics in the 2006 election year. (Hence my work with Joshua Grossman on that gargantuan overview of House targeting.)

I'd like to make a simple point about "sea changes" that is not always apparent on the blogs.

#1: Peer pressure is a significant component in American political life. It's what's kept Bush and the GOP in office.

#2: The people who change their votes aren't necessarily the ones talking about politics, but they are the ones who are listening.

Peer pressure happens at exactly the point where people who are open to change their vote LISTEN to what's going on in the political environment and decide: "time to give the other side a shot." This is a rational and social process...but not so much an ideological one. (In my mind "loyalty to party" in the US comes out of coalition victories that acheive results...not out of "ideological conviction.")

I think 2004 represents the limits of traditional ideological push...ie. outrage driven politics...for both parties.
There is a real danger of "outrage fatigue." Democrats in 2006 need to understand the power of the water cooler, of the "quiet conversations." Corruption, competence and good government count for much more than outrage in the current environment.

Blogs are great tools for outrage, but outrage has limits.

My message to Democrats: build the 2006 campaign around the concept of good government and reform of corruption. We need to be the party that's fired up to "set things right, and do right by the public."

Eagerness for good government and reform, not outrage, will carry the day.

2 Comments:

  • I think we have to remember that people don't want to percieve themselves as changing. We need to offer them a path to voting differently by which they can say to themselves "I'm the same good person; those guys changed and became bad."

    With this in mind, the reform of corruption frame can help them. They never would have voted for corruption, so the Republicans aren't their fault.

    By Blogger janinsanfran, at 12:52 PM  

  • I totally agree with your point on the limits of outrage and the necessity for Democrats to offer alternative frames.

    I disagree that those frames should be good government and corruption above all else. (Your post reads as if those are the only frames you would offer, but I'm loath to actually assume this.)

    Voters respond positively to an issues-based agenda. I'm not saying that good government isn't an issue, just that it is amorphous and not that compelling in and of itself.

    One thing we know that serves to energize people who typically don't vote, but would vote Democratic if they did, are bread-and-butter economic issues like the minimum wage, health care, and social security.

    I also think that centrist voters are very concerned with "values" (in fact, I htink we all are, centrist or not), so a Democratic frame must promulgate a set of values (of which good governement is a good example), but I would center it more around something more visceral, like what it takes for working families to make do. Things like "strong families require quality affordable child care and quality public schools".

    These frames counter the GOP "family values" bullshit, while firmly enumerating Dem priorities. Good government and corruption are definately a part of this mix, especially as a means of pointing out GOP hypocricy on these family issues, but I think they are weak frames for either pulling out low-propensity voters that are part of the progressive base or for pulling out centrist voters who only pay a little attention to politics and thing they're all corrupt anyway.

    In fact, I think running these frames without the "working families" frames risks tarnising Dems as well because they (politicians/elected officials) are "all part of the same broken system."

    By the same token I agree that right now is the best time to start vigorously painting the GOP with the corruption and malfeasance brush.

    By Blogger NathanHJ, at 5:09 PM  

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