Thursday, January 05, 2017

WHY PROGRESSIVES CAN'T JUST MAGICALLY REPLICATE THE TEA PARTY

On her show last night, Rachel Maddow devoted nearly a half hour of airtime to multiple segments about anti-Trump movements, particularly those inspired by the online pamphlet Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda, which was written by former congressional staffers. Three of Indivisible's authors also had an op-ed in The New York Times on Tuesday, in which they explained their thinking:
The Tea Party’s ideas were wrong, and their often racist rhetoric and physical threats were unacceptable. But they understood how to wield political power and made two critical strategic decisions. First, they organized locally, focusing on their own members of Congress. Second, they played defense, sticking together to aggressively resist anything with President Obama’s support. With this playbook, they rattled our elected officials, targeting Democrats and Republicans alike.

Politics is the art of the possible, and the Tea Party changed what was possible. They waged a relentless campaign to force Republicans away from compromise and tank Democratic legislative priorities like immigration reform and campaign finance transparency. Their members ensured that legislation that did pass, like the Affordable Care Act, was unpopular from the start. They hijacked the national narrative and created the impression of broad discontent with President Obama.
There are a couple of problems with this. First of all, Republicans didn't need to be forced away from compromise with the Obama administration -- they'd already decide on a stance of uncompromising resistance, as Sam Stein noted in 2014:
As President Barack Obama was celebrating his inauguration at various balls, top Republican lawmakers and strategists were conjuring up ways to submarine his presidency at a private dinner in Washington.

The event ... serves as the prologue of Robert Draper’s much-discussed and heavily-reported new book, “Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives.”

... For several hours in the Caucus Room (a high-end D.C. establishment), the book says they plotted out ways to not just win back political power, but to also put the brakes on Obama’s legislative platform.

“If you act like you’re the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority,” Draper quotes McCarthy as saying. “We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.”
Second, while Tea Party groups may have organized locally, they received significant financial backing and strategic assistance from Koch-funded groups, as well as a torrent of publicity from Fox News, which literally lent the Fox brand to the movement:



The Tea Party also had very little difficulty making the case that President Obama was evil because racist and evil-Democrat ideas and memes were already well entrenched in heartland white America, the result of years of propaganda from Fox, talk radio, and online right-wing media sources. Tea Party activism broadcast to America what right-wingers were already saying to one another in Free Republic threads and on radio call-in shows, as well as what Fox News blasted into living rooms on a daily basis.

Right-wing propagandists have much more experience at crafting effective memes than our side does. We're seeing this again today.

You may already be aware of a story out of Chicago about four young blacks who restrained and physically assaulted a young mentally disabled white man. The assaults were streamed live on Facebook. The attackers were heard saying "Fuck Trump!" and "Fuck white people!"

I hope the attackers are severely punished. I don't think it's unreasonable to look into hate-crimes charges, though we need to know more.

But notice what's happening on social media. One of the top trending topics on Twitter right now is #BLMkidnapping. The right is pinning responsibility for this crime on the Black Lives Matter movement, though there's no evidence of a link.

This points up a huge advantage the right has over the left. Right-wing propagandists keep their target audience angry all the time. Fox, Breitbart, and talk radio depict Black Lives Matter as a Klan-like hate group even when there's no obvious news peg. So the audience for the right-wing media (which is much larger than the audience for, say, MSNBC prime time) has outrage as its baseline. That's not true for most liberals and progressives.

And then, when whatever's going on in the country or the world fits the right's well-honed frames, the anger goes to 11.

In today's New York Times, there's an op-ed by Robert Leonard, an Iowa radio news director, about attitudes in the white heartland. I don't agree with much of what Leonard writes, but there's a kernel of truth in this:
One recent morning, I sat near two young men at a coffee shop here whom I’ve known since they were little boys. Now about 18, they pushed away from the table, and one said: “Let’s go to work. Let the liberals sleep in.” The other nodded.

They’re hard workers. As a kid, one washed dishes, took orders and swept the floor at a restaurant. Every summer, the other picked sweet corn by hand at dawn for a farm stand and for grocery stores, and then went to work all day on his parents’ farm. Now one is a welder, and the other is in his first year at a state university on an academic scholarship. They are conservative, believe in hard work, family, the military and cops, and they know that abortion and socialism are evil, that Jesus Christ is our savior, and that Donald J. Trump will be good for America.

They are part of a growing movement in rural America that immerses many young people in a culture -- not just conservative news outlets but also home and church environments -- that emphasizes contemporary conservative values. It views liberals as loathsome, misinformed and weak, even dangerous.
These people are wrong -- I've met plenty of lazy rural people, and New York City, where I live, runs on caffeine and hustle. But what's important here is that conservatives all believe this. It's not just these young people -- it's the vast majority of the right-wing rank-and-file. They believe they're surrounded by the enemies Fox enumerates every night, and as a result they're in a constant state of rage.

So they were easy for the Tea Party or the Trump campaign to rile up. They already had a well-established narrative of their alleged enemies' perfidy -- all the teabaggers or Trump had to do was allude to what they already believed.

We have far fewer people on the left who start out angry. And we don't have any megaphones as large as Fox's or talk radio's, nor do we have funders as generous as the Kochs. So we have a much, much harder climb.

10 comments:

Never Ben Better said...

Not only the items you tick off in your final paragraph: The angry left pretty much ignores the right and turns the vast bulk of its bile and ire upon insufficiently pure Democrats, "neoliberals", and other traitors to progressivism. Rather than help fight for every inch of territory Obama and the Democrats wrung out of the last eight years they've spent far too much of their energies on backbiting, sniping, and in general whining that it's not enough, it's never enough.

With friends like these....

Steve M. said...

Excellent point. There's infighting on the right, but it's always "Me against my brother, but my brother and I against the evil left." By contrast, the purist progs never stop fighting those of us who aren't quite as pure, and we're their #1 enemy.

autoegocrat said...

On the left side of talk radio, Mike Malloy consistently starts out angry and he was essentially kept in the basement when Air America was still broadcasting. His show has always been very compelling, it's a very good radio program and the guy knows what he's doing, but he has a very difficult time finding sponsors and staying on the air.

As for infighting on the left, I'm tempted to respond to your comment simply because I feel like you two are specifically talking about me and misrepresenting my position regarding your contribution to the cause. How about we all just stop it.

debg said...

Never Ben Better is right. I also appreciate your thoughtful analysis above, Steve. All those stories recently about heartland folks and their health insurance feature lots of quotes about "I work for my Medicaid/Medicare/insurance," implying that those lazy liberals just wait for handouts to which they feel *entitled* without paying in to the system.

Wish somebody could do a comprehensive study on the work patterns of SNAP, TANF, and Medicaid. It wouldn't change the minds of the true believers, but at least I'd have some data to back up my gut suspicions.

id brink said...

We have far fewer people on the left who start out angry.

Now that may change more in the coming months and years. Hard to say how bad it must get before the deadening media propaganda methods (marketing, slant, repetition, domination), which dilute the potential of would-be lefty activists while at the same time inspiring actual righty culture warriors, start to fail in the face of multiple personal calamities, troubles that Team Trump may well influence. But you're right, the advantages for effective grassroots activism that the right has are significant and still underacknowledged. From the Powell Memo and Southern Strategy on, the right has overall worked the angles better and we're seeing the results.

flipyrwhig said...

What's the evidence that 18-year-old dipwads are part of a "growing movement"? Conservatives have been patting themselves on the back for working hard and not being on welfare and/or a bunch of pu$$ies like Those People In The City for 75 years. They're hateful and hideous, and happy to be so, and don't want to change, and have been that way for generations. That's why so many people do whatever it takes to leave there.

rclz said...

xxx

james williams said...

That's an old observation/argument you'd have to be blind or stupid not to have seen and understood regarding the way rightwing masterminds keep their minions simmering so as to make the boiling point easier to achieve. I've been making that case in those words longer than some have been outta their diapers.

Having said that, I think you're fullofit in regards to the lack of anger from those on the left, much like I think some of your commenters exaggerate or are dishonest about those of us on the left who criticize their centrist/dlc/etc darlings, like we can't be equal opportunity bashers simply because they can't/don't/won't multi-task that way. Secondly, that bs applies pretty much only to that type and their "civil" leaders in DC and elsewhere that still think "civility" is the best and only way to deal with the growing threat of rightwingnuttery in this country. I've long thought and argued that it is way overrated, and only benefits the targets that are never adequately and appropriately on the recieving end of it.

The only shortage of lefty outrage and the manifestation of it is outa our so-called leadership, who have all to often simply turned the other cheek to have both sides slapped off in their roles as the good cops by the bad gops in the political theatre monied interests directs.

I'm not sure which is more pathetic -- rightwingers or he rightwinger-lites whining about the bruising their centrist/dlc/thirdway dems get for their roles in our collective tragedy. Only in their world does complaining about the rightwing elements become a "purity" thing, like we should all just be quite about the welfare/criominal justice/telecom/etc reforms of Bill Clinton, or the drone murder program/surveliance state/etc BHO is handing to Trump.

WHy it's almost like rightwingers don't have a monopoly on great deal, like accepting rersponsibility and accountibility, ain't it?

tpsmithster said...

It's difficult. It might take years in the wilderness. But honestly, what are you saying here? If the Democratic party is going to revitalize itself, it has to begin in the states. It has to begin with everyday people building a resistance to an authoritarian kleptomaniac government. Conservatives love to tell us they are loving family people before they burn us at the stake for heresy. We just need to recant. No, we need to organize.

homelessonthehighdesert said...

As for infighting on the left... I too am tempted to respond in kind, but have learned through the years that if there is one defining behavioral characteristic that sets 'Meirkans apart from the rest of the world it is in the overarched inability to accept responsibility for their actions. Both sides do it, Heyzeus encourages it and 'Meirka in general rewards it, so I'll just save my breath thank you.

Nothing unites the haters quite so as their common hatred of me.
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