Thursday, November 04, 2010


There's a long story in today's New York Times about the GOP's (clearly successful) two-year comeback strategy. I think the obvious takeaway from the story is that the central focus of Republicans, in a time of national crisis, with problems from foreclosures to energy to infrastructure to war needing to be addressed, was: How do we win again? But apart from that, a number of bloggers are focusing on one idea picked up from a PowerPoint presentation at a meeting of House Republicans in January 2009:

They also tried to push Democrats into retirement, using what was described in the presentation as “guerilla tactics” like chasing Democratic members down with video cameras and pressing them to explain votes or positions. (One target, Representative Bob Etheridge of North Carolina, had to apologize for manhandling one of his inquisitors in a clip memorialized on YouTube. Only this week did Republican strategists acknowledge they were behind the episode.)

Kevin Drum says:

I guess all's fair in love and politics, but seriously? One of their official strategies, memorialized in a PowerPoint presentation, was to harrass Democrats with video cameras until they got so sick of politics that they just gave up? Did we really just hand over control of Congress to a bunch of seventh graders?

Well, yes -- obviously. Are you surprised?

Republicans are expert manipulators of the public's sense of the pecking order -- and I mean that very much in the seventh-grade sense, because I think Americans are inclined to see the world in seventh-grade pecking-order terms, and Republicans get that. For instance, "elitist," as an insult directed at Democrats and liberals, has a lot of meanings, but one of them is "pathetic nerdy egghead loser."

More to the point, what does pranking say about the prankster? In seventh grade, pranksters are seen as kinda cool. Fellow students almost invariably identify more with a prankster than with a nerd target (even a lot of teachers, in my experience, admire the spirit of clever harassers). And if you prank a teacher, kids think you're extremely cool. You may not be the captain of the football team, but you're admirable.

And yet, if you harass a teacher and the teacher loses his temper, you get the benefit of seeming to be the victim of an abuse of power. That's basically what happened in the most famous harassment incident, as described today by Dave Weigel:

...In June, two young men identifying themselves as "students" found [Representative Bob] Etheridge walking to a fundraiser and asked "do you fully support the Obama agenda?" Etheridge blew up, pushing away the cameras and headlocking one of the young men as the other one filmed. I remember this very well, because at the time I said Etheridge "pulled the student to his side and grabbed him in a hug" ... I was asking who the young men were, because neither Etheridge or his opponent knew, which meant Etheridge couldn't apologize in person and the local GOP couldn't call on them to follow up.

Of course, now we know it wasn't really a power imbalance, because these "students" had the muscle of the GOP behind them. But the narrative is appealing to people. It worked.

Steve Benen, responding to Kevin Drum's "seventh graders" comment, says:

Voters rarely consider factors like this, but the current crop of GOP leaders make no effort to bring maturity or seriousness to their work. They're powerful children, and they're not especially embarrassed about it.

Right. And they have no reason to be -- in fact, they're smart to be proud of doing things like this, because it appeals to a lot of people, deep in their reptile brains.

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