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February 03, 2005

Just Isn't True

A few days ago, I responded to a QandO post accusing the Democrats of being all opposition, no ideas. The folks over there have issued their latest missive, amending their argument to admit yes, the Dems have ideas, but they don't have any good ones.

So, sure...you've got ideas. But while you're designing yet another website to detail those ideas, you might ask yourself why, for quite a few elections in a row now, the public has been so uniformly unimpressed with them?

The (very general) answer, I think, lies in the fact that the Republicans have grasped both sides of the coin.

Republicans have come to grips with the reality that the electorate likes Leviathan. They really do. They like subsidies; they like price controls (that benefit them); they like being Paul when Peter is robbed. They like government spending--health care, welfare, defense, arts, education, etc--that aligns itself with their values.

Democrats, on the other hand, have not come to grips with the fact that the electorate also likes limited government. They really do. They like lower taxes; they like local control; they like reduced regulation (that benefits them). They like government non-intervention that aligns itself with their values.

This seems a fundamental misread of of the electorate. Republicans aren't winning because of their economic ideas, they're winning because of their foreign policy image. Of the last four presidential elections, they've received a majority (or plurality) of votes in exactly one, not coincidentally the only that focused on foreign policy since the close of the Cold War. But don't believe me, take a look at the exit polling. Democrats overwhelmingly won in the domestic category: voters concentrating on the economy and jobs went for us 80-18%, voters concentrating on health care chose us 77-23%, voters concentrating on education chose us and, finally, the 5% of voters choosing on taxes went for Bush. So the voters who are, to use QandO's word, motivated by domestic ideas went Democrat.

The rest of this you already know. Bush won on terrorism and "moral values" while Kerry took home the bacon on Iraq. Foreign policy, I think we can mostly agree, is much more an image than a package of ideas, particularly in this election where the rhetorical differences boiled down to "same, but better". Republicans, the party of Daddy, won not on international ideas but on swagger, while Democrats lost not on multilateralism but on "I voted for it before I voted against it".

QandO's got a nice theory explaining the Democrat's problems, but it's not one that syncs to the facts. We've exceeded the Republican vote in three of the last four presidentials. Bush is forced to use progressive language when justifying his proposals, not to mention assure Americans that his Medicare and Social Security changes will strengthen, not weaken, "the nanny state". Fact is, the ideas of the Democratic party are much closer to the wishes of the American people, at least on domestic issues. Unfortunately, our political skills are dwarfed by the Republican machine, so we lose even when democracy would predict we'd win. So while there are a lot of criticisms you can level at the Democrats, a lack of popular ideas are not among them. And while you can give Bush and the Republicans a lot of props, popular support for their domestic agenda simply doesn't exist.

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Comments

Republicans aren't winning because of their economic ideas, they're winning because of their foreign policy image.
You make some good points, but I don't see the bifurcation you've drawn between economic ideas and military. The military--for better or worse--is a part of that Leviathan. As it stands, and remaining neutral on the propriety of their position, Republicans have a better guage on what the public wants in terms of the military component of Leviathan. The Democrats, whether they have good ideas or not, haven't put forth a proposal that has resonated with the public.

As far as domestic policies: I don't think I said Democrats didn't have popular "Leviathan-building" policies. They always have. Republicans may not beat them on that front--may not be as willing to engage in redistributive and collectivist policies as the Democrats....though, that's looking less certain as time goes by--but they don't have to. They merely have to perform well enough on that front to give themselves an overall marginal advantage.

And they can do that, because the Democrats are still missing a grasp of the other side of the coin - the "limited government" faction. The policies you mention are all appeals to Leviathan. While you make some good points, I don't think you've actually contradicted what I wrote.

And, for the record, "the folks over there" is just me. I wouldn't presume to speak on Dale's behalf, and I'm certainly not capable of amending his argument for him. I made my own argument.

By the way, I like your new digs. Very readable, and -- though we'll disagree more often than not -- I enjoy reading your stuff.

Posted by: Jon Henke | Feb 3, 2005 2:30:00 PM

The (R) "triumph" is due to superior marketing and message control. Would anybody say that Windows was better than Mac back when? No. But Windows won and Microsoft grew large because of its sledgehammer marketing. Same with the fascists. Until dems get that and begin marketing as well as the fascists, we will remain where we are. Which is, fucked.

Posted by: Twisted Martini | Feb 3, 2005 2:35:01 PM

Jon -- First, I'm glad you're around and reading, we disagree, but it's fun. Second, it's not so much that I didn't contradict you as that you didn't have facts around to contradict. I layed out an argument, based on polling data, saying people do not vote for the Republican party on ideas about how government should run. Instead, they vote based on the party's martial image. In your post, you had said:

"So, sure...you've got ideas. But while you're designing yet another website to detail those ideas, you might ask yourself why, for quite a few elections in a row now, the public has been so uniformly unimpressed with them?"

I explained why that wasn't true. The party is indeed impressed with our ideas, where Republicans win is where ideas break down and image takes over. Again, you write:

"Republicans have a better guage on what the public wants in terms of the military component of Leviathan. The Democrats, whether they have good ideas or not, haven't put forth a proposal that has resonated with the public."

What sorts of proposal have the Republicans put forth? The right had the good forune to be in power when bin-laden struck, sad, but there it is. Their ideas have been retaliation and homeland security. The Dept. of Homeland Security was a Democratic idea (Liberman) that Bush took 7 months to embrace. Retaliation against Afghanistan was bipartisan and obvious. Iraq is no longer supported by the public (voters who ranked it as their highest concern went for Kerry).

Again, we don't disagree that the Republicans are winning, we disagree over how. You're arguing that the Democrats don't have ideas, or if they do, that they don't have popular ones. But that's demonstrably untrue. Indeed, it's the Republicans who seem determined to advance an agenda contrary to the popular will but are able to fog it up and control the messaging so casual news watchers think the proposal is progressive. That's not the M.O of an ideologically strong party.

Posted by: Ezra | Feb 3, 2005 4:11:01 PM

RED DOCTOR: The patient is not breathing! Let's cut off his leg!

BLUE DOCTOR: NO! How will that help anything?

RED DOCTOR: I don't hear you proposing any ideas.

Posted by: Mimir | Feb 3, 2005 4:29:21 PM

Look, I don't give a shit about the Dems being all opposition.

The GOP owns the gubmint. It's all theirs for at least two years. The Dems aren't going to be able to influence any policy other than by opposing it. Grover Norquist calls bipartisanship 'date rape', and I for one don't want to see the Dems fucked over yet again.

The Dems can have broad-based ideas, and they do. They don't need to give a shit about coming up with detailed legislation, because, let's face it, it's going nowhere until at least 2006. They can, however, expose the details in the GOP proposals for the turds they are.

The notion of a loyal opposition seems to confuse Republicans.

Posted by: ahem | Feb 3, 2005 6:22:36 PM

I gotta agree with Martini. The issue is not ideas, or frames, or "both sides of the coin" it is marketing. Well REALLY it is media control but marketing works just fine if it helps you grok the point.

How many Bush supporters were 100% sure that WMD had been FOUND in Iraq? How many were certain that Saddam was behind 9/11? I saw polls suggesting it might be as high as 50 to 70% in 2003. If you can trick that many people to believe unquestioningly things that are cleary untrue you can rule unfettered by things like reality. So how do you manage that trick? Simple just control the media.

As it stands now the media consists of three groups. 1) You have Fox and Talk Radio who are openly serving as the propaganda wing of Bush Inc. 2) You have a big chunk of TV and newspapers reporter who work for conservatives and have been sufficiently punished into accepting their job is to provide balance by repeating without questioning lies and the response to lies. 3) You have a few scattered magazines, the odd columnist, and blogs who attempt to point out "uhmm that guy is lying".

How many people get their understanding of the world from TV? The republicans have success in getting THEIR message out because they control what can be heard and seen. The dems fail to get their message heard because literally almost no-one can hear it. Jon Stewart was almost right when he described the media as a bunch of 6 years olds playing soccer. What it is MORE like is having 15 year old named Fox kick the ball where he is told to, a bunch of 6 years olds half-heartedly run after it cheered on by their conservative parents, and some guy in the top bleachers muttering to himself "that really isn't a fair way to play soccer".

Without a progressive TV and possibly radio network playing on "the field" as well it will be very difficult for the dems to ever be heard. Why was Kerry a flip-flopper when fully 25% of what Bush ever said in public contradicts his policy and what he himself said last week? Notice any difference between the media fall-out to whitewater and "memogate"? How is it possible that there are STILL folks who think WMD have been found in Iraq? It is just so simple, control what the media says and you control what people think. But who knows how the last election might have gone if there had been a ongoing weekly reports about GW's lie of the week for two years? Would as many voters still believe you can have "both sides of the coin" (services AND low taxes) if they knew how big the debt really was or what that debt will mean for them and their children?

Posted by: Sus_Ano | Feb 5, 2005 1:01:34 AM

Huh?

The public likes big government, so they like Republicans. The public also likes small government, so they dislike Democrats.

I'm not surprised the intellectually bankrupt marketing machine known as the Republican party has its supporters, I just wish they would make sense once in a while.

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