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March 31, 2010

Letterman Interviews Tea Party Leader
& Grand Unified Theory of Everything Political

Before the link, let me say why this was such a bad move on Letterman's part, assuming he's still on Team Obama. If you don't want to read a lot of noodling, skip to the link and video at the end.

At least 50% -- and for some, as much as 95% -- of politics is primal. Tribal. Gut-level. Lizard-brain. For those without much by way of some kind of rationalizing ideology, politics is mostly group identification and empathy. The "Shares Your Values" thing. The "Would Like to Have a Beer With" thing.

Part of this is simply non-rational. A pure matter of likability, of seeing oneself in another, or at least enough of oneself to feel a sympathetic pang. Part of it is pre-rational -- not entirely emotional, but based upon the weak assumption (often wrong) that If a guy seems to "be like me," he must also share my political values and will more often than not represent my personal interests in the scrum of competing interests we call politics."

Successful politicians are often -- almost always, really; one struggles to find a contrary example -- able to appeal to those who should be opposed to them, based on purely rational inputs (past voting history, stated positions, rhetorical priorities) to nevertheless support them based on non-rational or pre-rational inputs -- a general sense of a guy as one of your own.

Non-ideological independents are, well, non-ideological, and tend to be deeply suspicious of those who are strongly ideological. Partly due to their ideology of not having much of an ideology, and partly due to sub-rational reasons: People who are strongly ideological are "not like me" and therefore viewed with antipathy.

Bill O'Reilly, by the way, is that kind of guy. He's forever running down people like Laura Ingraham for the great sin of having some sort of intellectual framework for their political impulses. But some people are just distrustful of abstract thinking, at least when it seems (to them) to be elevating a theoretical construct over "the real world."

A good example of a politician able to satisfy both the ideological and non-ideological through contradictory communications was Sarah Palin, at least when she burst onto the scene in September 2008.

I always thought Palin's obvious crackling sexuality was a net plus for her, but not the way the media and leftists (but I repeat myself) thought. My theory was that while much of the rational inputs on her said "strong social conservative/traditionalist," she also grabbed part of the electorate that would usually be disinclined to vote for such a candidate because her looks and body language -- that semi-sexual wink -- said something a little different.

Good Girl, her rational-level communications said. But not too good, her sub-rational communications caveated. A little dangerous. A little wild.

Thus -- assuming I'm right, which you're free not to do -- she did what most successful politicians did. She secured one group of voters on a rational level (this would be her base) and another group of voters on a sub-rational level (this would be persuadable conservative-tilting nonideological independents for whom a strong ideology in either direction is usually a turnoff). Without actually lying -- she never denied being a social conservative, after all -- she managed to send two different signals to two different groups and convince both of them she was, again, "one of them."

Now, you may think I'm crazy to put so much emphasis on a wink, and who knows, maybe I am. But I think that many independents have that media-approved stereotype of conservatives as sexually frigid and judgmental, and Sarah Palin's obvious comfort with her womanly charms short-circuited that stereotype from taking hold. She also had the Alaska factor working for her -- an exotic place, the closest thing America still has to a Wild West of broad-shouldered men and whip-smart women -- and that too made her seem to be not just your standard-issue heartland conservative.

She had a strong ideology, but many non-ideological independents got the the idea that she wasn't married to it.

Part of the reason I'm no longer sold on Palin, by the way, is my belief she's now lost this critical ability to grab up another group, and she's now a politician with pure base appeal and little beyond that. But I digress.

An even better example of this is none other than Barack Hussein Obama, a guy who once belonged to the explicitly leftist New Party, a man with the most liberal voting record in the Senate, a man who daily promised vaguely to transform America in revolutionary -- radical -- ways, but who nevertheless garnered the support of Polite Company Conservatives because he could quote Niebhur and had neatly-creased pants. No one of such temperate mein and Harvard credentials could really be a radical, after all. Such a man was civilized and reasonable -- how could he be anything but? Again, look to the telling trouser crease -- and no matter how clearly his rational-level verbal communications said "radical," people like David Brooks and Chris Buckley nevertheless became convinced he represented some sort of Return to Burkean Conservatism.

Not to belabor the point, but: Impeccably creased pantleg. It amuses me that David Brooks is still bewildered at Sarah Palin's subliminal appeal, even as he still proudly supports a radical leftist on the basis that his maid is a wiz with a steam-iron.

Newt Gingrich, back when he was Speaker, gave seminars to conservative candidates on how to win elections, and he highlighted the importance of describing one's opponent (or his ideas at least) as (and I quote) "bizarre," "weird," and alien. (Not sure if that last one was used, but that was the idea.) This is the flip-side of appealing to the "One of Us" feeling -- portraying your opponent as "Not One of You."

Now, of course, the media engages in similar political rhetoric on a daily basis in the service of its cherished liberal party. The media is heavily invested in the Weird, Dangerous, Alien narratives when discussing the Tea Party. That is the biggest reason for the constant denigration of Tea Partiers as racist, homophobic, ugly, uneducated, zombie-like, etc. The media is always trying to paint Tea Partiers as "Not One of You" to discourage people from joining in the cause or viewing their claims as legitimate.

Also remember how CNN described the Coffee Parties. Did they deploy their "Weird, Dangerous, Alien" storyline in describing this group of mutant Obama Zombies? Oh dearie me no. For groups CNN likes and wishes to promote, it employs the "One of Us" Narrative.

- In one chair sits a rural retiree, his financial security shot in the slump, a humble Southerner who's never thought much about politics. In another seat is a born Northerner, an inner-city native, a relative of a civil rights giant. And nearby, circling a table, are an economist, an artist, a onetime John McCain supporter and a long-haired guy who's rich in Woodstock memories.

Meet these members of the Coffee Party Movement, an organically grown, freshly brewed push that's marking its official kickoff Saturday. Across the country, even around the globe, they and other Americans in at least several hundred communities are expected to gather in coffeehouses to raise their mugs of java to something new.

They're professionals, musicians and housewives. They're frustrated liberal activists, disheartened conservatives and political newborns. They're young and old, rich and poor, black, white and all shades of other.

One suspects that "frustrated liberals" were more represented there than "disheartened conservatives," and that there were rather more "long haired guys rich in Woodstock memories" than "humble Southerners." Nevertheless, CNN's clearly-editorializing rhetoric was to portray the Coffee Party in the most diverse terms possible so that the greatest numbers of readers could see themselves in it.

This is the exact rhetorical template the media used throughout the War to describe anti-war protesters -- The Inclusive List of Attractive Nouns People Use to Describe Themselves. Every anti-war protest, the media informed me, was composed of veterans, mothers with infants in tow, grandmothers, schoolteachers, foremen, and people who were never in their whole lives particularly political or ideological but just now decided they had to take to the streets.

In other words -- People Just Like You!!!! Heck, you might even be one of them -- check, again, that long string of broadly-inclusive nouns which almost certainly include you, because, of course, it was specifically designed to capture as many people in as possible in its gigantic Venn circles. Hey, protesting the war is something that lightly-ideological independents such as yourselves should probably do, too!

On the other hand... Well, those Tea Partiers. Not only do they tote guns while they carry threatening and/or weird signs -- Obama is Hitler -- but they're all white. That portrayal isn't there just to screen out minorities and make sure no minorities don't join up with the Tea Party; it's mostly there to make sure that whites who do not consider themselves racist, and who would be uncomfortable joining an expressly all-white racialist movement, don't get any ideas that maybe these Tea Partiers are like them.

So that's the media's template -- the left is portrayed by using the most broadly inclusive nouns, expressing the most broadly palatable and vague ideology. (All the CNN pieces on the Coffee Party refuse to divulge the Coffee Party is leftist and insist it is a centrist group concerned only with non-ideological concerns such as fair process and clean politics.)

The right is portrayed by using the narrowest possible categorical nouns and their ideology is represented as specifically as possible (to discourage those who don't share those particular views) and the Weirdness Factor is highlighted-- just in case some of those specific positions are actually attractive to a lot of people, the Weirdness Factor ought to keep you away.

All right. All that set-up, most of it obvious, to set up Letterman's ill-advised interview with this woman.

Not only did this woman clearly come to play-- she makes a great rational case for Tea Party politics -- but on a sub-rational level, well, she's Just Like You, isn't she? She never before was particularly political (Just Like You), she's just a normal, patriotic American woman (Just Like You), and she was embarrassed to have to nominate herself for the Tea Party group's presidency (Just Like You -- hey, we all hate public speaking, don't we?).

Plus, her husband was supposed to nominate her (she's married -- Just Like You) but apparently he didn't get around to doing so (she loves the big lug but sometimes her husband can be so exasperating about doing chores -- Just Like You).

Here's the video (working link to CBS site): Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Parts 1 and 2 are the more important parts. In Part 3 he starts challenging her, which is fine, because she ably argues back, but it's Part 1 and 2 where she makes the strongest case for herself (and therefore the movement).

It's the fact that Tea Partiers, when allowed to present themselves on both a human and political level, will tend to acquit themselves rather well that keeps the media from doing this at all. But the movement is getting big enough that not even the hyperpartisan Obama-lover David Letterman can resist the ratings-bait of doing so.

That's a problem for the media, and for Obama, and for liberals generally.

But I repeat myself, as usual.

Video Pulled For Terms of Use Violation: Well that didn't take them long.

As I was saying, I guess.

I put the CBS videos up.

digg this
posted by Ace at 02:34 PM

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