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May 16, 2013

NR: "Scandal Is Not an Agenda"

The article isn't all that bad. In fact, if you read it, you'll generally agree with it.

That headline, though. The headline itself is bien pensant concern-trolling.

Why?

Because when someone tells you something that's perfectly obvious, and imputes to you ignorance of the perfectly obvious, it's a kind of passive-aggressive superiority move.

This is 75% the reason I despise leftists' concern-trolling-- it's not that I disagree that "racism is bad." It's that it's an insult for a leftist idiot to presume to tell me that, as I did not know, and am in need of his instruction on the matter.

I've got nothing against NR -- or not much, anyway -- but I also resent the lecturey, chiding tone of that headline.

So, anyway. Headline aside, the actual article isn't so bad. Especially as it's advice to Republican office-holders, who are, in fact, rather a dim lot, and may need some guidance.

We urge them to do so with vigor, but also with a keen sense of the limits of political scandal. Republicans must guard against the temptation to count on scandal to deliver election victories in 2014 and 2016.

It is a lesson they should have learned in 1998.
 Republicans expected to make large gains in Congress that year but ended up losing five House seats and standing pat in the Senate. The problem was not so much that Republicans “overreached” in pursuing the impeachment of President Clinton, as the conventional wisdom has it. The Republicans that year did not really run on a promise to remove Clinton from office — or on any other agenda. Their strategy was to assume that the scandal would redound to their benefit, and that they merely had to sit back and let victory rain o’er them. It didn’t.

The current lot should not make the same mistake. Democratic scandal does not take the place of a Republican agenda. It does not reform the tax code or reduce the debt or ease regulatory burdens on small business. It cannot substitute for a strategy to replace Obamacare. By all means, Republicans should run against the president and his party — against their refusal to take the entitlement crisis seriously, against the implementation of their “train wreck” health-care law, and even against the unusually politicized executive-branch culture that contributed to the post-Benghazi cover-up. They should at the same time understand that a purely negative message, however justified, will not produce the governing majority Republicans should be aiming for in the next two elections.

I would caveat, though, that scandal is also important.

Policy-wonks dismiss scandal because it's not in their specialty wheelhouse of policy. But governance is not just policy -- it is also governance, that is to say, it is also management, and all the requirements of sound management, such as focus to detail, ethics, integrity, and honesty.

Why is it somehow "less" to knock the White House and the Democrats for failing at these things? Are they not important as well?

Policy matters, but so does personnel. And, let's recall -- policy is personnel.

Let's be honest here: 40% of the voters have no idea what policies are in play in any specific election, and 70% of them don't know the specifics of policies under consideration. We tend to know broad strokes.

I will not be shocking any of you when I confess I am a broad-strokes guy, myself.

So yes, I do wish to run on scandal, at least partially, because You cannot trust them is a very effective campaign theme, and has won more elections than any policy-based theme. Obama just ran on this theme in 2012. He didn't seem to have to offer a "positive agenda" himself.

In addition, a commenter -- I forget his name, but if you recognize your quote, speak up -- said something sort of profound last week. He said:

It's easier to get someone to change his mind than to get him to care in the first place.

People may poo-poo scandal as being less high-minded than policy dispute, but the fact of the matter is that an objection to someone's honesty, ethics, and sense of fairness will get more people to care than any discussion of policy.

Policy's important. Don't get me wrong. But I don't think policy is as important as policy wonks think it is, just as I don't think skill at written expression is as important as writers think it is, just as I don't think hammers are as important as the Big Nail thinks they are.

The fact of the matter is, no matter what the intellectually-oriented people might think or wish, politics is essentially dumb and played out between the groin and the top the of the ribcage.



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posted by Ace at 05:16 PM

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