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September 12, 2013

On Hope and Change and Winning Elections

Obama's "hope and change" slogan was simple, but it worked.

What does every out-coalition seek in an election, if they seek anything at all? Change.

What is necessary to animate a coalition to do the work necessary to win an election -- even if that work is as minor a simply showing up a fire house to cast a vote? Hope that things can Change.

Here's the political problem with the GOP: They can take all the polls they like, and compose all the spreadsheets they can, and can have expert consultants (Caveat: consultants are not experts in anything except consultation) type up white papers explaining all the reasons the base can't have what the base wishes to have.

But at the end of the day, people need Hope that things will actually Change if they undertake the efforts the party asks them to undertake.

Without that Hope of Change, what is the point, ultimately?

There is none.

I think the GOP believes -- believes? too small a word; is metaphysically certain -- that their cagey, political-positioning rope-a-dope strategy is a good one.

What I think they're failing to take into account is the effect that removing almost all Hope of actual Change will do to the morale of a party.

Barack Obama can do a lot of things, but he can't tear the heart out of the party. He can't make the party roll over and die. He can't make the party tear itself into pieces and fragment into a number of losing rump-parties and regional parties.

Only the party itself can do that.

And I think they're doing that.

This is why I split with the party, over ObamaCare. One day I just said, "I can't sell this, I can't support this, I can't be a party to this."

You can't spell "ideologue" without three quarters of "idea," and you can't spell "idea" without "idealism." (Caveat: You can spell idea without "idealism." All you really need is "idea" and then you're done.)

Is idealism stupid? It is stupid. I frequently fulminate against idealism. I think it's silly.

I also think that idealism -- and its frequent dance partner, Optimism -- is, as stupid as it is, absolutely essential for a winning electoral coalition.

Optimism is a kind of a dumb thing. We have no reason to be optimistic, really. If we were more level-headed about things, we'd be more pessimistic, and understand that we're going to get older, and pieces of us will stop working, and then we'll die.

And yet optimism is built into the human mind-- specifically in the Survival Instincts part of the mind. The "drive" part of the mind. The "fight" part of the mind. The part of the mind that actually animates the rest of the mind.

The Animal Spirits of the mind.

No matter how clever you think your arguments are, and no matter how tight your statistical analysis is, if your strategy does not include some sort of pathway by which people can continue to cling to the illusion of Hope, it's an unsound strategy.

People will find such a pathway if it is permitted to exist at all. Just as people's minds naturally find patterns in unrelated events, people's minds are programmed by their Survival Instincts to find a pathway of hope.

But you have to actually leave that possibility open. If you slam tight every door in every plausible pathway to hope, people just start giving up.

Again, hope and optimism are key parts of the Survival Instinct. Without those, where is the Survival Instinct? Might as well pick a nice patch of sand and beach oneself and wait for the seagulls to start picking at the blubber.

I think this is where some of the anger is coming from: The GOP is not even permitting its True Believers to believe. It's not even leaving them the illusion of hope.

I don't think this is a sound strategy. You always have to let people believe. The GOP's analysis may be statistically sound, but it's psychologically infirm.

This is why the Tea Party continues to inspire passion while the GOP inspires little else but resignation. The Tea Party might be wrong about most things. I believe the GOP thinks they are wrong about most things, especially strategy. (And, honestly, the Tea Party's strategic thinking is not its strongest attribute.)

But one thing the Tea Party understands, on a gut level, is that there must be a sense of idealism and optimism about the future, and idea that things could change if we just make them change.

The GOP needs to understand why the Tea Party has the heart of the party, or its own heart will begin failing.

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posted by Ace at 02:03 PM

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