Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Talking to the Reptile

We all gnash our teeth and whine and wonder how the GOP and the evil spinmasters such as Karl Rove and Frank Luntz get away with snookering the 'murican public on a daily basis. Much more importantly, we progressives bang our heads on brick walls and continue to be befuddled as to why policies that are clearly anti-family and anti-individual continue to be pushed and prodded through the halls of congress, aided and abetted by the tacit support of Joe and Joetta Trailerpark. There's actually a very easy answer. And in that answer lies the solution to effectively communicating a progressive message.

Mark Sumner at TwoTaboos wrote a great posting that didn't get a lot of play in Left Blogistan, but which really does an effective job of analyzing the root of the problem and offering a framework for countering the current idiocy that seems to envelope the country. Here's how Sumner frames the situation:

There's been a lot of talk about getting our message across effectively. In short: we don't. We rail against the media (which deserves it) and against our own politicians (who also deserve it), for being such ineffectual purveyors of our ideas. Fencing, framing, or plain old propaganda, the right seems to have done a much better job at turning their message into terms that resonate with the public.

There's also been a lot of talk along the "what's the matter with Kansas" vein -- head scratching about why people vote against what seems to be their own self interest. Poor people continually vote to give their money to the rich. They turn on the system that's lifted them up for a century as if its the cause of their troubles.

At the same time, we think the right is ... well, stupid. It's painfully frustrating. How can Bush babble such idiocy, and still get the rabid support of the very people he's hurting most? Truth is, the right wing message is stupid. Literally. And that's exactly why it works...

Sumner then effectively diagnoses why the babbling and pandering to the lowest common denominator works, using Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. (Note: the TwoTaboo's posting has a graphic of the hierarchy; I like this one, updated in the 1990's, much better in terms of explaining Maslow's theories as they apply to today's political situation.) In short summary, the GOP and their spinmasters have been much more effective at communicating with the reptile in each of us, addressing our basic human needs, than have progressives, who tend to target the rational being in each of us.

Okay, so the problem has been identified. How do we take this knowledge and do something with it? Sumner suggests:

So how do we win? How can we win, when the Republicans are camped out on the brain stem?

We win by going lower. By that, I don't mean fighting dirtier -- though I'm more than willing to sling sewage with the worst of them, and we'll probably be required to swim through an ocean of manure before this is over. When I saw lower, I mean we win by convincing people that Republicans are not only not delivering on their promises of safety, they're actually a threat to those things at the bottom of the pyramid.

Ever wonder why Republicans spend even more time trying to make "environmentalist" a dirty word than they do "liberal?" Why "tree-hugger" is one of the first jabs at anyone who so much as dares to question their policies? Because they are scared, scared to death, that people might actually pay attention to these issues. It's the environment stupid. That's where we have to fight if we hope to win. Convince people that Republicans are a threat to having safe food to eat. They're a threat to having clean water to drink. Republicans are a threat to the very air you breath.

Back during the past election cycle, I opined that I didn't think Democrats were doing enough to make the Bush administration's gutting of the clean air act an issue. One of the more critical components of this gutting was the increase (or "tradeoff" of credits) of mercury emissions in fossil fuel power generation. What a great campaign issue! Who in their right reptilian brains would support increased heavy metal contamination in their water, their food chain, their air, and their children's bloodstream? Apparently, at least 51% of 'muricans. And you know why? Because neither the GOP or Democrats made an issue of it in a health framework - the lowest tier of the Maslow pyramid - the GOP by design, the Democrats by (apparently) omission. A self-preservation issue, and it was never discussed. Why?

Because Democrats were trying to appeal to the "rational being". Knowledge. Aesthetics. Well, we learned something -- most people don't want to learn. They want to be led and presented with the illusion of safety. That's why BushCo has been so exceptionally effective at using the events of 9/11 as subterfuge for a decidedly anti-family, anti-individual agenda. And the only way to take back the message is to communicate, as Mark Sumner suggests, at the lower level of the Maslow pyramid.

Beginning today, I'm going to be modifying my own approach in presenting strategies for progressives to work with, both for individual consumption and when working in groups. The first issue I'm going to tackle is energy - and I'm not going to discuss policy, at least per se. I want to frame the discussion in terms of how it affects the physical safety of and environmental impact to you, your loved ones, and everyone around you. We need action points that address both our physical and economic well being (and the intersection of those "well beings"), and that's where we'll start.

The bitching is done. The Schiavo (and other circus distractions) blogging is over for me.

So, who else is in?