Monday, December 12, 2011

Big Reality: It's All About the Narrative (no kidding)

Long enough ago that I don't remember, maybe it was 2005 or 2006, I went to a conference where George Lakoff, the Berkeley cognitive linguist professor and author, was the keynote speaker. It was a small enough gathering -- in the beautiful setting of the Asilomar Conference Grounds on the Monterey Pennisula -- that I kept running into him, even having dinner together one night. He drove two points home: one, it was all about framing the debate, and, two, it was also very much centered around the dichotomy between the nurturing parent(s) and the authoritarian father figure.

The parent dichotomy is central to the social conservative viewpoint versus the feminist/liberal/pro-choice construct, thus defining a HUGE issues arc, and it was undeniable that this arc is all about the Old Testament notions of religion. Dad dictates, Mom subserves, and kiddies duck.

So much devolves from those social conservative notions: guns good, because Dad is armed (apparently in more ways than one). Mom subserves, because someone carries the babies (one guess, Mom). Kiddies duck, because, guess what, someone's got to knock some sense into these (once and future) sinners, and that's Dad (God) and his servant (Mary, I mean Mom, since, well, Dad did, ah, well, wasn't exactly Archangel Gabriel). Which, just so you know, makes Mom unclean, according to the Old Testament, and, I suppose, at the very least, weirdly unchaste, New-Testament-style.

So this explains a lot of the conservative narrative -- oddly supported by the mainstream media because sex is icky and the Archangel Gabriel is not. And Mary -- analogous to all our Moms, in case you didn't guess -- is also not. (She didn't have sex with nobody, not even God, especially not God.)

Isn't it weird that our political media narrative has to do with sex, archangels, virgins, messiahs, and a God that didn't have sex? Yes, it is weird, but that doesn't mean that it's not true (that the narrative is about these weird things, I mean).

Part two of George Lakoff's message over some medallions of beef at Asilomar: the Republicans (conservatives) are better at framing messages, WAY BETTER. One, they do it first, and, two, they do it relentlessly. Relentlessly. It's what they do. They do it better because they're a small-tent party. Democrats (liberals) can't do it because they've got like a ton of messages, can't frame. Impossible.

Okay. Time to point fingers: I'm on this because of Atrios and Paul Krugman, who didn't exactly conspire this evening but did a not-uncommon act. They noticed some shit. So I noticed the shit they noticed, and I'm on it like a bee to the honey tree. Mixed metaphors.

Anyway, Krugman sez:
I learned much of what I know about the political economy of the Second Gilded Age from Tom Edsall. Writing for Campaign Stops, Edsall has some important things to say about how economic narratives will play next year. He argues that the polling data
point to an election in which the competition to define the substantial disagreements between the two parties will be crucial to the outcome. Will deficits and debt continue to dominate as they did in 2010, to the advantage of Republicans, or will inequality and government intervention to promote job creation be central, favoring Democrats?
Now, the truth is that Republicans shouldn’t have an advantage on debt and deficits: the historical record shows that Republicans are, in practice, far less fiscally responsible than Democrats. But the fact that a Democrat is present at a time when large deficits are unavoidable due to the state of the economy opens the door to spurious GOP attacks; and because Very Serious People always focus on entitlement cuts rather than revenue, the anti-government stance of the GOP can be presented as being about deficits rather than what it really is, hostility to anything that helps the unfortunate.
And Atrios points:
WASHINGTON—Hold the condolence cards, but the recession cost the rich.

The share of income received by the top 1 percent—that potent symbol of inequality — dropped to 17 percent in 2009 from 23 percent in 2007, according to federal tax data. Within the group, average income fell by about a third, to $957,000 in 2009 from $1.4 million in 2007.

Analysts say the drop largely reflects the stock market plunge, and most think top incomes recovered somewhat in 2010, as Wall Street rebounded and corporate profits grew. Still, the drop alters a figure often emphasized by inequality critics, and it has gone largely unnoticed outside the blogosphere.
Here's where the rubber meets the road: if the top 1 percent lost a substantial amount of their funny money, the poor lost an even more substantial amount of their non-funny money, as in they can't get enough to eat. The rich? They cut one of the flight attendants on their private jet because, you know, it's prudent.

Okay, as for Krugman's point? Very Serious People in the journalism circles that hover around DC and other centers of the powerful elite -- Wall Street, Houston, Kansas City, Atlanta -- will think about the rich and forget about the poor and knee-jerk worry about their Overlords, not their underlings.

Both Atrios and Krugman are often a little pessimistic about the chances that a true narrative will emerge, and I agree. The 99% pay their own bills, mostly, but rarely bills of the Very Serious People. the 1% pays the bills of the Very Serious People as a cost of doing business. Hence the word combo we're fucked.

Will something change in our favor this election cycle? It did in 2008, and it changed back in 2010. Since then I don't know. I want to say people are getting wise. Plus, when I described the GOP field as being ne'er-do-wells, has-beens, and freaks, I wasn't kidding. I was being kind. They're actually clowns, freaks, and liars so large I could spot 'em on the floor of the Grand Canyon from the rim, and I've got horrible distance vision, they're that messed up.

My hope is that, as indications continue to grow, a lot of people are also noticing their, uh, limitations. Plus, Obama must've read George Lakoff's book. His messaging is getting better, finally.

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