The Conversation

Narratives are more powerful than arguments

In response to Why the GOP's 'War on Women' Riposte Makes Sense:

"Populist outrage first, policy backstopping afterwards" is very well-put.  It's another way of emphasizing the importance of political narratives, especially in a short-attention-span, low-information political culture.

Of course the Democrats always cry foul when their opponents borrow any of their effective tactics.  They need a heavily slanted arena of ideas to compete.  They want rules of engagement that say Democrats can be as crass, confrontation, divisive, insulting, and unfair as they want to be, but the Republicans have to live up to the highest standards of mealy-mouthed forelock-tugging propriety.  It's pure Alinsky: conservatives get lectured on strict obedience to Marquis of Queensbury rules while the Democrats hammer them below the belt with brass knuckles.

It's a brutally direct application of identity politics.  Some people can say anything they want, while remaining above criticism themselves.  It's also an application of totalitarian political theory, made quite explicit in liberal defenses of Anthony Weiner and Bob Filner.  Character is defined and expressed through political stances, not personal behavior.  A liberal who favors abortion rights cannot possibly be a misogynist.

Not only do these rules of engagement deprive Republicans of populist rhetoric, they thwart the construction of a narrative, which is crucial for tying individual bits of news data - policy proposals, speeches, gaffes, scandals - into the kind of running storyline that moves Low-Information Voters in tectonic numbers.  Narratives are the transmission system for water-cooler knowledge.  The media follows narrative structures with great dedication; it's how they decide what qualifies as "news" worthy of repetition and emphasis during the churn-and-burn 24-hour news cycle.  They're going to resist the construction of a "war on women" narrative for Democrats, despite all this lecherous and treacherous behavior, because they know how much it would hurt their favored Party.  At this point, Democrats require a huge advantage with female voters to win national elections.  A dip in those numbers brought about by confusion over Democrat political messaging vs. personal behavior would be catastrophic, let alone the complete implosion of the liberal War On Women narrative.

Another example of narrative suppression at work is the Obama scandal avalanche.  As far back as the 2012 election, a Republican president in Obama's position would have been snared within a web of often-repeated narratives about economic incompetence, aristocratic hypocrisy (all those luxury vacations and golf outings!) and abuse of power.  At this point, the media would be asking how the embattled Republican could possibly survive the scandal, unearthing tons of disgruntled voters from his own party to say how angry and disillusioned they had become.  Each scandal would feed into the others - the emerging revelations about Benghazi would be part of the narrative about foreign policy incompetence, and would tie directly into the narrative about Obama's constant lies and evasions.  The Low-Information Voter's commonplace image of him would be an inept liar who swanks about with millionaires at Martha's Vineyard while the country falls apart; outrage over his unconstitutional power grabs would be constant.  (Rewriting ObamaCare by executive fiat twice?  Unthinkable for a Republican president.) 

But conservatives are not allowed to build such narratives, so Obama doesn't have to worry about any of that.  And he'll never be asked to walk within a hundred miles of the Weiner and Filner sleaze pits.  Meanwhile, we can only wonder how the 2012 election might have turned out without the Sandra Fluke non-troversy and Todd Akin, neither of which had the slightest logical connection to Mitt Romney, but were both worked into the narrative that brought him up short on Election Day.


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