Sure, the cottage industry of bogus rightwing emails seems like an underrated cog in the overall noise machine. The general outline works as follows: elected officials, FOX and the thinktanks put out borderline credible ideas, gasbags like Rush and the blogosphere right take care of stuff that won’t stand up to scrutiny and the email forward campaign handles stuff so ludicrous that nobody else will touch it. Into this bin go the fabricated stories about
Al Gore John Kerry dressing down Ollie North for warning about bin Laden, Bush/Quayle malapropisms rebranded as Kerry gaffes (I got that one a few times), fabricated leftard-spits-on-soldier anecdotes, etc. For the average right-leaning media consumer who doesn’t spend much time checking stuff on Google it all builds an indestructable sense of belonging to a small righteous minority besieged by an inchoate Other consisting of atheists, muslim terrosists, liberals, communists, fascists, Hollywood and the ACLU.
If you take the Gingrich revolution in political discourse as a done deal, the scheme makes perfect sense. It’s good psychology and good politics. I guess that Democratic campaigns can freak out about countering the moronic emails, but that just serves whoever wrote the things. The whole point of a whispering campaign is to get the candidate to deny that he had sex with the pig. My reaction is that if the Dems don’t do this, and apparently we don’t, why not? The answer, I think, cuts more deeply to the core of Democratic politics than most people realize.
Think about what makes these email campaigns painfully effective. In the short time that most spend skimming our email, few of us would bother annoying our email circle with a statistic or the latest thinktank report unless we felt something when we read it. We pass on things that grab us at a sub-conscious level and we expect will grab everybody else as well. Conservatives pass on emails to their liberal brothers-in-law because they know that more or less everybody gets the underlying point – liberals hate America and the troops, don’t have the balls to protect the country, etc. Muslims and really any Enemy Other du jour are crazy, incomprehensible manimals to be suppressed, threatened, beaten into submission.
Don’t even think of laughing. These moronic principles won elections in 2002 and 2004 and still terrify Democrats into voting ludicrously against their own interests. Just read John’s post below. They get it, Dems don’t.
Heck, people are trying. I get crap all the time from liberal organizations that I don’t remember subscribing to. However, I never seem to get the dubiously-sourced, probably bogus anecdote forwarded a bajillion times and aimed straight at my amygdala. The saddest thing is that libs don’t even need to make their stories up. Republicans really did dismiss bin Laden before 9/11. Salacious real-life tales of mismanagement, sexual deviancy and corruption could stuff my inbox for years.
As far as I can tell the stuff doesn’t catch on because it doesn’t serve any larger theme. Sure, Republicans are corrupt deviants who couldn’t manage a little league team, but that doesn’t get to the philosophical heart of Republicanism. It just says that some current Republicans let down their country and their party. Salacious liberal email spam won’t work unless it reaches a bit deeper, until the bogus or real anecdotes give liberals fundamental reasons to feel good about being liberals.
Your average neoconservative may be a corrupt moron, fine, but that just opens the door for an honest neoconservative to take over next year. We’ll still go to war with Iran. Why not start with the point that the entire movement apparently never managed to graduate middle school? Read profiles of Norman Podhoretz, responsible as much as anybody for the movement’s current direction, here and here. Or skim through Jonah Goldberg’s regular fantasies about punching people in the nose. At its core modern “conservatism” reads like a frightened man-child overcompensating for a crushing sense of his own weakness. He’s afraid of international institutions because he worries that American values cannot triumph on their merits so we need to impose them by force. In my opinion that shows remarkably little faith in American values. Who cares if Syria takes a turn chairing some UN committee? That doesn’t impart moral high ground and the world knows it. Lumping our adversaries and rivals into an indistinct mass labeled ‘islamofascism’ just as clearly reflects a child’s intellectual laziness.
The picture isn’t any more universally true than the rightwing movement’s sketch of liberalism, but with Podhoretzes and Kagans throwing their influence around it’s true enough. Emphasizing the core philosophical problems that underlie modern day conservatism (as opposed to the old fashioned Goldwater/Sullivan/John Cole kind) would provide a coherent motive for the Democratic movement. Better, if conservatives decide not to wail and cry but instead make an effort to prove us wrong then we would get better conservatism.
As far as making the case for liberal policies in general, I doubt that anybody could put it better than Michael Moore’s latest movie. The market gave healthcare its best shot and still Americans get screwed left and right. Other countries do considerably better for less. The message cuts right to the fundamental weakness of markets, which is that they don’t work for things that people can’t live without. The film had the exaggerations and flubs (Cuba) that you expect from an unusually good Limbaugh screed, because that’s exactly what it was. Demagogic rabble-rousing. The kind of messaging that only works if you tap into something deeper than the prefrontal cortex. If Republicans can mainstream the technique to the point that they win despite the public opposing most of their policy positions then Democrats can give it a try.
You’ll know that it’s working when your liberal brother-in-law starts clogging the inbox with dubious forwards.
Another example – when an adult needs to spend money he budgets for it. Give a child a credit card and he’ll just spend the money, figuring that the debt will work itself out later. Sound familiar?