Jun 06 2008

Events will trump policy in the end

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 12:28 pm

I commented here about short memory of the public, and the power of events to overwhelm policy and message.

This article argues that the “right” must craft a new message, a new set of outcomes, etc.

“While the factions of the GOP don’t all have to agree on each bit of policy, there has to be more than a process we tend to agree upon – we need an outcome that a Republican government is working toward. When we were in power, when we had the reins, we failed to achieve outcomes that Americans wanted, and thus, as Winston’s column notes, we were ‘fired’. Luckily, we still have a chance to prove why we should be hired again.”

It’s worth reading the whole thing, but:

I don’t think the woes of the right are about policy and politicians, at least not mainly. They are about events.

Republicans DID achieve outcomes during the Bush administration that Americans would have said they wanted in 2002. Americans would have said they wanted to prevent more terrorist attacks on US soil, they would have wanted a strongly growing economy to rebound from the effects of 9/11, etc. Americans got both of these things. A crafting of message that included both of those things in 2001 would have been perceived as a great success, for a few years, until it was overtaken by events that diverted the attention of the public.

But it was, after all, events that toppled the Republicans more than simple policy disagreements and message communication failure. Hard times in Iraq, high gas prices, specific scandals, economic woes, Katrina, etc. Yes, better policy in fighting the Iraq war might have reduced some the negative events. I don’t know what the Republicans could have done about high gasoline prices, short of persuading enough of congress to vote for drilling and refinery construction. It’s hard to survive personal scandals on the Right, simply because people expect more from the Right. And perhaps better managing of the message regarding the economy and Katrina would have helped… and it would have helped to send in about 100 helicopters dropping water and food in the first 12 hours, too. Still… no future oriented policy planner could have foreseen the fact of Katrina, and the success with which it would be manipulated to impugn Bush, and by extension, Republicans.

To put it simply, Republicans didn’t lose the debate on the merits, they lost the public trust for failure to respond to events that were difficult or impossible to predict, and for being the event, sometimes, particularly in overspending, earmarking, scandals, etc., none of which were ever a part of policy as such.

$6.00 gas (or $8.00!), another serious terrorist attack, obvious success in Iraq (so extreme even the MSM can’t ignore it), etc., will change things. And if the past is any guide, there will be events no one can foresee now, perhaps in categories we can’t anticipate. The politicians who appear to have the strongest responses to these are the ones the public will follow, regardless of previous policy/message management. Witness how the public did follow Bush for a few years, even though his stated previous policy had been to avoid nationbuilding, overuse of the military, etc. He sounded almost isolationist at times, and was singularly non-muscular in his response to the Chinese forcing down one of our military planes and holding the crew. But Bush’s new policy on terrorism, popular though it was at the time, did not insulate him from events, and his failure was in not responding to them correctly, not in his initial policy formulations.

The MSM can manage perception of events to a higher degree than we might wish, but they cannot insulate the political left from their effect permanently. The main “skill” strong Republican politicians need is the ability to respond to unexpected events from a principled understanding of their own policies. Policies planned years in advance, along with means of communicating them, are fine… but the lack of these is not what did in the Republican congress, nor what has torpedoed Bush’s ratings.

So I resist the notion that Republicans have to craft a new message, new policies, new perspectives, though perhaps we need to demand that the Republicans we elect be more faithful to the old ones. And a better job of communicating, including permanent engagement with an often hostile media, is critical. But it needs to be more about communicating facts and concepts, and less about buzz terms and “crafted messages”. We need a LOT more Tony Snows who believe it and sound like it, and a lot fewer Scott McClellans, who apparently didn’t believe it, which is why he so often didn‘t sound like it.

It only takes about a minute to explain to anyone why rent control produces shortages in housing. It’s as clear as two plus two equals four. Many issues are like this, but for some reason too many people on the Right feel like they must use the vocabulary of the left to defend themselves. They’re afraid to be seen as mean if they turn to the short-term beneficiaries of rent control and say, “Why are you so selfish?”

The Left cannot be outdone in the implementation of smoke and mirrors, but it can be countered with facts and consistently strong perspectives on them, fearlessly communicated by people who believe in them. A “crafted message” by people who don’t, and are trying to create something to engage the public superficially, just won’t do the job.

hat tip: Powerline

UPDATE: Remember when it looked like Clinton was a goner in 1995, after the Republican takeover of Congress? He was able to resuscitate himself by his response to the Oklahoma City bombing, which allowed him to play to his greatest political strengths. He did not win re-election on policy, or even message, exactly, but by being himself in response to an event that didn’t reveal his weaknesses, and emphasized his strengths.

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Jun 06 2008

Some changes

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 11:23 am

I'm still working on the formatting, etc., for the blog. I've made a few
changes. Let me know what you think!