The Dems Set To Spin Cycle

Digby, a frequent commenter on Eschaton now has his own blog. Those interested in the thought processes of the left will have a field day with this one.

In one particularly notable post, he talks about the Democrats failures in the media:

Setting aside this clumsy "announcement", it’s clear that the Democratic media operation is non-existent, and in this day and age, that is pathetic. But, it seems to me that the real problem is not just that we don’t have liberal media outlets, or a unified Democratic message. The real problem is that we don’t understand what the modern media wants and what it needs.

I think that the mainstream media is actually fairly politically agnostic. Entertainment values are what motivate them and entertainment values are driven by emotion and sensation, not reason, the basis of rational political debate. But, these values are manifested in more than a race for ratings and careerist brown-nosing of the corporate boss (both of which are big factors, but not decisive ones.) Political news coverage is shaped by celebrity, insiderism, institutional cronyism, drama, stimulus, schaudenfraude, comedy, starpower and Washington zeitgeist. And, they are desperate for material. This need for a compelling story is a yawning black hole that constantly needs to be filled and that is something the GOP has learned how to manipulate.

He is on to something, but only to a point. He’s generally right about the nature of the media, to his credit. The media is a business driven more by ratings than by common sense. However, the conclusion he draws has some problems:

Therefore, I believe we have to learn to present our policies in terms of conflict, courage, empathy, community, fun, heroic deeds and sex appeal and these "stories" must be told by people who know how to tell them in a stimulating way. We must learn how to lead the press where we want it to go by using seductive themes and dramatic narratives.

That is precisely the wrong strategy to follow. Digby wants to believe that the problem with the Democrats is that people didn’t get the message. The problem is that the message does not exist. No matter how much you attempt to inject "sex appeal" into nothing, you still have nothing in the end.

What was the grand Democratic vision for 2002? We’re not the Republicans. That was it. To a certain extent the left’s critique is true: the Democrats did run from a lot of issues. They could have stood as a party of some kind of principle. But they chose to try and paint the Republicans with the brush of extremism. Political attacks can be sucessful, but if that’s the only weapon in one’s arsenal then one is in very deep trouble. They could have made a stronger stand, and it might have brought their base out more, and perhaps even helped cut their losses in the midterms. But the current Democratic leadership has become as political complacent as the media. The reaction was not "what about our message doesn’t work" but "why don’t the American people see that we’re right and the GOP wants to sell seniors into slavery and reintroduce Jim Crow".

Digby also asserts that the Republicans now have the best media operation. Again, there’s an element of truth to that. However, the Democrats have had an ideological stranglehold on the American media from The New York Times to CNN for years. However, that control bred a certain kind of arrogance, and the advent of FoxNews threw the media establishment for a loop. The idea that there might be a market for conservative viewpoints in the media was never even considered until Rush Limbaugh personally revived talk radio. The next step was denial: it’s no big problem, we can demonize him and he’ll go away. Then came FoxNews, and now the rest of the media establishment is wondering what hit them as their ratings collapse and FoxNews continues to grow in ratings and stature.

It’s not that there’s some cabal funding all these outlets in the name of propaganda. It’s that conservative ideas have been shafted by the traditional media for years, and now the chickens have come home to roost. FoxNews is the backlash to the one-sidedness of American media that has existed for years. It’s where the conservatives who have been squeezed out of the media have gone to, and there are a lot of them. The Democratic Party has to realize that these people aren’t going to be won over by flashy ads or "sex appeal" They left because of bad policies and because the GOP was willing to stop obsessing over Clinton and start getting a real message with the backing of some strong policies. Digby’s suggestion is to copy the parts of the GOP’s strategy in 1996 – a strategy that may have energized the base of the party but failed to win converts or votes.

So now the Democrats want to change their image. Perhaps the best start would be by starting to make arguments rather than accusations. Rather than accusing the Republicans of being in the pockets of Big Business, Big Oil, Big Pharmaceuticals and Big Boy Hamburgers, how about offering some substantive plans instead? Instead of calling the Republican tax plans "regressive" and "mean-spirited" try actually saying what plan would be better. Because the American people aren’t nearly as stupid as the left thinks: there is a serious policy gap between the parties, and a lot of Americans are starting to realize that the Republicans aren’t the party of pure evil that DNC demogogues have made them out to be.

Just don’t expect that from the Democrats any time soon, at least not while the Daschle/Gephardt/Pelosi/Clinton/McAuliffe team is in power. Instead, look for more of the same bad ideas and spurious attacks that have been the failing Democratic strategy of the past three years.

9 thoughts on “The Dems Set To Spin Cycle

  1. Digby has some brains, and unlike a lot of other Atrios posters, can see the forest and not just the trees, but Lord, he can be painfully difficult to read. The spin cycle reference is more apt than you might have intended. Digby can drone on to the point of being torturous setting up a complicated framework for a simple partisan spin.

    BTW: is the word Digby uses, “schaudenfraude”, one I am not familiar with or should it be “schadenfreude”. I am not familiar with his spelling if it is an alternate form. Anyone?

  2. Thanks. I already understood the definition of schadenfreude. I expect that digby’s spelling is an alternate form.

    BTW: zizka, why do you presume that mainsteam republicans don’t take Rush with as large a grain of salt as mainstream democrats take Chomsky? I’m not trying to compare the relative reach of the forums each uses, just the relevance of their views to the mainstream of each party. Even so, since there seems to be no extreme left counterpart with the wide forum that Rush has attained, wouldn’t that invalidate your contention that he is as much a frindge force as Father Caughlin or Chomsky?

    BTW again: Father Caughlin was not a force to be reckoned with. His audience was limited, his impact even moreso, and the mainstream at the time considered him borderline treasonous at best. Only in America could he have espoused the views that he did in the late 30’s and early 40’s and stayed out of jail.

  3. In the first BTW, Chomsky is my comparative addition. I don’t mean to say that he was part of your argument.

  4. yeah, stranglehold…Can you give me one, ever, PRO labor union story on CNN?

    Yeah, those ‘striking doctors’ are ‘violating oaths’ and ‘endangering patients’. Their claims about the insurance companies remain uninvestigated.

  5. What do you mean, mainstream Republicans take Rush with “a grain of salt”? When Gingrich’s crew of freshmen took over Congress they specifically invited Limbaugh and honored him over anyone else.

    Yes, some intelligent Republicans probably are embarassed by the way they depend on the likes of Limbaugh, the neo-Confederates, etc. I’m sure they’d like to pretend it isn’;t happening.

    I think you have your facts way wrong. Up until 1940 or so, some degree of sympathy with Hitler was completely respectable in the US, England, and France. Henry Ford and Charles Lindberg were other examples. FDR had to maneuver vigorously in order to get the US into WWII — many still say he “allowed Pearl Harbor ” — and he had to make it clear that he wasn’t doing it for the sake of the Jews.

    Even with your addendum I don’t understand your point. Rush is a major force, as I say Caughlin was (but probably more so), but he’s a negative force. Republicans are right to be embarassed by him but they’re wrong to let him set their agenda, which he still does (now less so then before). He deserves to be demonized for the reasons I gave.

  6. No, your facts are wrong. Or at least your historical understanding of Caughlin and grasp of the point of my comment. You are correct in pointing out that there were many influential people in England and the States sympathetic with Germany. Lindberg and Ford were sympathetic to Hitler as the architect of what they saw as a resurgent Germany. I am also correct in pointing out that Caughlin was NOT a force to be reckoned with as you maintained. He was far too strident and far too demagogic to appeal to anything close to a significant number of people. A fringe force. The American Bund still exists and is still fringe. They may have lost the anti-bolshevik mantras, but the anti-semitic mantras are alive and well. Do a little research before putting Caughlin in the same category as Ford and Lindberg.

    You made the comparison to Rush. I do not consider the comparison apt, because I do not consider Rush a fringe force and said so clearly. My point should not have been hard to understand.

    And yes, I think most mainstream and even conservative republicans take Rush with a large grain of salt. As far as I can see, it is the extremes of the right and left that fixate on him. Maybe even moreso the left.

    Saying that Rush set the republican agenda either in the 90’s or does so now is a ludicrous statement. I can’t believe that you put much thought into making it.

  7. Then why did Gingrich’s Republican freshmen give special honors to Limbaugh in 1992 or thereabouts? Republicans are very happy to have Limbaugh spewing lies and nastiness out into the electorate, independently of whether all Republicans respect him or agree with him. There’s a lot of dissimulation going on.

    Perhaps I was wrong about Caughlin. My point was that Limbaugh is a major and basically unethical political force. He well deserves to be demonized.

    I did not say that Rush sets the agenda for the Republican party. But he is a major factor in the Republican parry, and I think you’re trying to fool yourself.

  8. Pardon the cut and paste, but want to be sure we’re on same page here.

    “Republicans are very happy to have Limbaugh spewing lies and nastiness out into the electorate….”

    I am not registered, but lean republican, and I and many I know have no use for him other than as entertainment.

    “My point was that Limbaugh is a major and basically unethical political force. He well deserves to be demonized.”

    Again, I may not agree with your assessment of his inportance, but have no use for him. Keep the point of my original response to your comment in mind. I don’t consider him a major force because his main attraction is to the extremes – extreme right who take him seriously, and extreme left who demonize him.

    “I did not say that Rush sets the agenda for the Republican party.”

    Ya, you did. Quote from a comment you made above.

    “Rush is a major force, as I say Caughlin was (but probably more so), but he’s a negative force. Republicans are right to be embarassed by him but they’re wrong to let him set their agenda, which he still does (now less so then before).”

    The guy resonates with the extremes, but has a wide enough viewership (talk radio I know) that he can’t be considered fringe. But he sets does not set the republican agenda.

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