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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pushing The Argot Of The Left

by digby

David Sirota has written an intriguing post about the potential "ghettoization" of politics and policy in the Obama administration:

"This is the violin model: Hold power with the left hand, and play the music with your right," David J. Rothkopf, a former Clinton official who wrote a history of the National Security Council, said on Friday, as news of Mrs. Clinton's and Mr. Geithner's appointments leaked.

This quote, from the New York Times story asserting that Barack Obama will govern from the center-right, highlights a very important dynamic in politics: the tendency of politicians to use the argot of progressivism in their public presentations (to "hold power") - all while wielding conservative policy ("playing the music with your right").

There's nothing surprising about this - the reason endangered politicians of both parties start airing populist progressive themes around election time is because they know those themes are popular among rank-and-file voters - they know, in other words, that this is a decidedly center-left country, and when they have to answer to that country come election day, they go left. But once these politicians get into office and are far away from all of us, the unwashed masses, the pressures of money and media - ie. the Establishment - unleashes incredible pressure for them to actually write the details of policy in a way that preserves the conservative status quo.


The potential ghettoization in the Obama administration - and I stress again, it's only the potential - is one where the policy sculptors are center-right Establishmentarians, and where the policy marketers (ie. the political team) is comprised of people who know how to package and sell policies in the language of progressivism, and sell those policies to progressive activists, a progressive-dominated Democratic congressional caucus and a center-left public at large.

I'm actually hopeful that he will not choose center-right policies (or at least not be able to choose them out of necessity)but I'm actually quite happy if they decide to consciously sell anything using the argot of progressivism, particularly movement progressivism, outside of the stump. One of the biggest challenges for the left is disrupting the soothing comfort people feel when they hear conservative bromides that have been so thoroughly internalized they don't even recognize them as political anymore. If you want progressives to have a long run you have to create a language of progressivism that becomes a default, mainstream way of thinking. Conservatives have been massively successful at that with things like "government isn't the solution, it's the problem" and "it's your money." People hear that and it just sounds ... true. Changing the rhetoric is as important to a movement as changing government policies.

So, if Obama is going to continue using the more progressive and populist argot that Sirota correctly observes politicians often use at election time, then I think it's good news for the long term prospects of the progressive movement.

As for the policies, we'll have to wait and see. I suspect that on the economy, it's going to have to be a hell of a lot more progressive than anybody dreamed it would be even three months ago. There are no conservative solutions to economic meltdown except just letting it happen --- and I don't think anyone expects Obama to do that.

Even Ben Stein agrees with that much. From John Amato:
Neil Cavuto and Ben Stein got into a screaming match over the state of the economy after the bailout Saturday morning on Fox's Cavuto for Business. I've never seen them go at it like that before. It started immediately when Cavuto opened up the segment by saying we've spent 2 trillion dollars so far to fix the problem, which is patently false, and Stein called him out on it. (rough transcript.)

Stein: The $2 trillion dollar number you cited at the beginning is a completely made up number, I don't know where you got it from.

Cavuto: What do you think it is?

Stein: Closer to $300 billion...

Cavuto: Oh, no, no, no, Ben I gotta stop you there...

Stein: Could I answer your question?

Cavuto: When you are supporting one institution after the other ...

Stein: You are doing the classic post hoc ergo prop drop fallacy. You may as well say because there was a World Series, the market dropped 4000 points. The Federal government has to stabilize this economy.

Cavuto: No it doesn't, Ben. No, no, and by the way...

Stein: The Federal government is the only one that can stabilize this economy.

Cavuto: It is a slippery slope Ben...

Stein: Then otherwise we fall into a great depression. Maybe not a problem for you, but a problem for everybody else.

Cavuto: Oh, stop the nonsense.

Stein: It isn't nonsense.

Cavuto: Where do you draw the nonsensical line.

Stein: We go in for as much Federal stimulus as it takes keep us out of a great depression. That is basic common sense ... We need to bail out the auto companies, we need to have a massive stimulus package. This economy is about to fall off a cliff. We need major stimulus.

That is so disorienting I think I need to go have a drink.