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Hullabaloo


Sunday, May 14, 2017

 

If you're not pissing 'em off, you're not doing it right

by Tom Sullivan

Conservatives lost it over Jimmy Kimmel's emotional, late-night monololgue May 1 about his newborn son's emergency surgery. People like this charmer:

Or this headline from the Washington Times:



Under the New York Post headline, "Jimmy Kimmel’s obscene lies about kids and medical care," Michele Malkin wrote:

Kimmel implies that opposition to ObamaCare-style insurance mandates is both un-American and indecent. Had he been less hysterical, he would have acknowledged that different health-care systems have pros and cons — and decent Americans can have legitimate differences of opinion on such matters.
Kimmel responded to critics on Monday:

The episode served as an example of something Drew Westen wrote about Democrats' need for a master narrative in “The Political Brain,” (2008, softcover, pg. 165-166; my highlights):

The task, as I hope to show in the remaining chapters, is to make conscious the "rules" that unconsciously guide most of us on the left as we make moral and political judgments in everyday life, and to weave them into a story that resonates with the average American.

That story should feel to the majority of Americans like their story. The story of the party and its principles should sound like a natural extension of the story of the nation and its principles. If the master narrative of the Democratic Party doesn't make 60 percent of the electorate feel at home (roughly the percent of self-identified Democrats and Independents), it isn't a good narrative. The party's narrative needs to have enough elasticity that candidates in different parts of the country can draw out its implications in ways that fit their values and those of their neighbors. And it needs to draw on shared sentiments that have become associated with the other party, allowing moderates to cross over without feeling like strangers in a strange land. Democrats believe every bit as much in hard work and personal responsibility as Republicans. The problem is that they rarely say so.

Conversely, if the master narrative doesn't alienate about 30 percent of the electorate, it isn't a good narrative, either. About a third of the electorate won't turn left under any circumstances, and if the Democrats' story doesn't make them angry, there's something wrong with it. A substantial minority of Americans hold authoritarian, intolerant ideologies driven by fear, hate, and prejudice that are fundamentally incompatible with Democratic (and democratic) principles. They are the antagonists of the Democratic story, and if they aren't antagonized by it the same way liberals are antagonized by listening to George W. Bush's storytelling, the Democratic story isn't getting its message across.
Or as I paraphrase Westen: If you're not pissing 'em off, you're not doing it right.

Jimmy Kimmel was doing it right. It helped a lot that he has the platform he does, but the reaction proves Westen's point. Kimmel didn't set out to piss off conservatives. They were upset because his story touched people and threatened both their narrative and the Trumpcare 2.0 vote.

Anat Shenker-Osorio wrote in February about Democrats' reluctance to piss people off:
The problem with a message that attempts to turn no one off is that it cannot fire up the most enthusiastic believers. Messaging based on mitigating backlash must pull punches. The base may nod along. But they won't be parroting your words to others.

Consider the Republican approach to talking to persuadable voters. Ed Goeas, a Republican campaign strategist, characterized this to me by saying, "we don't look at grabbing the middle. We look at grabbing the majority."

This distinction between "middle" and "majority" is a key part of why Democrats struggle to engage their voters and generate turnout. Their hot-dog vendor approach — believing you get the most takers by positioning yourself closest to the most people — wrongly assumes people come to political judgments like they seek out fast food.

Placing yourself the shortest ideological distance from middle-of-the-road voters only works if there's a fixed set of ideas and values that make up a middle. Yet people assess what's at the center based on what's introduced to the left and right of it.
But there is more to it than edgy messaging. Kimmel's monologue was open, honest and heartfelt. It had emotional content, something the left shies from deploying, as if it is cheap or gauche. It often takes a personal or national tragedy for lefties to break out of "smartest kids in class mode," let down their guard, and speak from their guts to other people's. We see that as cheapening our politics. Many voters read it as authentic when it is, and often when it isn't. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have it -- what Joel Silberman calls "the 'It' factor -- and I don't recall them having to cry to reach voters and top piss off the opposition.

Expressing passion is not a problem they have on the right.

Daily Beast conservative columnist Matt Lewis told CNN viewers, "The passion, I think, is sincere. I don't think that this is the right move for him to do to politicize this."

Because when emotional appeals after a tragedy tilt the playing field against conservatives, that's wrong. When conservatives use emotional, fear-based messaging over a hundred hours each week on nationwide radio and television to move the needle their way, that's principled. Clearly.

Axios reviewed the reaction to Kimmel's monologue on social media:
• On Facebook, Kimmel's monologue clip received over 14 million views and 230,000 reactions in less than 24 hours. His posts typically don't receive more than 1 million views.
• On Instagram, the video post of his monologue received 122,968 views and 20,022 likes. That's about double his average Instagram post engagement.
• His tweet of the video received over 26,000 retweets and 79,000 likes. His tweets don't typically earn more than a couple hundred retweets.
I keep going back to this short video that illustrates the difference between messages with emotional content and those without: