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Communicating the Death of the Republican Party
I come not to praise Republican communicators, but to bury them. What do communicators actually know? Some not so much. Maybe we all know a little. For several years I have talked about the destructive potential of economic market bubbles to our economy, rated various aspects of our economy and government (usually rating it as not doing well), and explored economic history and the lessons we have learned, including what works and what doesn't, and tried to pass on some knowledge. I have encouraged government investment in technology that will pay large dividends in jobs and tax revenue. I have declared that supply side economics has reached the extent of its present power, and talked about the blindness of ideology and where that leads. I encouraged faith in our system, and hope.
Oddly enough for a non-economist, I was actually correct in these things, but not correct enough. I didn't realize how close we (the entire world) would get to deflation and depression if we didn't change course. The success of our system depends primarily on confidence, and there is primarily a crisis in confidence, partly caused by the inability of banks to determine the value of il-liquid assets.
Confidence must find a new purveyor. Public opinion has swung away from old advice. I say advice, rather than opinions, because advice is what we have been getting from government and the media - often wrong advice. Ari Fleischer, the former Bush Administration Press Secretary, said recently that he believes that whether one is right or wrong - which one we can't know for certain - one should at least sound certain of his convictions, which inspires confidence. (I hope I paraphrased his statement adequately.) Probably no one sounds more certain of their convictions than some of the talking heads in the news media.
Rick Santelli's (CNBC) recent rant is the epitome of the dark side of communicating confidence. I listened to it, and it seemed to have nothing to do with President Obama's economic stimulus package. If anything, it was Rick Santelli's self-stimulus package. It makes for good TV ratings, which seem to me to be what most of the news programs are actually for. It wasn't informative, even as an editorial. It was reactionary, polarized, and polarizing - exactly the opposite of what the nation needs.
Santelli's rant got a reaction in the media, and even in the White House, but it essentially fell on deaf ears. General feedback that I am getting on the talking heads in politics and the media is that people are now overwhelmingly viewing them with extreme skepticism. Even on the street, people are buzzing about the economy. Before, they knew nothing about the economy, now everyone has an idea of how we could do things better. People are thinking for themselves, even in this very conservative Republican area where I live. It's a good thing. I'm not into predictions, but I would guess that over the next two to three years most of today's media sensationalists will go the way of Paris Hilton - mocked and ridiculed - and will be replaced by people who report the news and put out an occasional editorial opinion, not create the news. This will happen because people want news and opinions that are informative, not talking heads that are opinionated and polarizing.
Apologies to Paris Hilton - not everything she did or now does is worthy of ridicule, and I wish her the best. But the entertainment press and some of her actions have placed her in this unenviable position of a stereotype.
I'm neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I was raised in a Republican area of the conservative Midwest, and tended in that philosophical direction. Some of my favorite thinkers and communicators were George Will and James Kilpatrick, both thoughtful and thought provoking conservatives - although I frequently disagree with both. In my early twenties I realized that no one could spell out what the political parties actually stood for, their platforms changed every few years, they had blind loyalty, and the supposed answers these parties threw out were wrong as often as they were right - their answers were often just what was politically expedient. So I became an independent voter. I'm a little more progressive than most Republicans were - I expect society to find answers, not hide from problems.
We need progressives and progressive eras when we can work hard to find solutions to problems - change - solutions that affect the average family. We need conservative eras when we can let things stabilize, and then root out what doesn't work, and offer some solutions tailored toward business. No one can live in the chaos of trying new things all of the time, especially during a time of rapid change when things are unstable enough. Such uncertainty would wreck our economy, which thrives on certainty. But what is dangerous in our society is polarization that leads to extremism, and stubborn obstruction to any view or action that is different from the polarized view. Instead of finding answers that work, extremism simply leads to extreme swings.
To find new answers that resolve problems, and get support for these ideas, we need to know how to communicate. Communicating is difficult. It requires knowledgeable use of the language and how to create material that informs. It requires being informed enough in a field, and in human nature, to properly analyze events and relate them to others in the context of the field, human nature, and history.
Talking heads often fail all of these communications tasks. Polarization, extremism, and rants simply give us a one-sided picture, not an informed picture. Ranting can mean an attempt to bully, or get attention, but most typically indicates a person's frustration with being unable to communicate effectively (meaning change opinions or get the desired reaction): The President's views don't coincide with yours, so yell at him. Then yell louder, longer, and more often, until you sound like Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, who now represent only the extreme right, radicals, and lunatic fringe in our society. I listened to Limbaugh once in the late 1980s. I wondered what planet he was from. I guess if you listen often enough you get used to it. I hear him once in a while on news programs. I definitely haven't gotten accustomed to his message - it's just laughable. I guess he laughs all the way to the bank.
Republicans tend to be more conservative and favor business. As the entire country became more conservative in the last 30 years, a large segment aligned with the extreme conservatives. Republicans are now stuck with that extremist vision of the world. It's polarized. It's uninformed. It's unable to change. It is unable to communicate effectively. It is what I call "incratic," which I will continue defining until the message gets through:
Republicans are beside themselves over losing the recent election, but not far enough beside themselves to think outside of the box. I listened to the new head of the Republican Party, expecting new ideas and a fresh approach. Instead I saw a black man (a politically expedient change), and heard the same worn-out drivel that Republicans have been spouting for years. I listened frequently for change from Senator John McCain, who lost the Presidential election, and the new Senate Minority Leader, John Boehner. Different day, same drivel: mostly an uninformed retread of past failed Republican policy. Scary - I wanted them to just shut up and go away.
Republicans are in a leadership and identity crisis. Unlike Democrats, who typically have a leadership crisis because they have so many opinions (progressives) and find it difficult to unite, Republicans have one opinion. At this point, the party seems to be approaching senility, and death is hovering nearby. If there is a new idea, it is immediately labeled "Democratic - spending - not-conservative - and anti-business (read: taxes the wealthy)." Their temperature (political fervor among the people and in the party) is falling. Inflammatory disease (overheated destructive rhetoric) has created stenosis by depositing a diet fat on "less government, less taxes" in all of its arteries and joints. Other than an occasional nod to discarding the lunatic fringe it is saddled with, it simply doesn't have a clue how to move forward with finding effective solutions in the several major crises we currently enjoy - it only knows about the old medications that we already know don't fight the superbugs we have today. In the medical world, the patient simply doesn't have the vigor and new medications required to fight the super-bugs, and is dying.
Personally I'm tired of the so called two party system, which is actually a single party system. It is single party because the party in power finds effective ways to either force through it's version of legislation or ways to obstruct the other party from passing legislation. Republicans, with their unifying one message front, are highly skilled at both. The result is bad legislation, or stalemate and ineffective government. I have witnessed ineffective government since the 1950/1960s. I would like to see a third party that doesn't represent the extremes, make up 2/3 of the body of both houses of Congress. Then the lunatic fringes would have to sway reasonable people to agree with them - not.
Republicans need to change. The public is sick of Republican's just "playing politics," with games of misleading rhetoric and block voting for their ideology or grand-standing for their constituents, instead of offering real solutions and real participation. Most of their supporters could stick a placard in their yard with the saying "No Government, No taxes." Small government and tax cuts, in the Republican view, seems to mean no government and no taxes on the wealthy, and what they have created is ineffective government. All through the G. W. Bush administration, we had enormous problems caused by lack of government monitoring of, among other things, our medical system, our food system, our industrial safety system, our national emergency safety (disorganization in FEMA), care of the needy and elderly, lack of funding for our transportation system, and lack of concern over the environment. As a result, we have chaos in our infrastructures and chaos in our economy.
Ah, what a wonderful thing it would be to be free of government intervention, independent, macho, self-supporting, allowing the strongest to achieve. It's a romantic dream. If a Senator espouses this then he should be allowed to live on his own in Somalia for a year. Somalia is what ineffective government looks like: Warlords, terror, corruption, starvation, piracy, no medical help, and survival of the strongest but in a shortened life span. In a year, the Senator would return to our shores with terror in his eye, screaming the benefits of strong government to all.
We have a strong central government because wise men in the 1700s looked at the past repression in the world and said the cure is a strong central government dedicated to certain principles, such as democratic rule of the individual States and the people. They wrote in our constitution that we can help each other to the benefit of all (they didn't write in: keeping others down to the benefit of a few). Many third world countries have ineffective governments and an ineffective economic system. We need to look at these nations in chaos more closely before pushing ourselves into a poisonous stew of chaos like the Republicans have been creating. We don't need large government or small government - we need effective government for the benefit of all.
Preamble to the Constitution of the United States: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." The thrust of the Constitution is for the collective people, not the individual or the wealthy or the land owners or the corporations, none of which are mentioned or excluded.
Communicating ideas, whether in politics, news, screenplays, nonfiction, or novels, usually starts with an idea. No idea - nothing to communicate. My opinion is that many communicators who must produce media shows and have something to say every day, talk themselves into a corner and close themselves off to new opinions for the sake of putting out a consistent point of view. To them, uncertainty sounds less like an expert, and less like certain college professors who only talk of their field in absolutes. It isn't the done thing.
For the Republicans the unswerving communications is, "Tax breaks didn't work - so let's try tax breaks again." They don't understand the balance required in an economic system, and it seems the CBO hasn't put that into its economic model yet either. (I understand the CBO model is a simplistic model that isn't capable of dealing with the complexity of the actual economy. If the economy was good, it might give a good indication of how things would work, but right now the economy isn't good and there is too much volatility and uncertainty.) To put today's problem into oversimplified but easily understandable language: You can't keep stealing from the poor and giving to the rich, because if you do, the poor won't have the money to buy the products that the rich make, and this is exactly what has been happening for many years as the divide between the upper and lower portions of our economic society has gotten wider and wider. People are unable to save, are overloaded with credit, and have no money to spend.
Talking heads seem to be very uninformed. A housing bubble preceded the Great Depression. Where is that in the current economic models? Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Fed, is an expert on the Great Depression. He should know and have advised us. What does it take to spark communication? Did G.W. Bush keep a lid on Bernanke? Did we really need eight years of market bubble bursting, with the finale leading to a catastrophic economic plunge due to a housing bubble?
Talking heads in a corner syndrome: I have watched the steady degradation of some news programs into programs featuring news entertainers like Rush Limbaugh, who wears the title proudly. To avoid the circular trap of becoming your own advisor, with a staff of researchers to support your increasingly narrow point of view, I recommend only doing a weekly show and spending 4 days getting educated and listening to differing opinions backed by substance, and then stepping to the microphone and humbly saying "I'm not certain - it could go this way or that way, but I think it will go this way for this reason...." Such a statement would have a lot more credibility with me.
Apologies to Rush Limbaugh. I don't think that he eats garbage and howls at the moon. I just think he eats his own garbage and a few in his audience howl at the moon. Sorry, the urge to be a news entertainer temporarily overcame me. Sanity and self-respect are back - so back to my analysis and commentary, which I have the advantage of not delivering regularly.
Republicans have talked themselves into a consistent point of view that worked for a time but is no longer on target. They are in the confidence inspiring corner recommended by Ari Fleischer. It is that opiate of blind confidence spoon fed to the people (read rabble?) that inspires confidence and keeps politicians in power. But is it the best thing for the people? It seems that for many of us, the Bush strategy of never admitting a mistake and never wavering from doctrine, inspired a lack of confidence and competence. For all practical purposes, the current Republican Party died of its stagnant thinking, failure of confidence, and discredited agenda. The leaders need to shovel dirt onto the body to cover up the stink and rethink who they want to be. Perhaps they are the party of effective government, although Obama seems to have a corner on that. If they don't change, they could suffer even greater losses in the mid-term elections. The American people will need them when a conservative swing is again required to flush out some of the new ideas that didn't work or need stabilized.
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