Like many of us, I was heartsick over the election. Not because “our team” lost, but because what is without doubt the worst president in living memory, after a term in office that reads like a litany of disasters and miserable failures, managed to secure reelection despite at least two major scandals that would have brought down any Republican president — who, of course, would not benefit from a gleichgeschaltete press.
I’ve read plenty of “we are doomed” articles over the last few days, and certainly understand the despair speaking through them. John Hinderaker struck a backhanded positive note: namely, that the person dealing with the damage wrought by the first 0bama term will be none other than Barack Hussein 0bama. (Clementine Churchill “Winston, this may be a blessing in disguise.” Winston Churchill: “At this moment it seems quite effectively disguised.”)
I am not sure we’re lost or doomed, but I think we have to play two games at once: a short game (on economics) and a long game (on social/moral issues). Forgive me the “stream of consciousness draft” nature of what follows.
A number of pundits have struck a “two tribes” or “one nation divided” theme: America nearly equally split into two nations. Actually, I’d go even further: two nations that don’t even speak each other’s language. I don’t agree with, say, Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum on many issues but I share enough of a reference framework with them that I understand what makes them tick. Your average MTV-head (or, for that matter, the indie rock-fan bashing “eMpTyV”) won’t even get where Romney or Santorum come from — and they tend to be so low-information on anything not immediately relevant to their daily lives that they are easy targets for media manipulation.
It’s like — as happened to me the other day — somebody walks in on you listening in obvious bliss to music on headphones, and just hearing cymbal noise and what sounds like vocal shouting because nothing else leaks from the headphones. The person coming in thinks you like crap noise, while you are actually hearing Deep Purple’s “In Rock” album in all its sonic glory.
To some kid that’s been brainwashed by entertainment TV on “hookups”, consequence-free s3x, and glorification of non-heterosexual s3x, somebody like Romney is never going to be able to explain his position (ahem) on marriage, let alone on abortion. (I’m not even thinking of Santorum’s, and don’t get me started on Todd Akin, an embarrassment that managed to blow a shoo-in Senate seat). Even when the kid might be open to the idea that a foetus is not just some clump of tissues that can be flushed at will until right before birth (and even when born alive after a botched abortion, according to some extremists such as a certain former Illinois state senator), they are vulnerable to all the “back-alley abortions” “steal your lady parts” etc. propaganda of the other side. And here’s the clincher — women from the more so-con side, even when personally atheist or agnostic (like Dr. Helen Smith, a.k.a. “Instawife”) won’t even get why the women from the other side aren’t turned off by this obviously simplistic, manipulative, and patronizing propaganda.
It used to be that positions, liberal or conservative, might have been taught in school in a relatively dispassionate fashion, leaving people (comparatively) free to make up their own minds. What happens now is that kids get little or no actual information in school (and whatever they do get is thin on information and heavy on propaganda), and nothing but propaganda (glorifying one perspective and demonizing another) through the popular culture. As Sarah Hoyt pointed out, outliers can exist in the latter, but only after they have already become established and feared in some niche — Brad Thor, for example, can be an outspoken conservative, or some Justin Bieber-type singer can be an evangelical, or Bob Dylan can be a quasi-Orthodox Jew [though even he has to at least be seen as genuflecting to the hipster orthodoxy once in a while].
Therefore, on social and cultural issues, only the long game can be played. I am not even talking about persuading people, simply of convincing them that there is another perspective at least as valid as the therapeutic left-liberal one they take for granted. It is high time to make the culture celebrate “diversity” beyond the skin-deep kind of race and ethnicity, but this is a slow game that (Bill Whittle makes this point masterfully) requires essentially the patient building-up of a competing popular media infrastructure.
So much for the long game. On economic issues, however, the short game can and should be played, if only because we are so close to the economic abyss that the daily consequences will hit very soon and very hard, way beyond the extent that they are already hitting many people. At some point very soon “other people’s money” will run out, and the “blue model” discussed at great length by Walter Russell Mead will crash. If 0bama weren’t such an economic innumerate, he’d (quietly, so as not to upset environmental extremists) push for maximum development of US oil resources to have an export commodity available for “the day after” Arab oil runs out — because nanny statism of the type he envisages can only be financed (while it lasts) if you’re literally sitting on a gold mine with the whole world lining up to buy.
In other words: the only message that the GOP can, in the short term, preach outside the choir is the economic one of “we have no more money and better do something about it before it all comes crashing down”. This message should be stated clearly, forcefully, and insistently. This will not fall on kind ears — as the hysterical reactions to the ‘Ryan plan’ illustrate — and entrenched interests will do all they can to demonize the GOP here too. But here the GOP has been able to score at least tactical victories at the local or regional level (note Scott Walker in WI), and in the short-to-medium term, their best ally are “the cold equations”: either the GOP will be ignored in the short term and then gain new respect as “the gods of the copybook headings with [financial] terror and slaughter return”, or they will be hearkened to and in the process become stronger, or adult leadership will come back to the D party and it will adopt modified forms of GOP solutions and then claim their ownership, justifying itself to its base by explaining how much worse the medicine would taste if the GOP did it. (The latter outcome may take the wind out of the GOP’s sails in the short run but may actually benefit it in the long run — as it will be seen as a responsible partner by supporting effectively GOP-lite policies from the opposition benches.)
In both long and short game — as the late lamented Andrew Breitbart understood better than anybody else — the legacy media is Enemy Number One and this should be kept in mind at all times. Covering for D presidents may not be something new (think of FDR and JFK), but the blatancy, near-universality, and shamelessness of today is something unprecedented. Insty has referred to them over and over as “DNC operatives with bylines” — if they aren’t actual operatives, they have become functionally equivalents thereof. As veterans of the Chicago Machine, the 0bama consiglieres will know how to reward their friends: I am willing to bet nearly my bottom dollar on an overt or covert bailout or subsidy of the legacy media “in the public interest”. Treating them as ‘the enemy’ does not always mean being confrontational or aggressive: Breitbart was at his most devastating to them when playing mental jujitsu games with them.
Us obsessive newsbloggers/newsblog readers are making the mistake of targeting high-information voters. A president (and his followers) behaving like middle schoolers just won re-election — because that is the level of information and maturity of half the electorate! Therefore, we must target our message simultaneously to all levels of information and attention span, and in such a way that the consumer can choose their level without feeling patronized.
You may call me a dreamer, but I can’t believe I’m the only one.
On a final note: there is one subject notably absent from the above, immigration. With the economy in the current doldrums, the wave of illegal immigration from South of the border appears to be petering out as even menial work “that Americans won’t do” is no longer abundantly available. As much as the stories described by Victor Davis Hanson make my blood boil, nothing will put a more effective end to these than (for lack of any fiscal alternative) severely curtailing transfer payments to the ‘documented’ and ‘undocumented’ alike. For good reason, Milton Friedman was an advocate of both minimum-government and open borders: one can easily (and only) afford the latter if one has the former.
UPDATE: Megan McArdle (one of the very few redeeming features of the execrable Daily Beast) had predicted an 0bama win, but in the short-to-medium term foresees a fracturing of the ‘permanent’ D coalition
as the money runs out and it will be impossible to continue paying off all interest groups at the same time, forcing difficult choices between them. She uses the term ‘Hobbesian war of all against all’: I might have chosen the term Ragnarok.