Monday, July 16, 2012

Policy and the Personal

New Paul Krugman:

A lot of people inside the Beltway are tut-tutting about the recent campaign focus on Mitt Romney’s personal history — his record of profiting even as workers suffered, his mysterious was-he-or-wasn’t-he role at Bain Capital after 1999, his equally mysterious refusal to release any tax returns from before 2010. Some of the tut-tutters are upset at any suggestion that this election is about the rich versus the rest. Others decry the personalization: why can’t we just discuss policy?

And neither group is living in the real world.

First of all, this election really is — in substantive, policy terms — about the rich versus the rest.


In that case, however, why not run a campaign based on that substance, and leave Mr. Romney’s personal history alone? The short answer is, get real.

Look, voters aren’t policy wonks who pore over Tax Policy Center analyses. And when a politician — say, Mr. Obama — cites actual numbers in a speech, well, there’s always a politician on the other side to contradict him. How are voters supposed to know who’s telling the truth? In fact, earlier this year focus groups given an accurate description of Mr. Romney’s policy proposals refused to believe that any politician would take such a position.

More here.

That is, as Krugman goes on to observe, the vast majority of the electorate is poorly informed about the actual issue specifics, which necessitates heavy usage of symbols and narrative. Indeed, this is how most voters approach politics, anyway, informed or not, in terms of stories and symbols. The GOP has understood this, perhaps intuitively, since the Reagan era. And they've been using this approach to eat the Democrats' lunch for just about as long.

Americans, for better or worse, don't want dry policy analysis: they want mythology. They want a dramatic narrative. They want a story with good guys and bad guys. And, finally, it's starting to look like the Democrats get it. I mean, don't get me wrong: I continue to have profound problems with the Democrats. But as far as strategy is concerned, as far as speaking to people in a way that they will understand, a way that will motivate them and capture their hearts, this is a very good development.

Go fuck 'em up, Barack!