Monday, October 22, 2012

This is not reality This is just formality

In addition to not being very funny, "Romnesia"  is a losing gambit. Voters don't really care about the "flip flop" charge.  Every politician is a "flip flopper." Voters understand and expect this. In Presidential politics they reflexively write off "flip flopping" or "Etch-a-Sketching" or whatever you want to call it as "moving to the center." It's practically part of the etiquette.

It doesn't matter if a candidate momentarily disagrees with his own previous statements. What does matter is when the candidate's statements disagree with reality.   Matt Taibbi talked about this in a recent analysis of the Hofstra debate.
Obama tried to protest, but the moment was past, and Romney looked jazzed. You could see him thinking: "This just saying-anything-that-pops-into-my-head thing is great!" Over and over again he went to that well. The stat about 583,000 women having lost their jobs under Obama – where the hell did that number come from?

It doesn't matter. None of it really matters, at this point. Romney has all of America right now running head-scratching analyses of his tax and jobs plans, trying to figure out if there's any way the numbers fit. But my guess is, independent voters are not reading those dense commentaries, and instead are responding more to the general vibe surrounding Romney's campaign, which is clearly benefiting from the fact that he's being so aggressive that the whole world is left scrambling to react to his bullshit.

This recalls Ron Suskind's famous interview with an un-named aide to George W Bush from which we derive the"reality-based community" meme.
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
And this is precisely Mitt's campaign strategy.  Just keep twisting reality around and around.  Each new version will score you new points while the other side is still trying to figure out the last one. Stephen Colbert coined the term "truthiness" to describe the phenomenon that makes this possible. The particular facts of a matter don't mean nearly as much as the emotional symbolism conjured by the story you tell.

But in order for this to work, it requires some complicity on the part of one's opponent.  Specifically it requires that the opponent play into the gambit by treating your bullshit as a good faith argument deserving of analysis and measured response with an eye toward finding "common ground."

It works like a charm when your opponent parses out your riddle and says things like  "Governor Romney and I both agree that our corporate tax rate is too high" and follows with minor but important distinguishing details that nobody pays attention to.  Because you've already got them playing your game on your terms.

It doesn't work so well when your opponent laughs it off as the "bunch of stuff" it actually is, however.  But those moments are rare and easily isolated or explained away as affronts to the very "civil discourse" you've already made a mockery of.

Framing the lying as "flip flopping"as the unfunny "Romnesia" attempts to do is unhelpful because it obscures the issue.  Instead of calling a bullshit artist a liar acting in bad faith, it charitably allows voters to consider the alternative that he is reasonably moderating his positions in order to broaden his appeal. And while that breaks logic just enough to be funny, it's also well within the bounds of what voters consider the affable foibles of electoral politics.  The joke, in essence, isn't actually on Romney but on all of us and our silly process.  Cute, maybe, but ultimately pointless and counterproductive.

1 comment:

joejoejoe said...

There was a little book called 'On Bullshit' that was briefly popular during the Bush admin. The author, Princeton philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt, appeared on Jon Stewart and made the rounds. The pound was that bullshit was worse than lying, because even liars have to use the truth as a measure. A bullshitter can just say whatever serves the moment and move on, unencumbered any ties to the truth. A lot of what Mitt Romney says is true! But he doesn't care if it is true or not, that makes it bullshit. You can say the same thing about Obama or John Kerry or John McCain or any pol. Obama doesn't really give a shit if Guantanamo closes or if Employee Free Choice passes. He means it but he doesn't mean it enough to lift a finger moving forward to get it done, therefore it is bullshit. Rahm Emanuel is probably the preeminent bullshitter of modern politics. I'm giving Democratic examples here but it is clear that the Republican Party is the Party of Bullshit. Democrats are the Party of Cautiously Triangulating to GOP Bullshit.