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« Lilly M. Ledbetter's DNC Speech - Elections 2012 (John Ballard) | Main | Deinstitutionalization (John Ballard) »

September 05, 2012


Welcome John!

I wouldn't extrapolate from the fact that the GOP will likely stage strategic retreats on some social issues (Hispanic immigration and gay rights are the clearest cases for me) to the idea that they will be in ideological retreat from here on.

Republicans also -win- their share of cultural battles, most clearly to me on gun control, where I notice that the Democrats have basically given up even with all the shootings this year, since they really lack mass support. Another similar issue, where the left has been winning incrementally on courts but losing popularity contests is on crime. People seem to like their death penalty just fine, and tough-on-crime and war on drugs show no signs of stopping.

Even on race, immigration and the like, it's far from clear to me what the trend is. Let us remember that Clinton at the DNC convention just now touted his welfare reform creds, and defended Obama by saying he'd made those reforms even more powerful. Affirmative action, never very popular, grows less so each year, and will likely be curtailed strongly at the SC this session. Also, while the GOP has likely burned its bridges with black voters, their Latino vote share will probably rise in the future as they moderate on immigration.

Finally, I don't think we should judge Republican vs Democrat thru the prism of today's issues. Some issues are constant (though even there the midpoint of public opinion doesn't shift in a predictable way - under 35's are less pro choice than their parents) but many issues die away and new ones show up. Liberal vs conservative isn't fundamentally an issues driven struggle but an attitude driven one. And while the sands keep shifting, that there's a fault line emerges from human psychology.

Thanks, prasad, for reading and commenting. It looks like the AB gig is the best one yet, even better than my old blog.

As for trying to discern the meaning of political talk, I decided long ago that there will always be a big space between what is said and what is meant, and an even bigger space between what is intended and the end result. At the time Clinton allowed his party to be co-opted on what was euphemistically called "welfare reform" I had nothing but contempt for him. But in retrospect the consequences were not as dire as I had expected. That was in part due to a better level of comity between the parties -- bipartisanship, if you will -- that even when they had him at a disadvantage Congressional Republicans knew there was a limit to what they could do. Their challenge was to protect the beneficiaries of Medicare and whatever they called TANF at the time, while simultaneously signaling their base that they were not. Even Romney knows that a safety net for the poor is not optional (though I'm not sure Ryan has that much grasp of reality).

There is a line in Crocodile Dundee which reminds me of most political discussions.

Well, you see, Aborigines don't own the land. They belong to it. It's like their mother. See those rocks? Been standing there for 600 million years. Still be there when you and I are gone. So arguing over who owns them is like two fleas arguing over who owns the dog they live on.

Over time the religious, cultural and ethnic differences we think are insurmountable tend to diminish as generations die off. You're right about today's prisms being poor lenses to view both issues AND attitudes. Only lately did I fully grasp the historic fact that when my mother was born the Nineteenth Amendment had only been ratified four years before, and that her mother, my maternal grandmother, did not have the right to vote all her adult life until that time.

It's easy to over-emphasize the issues we judge to be important. Over time the changes really do happen. Even prior to his election Obama said a few times (not often, but enough for the record) "I'm not going to tell you what you want to hear; I'll tell you what you need to know." That's the kind of line that sails over the heads of most who hear it, lost among the rest of his oratory like lace on a bridal train. But it's there for the record. And when he promised HOPE he didn't say out loud what he really meant, which is I'm going to teach you the real meaning of the word hope. Now as he comes to the end of one term, what passes for CHANGE is mostly symbolic. Hopefully by the end of a second term we will finally catch a glimpse of the start of some meaningful changes.

Great post John and very insightful comments from you and Prasad. As things stand today, Democrats have for a change, done a far better job of selling their election platform than in previous years. For the first time since I have been in this country (early 1980s just after Reagan's first term began), I have seen the DNC embrace liberal ideas fearlessly, without apology. True, the guns still flood the streets, Israel is still the holy cow, corporations still pull the invisible strings and erosion of civil liberties is no different under a Democratic administration when it comes to national security. But the Dems have their fingers more deftly on the pulse of American people than do the Repugs regarding health care, manufacturing, education, minority rights and yes, foreign policy. Whether a majority of middle and working class voters can see which side their bread is buttered but still cannot overcome the discomfort of being led by a black president, I do not know. And this year's election will come down to that, nothing else. Minus that nagging discomfort, Mitt Romney should not be neck and neck with Obama in the polls.

I agree completely with you on how misconstrued Obama's "Hope and Change" message has become. I never heard him promise us the moon. A cautious man, he was guarded in what he offered - a path more than a destination. People heard what they wanted to hear.

Thanks, Ruchira. I've been thinking this afternoon about that line "I'm not going to tell you what you want to hear; I'll tell you what you need to know." Searching for where I first heard it I stumbled across this old post you may find interesting, illustrating the man's nearly mystical insights into foreign relations. [Off topic but I have to say this: compared with Barack Obama, both Republican candidates seem oblivious to foreign policy. That portion of the upcoming debates should have both of them trembling.]

The line turned up among the comments (among which was a happy surprise from Elatia and and even more extraordinary comment from some fellow from Serbia who left a comment eight months later).
Something in the DNC speech said virtually the same thing. Near the start he said...

I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy. I never have. You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear.
You elected me to tell you the truth.

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