Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"We Know Better"

The main conclusion the Republican Party drew from their losses in 2012 after the recent "GOP Postmortem" conducted by Reince Priebus? Their policies are sound, their principles are correct, but their message was off. They spread the blame for bad messaging around - mostly they blame the press for "distorting" their message, but they also infer that folks like Todd Akin with his "legitimate rape" comment didn't help.

They're correct, in part. Their "message" was rejected by a majority of the American people. But the rest of the GOP "postmortem" assessment smacks of self-delusion - they're not acknowledging that their policies and principles were rejected soundly as well. In their delusion, the GOP is venturing into dangerous territory for any American political party - the realm of "We Know Better" - The American people only *think* they know what they want and need - the GOP Knows Better.

We've seen this before. One party develops their ideals into principles and policies approved of by the American people, but then begins to swing ideologically toward their extreme as the party grows more successful. In the face of resistance to their swing from the American public, the party retrenches instead of adapting - because "We Know Better."

The liberals and the Democrats were certain they knew better as the sixties went on and then turned into the seventies. At that time the GOP were able to take advantage of the Democrats telling the Southern Dems they were wrong about racism - "We Know Better" - the GOP's "Southern Strategy" then peeled away the Dixiecrats and turned them into Republicans. Were the Democrats "correct"? Yup.

But here's the thing - the American public responds very poorly to being told they're wrong, to being told a political party "knows better" about what they want and need than they do. It smacks of Elitism.

The GOP of the 1970s capitalized on this to such a large degree they fused the term "liberal" to an errant definition implying liberal government is dominated by Big Brother Social Programs where you're a victim of an elitist, leftist state that "knows better" than you. Following the country's economic collapse post-Vietnam, this allowed them to discredit the Democrats' policies and principles, ultimately leading to the election of Ronald Reagan.That false characterization still haunts the left today.

It was quite a trick - the Democrats' own "We Know Better" attitude allowed the right to label a movement trying to get the greatest good for the greatest number as, somehow, impossibly, "elitist". And in so doing, they diverted attention from the fact that their GOP policies, dominated by "trickle-down economics" were ACTUAL elitist policies, creating a redistribution of wealth upward, concentrating the country's wealth in the hands of a moneyed elite few in number. It set the stage for a great number of low-information voters to identify themselves as right-wingers even as they voted against their own economic self-interest, a trend that continues today. Powerful stuff.

Now the GOP is now engaging in their own version of "We Know Better". In part they have to - their contributing supporters seem to demand this approach. It also seems to energize their base.

It remains to be seen if the Democrats can capitalize on this - can the left show the right for the elitists they are? Can they stir up the American public's resentment at being told someone else "knows better" than they do? And can they pull it off without themselves coming off - once again - as elitists? Don't know. Have many doubts, as a matter of fact. Recognizing this opportunity exists would be a good first step...