Sunday, October 05, 2008

Why Isn't Obama Ahead By A Landslide?

Two articles written from very different trades...have observed the same flaw in the Democrats campaign.

Liberals are out of touch with people's feelings. (Elizabeth May and Jack Layton should read this too...)

What shapes the consciousness of Americans are two psychodynamic issues:

1) The level of their fear vs. the level of their hope, and the degree to which they feel recognized and respected by those who are seeking their vote. One of the terrible problems with the people who have pushed Obama to present himself as more "centrist" is that they don't understand how their role in pushing the candidate away from his own deepest truths has undermined his campaign and made him appear less authentic and hence less trust-worthy. So lets explore these issues.

The level of fear is never static. Though most of us have been subjected to an intense barrage of messages that tell us that we are surrounded by people who only care about themselves, and a world filled with terrorists who seek to destroy us, and that the only path to safety for ourselves or our country is to dominate and control others before they dominate and control us, we've also been exposed to a different set of experiences in which we've learned to recognize that many people who seem hurtful or scary can sometimes be moved by our acting in a sensitive and caring way toward them, and that love and generosity generate more security than attacks and attempts to manipulate others.

2) Here we get to the second major mistake of the Democrats, liberals and progressives. Their contempt for the American people, manifested in their unwillingness to say clearly what they really believe (e.g. that the war in Iraq is not just a tactical but a moral error, or that a budget that under-funds the needy is an ethical distortion, or that allowing the marketplace to destroy the global environment is a sin not just a question of differences in economic theory) is immediately understood by the rest of the population as elitism and disrespect.

What I learned in my research was that a large group of Americans feel disrespected at work and disrespected in many of the encounters they have with others. They can feel that the Republicans are telling them their own truth—that militarism and self-interest are the key to a good world—but that Democrats are not telling their truth—that love and generosity are the key to a good world—because the Democrats disrespect them so much that they feel that "ordinary Americans" couldn't possibly respond to their message if they told it straight. It is this disrespect that gets triggered by Democrats' caution (they even pick a vice-presidential candidate like Joe Biden who has been hawkish rather than peace- and generosity-oriented whereas the Republicans pick a woman who actually embodies their values). It's not which of these sets of values are better that matters to many people as much as which choice reflects respect for the American people. To the extent that the Dems hide who they are, it's easy to tag them as elitist scum.

One article is from a spiritual magazine written by RABBI MICHAEL LERNER, he is rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue which conducts High Holiday and Friday night services in San Francisco, and Torah study Saturday mornings in Berkeley. The other is written by JONATHAN HAIDT is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia

The purity/sanctity foundation is used heavily by the Christian right to condemn hedonism and sexual "deviance," but it can also be harnessed for progressive causes. Sanctity does not have to come from God; the psychology of this system is about overcoming our lower, grasping, carnal selves in order to live in a way that is higher, nobler, and more spiritual. Many liberals criticize the crassness and ugliness that our unrestrained free-market society has created. There is a long tradition of liberal anti-materialism often linked to a reverence for nature. Environmental and animal welfare issues are easily promoted using the language of harm/care, but such appeals might be more effective when supplemented with hints of purity/sanctity.

The authority/respect foundation will be the hardest for Democrats to use. But even as liberal bumper stickers urge us to "question authority" and assert that "dissent is patriotic," Democrats can ask what needs this foundation serves, and then look for other ways to meet them. The authority foundation is all about maintaining social order, so any candidate seen to be "soft on crime" has disqualified himself, for many Americans, from being entrusted with the ultimate authority. Democrats would do well to read Durkheim and think about the quasi-religious importance of the criminal justice system. The miracle of turning individuals into groups can only be performed by groups that impose costs on cheaters and slackers. You can do this the authoritarian way (with strict rules and harsh penalties) or you can do it using the fairness/reciprocity foundation by stressing personal responsibility and the beneficence of the nation towards those who "work hard and play by the rules." But if you don't do it at all—if you seem to tolerate or enable cheaters and slackers -- then you are committing a kind of sacrilege.

If Democrats want to understand what makes people vote Republican, they must first understand the full spectrum of American moral concerns. They should then consider whether they can use more of that spectrum themselves. The Democrats would lose their souls if they ever abandoned their commitment to social justice, but social justice is about getting fair relationships among the parts of the nation. This often divisive struggle among the parts must be balanced by a clear and oft-repeated commitment to guarding the precious coherence of the whole. America lacks the long history, small size, ethnic homogeneity, and soccer mania that holds many other nations together, so our flag, our founding fathers, our military, and our common language take on a moral importance that many liberals find hard to fathom.

Unity is not the great need of the hour, it is the eternal struggle of our immigrant nation. The three Durkheimian foundations of ingroup, authority, and purity are powerful tools in that struggle. Until Democrats understand this point, they will be vulnerable to the seductive but false belief that Americans vote for Republicans primarily because they have been duped into doing so.


What's The Matter With Liberalism?
Why Isn't Obama Ahead by A Landslide?
What Makes People Vote Republican?


boukman70 said...

Actually, analysis aside, when it's all said and done, Obama _will_ win by a landslide. Right now, he's got the majority of likely voters (which are people who've voted in the past) saying they'll vote for him. Even with the "Bradley Effect," he'll probably win with all the "unlikely voters" (first-time voters) who are lining up to back him.

Well, that's my opinion, anyway. I'm going to go off and write an insular, market-driven novel now. Thanks.

Candy Minx said...

Hey Bookman...great to hear from you!!! And I love your insight. I hope you're right...oh do I ever...And...a few of us out here can't wait for your insular market driven novel:I hope it flies off the shelves!

Now I have to go look up the "bradley effect"