« That Is Funny | Main | Social Justice Before Your Very Eyes »

Important Piece

Read this article by Paul Freedman. I'll be working over the weekend on some further development of his line of thought. Everything you think you know about the 2004 election is wrong!

November 5, 2004 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Important Piece:

» Culture Wars vs. Real Wars from Political Animal
CULTURE WARS vs. REAL WARS....Matt Yglesias is right: this article by Paul Freedman in Slate is important. Basically, he says the whole "moral issues" debate is so much hot air:Voters who cited moral issues as most important did give their... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 5, 2004 6:34:00 PM

» 'Values' and irrational epistemic pressures from The Ethical Werewolf
There's a good psychological explanation for why people like us would make exactly this mistake. According to the 'values' theory, the agents of our defeat are precisely those people whom we're the most opposed to -- religious nuts who hate gay peopl... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 6, 2004 12:54:28 AM


Everything you think you know about the 2004 election is wrong!

So does that mean you're throwing your hat in the ring with Greg Palast, and trying to tell us that Kerry actually won?

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Nov 5, 2004 4:33:35 PM

Actually, I think you have to go back to the major realignment of the South after the voting rights act was signed. The Dems lost the George Wallce voters and then Nixon and the GOP took them. Carter won only because of the Nixon disgrace, and Reagan went back to the GOP dominance. Clinton was able to sneak in with 43% because of Perot and because of his good management bring the Dems back up to about 50/50 which is where we are today. We are not far away from winning, especially if we are winning the youth vote. We just need to hang on and build so we can take FL and OH next time. CO may also be in play. The rest of our base is not headed south to the Retro.

Posted by: bakho | Nov 5, 2004 4:38:03 PM

I totally agree with Mr. Freedman. It was the Beslan massacre that ruined Kerry. No question about that. The gender gap all but disappeared.

Everyone was talking about a possible terrorist attack in the US and how the Bushies would benefit from it. And it did happen and they did benefit, only it happened in Russia.

Posted by: abb1 | Nov 5, 2004 4:38:16 PM

"So, if you want to understand why Bush was re-elected, stop obsessing about the morality gap and start looking at the terrorism gap."

Well, yes and no.

I fervently belive that if Kerry had hit Bush hard last Friday over the Osama tape, he might have won 51-49 instead of losing 51-49.

But we still would have lost those 5 Southern Senate seats.

If we're interested in actually becoming the majority party again, instead of being a minority party that can win close elections only when the other side fucks up, we must close the values gap. Otherwise, states like MO, AR, VA, NC, and OH will continue to be out of reach at both the congressional and presidential levels.


And, FWIW, what Kerry should have said on the airport tarmac last Friday:

"Why is this murderer still on the loose 3 years after killing 3,000 Americans, Mr. President? Why did you bog us down in Iraq instead of bringing this murderer to justice dead or alive, Mr. President?"

Posted by: Petey | Nov 5, 2004 4:52:19 PM

Terrorism did favor the incumbent, but it would not have been insurmountable if you had the right candidates.

For the last 40 years the winner of the presidency has been either a President, Governor, or Vice President. So the Democrats nominated two Senators, one from a region where you were going to clean up anyway and one from a region where you had no chance anyway. I think the Dems only had one Governor even in the primaries.

You currently hold the Governorships of marginal states like Wisconsin, New Mexico, Virginia, Tennessee and Pensylvania, surely it can't be too hard to pick two of them for the 2008 ticket?

Posted by: R.F | Nov 5, 2004 4:58:33 PM

All these factors work together, and nothing so crude as an exit poll allows an observer to seperate them and measure each individually. The anti gay marriage initiative may have been most critical in Ohio, but only because Ohio turned out to be the critical state electorally. The Democrats have had problems with credibility on national security since the collapse of Johnson's presidency, and they may do better on this issue once people who were too young to serve in Vietnam, or to oppose Reagan in the early 80s, start running for President. That time really isn't too far off now.

Posted by: Will Allen | Nov 5, 2004 4:58:51 PM

Listen up, Democrats...

It was not the positions that Democrats took on THE ISSUES that hurt the Democratic Party.

The problem for Democrats has always been one of MARKETING SAVVY.

The "morality gap", the "security gap"...all of these gaps were created by clever marketing strategies, people.

The Republicans were able to again persuade millions of Average Americans to vote against their own best interests because their strategists understand that the IMAGE CAMPAIGN is everything in national elections. They are masters of The Image Campaign because they understand the target audience---The Swing Voter---in a way that Democrats do not.

The typical Swing Voter knows he does not understand the subtle details of the issues well enough to make an informed decision, so he relies on his “impressions” of the candidates. Is this candidate someone I can trust to not screw me over? So the Republicans focus all of their efforts on defining Democrats in the minds of the Swing Voter in a negative, vaguely threatening way. They do this by relying on negative campaigning.

Republicans know that making an accusation or insinuation is good enough to get you elected because the Swing Voter is primarily a headline-reader and a sound-byte-nibbler. If the media reports that a Republican has accused a Democrat of having a character flaw, the average Swing Voter will believe it unless it is successfully answered. Not only do these attacks create a negative image of their opponents, they also implicitly suggest that Republicans are not guilty of the character flaws they accuse the Democrats of having. As they attack, they indirectly define themselves as noble & virtuous.

Republicans understand precisely what they are doing when they tell the Swing Voters that they are “not like those Democrats.” It’s a variation of the “us vs. them” social comparisons that are so common in high school. Throughout October, swing voters constantly saw clips of George Bush standing in front of his adoring supporters, ridiculing John Kerry with his smirky smile. People do not tend---on a natural level---to want to be associated with anyone who is being ridiculed.

Average Americans who put Republican candidates into office with their votes do so because they are identifying with those whom they intuitively perceive to be social “winners.” They don’t understand all of the nuances of the issues, but they do have this impression that there is something “defective” with the Democrats. Once they’ve become invested in their identity with the Republican Party, they will instinctively defend Republican policies even when those policies will actually harm them. In order for the Democratic Party to win these Average Americans back, they must begin to fight fire with fire.

Democrats need to define The Republican Politician as DECEIVING, MANIPULATIVE, SCHEMING, MEAN-SPIRITED, CON-ARTISTS who willfully and gleefully assassinate the character of any innocent victim that stands in the way of their rabid lust for power. We need to create an image (deserved) of The Republican Politician in the minds of the Average American that they instinctively fear. In defining The Republican Politician as essentially manipulative, we will also indirectly be defining ourselves as The Protectors of the Average American.

Democrats tend not to want to do this, but they really have no choice. Every attack and accusation made by the Republicans must be used to define the Republicans as smiling weasels. We must express both derision and wisdom and show an eagerness to explain what the Republicans are up to. We need to take the time to point out and explain in television commercials the misrepresentations, the deceptions, the intent, and the strategy of the Republican attacks. We must define ourselves as the ones who are trying to protect the American People from a Great Evil.

In addition to this, we need to start ridiculing the stupidity of Republican policies and---implicitly---those who embrace/defend them. Democrats need to learn how to socially isolate those who belong to the Republican Party. Until we are able to play this “social game”, we will not be able to become the majority party again. Until we do this, the Average American will not even listen to what we are saying because they will have an image of us that they do not trust on a visceral level.

James J. Kroeger

Posted by: James J. Kroeger | Nov 5, 2004 5:03:57 PM

Andrew Sullivan posted a persuasive e-mail to the same effect. I think Matthew and Sullivan's emailer are right - gay marriage did NOT have a great effect on the election. But the gay marriage meme will not die, since you lefties in the media love being able to say that Bush won only because of his supporters' homophobia.

That being said, the "everything you know is wrong" political piece is a classic of the genre. Kudos to it coming out only two days after we learned everything we know in the first place! Kaus's Feiler Faster Principle at work!

Posted by: Al | Nov 5, 2004 5:05:10 PM

It is true, however,that when Bush wins 41% of his needed electoral votes from states in which he had more than 60% popular support, the Democrats are ceding way too much of the field before the game even begins. True enough, the right candidate with masterful skills cures all problems, but the point of political organization is to prevail even when your candidate isn't all that masterfully skilled. The Democrats seem to be farther from that place than the Republicans.

Posted by: Will Allen | Nov 5, 2004 5:05:29 PM

How do you handle terrorism?

Negotiate with them, try to win them over with talk and reason. Make them see the light of a less violent approach.

Walk up behind the terrorist while the democrats are talking to them about reason and blow their fucking brains out.


Posted by: MYOB | Nov 5, 2004 5:05:57 PM

Note to commenters generally: boldface does not make your arguments more persuasive.

With that out of the way, here's some uninformed speculation: isn't it possible that the gay thing and the soft on terrorism thing are related? As in, gay people can't protect you from terrorism?

Just sayin'.

Posted by: praktike | Nov 5, 2004 5:07:03 PM

The real reason Kerry lost is because he offered nothing better than Bush. He promised to increase taxes on the Rich, but maintained he would use such funds to continue deficit Government spending. Kerry promised to bring back Jobs, but gave no realistic program for bringing them back. Kerry promised reform of Health Care, and reduction of medical costs. No realistic formula. Kerry promised to be tough on Terrorism, but advocated nothing different from Bush. Kerry lost the campaign because he was a thirty year veteren of the Beltway, and would not break away with new policy. Even Carter went to Washington with a fresh policy, not with just what your old collegues in the Senate wanted. lgl

Posted by: lgl | Nov 5, 2004 5:12:13 PM

Everything you think you know about the 2004 election is wrong!

I read that and said, I'll bet that link goes to Slate. Sure enough.

Posted by: Ted Barlow | Nov 5, 2004 5:13:19 PM

Yes, yes, Mr. Kroeger, the deficiency in the Democrats' strategy was that they did not subject Bush to enough ridicule.

Posted by: Will Allen | Nov 5, 2004 5:13:20 PM

"Everything you think you know about the 2004 election is wrong!"

Considering most of Matt's audience are Democrats, I'd have to say that's pretty accurate.

Posted by: Modern Crusader | Nov 5, 2004 5:13:49 PM

Eh, it's all really the same thing. Gay rights or terrorism. Either way, its a giant Republican spin saying that the democrats are weak and will eventually hurt your families because they don't have the resolve. Regardless of the truth on either issue, it shows how the GOP was successfully able to brand Kerry as weak and indecisive. And yes, they would have done that to any candidate, so let's not get angry it Kerry here. It's the way the message was distorted and completely blocked out that was so impressive, and that isn't going to change by taking it on. The stereotype works against every issue. Strength vs. weakness. In the home or on the battlefield. That's the narrative, and it isn't going to change from the top down.

Posted by: dstein | Nov 5, 2004 5:14:07 PM

This was also one of the many articles that harped on a terrorism/national security gap with no advice whatsoever on what to do about it. Can we change the ratio of "Dems need to do better on terrorism" articles to "Here's how the Dems can do better on terrorism" articles to something other than what it is now, which is division by zero? I've read precisely no articles with anything even approaching a comprehensive electoral strategy on this.

Posted by: Haggai | Nov 5, 2004 5:15:57 PM

It is true, however,that when Bush wins 41% of his needed electoral votes from states in which he had more than 60% popular support, the Democrats are ceding way too much of the field before the game even begins."

That is very true.

And it doesn't even begin to get into the problem of those Republican safe states comprising so many Senate seats.

If we want to be a majority party, we need to put MO, AR, VA, NC, and AZ into play. And the defecit in those states is about values, not terrorism.

Posted by: Petey | Nov 5, 2004 5:21:40 PM

My god, it has come to this: i'm actually going to type the words I agree with Will Allen.

Of course gay marriage was the issue that settled the election, because the election is settled on electoral votes, and it was the issue that carried the day in Ohio. No gay marriage issue in Ohio, odds are much, much higher that Kerry wins Ohio and we're having completely different discussions.

The popular vote is a different story, and i'm certainly willing to agree that it would help if kerry had been perceived better on terrorism (although when you consider that bush's popular vote margin is the confederacy, where he won by 5.4M votes, with Kerry winning the rest of the country by 1.8M votes, i'm not sure you can distinguish between the "moral values" and "terrorism" issue anyhow), but i'm not sure, pace haggai, that that's possible. I'm not sure that the support for bush on terrorism isn't, in the end, just a proxy for "moral values" and not a considered choice, although it's hard to know how we would figure that out.

I do know, though, that the people who made iraq their number one issue voted for kerry.

Posted by: howard | Nov 5, 2004 5:22:31 PM

"isn't it possible that the gay thing and the soft on terrorism thing are related?" ...praktike

"Speaking of media bias, here’s a question you won’t hear in our big papers or on network TV: Does Yasser Arafat have AIDS?" ...David Frum

Have you ever noticed that so many of our Islamist enemies wear skirts and dresses?

Just saying...

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 5, 2004 5:27:18 PM

These are not mutually exclusive variables: trusting bush more on terrorism, when the evidence is this is where he is most incompetent, by believers, who have the critical facts on terrorism demonstrably backasswards, is related, in many, to the same typeof emotinal need for dumb ass issues like gay marriage. Liberal style, liberal manners, was rejected by many.

The question should be why the opposition party chose to allow gay marriage to be an issue and refused to turn competence in the battle for security against terrorism into the central issue of the campaign. The reason why has more to do with the opposition, the demmicrats and their allies, than it has to do with anything Karl Rove did.

Posted by: razor | Nov 5, 2004 5:28:49 PM

I fail to understand why there must be a single driver behind Kerry's loss to Bush. Surely the issues of terrorism and gay marriage combined would mobilize more Bushies in the end than just either one in isolation?

Personally I think another reason behind Bush's (re)election is a longing among a certain growing demographic of Americans for the equivalent of a royal family. Bush was only considered for the Presidency in the first place because of his last name; don't think for a moment that his re-election chances weren't considerably enhanced for the very same reason.

So does this means that despite Jeb's recent protestations to the contrary, we might be looking at the bleak prospect of a 21st Century littered with Bushes? We should all shudder at the thought.

Posted by: oodja | Nov 5, 2004 5:32:22 PM

Um, wouldn't voters who opposed gay marriage be more likely to support Bush's approach to terrorism? Until Freedman can prove this is not the case, this analysis has a huge problem with confounding.

My personal turning point was Janet Jackson. I mean, in the middle of the Super Bowl, the biggest media event of the year, you had a celebrity *taking her top off* thinking that was a great idea. The next day, the Democrats are arguing "it's just a breast, what's the big deal?", proving that you can be right and still miss the point. Then they started acting like fining CBS for a clear violation of FCC rules would be the return of Kristallnacht. And then Kerry trots out any dopey celebrity he can find who'll say they'll vote for him, as though the number of people who admire Ashton Kutcher and P. Diddy were a voting block to be reckoned with.

Actually, from a pragmatic point of view, the turning point was the GOP convention. Kerry was pulling even or even ahead by that point then Bush got a huge boost which he retained for quite some time. The Dems should have had a stronger response. Instead the focus was on protestors and mocking Zell Miller. Something more sustantive would have gone a long way.

Posted by: Adam | Nov 5, 2004 5:35:30 PM

So does this means that despite Jeb's recent protestations to the contrary, we might be looking at the bleak prospect of a 21st Century littered with Bushes?

Excellent. I figure by the time the Jeb presidency is done in 2024, and George P. (first Latino president) finishes his second term in 2036, the country will finally be ready for a female Commander-in-Chief.

Can you say "President Jenna"?

Posted by: October Surprise | Nov 5, 2004 5:37:15 PM

Will Allen said: Yes, yes, Mr. Kroeger, the deficiency in the Democrats' strategy was that they did not subject Bush to enough ridicule.

Your expression of implicit disdain for my argument is noted.

Tell me, could you be prevailed upon to offer a more substantive comment, Mr. Allen?

Perhaps some part of you occasionally feels compassion for poor souls who don't realize just how pahtetically useless their arguments are.

But please don't bother yourself if it causes that awful pain to come back. It's really not worth it...

Posted by: James J. Kroeger | Nov 5, 2004 5:43:50 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.