Faux Populism

Gathering my thoughts after the conventions of the past two weeks, I want to write about the success of GOP faux-populism. I want to figure out how to counter this, as its been a resounding success for a couple decades now. By "faux-populism" I mean the GOP's tactics of persuasion that employ messages appealing to a broad base of constiuents, but who logically shouldn't support them (i.e. tax cuts for the very wealthy or the dismantling of our social safety net). Krugman's piece today captures one element of the tactics - that of (faux) class resentment. By painting Democrats as overeducated snooty East Coast elites, they seek to alienate working-class voters with a portrait of a party run by people who aren't like them. It also taps into the legacy of a demographic and economic shift that occured over the last 50 years. The rise in education, income, and overall success of the South and Southwest (and accompanying decline of the Northeast) led to a relative shift of power. Class and regional resentment had been brewing over time, so the rapid change in these regions meant they carried both this to Washington.

Another insightful writeup by Rick Perlstein discusses how the very cultural mindset of conservatives is one of beleagerment and marginalization.This is also a recurrent theme in Christianity, with its roots in its founding in the Roman era.

"The constant staging and re-staging of acts of "courage" in the face of liberal "marginalization" — that manages to unite all the opposites. It keeps conservatives from each other's throats — and keeps them more or less always pulling in the same political direction."

A book by George Lakoff I've been reading, "The Political Mind", looks at how powerful mental frameworks are developed by conservatives that strike deep chords with people. No amount of reasoning (what he calls Enlightenment-era thinking) will dislodge the idea that someone is under seige. Only a more compelling narrative framed and endlessly repeated in an accessible manner will succeed.

This is similar to what's happening in Turkey today. There, the secularists have been in power since the founding of the republic in the 1920's. They have overseen a tremendous increase in wealth throughout the country, and in particular the rise of rural and lower-class peoples who are typically more conservative and religious. Now the (moderate) Islamists have been voted into power, the secularists are upset at the erosion of what they've accomplished and are disdainful. Its not clear that the Islamists have an ulterior motive (the dissolution of secular institutions in favor of Islamic law), or they are legimately seeking greater religious freedom.

Watching Palin speak, I was impressed with how convincing her message was, even though her experience was seriously at odds with the stated planks of the GOP. As is the case with much of the South and West, massive amounts of federal dollars have been directed to Alaska to develop infrastructure and institutions. Its relative isolation probably breeds some resentment, but not to the point of cutting off the gravy train. Again, though, her appearance and message appealed directly (and through code) to Americans who think they're being looked down upon when in reality they're the ones in control. Look at Washington (all branches of government in Republican control for 25 years), the "media" (FOX news, Rush Limbaugh, and a seriously degraded mainstream press), and the number of self-professed faithful and you don't see any marginalization on their part. But that's being logical.