"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The BMW Report: The Permanent Campaign vs. The Loyal Opposition

"The Permanent Campaign" is thought of as a Dick Morris notion, and he certainly believed in it, that the president always be out among the people, selling his agenda. Dick Morris likes polls. He even polled on when the president should take a vacation.

So, it's no surprise that it was (unappreciated genius) Democrat pollster Pat Caddell who came up with the idea, and sent it to Jimmy Carter just before his inauguration in 1977:

"The old cliche about mistaking style for substance usually works the reverse in politics. Too many good people have been defeated because they tried to substitute substance for style; they forgot to give the public the kind of visible signals that it needs to understand what is happening...Essentially, it is my thesis governing with public approval requires a continuing political campaign."

There's a certain virtue to the permanent campaign, keeping Americans on the same page and from each other's throats, not entirely different from FDR's unifying fireside chats. Although it didn't help the dour Carter, whose temperament was as ill-fitted to the role as his dopey sweaters during the energy crisis, the permanent campaign was tailor-made for Bill Clinton's personality: it was said that if there was one person in a roomful of supporters who didn't dig Clinton's act, Clinton would spend the entire evening getting him or her to come around. The permanent campaign probably saved Clinton from the Hounds of Impeachment.

Indeed, the permanent campaigner Bill Clinton had won the presidency largely because a reasonably good fellow and president, George HW Bush, after a creditable stewardship in the job, rather saw campaigning even during an actual election campaign as demeaning to his record.

Enter George Dubya Bush, whose worthy political skills lay somewhere between style and substance. It can scarcely be denied that, for good or ill, he brings more substance to the job than either of his predecessors, and enough attention to campaigning to get elected twice (which his father failed to do), although not enough permanent campaigning to keep us from each other's throats, as Clinton in fact did:

Although there was quite a bit of anti-Clinton vociferousness from the GOP side, the polls did not support his removal from office over his technically grave but ultimately harmless violations of the law. And so, the "loyal opposition," the GOP-controlled Senate and specifically John McCain and Bob Dole, put the fix in and kept the impeachment trial down to a bare minimum and a dull roar. They let Mr. Clinton skate, and that was a good thing.

Subsequently, McCain and Dole got Clinton's back on his Kosovo adventure and whipped their party into line once we had troops committed. That's how a loyal opposition functions.

Fast forward. Not that I'm a fan across the board of John Zogby, but it seems reasonable that his latest poll reflects the truth about our current state of the union:

The survey also contained troubling news for Democrats. While high-profile Democrats in Washington, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, spar with GOP adversaries, 58% of self-described Democrats said they think their leaders should “accept their lower position in Congress and work together with Republicans to craft the best legislation possible.”


With only 6% saying Democrats should fight the GOP congress tooth and nail. (And that's just Democrats who were polled.)


So, at one of the more dangerous crossroads of our history, a president who mostly doesn't give a hang about convincing the American people of the rightness of our course as a nation, and an opposition that mostly doesn't give a hang about working for the betterment of the country if it will cost them partisan advantage.

We no longer have the permanent campaign, nor a loyal opposition. The 90s were the good old days in their way, and now they're gone, leaving the American public to BMW: Bitch, Moan, Whine. That's the way it is on this, the first of March, 2006.

11 comments:

Devang said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Devang said...

For what it's worth, I've always thought of "The Permanent Campaign" as originally being an Edward Bernays notion. Let's be honest, it was only a matter of time before his ideas turned politics into marketing throught the use of, quite frankly, propoganda. There is a PBS documentary about this.

There doesn't need to be a permanent campaign of anything, if only politicians can learn how to talk with context and detail instead of repeating propogandist (there's that word again) talking points. Both sides are guilty, but guess who was always going to get blamed... the people in power offcourse!

The medicince for Bush I think is more transparency, and less loyalists. As for the loyal opposition, 2/3 of the country doesn't vote, and the rest is fragmented in voicing opinions, we live in a democracy, remember... while the ownership of the media is anything but.

I for one am glad that no amount of further rhetoric or propoganda or permanent campaigning (same difference), can help the administration, they've used that tactic to it's death, and it seems like it's the only thing they ever knew how to do really well.

India is doing quite well, wouldn't you say? :)

Matt Huisman said...

BMW? Couldn’t take the time to craft an American acronym like GM (Groan & Moan) or Ford (Freakout, Overhype, Rage, Denounce)?

I want to see the "Made in the USA" sticker on all my curmudgeon-isms.

Matt Huisman said...

BTW, I'm a fan of Pat Cadell's as well (the quote you site is quite good), but I have to question your sensibilities in referencing him here. You're making the case for the substance of style, and you pick Pat Cadell over Virginia Postrel???

Do you really want me to link to a photo of Pat Cadell???

Tlaloc said...

This is one (of many) problems with trying to operate a democracy at this scale. The energy required to keep the voters aware and approving of your actions is prohibitive.

Democracy tends to work very well at small scales but at large scales the inefficiencies are terrible.


oh and...

"Subsequently, McCain and Dole got Clinton's back on his Kosovo adventure and whipped their party into line once we had troops committed. That's how a loyal opposition functions."

You must have been watching some other Kosovo because the one that I saw had a lot of Republican second guessing through the whole thing (and honestly I tend to agree with much of what they said).



"So, at one of the more dangerous crossroads of our history,"

Uh no. People keep talking this way and it's a joke. The cold war? We had thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at us ready to fly in the span of thirty minutes. WW2? Things pretty easily could have gone the other way. War of 1812? Revolutionary War? Those two were wars we could lose (did lose 1812 by any fair reading) and could have gone very very badly for us. Today? Some guys in caves hate us. Ooooh scary!

Look Al Qaeda in no way represents a threat to our ultimate existence. They can hurt us but not even on the same scale as the Soviets could or Nazi Germany or 18th century Britain. Even if they acquired a nuclear weapon and detonated it in the heart of New York city the US would keep on chugging. And if they did it in Washington we'd be better off in the long run (joke!).

All this Hyperbole about this being a dangerous time for the US is simply untrue. We have exactly no enemies at the moment who pose any real threat to our existence. The fact that politicians keep trying to portrait minor threats as major is a clue that they are relying on scare tactics to get us to do things we wouldn't when we are thingking with our brain and not our pituitary.

Devang said...

This is one (of many) problems with trying to operate a democracy at this scale. The energy required to keep the voters aware and approving of your actions is prohibitive.

Democracy tends to work very well at small scales but at large scales the inefficiencies are terrible.


Even with technologies like the internet, TV, Radio, and the good old printing press?? The average person is drowning in communication technology, cellphones, PDA's etc...

I tend to agree with thesis made in the book The wisdom of crowds, that diversity is good, in both big or small groups. Even if smaller groups or a person are more efficient, but then we have all this technology to make bigger groups just as efficient as small ones.

Devang said...

I will post comments with completely correct grammar one of these days...

Jay D. Homnick said...

IBM: Insightful, Broad, Mordant.

American enough?

Thanks, Tom. I would give you a smile but I look funny with my eyebrows singed off.

Tlaloc said...

"Even with technologies like the internet, TV, Radio, and the good old printing press?? The average person is drowning in communication technology, cellphones, PDA's etc..."

Oh yes. Compare the "signal to noise ratio" today top that of say 200 years ago. Much worse. In this case I am calling empty entertainment 'noise' and actual information 'signal.' Sure we have 24 hour 'news' channels but for every one of those we have literally dozens of channels that exist solely to distract people from how miserable their world really is.

As the "Chicago" song says "Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle, Razzle Dazzle 'em."



"I tend to agree with thesis made in the book The wisdom of crowds, that diversity is good, in both big or small groups."

Sure but democracy has nothing to do with diversity. You can have a very diverse autocracy or a homogeneous Democracy.



"Even if smaller groups or a person are more efficient, but then we have all this technology to make bigger groups just as efficient as small ones."

Doesn't work. Our big groups are not as efficient. Work for a big company sometime, trust me it'll hit you in the face how inefficient they are compared to small competitors.

Devang said...

SNR? you're right, we need MIMO technology like the new wifi routers... :) If I can find what I'm looking for by using technorati or newsvine, why can't the average person? They Can, Things are more accessible than every before, it's just a matter of time before they do. The noise is a by product of capitalism, like bad food. McDonalds did stop growing once people realized so.

Yes, big groups are inefficient, but much better than IBM (and others) used to be in the old days, yet they still possess, accumulate, and spend vast amounts of resources. More efficiently today than ever before, thanks mostly to technology. Will the 'inherent' bureaucracy go away? Probably not. But then there is a reason why GE is considered a bell weather and not Honeywell, it's diversity. I'm not talking about corporate bureaucracy though, technology in the context of a large democracy I think can do more good than bad. Even when there are diverse thoughts. Diverse being the key word there.

Democracies do reduce intolerance, and thereby promote diversity, alteast locally, if not internationally. They might not do it perfectly, but I'd love to hear of an autocracy which doesn't have some intolerance built-in.

Tlaloc said...

"If I can find what I'm looking for by using technorati or newsvine, why can't the average person?"

Heh.
There's a pretty key difference between finding "what you are looking for" and finding out what you need to know to be an informed voter.

You just might find that a lot of the latter is stuff you'd much rather never know.



"They Can, Things are more accessible than every before, it's just a matter of time before they do."

Don't get me wrong. I loves me some internet. It's the shiznit, fo shizzle! But at the same time it's really not helping much to educate the masses. WHile it does make vast reams of information available it has also huge reams of misinformation. Sorting between the two groups is not trivial unfortunately.

And as before it has an enormous amount of vapid entertainment to distract from learning the issues (which I'm certainly as guilty as any of partaking).

A number of years ago Calvin and Hobbes (I think) had a cartoon that said basically:
"Television is the opiate of the masses"
"What does that mean?"
"It means Karl Marx hasn't seen aything yet."

Well as television was an evolutionary step beyond religions so to is the internet a step beyond the passive entertainment of television. We are invited to participate in our own co-option!

Heh.



"Democracies do reduce intolerance, and thereby promote diversity, alteast locally, if not internationally."

I'm not seeing the evidence for that. What democracies do is to maintain a tyranny of the majority. And that may be preferable to tyranny of the minority or individual but it's still nothing to get all that excited over.