December 30, 2003

The Incumbent's Advantage

I've never cared much for Dick Morris, but I have to give him credit. This piece in the New York Post makes a lot of sense.

An incumbent president tends to catalyze opposite reactions among the moderates and the extremists in the opposition party. Because he is adopting policies which help the nation and echo the demands of the broad center, he attracts moderates in the other party. But as he pursues the core policies of his own party, he generally triggers greater hostility from the true believers on the other side.

Thus, President Bill Clinton's policies of reforming welfare and balancing the budget attracted moderates among Independents and Republicans. But his position on core Democratic issues like gun control and abortion drove the right-wing extremists crazy.

Characters like Dick Morris are master manipulators. The Democrats, the wingnuts I should say, like the Clinton-haters before them, are letting themselves be played like flutes.
In the Clinton White House, we consciously used this theory to help the right dominate the Republican Party so that the centrists throughout America would vote to re-elect the Democratic president.
Karl Rove is a smart man. I'm sure he consciously uses this, too.

It only works because the leftists (like the right-wingers in the 1990s) go along with it.

angrydean.jpg

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 30, 2003 11:59 PM
Comments

As far as I can tell, I'm screwed. I've been exploring this, in my own limited way, on my site. I can't trust Dean, and I think it's becoming true that I can't trust Bush. So when it comes down to them, I feel like I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't in the classic sense.

Lieberman is my man: Socially on top of things, for the most part, centrist, hawkish on Iraq, just like me, and seems to "get it" when it comes to the war on terror.

I'm no Totten, but I've begun to think about these subjects in depth lately and jotting preliminary thouoghts down on my site. It's helping me to refine and understand where the collision of my beliefs and logic leave me in terms of my political "spectrum."

Can there ever be a Centrist Party? Can we ever eject the wingnuts and the super christians from their respective political parties?

Posted by: Scotty The Body at December 31, 2003 06:41 AM

P.S. Mr. Totten, I've been getting some serious mileage in my political debates from ideas and links contained in your site. So thanks for that!

Posted by: Scotty The Body at December 31, 2003 06:42 AM

The similarities between the frothing anti-Clintonites and the anti-Bushies are striking in the extreme.

What I always find amusing is that the anti-Clintonites argued that the American people, by accepting Bill's being a horndog, were immoral. Now the anti-Bushies argue that the sheeple are stupid and racist.

And then both sides wonder why Americans would like to pelt them with rocks.

Posted by: Percy Dovetonsils at December 31, 2003 07:05 AM

To associate the rabid people who are driving the Democrats off a cliff with the term "wingnut", while trivial in a larger sense, is nevertheless brilliant in a small way, in that I've never seen it used outside of the meaning (right-)wing-nut.

I'll remember this.

It's true, the wingnuts on the left are currently having a greater effect.

Posted by: Mike Smith at December 31, 2003 08:05 AM

Is Howard Dean really that short?

Posted by: Brian Swisher at December 31, 2003 08:47 AM

Can there ever be a Centrist Party?

Probably not, because centrists tend not to be activists. They also tend not to agree with each other about everything, though they're okay with that.

My father is a centrist Republican and we disagree about a lot of things. But politely.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 31, 2003 08:48 AM

Is Howard Dean really that short?

Yep. Five eight or so.

As for the rest of this, whatever. Ignoring the Governor's superb domestic record because he thinks the Iraq war was a terrible way to protect American security interests is a bad way to make decisions, in my opinion.

Posted by: Kimmitt at December 31, 2003 11:02 AM

Kimmitt,

I think a Dean presidency would be a terrible way to protect America's security interests. But I don't have much of a problem with his domestic agenda, so there we are.

Anyway, you know as well as I do that the Deaniacs are not rallying around him because of his moderately liberal (and, I think, quite reasonable) domestic agenda.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 31, 2003 11:26 AM

MJT, you used a doctored photo of Dean. Here's the real photo.

Posted by: Bleeding heart conservative at December 31, 2003 01:13 PM

That's one angry looking white male.

Posted by: David at December 31, 2003 02:20 PM

Having a fine domestic agenda while doing a terrible job with national security is arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Maybe we need Democratic governors and Republican national leaders. Their respective charters would be think locally, act locally, and think globally, act globally.

Posted by: Fred Boness at December 31, 2003 03:23 PM

Anyway, you know as well as I do that the Deaniacs are not rallying around him because of his moderately liberal (and, I think, quite reasonable) domestic agenda.

Um, actually, I don't know that. People come to Dean because they shared his opinion regarding the Iraq war. They stay for the substance and the record. Otherwise, why Dean and not Kucinich?

Posted by: Kimmitt at December 31, 2003 06:48 PM

People come to Dean because they shared his opinion regarding the Iraq war.

That's what I meant. Maybe they stay for some other reasons, but that isn't the draw.

why Dean and not Kucinich?

Probably because he's an extremist who rants about imperialism and mind control satellites.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 31, 2003 07:45 PM

Democrats are allowing themselves to be dominated by angry, left-wing extremists, as evidenced by the fact that the current frontrunner is angry, but not a left-wing extremist.

And you're upset about this because no one should be angry at Bush 43's overall policies given that Bush conquered Iraq, as the conquest of Iraq is more important than everything else combined. Nothing else matters -- not a failure to safeguard Russia's nuclear stockpiles, not a ballooning budget deficit, not the resurgence of the Taliban and the ongoing freedom of Osama bin Laden, not the likelihood of Islamic extremists gaining access to Pakistani nuclear weapons, not the relentless assault on the air we breathe, the civil protections we need, or the intelligence community upon which we rely. None of these matter, because the magic talisman, the decision to invade Iraq, independent of the consequences of that decision, is Bush's.

Posted by: Kimmitt at December 31, 2003 10:15 PM

Kimmitt,

On what grounds do you think Dean would do a better job than Bush on Russia's nuclear stockpiles, capturing OBL, combatting the Taliban and protecting Pakistan, given Dean's stated inclination to ask the UN for permission to act, his nonexistent national security experience, his weak national security advisers, his questionable judgment, and his inclination to ignore his advisors and act impulsively?

Posted by: Fredrik Nyman at December 31, 2003 10:44 PM

Dean's stated inclination to ask the UN for permission to act,

Cite, please. And include the two sentences around it, rather than the one out-of-context statement that looks like what you wish it were.

his nonexistent national security experience,

...and yet, he has the same position as General Wesley Clark, a man with profound national security experience, on most issues. So obviously he must either have good instincts or be an excellent study.

his weak national security advisers,

Do you mean weak as in, "have relatively little experience in the area," or weak as in, "don't agree with me"?

his inclination to ignore his advisors and act impulsively?

Bush has lowered the bar so far that we no longer expect independent judgement of our Presidents, just the capacity to take decent advice without fouling it up too badly while passing it through the filters.

Mostly, though, I trust Dean because he has actually said that he would make those things a priority, as versus Bush who has explicitly said that he will not. I note the absence of argument on the environmental, civil rights, and intelligence issues; I will take this as a desire to table the issue rather than an implicit concession of Dean's superiority there for now.

Posted by: Kimmitt at January 1, 2004 04:20 AM

Actually, I'm drawn to Dean precisely because of his domestic agenda. Same with most of the people I know. When they talk about the election, they talk about health care, education, and progressive tax policies. So there you have it. No group of people can be characterized so broadly or simplistically. And as someone pursuing an MS in education, I am horrified and disgusted by Bush's No Child Left Behind. More than I can possibly say here.

You should think more deeply about the implications of Morris's argument. He misses a lot about human psychology and autonomy. Yes, people can be manipulated, but they are not passive beings, tied by tight strings to political puppet masters. They are autonomous, and they formulate actions and beliefs in myriad complex ways. If you really believe that people act so passively, then you must also believe that they are not autonomous, or that they are incapable of indpendent thought.

Use advertising as a metaphor. Advertising attempts to manipulate our desires and emotions. But when we decide to buy a particular product, are we really just "reacting?" Or do we have some active participation in our own decision? If we are just being manipulated, then I guess we have no responsibility for our savings, health, consumption levels, and credit rating. Of course, that would be utterly ridiculous. As is Morris's argument (on the level of assumption, anyway).

That said, there is some truth to the idea that people tend to define movements "against" something. It's basic political theory. Have you read "The Concept of the Political" by Carl Schmidt? You really should. It would shed light on this. (Schmidt is a complicated figure - he joined the Nazi party after writing this book. But his political theory still has value for abstract thinking).

It's not necessarily bad to react against an agenda you oppose. A lot of good can come from that. (It's why we have an adversarial law system, for example. You get more complexities - a better defense and prosecution - when you have opposing sides).

I am not a flute. I am a person. Any characterization to the contrary is another form of manipulation ...

Posted by: karrie at January 1, 2004 11:16 AM

PS: That Schmidt book I mentioned is also very interesting in light of current events around the world. It's fairly abstract political theory. I read it several years ago for a class about German art and political thought. Anyway, it's interesting because it attempts to account for the motivations and drives that spur political belief and action. Interesting stuff. Of course, there are other great books that completely destroy Schmidt's arguments. Many people won't acknowledge or read Schmidt because he later joined the Nazi party, and I can certainly understand their reasons. I haven't read any of his other writings. This book, however, is interesting just in terms of thinking about how movements get defined, and how individuals get activated. Especially if you disagree with it, because then you get all fired up to develop your own argument. And, of course, it's interesting in the context of thinking about Nazi Germany (which is why I was assigned it).

Posted by: karrie at January 1, 2004 11:49 AM

Karrie: I am not a flute. I am a person.

Yes, Karrie, and you are also my friend. So I can say with a great deal of certainty that you are more thoughtful about this than most people. I have several Howard Dean supporters on my blogroll, not just you, and I wouldn't put any of them in the reactionary category either.

Not everyone who supports Howard Dean is a reactionary, nor was everyone who supported Bob Dole or the first president Bush a reactionary. They don't need to be in order for people like Dick Morris and Karl Rove to manipulate elections. Elections can be decided by less than one percent.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 1, 2004 12:07 PM

Ah, yes. Good point about that "one percent." So true.

(And by the way - can you believe this snow? What is up with that? It's crazy!)

Posted by: karrie at January 1, 2004 01:29 PM

(And by the way - can you believe this snow? What is up with that? It's crazy!)

I am happy. We don't get enough snow here in the valley. I've outside playing in it all day. What a great New Year treat!

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at January 1, 2004 03:56 PM

That pic is classic. I think someone needs to add a bubble saying "Bush Knew!" :)

Posted by: Green Baron at January 1, 2004 06:42 PM

Because he is adopting policies which help the nation and echo the demands of the broad center

...and there's the rub when it comes to G-Dubs. It's one thing to appear to help the nation, but it's quite another to actually enact policies that will do so. Bush's recent announced intention to halve the deficit in five years is Exhibit A.

I've actually met Dick Morris, and I find him to be disgusting. He spoke to my seminar about the potential of email to allow political campaigns to say one thing to one group and the opposite to another group. He appears to lack any principles whatsoever.

Posted by: praktike at January 2, 2004 08:31 PM

He [Dick Morris appears to lack any principles whatsoever.

I agree. He worked for Bill Clinton and Trent Lott at the same time, for cryin' out loud.

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