Chicago-style politics means you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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230 Responses

  1. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Great post, Erik.  What I’d like to know, as much as who creates the soundbite words, is this: To what degree are those that parrot them – on the inside as well as out – aware that they are part of] the meme incubation process?  Is it a conscious thing where Sean Hannity says to himself, “New word!  Better talk to the writers and make sure they pepper this through today’s show.”  Or have they all just become so used to listening for the repeated phrase so they can repeat it themselves that it just happens organically now?

    I think it might be the latter, which would actually explain why they are so good at the politics and not good at all at the governing.


    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Tod, this is a terrific insight. It sort of finishes the argument in a sense. I think you may be right. On another level, I think there are those who do understand what’s going on and pursue it strategically, and there are those who simply parrot what’s being said without thinking. I think it’s this complimentary set of actions that makes it all work so well.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Yeah, this sounds right.  It also suggests that (oh boy, I’m glad TVD is on opiates right now, he’d have a field day taking me to task for what I’m about to say) part of their problem with movement conservatism is that they’ve insulated themselves in a pretty thick cocoon of people that don’t think.  (As opposed to liberals, where it sometimes seems that there are so many thinkers that it’s hard to get any cohesive direction for a sustained period of time.)

        I was listening to the regional FOX guy while driving today, and he was arguing pretty strongly for not letting independents vote in the GOP primary, and one of the things he said that proceed my ears was that when you let outsiders in they started using the wrong words – I think the phrase he used was “words that true conservatives don’t use when discussing the issues” – that confused the voting public.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          The Thinking Conservatives have only themselves to blame for this. They toss the red meat out plenty because they know it burns hot and bright.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          It’s not quite that they don’t think. It’s an authoritarian mindset — where the worst enemy is indecision, and the next worst is gray morality.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          part of their problem with movement conservatism is that they’ve insulated themselves in a pretty thick cocoon of people that don’t think.

          No they think. They’ve expended tremendous amounts of energy forming and sustaining conspiracy theories and alternate realities, so they’re perfectly capable of thinking. It’s a resistance to evidence that defines them. Well, that and a political theory which is totally circumscribed by defeating librul Democrats on the purely political level. But other than that, they think fine.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      I believe they are quite conscious of their role and believe themselves to be fulfilling a mission in so doing. We’ve been trained — not just those of us on the right — to consider a pithy zinger to be a coup de grâce in any political or even quasi-political conversation. Logically, it is not; to be glib is not necessarily to be right. But if you play the “Team Red versus Team Blue” game, then as a good member of the team, it is part of your job as a footsoldier to deploy zingers so as to deny the other team the legitimacy, acceptability, appeal, or power of their own initiatives. One-liners and code phrases are easy ways to do that, and consequently, you can be Part Of The Big Team by disseminating them.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

        Do you consider yourself to be “of the right” Burt?Report

        • Avatar Wardsmith says:

          If burt is “of the right” I think I need a new dictionary. And I Love Burt!Report

          • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

            Right, so some phrasing in Burt’s comment had me raising my eyebrows a little…Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko says:

              Well, it’s not just people “on the right” who mistake a zinger for a good argument.

              E.g., Lloyd Bentsen says Dan Quayle is no Jack Kennedy. Effective politics, but I never thought that was a fair cop.

              E.g., John Kerry says George W. Bush “outsourced” a chance to get Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora. Also not a fair cop.

              E.g., pretty much the entire contents of any Michael Moore movie.Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

            Burt’s on the ‘right?’ I snorted coffee on that one!Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          No. I did as a very young man, but I found myself unconsciously thining of movement conservatives as “they” instead of “we” during the Clinton impeachment, an affair I found to be not only distasteful but corrosive to the nation — not to mention predictably counterproductive and doomed to failure.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

          Burt’s on the ‘right?’ Hello, hello….!Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Here’s my problem with this theory…  When I think of all the various mouthpieces of any party, including the GOP, I think “enormous ego.”  If it’s not relatively organic and unconscious at this point, why aren’t they constantly pissing on each other about who’s catchy new phrase to use?Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Frank Luntz is well known for his focus group research. Finding the newest and bestest phrase is all part of that. If your gig is to bloviate for hours per day there is time to get every bodies catch phrase in there, then you just see what the horde repeats.


        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          There’s enough red meat for all to feast per their appetites.Report

    • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

      I’m not sure Hannity’s capable of anything except repeating buzzwords.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      The process is not all that hard to understand.   Let’s take this website apart at the seams and build a lexicon of every word ever used here, with some search parameters by date.   For each unique word encountered, I will increment a counter on the lexicon, then sort out the words on a frequency distribution, discarding the most common words, searching for words and combinations of words, especially proper names.

      Word frequency order in the English language is then compared against the word frequency order here.   Certain words will stand out, especially when searches can be compared against each other.   Trending phrases are trivial to spot and it’s entirely possible to trace a meme’s propagation these days.   Blogs are so incestuous, the domain problem is surprisingly limited.


  2. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Good Lord.   When the auto industry was getting bailed out, Clint Eastwood was bein’ all Tough Guy and saying those bailouts were a bad idea.

    I’m glad Chrysler paid Eastwood enough money to make him eat his words.   Every man has his price.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      I’m never one to hold past opinions against people. We should change our views with time, evidence, such-and-such. Maybe it’s money, but I doubt Eastwood is hurting for cash.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Eastwood ought to keep his own counsel.   He’s been a mayor for a while.   Though it’s possible for a man to change his mind, I find nothing will change that mind so much or as fast as Cash Money.   It happened to Ronald Reagan and it’s now happening to Clint Eastwood.  Reagan parlayed his Rugged Good Looks and avuncular voice talents to telling this country Socialized Medicine would turn us all into Rabid Communists in exchange for a big fat check from the AMA

        Eastwood has opened his mouth, only to exchange feet.   Yeah.   He’s always been a better actor when his lines have been short and he gets to do a lot of grimacing and chewing on things.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          Never doubt the power of money – I agree. But I’m still not seeing it here. Eastwood is mixed-bag when it comes to politics. Money may have nudged him but there’s more to it.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            You’re probably right.  Eastwood is also a piano player.  I’m given to understand ;he’s pretty good, jazz mostly;.

            Jazz is improvisation but it’s mostly progressions.  I’m a piano player too.   It’s relaxing to play jazz piano, providing the chords upon which the soloist can swing.   Bill Evans is my idea of a piano player.   Dave Brubeck is Eastwood’s idea of a piano player and that tells me a lot about the man.

            Eastwood’s a mirage, a Libertarian Without a Clue.   Strictly from commercial.  Endorsed spokesmen are not to be believed.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew says:

              Wait, what are you saying about Brubeck here?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Brubeck could never read a score.  Though a wonderful player, Brubeck was a functionally illiterate musician.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                He’s alive and I think playing. I’ve got some formal classical music performance training myself, and I honestly feel that if the playing is that good it is really neither here nor there that he can’t read music.  For the listener, which is who Eastwood understands that he is, I don’t see why it should remotely reflect on him that he would have Brubeck as his idea of a piano player.  Presumably Eastwood is saying whose music he enjoys most, not making any claim about piano playing greatness. (I could be wrong about that but I kind of doubt it).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Look, I can’t explain it effectively.   It’s sorta like what Frank Zappa said:  “sometimes you can’t write a chord ugly enough so you have to resort to a plastic giraffe stuffed with whipped cream.”Report

              • Avatar karl says:

                Sounds like Zappa also couldn’t explain it effectively.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Let’s put it in really, really simple terms.   Clint Eastwood is an actor who would really like to be a musician.   He can limp along in 12 bar blues and can play sweet ‘n slow.   That’s nice.   That’s Brubeck’s schtick too and I like sweet ‘n slow.

                But it’s slow.   And Bill Evans it ain’t.    Art Tatum it ain’tLyle Mays it ain’t.  Now I am very sorry to sound like such a jackass but Clint Eastwood is a fanboi.   He has written a few little things for his movies and that’s also very nice in its own way.

                Clint Eastwood stuck his neck out and said bailing out Detroit was a bad idea.   Guess what, if piano players always stick to the keys they know they seldom if ever hit a wrong note.    The 2008 disaster was best handled by people who knew just a little more about the world economy than some jackass film actor and jazz fanboi.    Take a seat, Clint.   You’re out of your league.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Let me revise that a bit.   Brubeck learned to write music, much later in life, but he famously graduated from College of the Pacific without the ability to read a musical score.   He had to promise never to teach piano to get his degree.  Brubeck was an odd amalgam of classical riffs and jazz sensibilities but he was soooo serious about the music he made, as Duke Ellington got older, he got the same way.

                Clint Eastwood loves jazz, no doubt about that.   His biopic Bird about Charlie Parker is probably as good a picture as we’ll ever have of him.   But there’s something terribly final about the way Eastwood approaches jazz, something inherently wrong in his approach, very difficult to explain.   Eastwood mummified Bird.   Enjoy the music, forget the rest of that flick because Eastwood got the biography completely, utterly wrong.   A celluloid hero gone in search of musical heroes, Eastwood’s succumbed to the worst instincts of the fan.   Adulation is not really respect.   I don’t mean to criticize Eastwood, I’ve gone in search of Thelonius Monk and Bill Evans and Lyle Mays.   I wish there were other ways of explaining how deadening adulation can be, what a disservice we do to art in making heroes of artists.   Their greatness lies in what they give us.

                Eastwood’s become an icon, beyond our ability to judge him for good or ill.   If anyone else had done that Chrysler ad, we wouldn’t be talking about it.   If I sense there’s some fatally compromised logic between Eastwood’s previous stands on what’s wrong with America and this astonishing bit of volte-face, the musician in me knows but cannot explain the cheap falsity therein contained.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith says:

            Clintwood 😉 gave an interview where he stated the money went to charity. He also said in a letter that as far as he was concerned Obama or anyone else could use it if they wanted.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Puh-leeze.   Clint Eastwood is presently puckering up those famous lips and applying suction to Fox’s ass so the unctuous bearded prophet types won’t denounce him from their pulpits.

              The very goddamn idea, that we’d let Detroit go under.   Fact is, Bush43 started all those bailouts and Eastwood was dead set against ’em at the time.   And said so.  Very loudly.   With all the gravitas he’d garnered from all those films he’d done.   That Eastwood now gives his Chrysler money to charity, well, there’s an old Japanese kotowaza  he wo hitte, shiri tsubome, trying to pinch your butt cheeks together after you’ve farted.   The GOP has pitched this Gloom ‘n Doom and Obama’s a Kenyan Socialist bullsh*t for so long that any acknowledgement of reality is now viewed as an endorsement for Obama.Report

  3. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Hey!  You know what we should do?  We should try to come up with some brand new catchphrases for the right to use, and see if we can enter them into the base’s lexicon!  That would be awesome.


  4. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    I’d find it hard to believe that a lot of the buzzword repetitions are not largely orchestrated at some level.  The initiators know that we’re more repeating animals than rational animals, and very tribal animals at that.  I include myself in this description.  I frequently realize that I’m passionate about a position or idea to which I haven’t given two-second’s reflection.  There’s power to be gained and money to be made by controlling the language.  You control the language, and you harness reality itself.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Yes, it feels very much like a soft-propaganda. But where does this coordination occur? Who plans and who just goes along unwittingly? Who pulls strings and who is a useful idiot?Report

      • Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

        We could probably get an idea by following the history of the prominent buzzwords.  This sounds like a project for Conor Friedersdorf.


      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        Oh, come now gentlemen, surely you’ve figured it out by now.


        Muh ha.


        (pets white cat)Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        It doesn’t need to be coordinated; somebody comes up with something, others say ‘oh that sounds good’ and repeats it.  It propagates like any other meme, like lolcats.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        There doesnt need to be any kind of overt coordination, just a kind of market failure in the marketplace of ideas.

        In public discourse, since most people want to believe that they have the truth with the least cost, the ideas that win out are the ones that have the most intuitive appeal. Such zingers, whether or not they are accurate are the most intuitively appealing.

        The usage patterns are also telling. Look at the demographics of who the most politically involved are among blues and reds. The blues are more demographically heterogenous than the reds. The reds (whether or not they are ideologically more or less heterogenoues than the blues) will have more in common vis a vis culture than the blues likely to get involved in politics.

        What this means is that two randomly picked people from team red are more likely to find the same memes intuitive than 2 randomly picked people from team blue. This means that the same set of zingers are going to appeal to team red more widely than any equivalent set are for team blue.

        I wouldnt attribute to malice what could be attributed to stupidity.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Stupidity rarely comes with a heavy purse.

          The saying is follow the money for a reason.Report

          • Avatar Murali says:

            individual stupidity when it comes to political beliefs doesnt have a downside. Your vote is inconsequential. Even if you bothered to inform yourself everyone else will still vote the same way they do. And since your vote makes at most an extremely miniscule difference (the  number is so small that google throws back a 0) there is no benefit to getting yourself informed and lots of cost in terms of time, effort and psychic costs as well (accepting a counter-intuitive theory). i.e. Since few people seek the truth for its own sake, if settling for an intuitive falsehood is cheaper than trying to understand counter-intuitive truths, then the falsohhod is what they will “purchace”

            So, one type of intuitive theory is the conspiracy theory. Attributing apparent coordination to the work of a conspiracy rather than the market is a vaery intuitive move, but it is often wrong.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              individual stupidity when it comes to political beliefs doesnt have a downside. Your vote is inconsequential.

              That assumes that the only relevant consideration about political beliefs is voting in isolation. But political beliefs permeate not only a person’s personality, they influence other people insofar as those beliefs seem correct. Political beliefs, just like ‘galtian individualism’ or ‘entreprenurial spritit’ don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist in a culture of reciprocity and communalism, even if the extent of those terms are subject to dispute.Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                But political beliefs permeate not only a person’s personality, they influence other people insofar as those beliefs seem correct. Political beliefs, just like ‘galtian individualism’ or ‘entreprenurial spritit’ don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist in a culture of reciprocity and communalism, even if the extent of those terms are subject to dispute.

                I’m not sure that this contradicts anything I say. Talking about individual incentives still makes sense even if we account for this.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Ahh, yes. You’re right! If people believe false things, then there isn’t a downside for them. At least wrt the primary belief. Good point!

                (This is a bit of an OIC! moment for me in understanding your views.)Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        But where does this coordination occur? Who plans and who just goes along unwittingly? Who pulls strings and who is a useful idiot?

        If you come to a concise explanation of this, Erik, be sure to post it. This really seems like the most important question we all face, no? Not only who plans and orchestrates it, but why they do.Report

  5. Avatar b-psycho says:

    Liberty, I think, is not such an easy word to define.

    FSM knows I’ve tried:

    “The thing that distinguishes humans from other animals (aside from awareness of our mortality) is the ability to think about & control our actions, rather than operate off of instinct alone. From that, to me liberty is the degree to which a person maintains the control over their life & their environment that they’re naturally capable of.”


    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      I think a discussion of language and liberty would be fascinating, especially in light of your definition. If liberty is defined as a particular level of autonomy or control, and language is key in determining how we understand what portions of our existence are within our control, then liberty depends heavily on language itself.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      This is an interesting concept, b-psycho, and worth further contemplation.

      My initial thought is, “against whom is this control asserted?” The government? Other individuals? Nature, whether external or internal? Something in your definition suggests that acting in a liberated fashion is somehow counter to intuition, so that’s why I’m considering nature as a potentially internal constraint on behavior.

      But this will be the idea I muse tonight as I chase sleep, likely unsuccessfully.Report

      • Avatar b-psycho says:

        Arguably, it could be expressed as against any of those, to the extent that they impose some state that swings the pendulum towards fight-or-flight type reaction as opposed to the use of reason.  My primary thought is against institutions, state or otherwise, made up of of other people claiming authority to override the result of others’ reason though, in that these are what most people deal with in real life when it comes to the question of liberty vs the lack of it.  The point behind impositions intended to require a certain course of action is essentially to preempt thinking for one self — “do this Because I Said So!”, with mere consideration of Why seen as a form of rebellion.

        In other words: Descartes said “I think, therefore I am”. I say w/r/t human freedom “I act because I think” marks its ideal.

        Reaction against nature is a slightly different issue though.  We may be thinking, self-observant naked apes, but there are lines that if crossed are counterproductive to survival.  The thing is, it takes the use of reason to discern them beyond the blatantly obvious “don’t walk off cliffs” type.  I get the feeling this is why the environment is such a thorny internal issue for libertarian types — some basically say “lets try everything” while others (typically the ones coming at it from the anti-state Left, like myself) suspect we have in practice subsidized walking off the aforementioned cliff and should simply stop doing so.


        • Avatar Michael Drew says:

          I tend to be a defender of some form of free will against complete free-will deniers (among other things I think that a consistent, convincing illusion of free will would constitute a meaningful form of real free will “of a variety worth wanting” for purposes of discussion, and, often, for purposes of moral accountability); but I do have to step in here to say that I think that the extent of control of humans’ action by their intent that you portrayed in the picture of liberty you paint here (if I am perceiving it right) is shown by experiment to be almost certainly illusory at this point, unless I am very mistaken about the state of the research.Report

  6. Avatar DarrenG says:

    As to where the buzz phrases originate and how they’re propagated, the two names that come to mind are Leo Strauss and Frank Luntz.

    Politics-by-catchphrase is very much embedded in Republican politics due to Strauss, and there’s a large, well-funded market research operation in the hands of guys like Luntz that figures out which bumper sticker slogans work best and should be fed to the noise machine.

    My current favorite is “Alinskyite” and its variants. I’m guessing no more than half of the bobbleheads using the term or 5% of their audience know the first thing about Saul Alinsky.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Oh gosh, how could I leave out Strauss? I feel bad enough not giving a shout-out to Luntz.Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Hell right wingers talk about Alinsky far more then lefties have in 40 years. Lord knows i had never heard of him.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        Yeah Greg, I’m sure the Clintons never heard of him. Obama neither. Nothing to see here, move along little boy, move along.Report

        • Avatar DarrenG says:

          Way to miss the point in such a way as to reinforce it.

          As reasonably highly educated people Obama and the Clintons are no doubt familiar with the ideas of many people. That’s a far cry from being controlled marionette-like from beyond the grave by one of them as Newt and the noise machine would have it.

          The idea that familiarity with a philosophy or philosopher implies slave-like devotion to it is exactly the sort of bafflingly
          pernicious nonsense that constant repetition of mindless catch phrases is meant to inspire.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          I’ve heard of Stalin; I guess I’m a Stalinist.

          I have an acquaintance who’s a Straussian, and I’ve had a few long talks with him at various conferences.  I guess I’m a Straussian.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:


          This is about as sensical as saying that my friend, who worked for newt gingrich (among others), is in fact in control of the democratic party. In fact, it’s less sensible, by a lot.

          Alinsky’s dead, and if he was alive today, he wouldn’t be the person you’d want to look to, to do anything.

          I’d rather see a Franklin then another Alinsky. Those who work with their hands, creating new things, are better qualified to serve and lead — than lawyers, at any rate!Report

        • Avatar Liberty60 says:

          I have followed politics pretty closely since the Watergate era, and never heard of Alinsky.

          But now that I have heard his name about a gazillion times, I am intrigued enough to buy “Rules for Radicals” and read it.

          I’m sure the Alinsky estate is grateful for the marketing efforts of Fox News.



  7. Avatar b-psycho says:

    BTW: anyone else find it funny how they go from “Chicago style politics!” to “Un-American!” and back like it’s nothing?  It’s like they have so many lines they want to throw out that they’re just spraying them all at once.

    Even worse, the things on which the Obama Administration has actually been thuggish on are denounced as being wimpy appeasement.  A drone strike could hit an orphanage and any GOPer not named Ron Paul would gripe that troops weren’t sent in afterwards to club to death any survivors.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Ya. Thing is? Chicago style politics has Chicago style muckrakers.

      You don’t know anything about Alabama politics, or West Virginia, or Alaska politics — cause it’s all under wraps.Report

  8. Avatar wardsmith says:

    Long ago on these hallowed pages I said Obama was in thrall to his speechwriters (actually I believe I said he was letting his speechwriters run the country). There were recent posts concerning dog whistles and what “Reagan” meant when he said, “young strapping buck” and how that has been transliterated into “big black buck” by those whose hearing needs a bit of tuning. We don’t even need a Major Matt Mason decoder ring to decipher (D) Wallace’s statement, “You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.”

    But let’s cut straight to the chase. Politicians today rarely if ever tell us their thoughts. Bush’s handlers decided he couldn’t be trusted in interviews and he gave fewer than any other president in the modern era, until that is BHO took the stand. We continue to labor under the illusion that our politicians are talking to us at all, when in fact they are merely parroting lines given them by their speechwriters and ordered like actors following the director’s cues to stay on point no matter what. Reagan was an actor, we can all be enthralled by the performance but who was behind the scenes pulling the strings? Who is the author writing the leading man’s part?Report

    • Avatar DarrenG says:

      This has been the case with Presidents going back to at least JFK.

      I think that’s a different issue than what Erik is raising, though, which is the amazing ability of modern Republican politics to generate slogans, strip their words of their original meaning, and propagate them widely through The Faithful.Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

      WS, I’m sure you’ll be interested in the new book coming out about Renaldo Magnus’s experiences as pres of the screen actors guild and the Hollywood Stalinists.

      I was hoping E.D. might do a post on Barry’s assault on the Catholics?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:


      If you can find a cheap used copy of Michael Nelson’s The Presidency and the Political System, there’s a chapter on “The Presidential Spectacle,” that’s very relevant to what you’re talking about.  And in David Gergen’s Eyewitness to Power he has a telling story about Gerald Ford.  Sometime after Ford left the presidency he was preparing to give a speech and sent Gergen a copy to review and comment on.  Gergen found it very well-written, but with fairly complex sentences, and offered to rewrite it for Ford in his (Ford’s) style; i.e., simplify it.  Turns out Ford himself had written it, and all the speeches his speechwriters wrote for him as president underestimated his speaking abilities, and perhaps his thinking abilities, too.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        James, you sure /you/ don’t want to do the guest post? Here’s the thing, I already know what’s in my head, I’m always overjoyed to find out what’s in youse guys heads. 😉Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        James, you’re right. Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of an American President.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      We continue to labor under the illusion that our politicians are talking to us at all, when in fact they are merely parroting lines given them by their speechwriters and ordered like actors following the director’s cues to stay on point no matter what.

      But your claim about Bush seems to refudiate that conclusion. Or if not, at least imply that Bush was too stoopid or willful to parrot the company line.

      Some politicians are out of touch with what they identify as their constituency. Others actually try to speak to their constituency. Eg., is Rand Paul ‘handled’?Report

  9. Avatar Will Truman says:

    This thread is hilarious.Report

  10. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    To answer Erik’s main question:

    Frank Luntz, mostly?  What I find interesting is that the Luntz-to-Romney-campaign nexus seems to be so ruptured:

    “The president seeks to fundamentally transform this country into something we perhaps wouldn’t recognize.”

    “This President takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe.”

    He doesn’t call him a socialist, and (on some readings of the word), credit to him for that (though there are readings of the word available that I think make it a perfectly valid description, and I think people should feel free to use it – the problem is that at this point using the word elicits enough response that you then have to explain what sense of the term you mean when you use it, at which point people find out that they are pretty cool with what it substantively refers to on that reading – things like public retirement systems and health care subsidization).

    But is what he is saying effective on a political level?  I’m not sure, but I can kind of see Luntz’s face scrunching up in cringes at these tripping-on-the-tongue phrases.  But then again, I’ve thought that about most of the effective conservative catch phrases of recent cycles before the time in the campaigns in which they became effective arrived.  But I have my doubts about these as well.

    In any case, just remember, my friend(s): Corporations are people. (And they are; the question is, should they be persons?)Report

  11. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    …By the way, I’m with Rove on the substance here to the extent the facts are the way he is perceiving/portraying them.  I just think that extent is pretty dubious.  If this were an endorsement of Obama’s auto-industry policy that was meant to help him electorally, this ad would be disturbing.   But to me it seems like they’re trying to sell cars (which is what I think it should be assumed they are trying to do absent evidence to the contrary).Report

  12. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    …As to “Chicago-style-politics” in this context, I really think this is political strategists and pundits talking to each other.  Does anyone not steeped in what is meant by the phrase on  the Right know what the heck he is saying by labeling this ad with that term?  Maybe I’m an outlier, but it just sounds like a generic-if-reliable Chicago-Democrats-Obama-Bad epithet to me, even here where clearly Rove thinks this is a paradigmatic case of what he means by the term.  Do lower-info voters get it?  This is not to say it’s ineffective; they could just use the term in reference to nothing and it probably is somewhat effective.  But do people get what the connection here is supposed to be?  I don’t, really.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Older people — that is, people old enough to remember Kennedy’s election, at least — know precisely what it means. And that is Fox’s audience, after all.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      the connection is that he’s from chicago. and a democrat. neverMIND that he didn’t work for Madigan, and that he’s from the liberal part anyhow.Report

  13. Avatar Brandon says:

    Btw, since when are bailouts exclusively under the rubric of “Chicago-style politics”?  Haven’t BOTH SIDES of the aisle bailed out quite a few public and private institutions over the years?  Bush bailed out Wall St. with divided gov’t.  Obama bailed out the automakers with unified gov’t.  Divided gov’t under Reagan bailed out the Savings and Loans in the ’80s. And so on…

    Btw, didn’t GEORGE W. BUSH start the auto bailouts??  Obama simply extended and expanded their reach and supposedly “nationalized” GM.Report

  14. Avatar Brandon says:

    And how come there’s only “Chicago-style” politics as an epithet?  What about “Detroit-style politics” or “New York-style politics” or the politics of ANY OTHER MAJOR CITY?  You’re telling me THEY don’t their own distinct ways of doing business, that Chicago government is somehow an ‘outlier’ and “far more corrupt” than the rest of the country??Report

  15. Avatar Brandon says:

    How about “Washington-style politics”, for a change?Report

  16. Avatar Ian M. says:

    I always thought “Chicago-style politics” was, at least in part, dog-whistle for Obama’s dark skin. Maybe I’m inferring where they aren’t implying. Weird, I’m feeling charitable today.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Chicago-style politics is supposed to mean dirty politics. It’s the politics of Richard Daley, for example, and the politics that supposedly got JFK elected. It’s politics of under the table deals, physical and political intimidation, working with unsavory characters (the mob, dirty union bosses, and the like), taking bribes, etc. The implication is, yet again, that Obama’s presidency and anything he accomplishes are illegitimate.

      By the way, Starz recently aired a 6-episode series on Chicago-style politics, starring Kelsey Grammer, of all people. It wasn’t bad. It’s called Boss.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Nope, I don’t hear any dog whistles here at all. The phrase invokes the first Mayor Richard Daley (a white guy at the top of a political machine made up of other white guys) and prohibition-era Mafia violence causing government to turn a blind eye to lawlessness (more white guys, this time with guns) and eventually dovetailing the interests of the violent with those of the corrupt.

      If Obama practices Chicago-style politics, then he’s corrupt, and he’s a thug. Race isn’t really a part of that particular equation.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        except it is. Somebody had a decent piece up about Massa Madigan… figure that should be enough to google.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Let me explain a little bit about Chicago-style politics.   Tell y’all a little story.

        I used to eat breakfast at a joint right across the street from my apartment.   The guy who owned it, Jeff, was a bastard.  DH and I watched him berate Sharon the head waitress, a lovely and kindly woman, until she burst into silent tears in front of the customers.  DH and I got up and left, swearing revenge.

        Joe was our ward heeler, an obese man with emphysema  with a dozen pens in the pocket of his never-tucked-in shirt.   He knew everyone.   So we talked to Joe about Jeff.   I mentioned Jeff had his dumpster out on the sidewalk and it would stink up Wells Street in the summertime.

        Next morning, I came out of my apartment to find Jeff shouting at a health inspector who was intent on removing Jeff’s dumpster from the sidewalk.    Charlie his chef (who made me the toughest steak I’ve ever been served in my life) was out there too.   The health inspector had his way and Jeff took his beatdown with howls of outrage.   But everyone in the neighbourhood knew about what Jeff had done to Sharon and what DH and I had done to Jeff.

        That’s Chicago politics, folks.   That’s all it is.   It’s a city of little neighbourhoods and it’s unwise to annoy the wrong people.Report

      • Avatar BSK says:

        This is what I believed to be true about the phrase.  However, I wonder… besides being from Chicago, what reason is there to link Obama with corruption?  That is a heavy claim to levy against a politician.  If there is nothing to substaniate it outside of living in the city, it is disgusting to use.Report

  17. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    I agreed with most of this post, but I take extreme exception to one thing:  You confused opposing government subsidies for opposing manufacturing.

    I guarantee you that even Karl Rove doesn’t oppose manufacturing.  He may oppose the subsidies for purely partisan reasons, and I’ll freely grant you that.  But to say that he opposes manufacturing is completely unjustified.

    Here.  Let’s try it this way:  Erik, I think you oppose puppies. Why?  Because you’re not asking the government for a subsidy.Report

  18. Avatar Michelle says:

    Since I’m coming in late to the game, I’m going to suggest an answer to the initial question E.D. posed: where does this stuff come from? I believe it’s largely coordinated within the Republican party then disseminated through their spokespods at Faux News and on the internets. Hell, they’ve even put out instruction manuals on how to do it.  Gingrich was one of the early masters. In the 1990s, his organization GOPAC put out a little memo called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” This memo was widely distributed to Republican officials and candidates and provided a list of keywords for Republican candidates to use when referring to Democrats. Its authors claimed that  “the words in that paper are tested language from a recent series of focus groups where we actually tested ideas and language.”

    Along the same Orwellian lines:

    As you know, one of the key points in the GOPAC tapes is that “language matters.” In the video “We Are a Majority,” Langauage is listed as akey mechanism of control used by a majority party, along with Agenda, Rules, Attitude and Learning. As the tapes have been used in training sessions across the country and mailed to candidates, we have heard a plaintive plea: “I wish I could speak like Newt.”

    That takes years of practice. But we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created this list of words and phrases.

    This list is prepared so that you might have a directory of words to use in writing literature and mail, in preparing speeches, and in producing electronic media. The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that, like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used….

    Obviously, some phrases stick better than others, but overall, the Republicans have been quite effective meme creation and reproduction. The most memorable ones are those that likely reverberate in the right wing subconscious and bring up certain connotations. For example:

    • Chicago-style politics: corrupt, violent, big city, minority (as opposed to the towns and suburbs where “real” Americans live
    • Food Stamp President: enabler of lazy black people and welfare cheats
    • Saul Alinsky radical: leftie Jewish radical

    For whatever reason, Democrats and the left have been nowhere near as effective in their use and propagation of buzzwords and catch-phrases to demonize. Perhaps they’re not trying as hard.

    For the rest of the article from which the quotes were taken:


    • Avatar Kim says:

      The right’s weapon is fear. The left’s weapon of choice is laughter. Hate will never mobilize the liberals, nor move the center… much.

      McCain was defeated by laughter on the tubes…

      Laughter comes from endless variations on a single theme, unique and scintillating each and all.

      The right leads by soundbyte, pounded by rote into people’s minds. The left leads with insight — don’t forget Carlin’s words! Humor lies in the unexpected leap of logic.Report

  19. Avatar BSK says:

    Isn’t this an inherent characteristic of language?  Someone finds a great way of saying something and others immitate.Report

  20. Avatar MFarmer says:

    “who comes up with these clever sleeper-words?”

    I think it’s the same company that sells Social Justice, Faux News, climate change denialists, tea-baggers and right-wing extremistsReport

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      You forgot “Christianists,” and its other-aisle counterpart, “Islamists.”Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        1% elite puppet mastersReport

          • Avatar MFarmer says:

            Undocumented immigrantsReport

              • Avatar Jeff says:

                Do you deny that there is “hate speech”?  If so, you’re speaking from a mammoth caccoon of privledge.

                And to equate such things as “Food Stamp President” with “hate speech” ?  Head, meet desk.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Denying ‘hate speech’ is increasingly part of the conservative – or at least anti-librul – platform.

                But to give them credit, at least they know enough to defend themselves from that charge.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                My problem with acknowledging the existence of “hate speech” is that it usually leads to discussions of why I don’t think it should be legislated against.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Fair enough. But if hate speech were legally accepted, would conservatives persist (or not) in defending themselves from the accusation of engaging in hate speech?


              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Of course they would. And, in a lot of cases, they’d be right to.

                “Food Stamp President” is risable, sure. It ain’t “hate speech”.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I’m not following you here, Stillwater.  Hate speech in the U.S. is legally accepted, protected by the First Amendment.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                James, I was merely making an observations about the psychological state of people who engage in hate speech.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                To clear that up a bit, the point I’m trying to make is that conservatives, or anyone else engaging is speech that is broadly understood as discriminatory or offensive, would persist in defending themselves from the accusation that it is such. That, to me anyway, implies that they know such speech is wrong, even tho it’s legal.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “speech that is broadly understood as discriminatory or offensive”

                Dude, watch out. You wouldn’t *BELIEVE* how thin skinned some folks are.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Good point., JB. It’s not lost on me. But I guess a make a distinction between a preponderance of hateful speech versus leveraging the accusation of hateful speech one way or the other. There’s a fact of the matter there. And it tilts in one direction.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Praise atheist god for Wikipedia.

                Here’s a fun paragraph from this page:

                The FBI’s hate crimes statistics for 1993, which similarly reported 20% of all hate crimes to be committed against white people, prompted Jill Tregor, executive director of Intergroup Clearinghouse, to decry it as “an abuse of what the hate crime laws were intended to cover”, stating that the white victims of these crimes were employing hate crime laws as a means to further penalize minorities.

                The entire section on “Classification of crimes committed against white people” is mind-bogglingly mind-boggling.

                The whole “hate speech” (and, by extension, “hate crimes”) thing has a *LOT* of stuff going on under the surface. Paragraphs like the above point to something very, very ugly. I’m not surprised that there are entire groups of people who don’t want to play.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Mike – not sure how best to say this, but it’s just DIFFERENT. The left isn’t nearly as good at falling in line and repeating these things. It’s not as coordinated maybe. I don’t know. It’s the same reason the left can’t do Talk Radio, I think.Report

      • Avatar MFarmer says:

        From my perspective, the Left is better with these words and with staying on message. I watch a lot of MSNBC just because it’s fascinating — Maddow, Schultz, Hayes, Matthews, Melissa Harris-Perry, Al Sharpton — they all use the same buzz words, the same talking points, the same message.Report

        • Avatar Michelle says:

          To some degree the folks at MSNBC do all sing in the same chord, but their pet phrases don’t generally end up in the speeches of Democratic politicians or repeated endlessly on liberal blogs.  Also, Democrats and the left are nowhere near as successful in circulating their narratives as Republicans are. There’s just nowhere the same level of message coordination between MSNBC, the Democratic Party, and liberal blogs, as there is between Fox News (the official cable news channel of the Republican party), the Republican Party, and rightwing blogs.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Michelle, do you think writing all that makes it so?Report

            • Avatar Michelle says:

              No, but neither does asserting both sides do it and providing no actual proof. Show me the Democratic version of the Gingrich/GOPAC memo quoted above. Show me some evidence that MSNBC is anywhere near as effective in propagating leftwing memes as Fox News is at propagating rightwing memes. Otherwise, it’s just another example of false equivalencies.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            It’s understandable that you’d think this way, but I’d argue there’s far better communication on the Left than the right.   I look at the right wing blogs and it’s just a terrible situation over there, these guys are engaged in death matches to see whose Conservativest.   Good friend of mine, does a lot of third world blogging, strong Conservative guy, got run out of RedState a while back and he was pretty high up in their food chain.   He dared to say the USA wasn’t best served to keep on propping up Karzai’s corrupt regime and to let them stand on their own.   RedState is insane.

            What leads you to believe the Republicans are circulating their narrative as well as Democrats?    They only dominate the one-way circuits.   The two-way comm channels out here on the Intertubes are dominated by Liberals.   Sure, Liberals and Libertarians might squabble more, but that’s a good thing in my estimation.Report

            • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

              I think it’s a very different sort of communication.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                It’s sorta like the Rebel Attack on the Death Star in Star Wars:  “stay… on.. target…. KABOOM… AUUGH!”

                Rushbo is out there saying “Eastwood got scammed” into making that Chrysler ad.    It’s as if the grounding wire has been removed from these guys’ circuits.   What’s Conservative America’s major malfunction anymore?   Panglossian bullshit about how despite America’s many problems, this is the way America ought to be and anyone who dares to think outside the box is a Marxist.   If this Conservative trope factory keeps on operating, they’re only setting the stage for an actual Marxist revolution.   That scenario seems ever more likely with every passing day.

                Conservatives used to be about the little guy, the working man, the guy who busted his hump every day so his kids could live a better life.   Not any more.   Now Plastic Man Romney has been all but anointed to wear the Conservative Purple and inspire those working stiffs to vote.   I. Don’t. Think. So.   The Conservatives weren’t listening when the Tea Party tried to warn them.   Now the bloom is off that movement and it’s bare knuckles elitism the Conservatives hope will win the day.   America’s sick of being told how to think.   This time around, they’ll think for themselves and a good many of them will stay home.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                Its interesting to me how “Socialism!” is so commonly used as an epithet, yet there is a new generation of people to whom that word is about as current and powerful as “Jacobin!”

                I just had one of my Occupy people- a young kid about 19- invite me to his Socialism FB page, where he is describing what That Word means, to his fellow students who are hearing it spoken for the first time outside of a 20th Cent History class.

                And without the accompanying baggage.

                Blowback, unintended consequences, and all that.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Heh.   Jean Baudrillard said it’s always the same:  once you’re free, you’re forced to ask who you are.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Quite simple, Blaise.

                Republicans think the actor is the part.

                Remember how Limbaugh said that guy who was supporting stem cell research in Missouri was faking it?

                Somehow they can’t stand to have the “cutie little republicans” on TV revealed as “liberals.”

                I don’t get it either, but somehow GWB thought Colbert wasn’t playing a part on TV, but was an actual conservative commentator…Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                If the actor’s doing his job, he becomes Hamlet or Falstaff and struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.   Erik’s point about the heated annealing of actor and audience has more to do with the context of Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow business.

                Hang out our banners on the outward walls;
                The cry is still ‘They come:’ our castle’s strength
                Will laugh a siege to scorn: here let them lie
                Till famine and the ague eat them up:
                Were they not forced with those that should be ours,
                We might have met them dareful, beard to beard,
                And beat them backward home.

                Erik’s made a tremendously sophisticated point about how today’s Conservatives think, more properly, believe.   We see it amply demonstrated in Tom’s point about Brutish Autocracy.   The Audience cannot be distinguished from the Actor.   There are other places where the audience cannot be distinguished from the actor:  Church being the primary case in point.    The faithful are called upon to recite the Creed, sing the hymns, take the Eucharist.   Erik asks:

                The language that the right uses is so precise. It’s so lockstep. It’s interesting to see how movements bind themselves and reinforce themselves through the use of language, even – and perhaps especially – simple language, like catchy songs. Did the GOP learn the lessons of the four-chord-progressions, the catchy chorus, and the silver-tongued-twang of Nashville?

                They learned that language in church, folks.   It’s called liturgy, the formulary of worship.   It’s just that simple.   People find great comfort in knowing their beliefs are shared.   Erik winces when he thinks of how Libertarians would self-destruct in fits of individuality.

                But there is another mode of worship, seen in Pentecostals and Sufis and Voodoo, one of ecstatic individuality.   To the outsider, they look like chaos but to the participant, he is just another burning log in a great fire.   No liturgy for him, oh, a shared song which he might start himself, but there’s no order to the service.   The believer enters into a trance and assumes the divine nature.

                A Sufi poet, Farid ud-din Attar wrote this poem which became in time a famous song:

                In the dead of night, a Sufi began to weep.
                He said, “This world is like a closed coffin, in which
                We are shut and in which, through our ignorance,
                We spend our lives in folly and desolation.
                When Death comes to open the lid of the coffin,
                Each one who has wings will fly off to Eternity,
                But those without will remain locked in the coffin.
                So, my friends, before the lid of this coffin is taken off,
                Do all you can to become a bird of the Way to God;
                Do all you can to develop your wings and your feathers.”Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I don’t think that Redstate is representative of conservativism as much as it’s representative of TEAM RED.

              If given a choice between TEAM RED and conservativism, they’ll pretty much take TEAM RED.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                That’s a fair assessment of the situation over there.   It’s a shambles.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                They haven’t yet processed how much damage was done to Conservativism by Dubya and, by extension, those who defended him to his attackers to the right.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                That’s a trenchant observation, Mr. Jaybird.   Somehow, I think they do understand, though it’s seen through the scrim of denial, in that tendentious sort of rhetoric you’ll often hear from the recently divorced.   Nobody wanted to run on Bush43’s legacy.  He was the worst president in modern times.   Nobody else even comes close.

                Conservative philosophy and politics could be made respectable again.   It would take an awful lot of scrubbing and hoof paring and re-shoeing to get that horse anywhere near presentable for the county fair, but it could be done, if someone would put in the effort.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                There are quite a few folks who are far more interested in complaining about the other horses than in scrubbing, paring, and re-shoeing.

                Why should we have to re-shoe! The other horses are actively evil!, they don’t really ask as much as expect to hear “amens” from fellow travelers.

                (Well, they would be travelers, if the horse was going anywhere.)Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                There’s a faction of conservativism that’s doing just fine, and I have a feeling that it will remain authenitc enough to gain support from people looking for something real. The phony bigots and haters are being pushed aside, and the common sense conservatives who just want to be left alone and work and help create economic growth will gain control when they see they have to become politically active.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                As you point out, the Conservative pundits who defended Bush43 were obliged to twist themselves into impossible shapes.   That’s always a bad move for a pundit, especially a Conservative pundit.   Because they wouldn’t stand up and say “Bush43 is not acting like a Conservative” they allowed the Tea Party folks to gain some serious traction and badly skewed the entire message of Conservatism.  The Tea Parties can only be described as Jacksonian Democrats by my lights.   Whatever they are not, they are not Conservatives.

                It’s not enough to be Against Something, particularly when you’re supposed to be Preserving What’s Good and Right in a society.    That’s what Conservatives ought to be saying — but what’s left to preserve?   Bush43 gave us more government than ever.   As the Congress heaped ever more mandate upon Bush43, it would only set the stage for those powers devolving upon Obama, the very last guy they wanted to have such powers.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:


                Where’s spector again? That’s right, retired. Time was, voting for a Republican was a respectable thing, even for a lifelong liberal.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Yah, JB, that’s why I bailed from Red State [I wrote a few diary pieces].  On the other hand, it is good to see some folks honest about their partisanship.  MINOS [mugwumps in name only] are a drag, claiming nonpartisanship but reserving the majority of their fire for one side only.  Who do they think they’re fooling?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Themselves, probably. They probably think that by telling the side that they kinda identify with more to change that they’re doing it for the betterment of everybody.

                Like if you look at the scoreboard and see that your team is losing, there are those who would rather folks tell their coach to change and there are those who spend their time complaining about how Belichick is a cheater.

                I can understand how the people who scream to the heavens about Belichick might resent the people who are complaining about their own coach and/or discussing plays that they think would, in fact, result in victory.

                I imagine that they care more about communicated membership in the community than winning.

                That’s fair enough. There’s honor in that.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                180 from who I was talking about, Jaybird, the MINOs.  But I see what you’re saying re your own experience @ RS.Report

            • Avatar Michelle says:

              What leads you to believe the Republicans are circulating their narrative as well as Democrats?    They only dominate the one-way circuits.

              Blaise–I think the fact that they do dominate one-way circuits such as Fox News, talk radio, places like Red State enables them to create talking points for a receptive base and spread their messages more effectively. Otherwise, I see no reason why anybody would watch Fox News or listen to Rush Limbaugh. These outlets appeal to righteous anger and demonization of one’s political opponents. Democrats aren’t just wrong–they’re evil. Liberals are downright treasonous.

              It is a one-way circuit but, because we can now so effectively isolate ourselves into pre-defined ideological ghettos through our choice of media outlets, it’s far easier to find talking points and messages that stick with people who tend to be like-minded anyway. Finding a place where competing views are discussed in a fairly rational manner, without one side demonizing the other, has become far more difficult.


              • Avatar Roger says:


                I suspect we hear the other’s memes more than our own. When someone uses a buzzword that we use it is normal communication. When someone uses one we don’t (Tea Baggers or Chicago Style — delete whichever does not apply) it stands out to us. We see through it, so to speak.

                I have absolutely no idea if the right or left uses these buzz words more. I see them both using them, but this isn’t something I can quantify. I will add two additional comments.

                Memes do not have to be conspiratorial or centrally coordinated. Memetic theory explains that it can work bottoms up in a decentralized fashion. However, you are right that having a dominating funnel like fox news or talk radio can amplify memes in a way that decentralized media doesn’t. My take on memetics is that the wide variety of left-oriented media will generate more memetic variation, and the right’s limited number of avenues will amplify and spread the memes more effectively.

                Fascinating topic.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                your post wins the thread.

                Just wanted to state that simply because a meme appears to be bottom up doesn’t mean it actually is (whisper and word-of-mouth campaigns… you heard of mmmmpeachmint tea? ).

                And that wise crafters of memes can create something that spreads like wildfire (even though they use a decentralized way to start it).Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                As Roger notes below, we see others’ evils rather more clearly than our own.   Certain Liberal outlets, dKos comes to mind immediately, demonize every Conservative and regularly recommend Conversion Stories to the front page.

                I was once a Conservative sinner, bound for Hell by way of Damascus or Tampa Bay, I can’t remember but it did say Hell on the ticket.  But I was saved from a life of sin and error and the Lake of Fire by an intervention by some Kindly Liberal who corn-vinced me by his Fine Example into accepting that the Poor ‘n Needy were also Gods Chilluns and I am now on my way to Heaven through the saving grace of Librul Jeezus, worshed in his blood.


                Liberals fight among themselves incessantly.   They’re exceedingly tiresome in the recitation of their own inscrutable litanies, filled with terms of art and theology upon which they wax most disputatious.   The only Liberals to make it onto the Big Stages are all comedians.Report

              • Avatar Michelle says:

                Certain Liberal outlets, dKos comes to mind immediately, demonize every Conservative and regularly recommend Conversion Stories to the front page.

                Which is why I avoid dKos. I know the demonization of one’s political opponents has a long history, but I don’t see the point. Plus, left wing cant is just as boring as right wing cant.

                Liberals fight among themselves incessantly.   They’re exceedingly tiresome in the recitation of their own inscrutable litanies, filled with terms of art and theology upon which they wax most disputatious.

                True dat.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Sunday dkos tends to get more research, and be a bit more informative than the weekaday stuff… which tends to be more “haha, someone did a stupid!”

                That said, one of the best writers on dkos is a registered Republican.

                ((Blaise, on conversion stories? They also recommend solid republicans voting Obama simply because the republicans have no home — not people converting, but people saying “this is the best choice i’ve got — and I don’t like it”… one of those guys was my hometown’s mayor))Report

          • Avatar MFarmer says:

            Actually, it’s frightening how well-coordinated the messaging is on the Left. They’ve got the propaganda machine oiled and clicking. Axelrod, Plouffe and Jarrett are pros, and they are controlling the messaging.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Plouffe?   That feeb?  He’s beyond worthless.  He got Iowa to go for Obama and spun a lot of cotton candy.  Once elected, Obama couldn’t translate his campaign message into an actual mandate to govern and the midterm election showed how sad the situation had gotten.   How many terrible analogies can I summon up to describe it?   The wheels fell off Obama’s little red wagon and I don’t think Plouffe can get them on again.  Lots of us who worked for Obama think Plouffe is a one shot wonder.   While nobody knew anything about Obama, Plouffe could draw anything on that Tabula Rasa.   For those of us who knew Obama from his days in the Illinois Senate, we knew the score.   Obama wasn’t the Liberal Plouffe said he was.

              Well, Plouffe is back in the inner circle.   Axelrod wore out, took a break, now he’s back, after a fashion.   Gibbs is gone.   Rahm Emanuel’s got his hands full in Chicago but he’ll be involved to a considerable extent, now that the Obama campaign headquarters has moved to Chicago.   Valerie Jarrett gave the Obamas their first break in Chicago politics, she’s mainly a loyalty enforcer.    She’s closer to Michelle Obama than to Barack Obama.  It doesn’t matter what they say though:  this election can be computed on two numbers:  unemployment and gasoline price at the pump.

              The unseen hand in a good deal of Obama’s re-election campaign is Matthew Barzun, the guy who can get the small donor to give.Report

              • Avatar MFarmer says:

                Whatever. I’m not on the inside like some, but they seem to keep the messaging tight. I’m just a humble observer.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Well, here’s hoping American Conservatives will return to their first principles.   Their viewpoints are badly needed these days.   It’s a message well worth spreading around.

                I think old Edmund Burke once said hypocrisy could afford to make magnificent promises because it never intended to keep any of them.   I might respond, the same is true of extravagant threats, that wiggling fingers and dancing around in circles and shouting about Obama the Boogeyman Socialist doesn’t scare anyone anymore.  None of the GOP’s gloom ‘n doom predictions came true.   Time for them to settle down and quit trying to scare the rubes.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                BHO’s majoritarian brutishness was thwarted by the 2010 elections, Blaise.  He’s still trying to rule by executive fiat, however.  Hopefully that will end soon as well.


                This Catholic thing is no bogeyman, man.  Had Obama not been checked in 2010, no telling where we’d be.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Those opiates are working really well, eh, Tom?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Well, Obama got his comeuppance, as did Clinton, if memory serves.   But Clinton survived every attempt to dislodge him from office as well.   EJ Dionne can fart in outrage all he wants to, this country’s Catholics are already on the buffet plan, picking and choosing from what’s on offer in the steam trays of morality.

                Well, the meme-du-jour says Obama will run on the bumper sticker of “Bin Laden is gone.  GM’s still here.”   The GOP will be hard pressed to counter it.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Not well enough for the sophists, James.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Opiates, huh?   You must be thinking about Bush43’s drugs giveaway plan for seniors.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Perhaps, Blaise.  But BHO’s autocracy is brutish, and at least we can hope he never gets a congressional majority again.

                As for individual Catholics, they are not at issue here; the American principle and practice of religious pluralism is, and BHO is ill-serving it.  To our credit, from the very first we have allowed for the Quaker to decline military service, but in the 21st century, some forces are driven to shove this materialistic view of human life down the throats of the unwilling.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                At least we can hope he never gets a congressional majority again.

                Your wish will be granted, methinks.Report

              • Avatar Jeff says:

                Good grief.  Telling a Jewish janitor that works for a Catholic hospital that she can’t get coverage for contraceptives is “brutish” and “authoritarian”?

                I do not think those words mean what you think they mean.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Neither does sophist.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Oh, please.  You’ve got to do better than that.  To the substance, you would not ask your Mormon or Muslim boss to buy the booze at the holiday party.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                I’m not actually arguing against your real point (in my view religious freedom is a trump card here).  I’m just arguing against your argumentative style.  Your use of sophist is totally substanceless, and to the extent the term has any applicability it is just as well applied to your overwrought claims about Obama’s “brutishness,” etc.  You just use sophist as a substance-free way to shout others down. It’s really about time you quit pulling that bravo sierra move.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Relax, James, and let’s not start up again.  The guilty accuse themselves and if it doesn’t apply to you, think of it as dicta.  It was a general comment directed at some of the nonsense I read hereabouts today, nonsense which is apparent even to a gentleperson taking opiates, which this gentleperson is not.

                I’m not actually arguing against your real point (in my view religious freedom is a trump card here). 

                Exc.  Let us stick to the real point and leave the rest.  Cheers.



              • Avatar Liberty60 says:


                To: David Axelrod

                From: Liberty60, 47th Congressional District Party Apparatchik

                Re: Suspicious blogger “Tom VanDyke”

                Dear comrade- we have a candidate for the FEMA camps. Openly uses words like “brutishness” to describe our Dear Leader.

                Please investigate at once.

                Obama Akbar!

                Your loyal dog and servant,


              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                I decline your invitation because it is the height of hypocrisy.  You regularly criticize others for their argumentative style, then engage in the same types of behavior.  Here you have criticized argumentative style by accusing someone, whomever it is or they are, of sophism. But when such criticism about argumentative style is directed at you, you play the pity-me game again and claim we shouldn’t be discussing that issue.

                You don’t get to require that others play by different rules than you want to play by, and I’m comfortable continuing to point that out.

                I do wish you a speedy recovery, though.Report

              • Avatar RTod says:

                James, this is what is known as an oilive branch. Cannot you just take it and move on?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                If I am asked to, I will.  However I will note that the League prides itself on having higher level discussions than most other political blogs.  Bashing someone else’s argumentative style, then pretending it’s unfair for others to criticize one’s own argumentative style is not that type of higher level discussion, no matter how fancy the words used–saying “sophist” instead of “shit for brains” doesn’t actually enhance the level of discourse when it’s still being used to employ a double standard.

                Hypocrisy is the standard sin in political debate.  What I see here from that particular commenter is just a genteel version of Rush Limbaugh viciously attacking drug users and then pretending shock that anyone would make an issue of his Oxycontin addiction.

                If the League principal’ preference is that we should let such hypocrisy go unremarked and uncorrected, I’ll try to abide by their preference.  Or perhaps I’ll just limit myself to responding with “99” (a common denoter of “missing data” when entering data into statistical software), a less cantankerous noting of the transgression, but nevertheless a notation.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                To the substance, you would not ask your Mormon or Muslim boss to buy the booze at the holiday party.

                Right, because whether the boss buys booze at a party is precisely the same thing as your boss making health care decisions for you outside of work. Precisely the same thing.

                Sophistry, Tom, is what you do.

                Seriously Tom, why don’t you actually argue a position instead of simply stating it forcefully and following it up with both insults and obvious attempts to actually avoid arguing a position (like comparing health care to booze at a party). We know you’re Catholic, we know you’re convinced that Obama is an idealogy-driven far lefter, and we know that you think the secularists are out to get the religious, because you’ve been singing those songs for years, but to date, booze at a party is the only type of argument you’ve offered. It gets really old, opiates or no.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:


                I think there’s a drinking game opportunity here.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                No James, I like my liver.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                “Gibbs is gone”

                Robert Gibbs is running the campaign with Axelrod.Report

            • Avatar wardsmith says:

              Can always count on the Telegraph to tell it like it is about Obama.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Jeebus, Ward, that’s a pretty old bone you’ve dug up.   There are two sides to this Truth business.   Every politician knows the truth, that power arises from control.   The facts don’t matter as much when every word you say is news and people are striving for 15 minutes of face time in the Oval Office.

                George Bush 43 would lie to the nation, over and over, nobody ever called him on it.   He got re-elected.   Ronald Reagan lied his ass off, same story, his fans loved him and everyone else thought he was a maniac.   Clinton lied and the GOP went apeshit and Clinton’s still polling well, laughing all the way to the bank and his wife is Secretary of State. Do you think these men give a damn about public opinion when most of this country won’t get off its dead ass and vote?   Obama doesn’t need people to tell him the truth.   What he needs, what every politician needs is a coterie of people who will tell his lies with a straight face.

                Facts don’t matter, Ward, not in politics.   Power matters.   Obama will keep his own counsel, knowing the GOP will never give him an inch of slack.   The GOP have already proven they’re only lying to themselves.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith says:

                Blaise, if you’re trying to convince me that both sides are rat bastards color me convinced.

                I’d actually dug that up for an OP I was pretending to write. I did think it was apropos for this OP however, reminding folks about Windy City politics who aren’t already like thee and me in the “know”.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Yeah.   At the risk of sounding condescending, I sense the Conservatives around here could put forward a better working proposition for what’s worth defending than most of what passes for Conservative Punditry these days.

                ED got off a great line:  Perhaps the convergence of audience and actor that occurs so heatedly on the right is indeed responsible for its success.   That’s a keeper.

                But an actor is only as good as the script he’s given and it’s awfully tough to wow an audience of the faithful.   Ask any pastor.   Sure, a good actor might be able to transcend some of the worst aspects of a bad script, but I question the Right’s narrative these days.   The script is just too implausible.   That script was written by idiots.   For crissakes, I know you could write a better one.

                Look at Plastic Man Romney, striving for authenticity and failing miserably.   If Romney would run on his record, I think he could beat Obama like a bald headed stepchild.   He’s a solid moderate Conservative, a good numbers guy, capable of appealing to solid Yankee sentiments.    Why won’t he run on his record?   Because the Conservatives have been coopted by a cabal of extremist mullahs and everyone’s kissing Rush Limbaugh’s ass.   Small wonder Iran’s mullah-ocracy hates the USA so much.   None of the guys who make party doctrine have ever been elected to dogcatcher.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Small wonder Iran’s mullah-ocracy hates the USA so much. None of the guys who make party doctrine have ever been elected to dogcatcher.

                Words to be etched in stone.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

                Word up, Blaise et al.—Romney [like meself and the rest of my righty cabal] are keeping their powder dry on BHO’s failures as POTUS.  No point in firing until the target is in range, which it will be, come August-September.

                For Romney [or even Gingrich or Santorum] to shoot their wad on Obama’s failures and perfidies in Feb 2012 just enables his defenders to play the “old news” card in a few months, as you yrself just did on another matter.

                “Old News” is a tried-and-true, at least since the Clinton era.

                But the game has not even started: to rate it now is to try to pick the winner of the Super Bowl based on the coin flip.  Romney doesn’t need to expend his premium ammo just to beat Newt, and he ain’t.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Romney is starting to look like John Kerry.   Kerry fired metric tons of express load buckshot into Bush43 at point blank range and it didn’t win Kerry that election.   If ever there was an abject failure in his first four years as president, it was Bush43 and the evidence lay all around, smoking and burning.   Thousands of dead American kids were coming back to Dover AFB on the basis of a war we know now was waged on a pack of lies.

                Tom, facts don’t matter.  I keep trying to tell y’all this and it’s like so many pigs looking at a wristwatch.   Mitt Romney is as good a candidate as the GOP has run in many decades and he’s just a big old wuss when confronted by the the media gasbags.

                Now I’ll tell you how Romney could win this go-round walking away.   All he has to do is stand up and promise he’d run America like he ran Massachusetts.   Everyone who can count to eleven without the aid of his fingers and male appendage knows Obamacare is really Romneycare.   But he doesn’t dare say it because Rush Limbaugh and the Fair ‘n Balanced crowd don’t like it.    Romney needs to grow a pair between now and Election Day.Report

  21. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I thought “Chicago style politics” was a reference to Obama’s reference to the Untouchables line about bringing a gun to a knife fight. Well, or it’s shorthand for politics with a thick buttery crust.

    Also, I’m pretty sure Eastwood is a Detroit muscle car aficionado. At least, I think that was part of the reason he did Gran Torino. As a fan of both American muscle cars and Clint Eastwood movies, I found the ad pretty effective. I can’t imagine it’ll get anyone to vote for Obama.

    Finally, I’m going to name drop like a mother here and point out that my wife’s uncle was one of the cameramen on the Unforgiven. Boom!Report

  22. Avatar dhex says:

    the original ad is kinda creepy. actually, i’ll strike kinda and go with “very creepy”. random fortune cookie platitudes mixed in with just enough blood for the motherland.Report

  23. Avatar joey jo jo says:

    which is a better descriptor for “pro life”?

    a.  forced birthers

    b.  no choicersReport

  24. Avatar wardsmith says:

    Where do these memes come from? Where do any memes originate?Report

    • Avatar MFarmer says:

      They come from those outside the smart realm. The smart realm doesn’t have as much use for slogans, buzzwords and talking points as thouse outside the smart realm. The smart realm has its problems, but nothing like those outside the smart realm. The smart realm is positioned to transcend, once they can put in place the final pieces. Those outside the smart realm shall be neutralized, then communication will soar. This should make us happy, knowing we’re this close.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Those outside the Smart Realm don’t have to be neutralized.   They believe what they’re told by the Boys in Advertising.Report

        • Avatar MFarmer says:

          Of course, but they will be neutralized anyway because power goes to those within the smart realm, at least that’s the plan. So, once comprehensive power is achieved, advertising will be useless, because whom amongst us can’t see through it?Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            The Boys from Advertising aren’t members of the Smart Realm in good standing.  Their job is to get hits on websites and Twitter references and increase sales.  Nor are the Salesmen in the Smart Set.   They’re just more effective liars in better suits.

            Nor are the politicians members of the Smart Realm.   They’re just more enthusiastic about grabbing for power and less reticent about the use of grabbing tools.   There will never be a comprehensive grasp on power by the Smart Realm for its members are the Grand Academy of Lagado, whose scientific endeavours are laid out in Gulliver’s Travels, Chapter V of Book III.

            While the Smart Set endlessly debates theory, others apply themselves to implementation.   They do not need the services of the Smart Set.   They require appeals to Unreason, for that’s what put asses in chairs and increases sales.   You will never go broke underestimating the reasoning abilities of human beings, MFarmer.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      I didn’t read the whole thing, so apologies if I get things wrong (while watching Kentucky put a beat down on Florida).

      But from what I read, it doesn’t answer the question of where the memes come from. Ie. is it: economic power?, will to power?, happenstance?, selective Rovian pandering?….

      There is an observable and quantifiable altering of ‘public sentiment’ on important issues that both of us agree on. That’s normally called propaganda, and both you and I have used that term to characterize the process.

      But even then, it still doesn’t answer the question of why this sh*t occurs. Or who proportionately – let’s be realistic – benefits.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        Memes are cultural examples of evolutionary impacts within a population. A meme can be an idea, a phrase, a word, a technique, a style or whatever. It originates by humans attempting something — for example I am attempting to answer your question and in doing so I am choosing a particular pattern of particular words. Some of these patterns and explanations and buzz words take off. They are easily remembered, or hit emotional hot buttons, and so on. They are thus replicated. More hear it, more repeat it, and so on.

        Sometimes we repeat it wrong or slightly differently, and usually this is a deterioration, but every blue moon (itself a meme) the meme actually becomes better at spreading.

        The point is that we can get buzz words (another meme) without anyone even trying to create buzz words. This is not to deny that people (marketing departments, political advisors) try to invent good memes. They do.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        I have a theory about memes which arises from the study of the collision of French and English in the time of the Normans.   Most of my linguistic studies were on language formalization and what Quine called Atomic Terms

        Norman law and English law had to come up with some common terms for both had customaries as well as Justinian law, such as it was.  William the Conqueror spent a great deal of time on the problem.   What emerged was (for the time) the most sophisticated legal system of its day, incorporating much that was good in both systems.   The nobles ended up speaking French but the lawyers and judges resorted to Latin.   Though neither the English nor French spoke fluent Latin, they resorted to the Latin of Justinian, if not to his laws, changing the import of many Latin terms still in use today.

        A meme is only as powerful as those who resort to it.   When CNN’s John King first set up his digital map, nobody had any idea the memes of Red State and Blue State would emerge from it.   Now we even say Purple State.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      *snort* Brin, that troublemaker!

      Ya seen what else he’s been writing these days?

  25. Avatar dhex says:

    y’all underestimate – and underscore – that the most pervasive meme in american politics is “our enemies are powerful, wicked, and capable of the most base cruelties; we are surviving solely on our innate goodness and the grace of god”.

    as RAW once noted: they are a conspiracy. we are an affinity group!Report

    • Avatar Roger says:


      And this meme works even if there is no conspiracy.  The system dynamics lead to both parties thriving on the demonizing of the other.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        indeed. i do wonder why it always devolves into some variation on EVIL PARTY V STUPID PARTY. both parties are made up of powerful millionaires (so how stupid can they really be?) and yet there’s this incredibly powerful draw to feel victimized; and to ascribe an abundance of naivety (or a lack of proper viciousness) to various success and failures.

        we express solidarity; they propagandize.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          quite a bit more stupid than you realize.

          Anyone who didn’t earn their own money hasn’t had the “trial of the fittest” — he hired a good accountant, and gets to be rich.

          Scaife’s a good example of the phenom.

          The right consists mainly of stupid millionaires.

          The left consists mainly of smart millionaires, who in general are significantly poorer than the right, as they had to make their own money. (remember, that most millionaires consider 6million to be the rich point — with damn good reason!).Report

          • Avatar dhex says:

            you illustrate my point nicely.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith says:

            Jeebuz Kim, you say the darndest things.

            Kennedy (D) millionaire, inherited
            Kerry (D) millionaire, married
            Rockefeller (D) millionaire, inherited
            Jane Harman (D) millionaire, married
            Herb Kohl (D) millionaire, inherited
            Yup as usual you’re talking out your ass. In fact I often wonder if you have another appendage for communication other than your ass.


  26. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    Erik et al.: I just got around to reading this now, but I’m glad to see others have beat me to bringing up Frank Luntz, possibly the most evil human being alive. Two years ago we had a contest on my other website to come up with a new definition of the word “Luntz”. (We were riffing off Dan Savage’s “Santorum“.)

    The comments have since been erased due to an Atlantic-esque changeover from Squarespace to Disqus, but we finally decided on the word “Luntz” forever meaning: “to Luntz: when only two people are in an elevator, one farts loudly and then blames it on the other person.”Report