The Power of Narratives

The incomparable Bob Somerby at Daily Howler often talks about narratives.  His background in teaching is apparent because he repeats his lessons over and over until they sink in.  Some people never learn.

Although Somerby’s focus is on the media and the way they make up stories to force Democratic candidates into their preconceived narratives, that is not my topic here.

Narratives are a form of story-telling shorthand.  They set the stage, identify the characters and usually determine the ending of the story.  In the old Hollywood westerns, the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats.  If the character was wearing a white hat, you knew right away that he was a brave and virtuous protector of the innocent, and that he would triumph over evil before the movie ended.

Over tha past several decades, the Republican party has been very successful in establishing narratives that give them an enormous advantage in electoral politics.  The first narrative is that Republicans are “regular people” and that they are brave and patriotic people of faith.  They also can be counted on to protect America from criminals and foreign threats.

The other narrative is that Democrats are hypocritical elitists that are unpatriotic, immoral and corrupt.  They are weak in the face of foreign aggression and they care more about the rights of criminals than they do about victims. 

I am not saying that either of those narratives is true, in fact I know that they are not.  But those narratives exist, and they affect the way people perceive events and evaluate candidates.  You can think of them as “default” settings or rebuttable presumptions.  That puts the burden on each Democratic candidate to prove that both narratives are false, otherwise the Republican candidate wins by default.

If you take those narratives and apply them to the last few weeks of this election campaign, you can see that the Democratic party and the Obama campaign seem determined to prove that those narratives are true.

First you have Senator Obama, who is the poster child for arrogance, building his own Greek temple at Invesco Field to give his acceptance speech.  After the earlier flaps over the “Great Seal of Obama” and the cult-like nature of his supporters, that was the height of political tone-deafness.  He continues to reinforce the “elitist” narrative over and over. 

Obama is trying to sell himself as a person of faith in order to court the fundamentalist vote.  But his credentials on religion are tied to Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who says things like “God damn America” and “U.S of KKK-A” which don’t appear very patriotic.  Obama’s relationship with William Ayers strongly reinforces the idea that he is unpatriotic.

The sexism and misogyny directed at Hillary Clinton from within the Democratic party reinforces the “hypocritical” narrative, and the sham roll-call vote fits the definition of “corrupt.”  The wankfest over how many house John McCain and his wife own just helped to reinforce the “corrupt” narrative because it allowed McCain to bring up Tony Rezko. 

Which brings us to John McCain.  When the angry chihuahuas of Obamanation started yapping about the false allegation that McCain plagiarized the “cross in the dirt” story from Aleksandr Solzhenisyn, they were pushing a story that involved McCain’s experience being tortured as a POW during the Vietnam War.  IOW – to attack McCain over what was at most an irrelevant lie, they reinforced the “brave,: “patriotic” and “protect America” narratives.  And now that the plagiarism issue is debunked, it turns out they also reinforced the “people of faith” narrative.

So on Friday, when John McCain announced the selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential nominee, what did Obamanation immediately do?  They attacked her on issues that reinforce the narratives.

They criticized her for being from a small town in a sparsely populated states, which was a two-fer because it reinforced the “regular people” narrative for her and the “elitist” narrative for the Democrats.  They picked on the fact that she is a working mother (“regular people” and “Democrats are hypocrites”) and launched misogynistic attacks on her (hypocrites)

Then to top it off, they started a wankfest dubbed “Troopergate” where they accused her of acting inappropriately to get her abusive ex-brother-in-law fired from his job as a state trooper.  The message that the non-Koolaid drinking public will hear is that Sarah Palin will protect them, and that Democrats don’t care about victims.

So what have the Democrats and the Obama campaign done to rebut the narratives?

I’ll have to get back to you on that.

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3 Responses to The Power of Narratives

  1. HT says:

    Just popping out of lurkerdom to advise I read you religiously…no pun intended/

    BRW Troopergate didn’t work, nor did the narrative about her latest child really being her grandchild, so now they are going after her daughter.
    And these people claim they are Democrats….. Democrass perhaps
    I can only shake my head and wonder whether there are any true Democrats (aka FDR) still living.
    Alas, I feel like Alice, when she stumbled down the rabbit hole.
    BTW, what is happening today reminds me of Lord of the Flies… I’m not yet sure of who Piggie will be, but there will be a Piggie.

  2. I will fire any campaign worker that violates “my” rule of being stupid enough of getting caught.

    Carry on chaps.

  3. Oh, and Piggie was already cast. It was Big Dog Bill with Hillary as Jack. And…the fire that attracted the rescue team is “identity politics.” They played the race card like champs and now with Little Miss Sarah on the ticket, it’s come to bite them in the ass.

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