Monday, March 28, 2011

Four things I think I know about politics

There are four things about politics that I have learned over the years. There may be more, but these are the ones I am thinking about today.

None of them are original, but they are all, I believe, important. I am also reasonably sure they are obvious to anyone who cares to pay attention.

The first one I believe comes from legendary Democratic strategist James Carville and it concerns the relative lack of interest most people have in politics. It's about political messaging and it goes like this: "When you want voters to know something about your position on an issue or about your platform, you first have to tell them what that thing is and then tell them again and finally tell them you told them. About the moment when you are absolutely sick and tired of saying the same thing over and over and over again, some people will start to listen."

The second is the sad observation that no matter how stupid or untenable a statement, someone, probably many people, will believe and repeat it. They may believe the idiotic statement because they are predisposed to believe it or it might be that they think, foolishly, that anything that has been picked up by the media might have some truth to it. And, what's more, most people like to have something to say at the water cooler or wherever it is they converse with other human beings. Most of us do like to think that we are somewhat well-informed or at least not clueless. I can't say how many times I have heard someone opine that despite what most people believe about "x," they have also heard that "y" could be true. Think here about climate change, birtherism, Obama's religion. Put it out there and someone will repeat it. I'm not counselling dishonestly, only what can happen.

The third thing is that political campaigns matter because that's when a lot of people who are generally only vaguely interested in politics, if at all, start to pay attention. As for point #1, during campaigns all your telling and re-telling may finally start to stick with people. And as for point #2, by the time things get serious there is a lot of bad information that has already become part of the landscape for all sorts of nefarious or just ignorant reasons.

So here is my fourth point, which may only be a corollary of points above but it's this: those of us concerned about the truth should never weary of saying the same things over and over again -- the same things that may have become tiresome and obvious to us -- because there will come a time when people start to pay attention and you don't want the purveyors of bullshit to have a leg up when things get real.

More than anything, politics is a battle of attrition. Let's just make sure that our truth outlasts their lies.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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