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Another win for the Gipper

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Who was the big winner in the mid-term elections? In this week’s Centre Square commentary, Chris Satullo suggests it was a person who died in 2004.

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Dozens of explanations zip around the Web for the Republicans’ sweeping victories in last week’s midterms.  A lot of them have merit.

Me, I think it mostly comes down to the art of The Story.

Not stories, with a small s, like politicians’ shopworn anecdotes about the grandma who can’t afford her medicine or the Main Street entrepreneur drowning in red tape.

No, The Story, capital T, capital S — the master narrative about what’s right with America and what’s wrong, and what we have to do protect what’s right and fix what’s wrong.

As Tuesday night made clear, the Republican Party is still the master of the master narrative.  They are still flogging the brilliant story that Ronald Reagan wove several generations ago.   That’s the narrative that still rules most Americans’ passing understanding of issues, even voters who don’t consider themselves Republican.  This narrative still governs how even the so-called liberal media covers the game.

And the narrative, because it offers emotional comfort as well as well as neat understanding of how things work, is more powerful than facts.  Uncongenial facts bounce off it, and fall to the floor.

Liberals, to their pain, trust way too much in their favorite facts; they pay far too little heed to the power of narrative.  Clinton is the only Democrat who can touch Reagan at weaving The Story. Obama is surprisingly bad at it.

So we’re still living in Reagan’s America, where conservative ideas bring the dawn, and liberal notions hurry along the night.  It’s a place where government, until proven otherwise, is assumed to be part of the problem.  A place where it’s still possible to win by claiming, only months after Lehman Brothers and Deepwater Horizon, that business would cure all our woes if only we lightened up on the regulation.

A place where solutions are said to be simple –  if only you have values and principles. Where governing seems complex only if you’re a pointed-headed, secular, coastal liberal aping tired European ideas. A place where deficits are always caused by spending too much, not taxing too little.

I’m not saying that every one of the independent voters who flocked to the GOP banner this time subscribes fully to that vision.

But with Democrats’ pathetic failure to weave any alternative story of compelling heft and emotion, the Reagan narrative is the default to which many Americans retreat in a time of anxiety, anger and confusion.

Ronald Reagan has been dead six years – and he’s still the most important person in American politics.


  • Lee Goldberg says:

    This editorial may identify one of the fundamental issues that must be addressed before America can look clearly at our situation and agree on what must be done to fix a nation that’s gone terribly wrong. Until then, Regan’s simplistic but brilliant framing makes many critical issues difficult to discuss, and in some cases invisible to the general public. I just wish that somebody at the DNC would read George Lakoff’s “Don’t Think Of and Elephant” – see http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/elephant

  • Rita says:

    Thank you for giving that idea a public voice!

    It would be great if skilled, professional, creative people of several mediums, who have researched or are even interested in American political history, would cohesively organize efforts and start generating a lot of factually based, friendly, easy to understand narratives about the issues in the context of history. They would need to be broadcast in whatever medium it takes to spread the word to the same people who believe that the likes of Glenn Beck’s slant on history is the big answer to what the country needs.

    • Rita says:

      I’d also like to mention that I watched the American Experience story of Ronald Reagan a couple of months ago. Seeing it enabled me to fully understand why Reagan was so influential. The Great Communicator, indeed.

      I’d also recommend Boogeyman, the story of Lee Atwater to learn about Karl Rove’s mentor who (from my perspective) was the originator of modern attack campaigning and character assassination. To me this is another angle on how the GOP does it. Their go-for-the-throat spinmeisters get out ahead of whatever positive messages are put out by Dems, and then discredit it. Atwater and FoxNews president, Roger Ailes, worked together in the ’80’s to discredit Michael Dukakis via untruths and false rumors, and facilitate GHW Bush being elected. Ailes consulted a for Reagan in ’84.

  • mair says:

    I, like any good and educated liberal, resort to facts even while knowing they are futile in the face of fantasy – especially in the current landscape. What to do?? I know there are powerful stories on the liberal side. It is incredibly frustrating not to see them routinely shouted from the ramparts.

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