The conveyor belt:: The "left" marketing of Republican stories

A friend sent an email with a number of the standard complaints liberals have about President Obama and, although I knew it wouldn't work, I sent back some factual corrections. The response was "those sound like excuses". Marketing works and the goal of of consumer marketing is to produce an emotional reaction that feels more authentic than boring facts. Since Roger Aisles managed Nixon's campaign, Republican marketing has zeroed in on associating Democrats with "weak", "untrustworthy/unreliable", and either "effeminate" or "bitchy" depending on the gender of the target. Republicans on the other hand are tough, strong, decisive, manly or desirable. In the last couple of years the Republicans have made use of blogs and social media as well as the "alternative media" to pitch this story as "criticism from the left" or "principled opposition". So in addition to Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman of the Times referring to the President as "Obambi" and "this bland, timid guy who doesn’t seem to stand for anything in particular", respectively, DailyKos writes "President grovelling beaten lump Obama still believes in unicorns", and FireDogLake tells us about "further spineless capitulation". Once the brand is established, it is automatic and self-reinforcing and immune to "excuses". Although President Obama seems to have faced down and fended off a very aggressive Republican attack via the budget process, the impression of capitulation has been sold so well that many people will never have a clear idea of what happened. What most readers will remember is "completely caved" and not the grudging later admission "So given political realities, this deal is probably less bad than it otherwise could have been, and at least in my view, it's better than shutting the government down." Of course the progressive blogs rarely even admit error.
Now that we have the details of last Friday's budget compromise, and now that we know that President Obama clearly out-played the Republicans in every aspect, will the very serious media and the pants-pissing Professional Left apologize or walk-back their narrative of cave-in and capitulation?

I wouldn't count on it, even though it's painfully obvious that a narrative was chosen to run with before anyone actually knew what was included in the bill.

The narrative is chosen and the facts are not only ignored, but made irrelevant. The Nation magazine provided startlingly sharp example of how this works in an article in which President Obama and his main legislative aide were repeatedly castigated for supposedly dishonest, weak, cowardly backing away from the promise to push Congress to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. What is so impressive about this account is that it was written after the President delivered on the promise. Ari Berman who wrote The Nation piece and some of his sources feel betrayed by what they perceive as a weak and dishonest Administration and the fact that the Administration delivered what it promised is irrelevant. And then the Nation article becomes a source itself as Joan Walsh in Salon cites it as evidence. Anyone who reads Ms. Walsh's story without starting out deeply skeptical of Ms. Walsh, will find more reason to believe what "everyone says". Once your branding campaign is folklore, you win. The influence of this "criticism from the left" is magnified because it perfectly complements the campaign the Republicans carry out in the mainstream media and on Fox, but it spreads virally via influenced media figures, social media, and person to person. When the RNC writes
In His Speech Tomorrow, Obama Will Avoid The Details Just Like He Has Avoided Leading On Fiscal Reform

OBAMA’S SPEECH WILL BE SHORT ON SPECIFICS, AS USUAL http://www.gop.com/index.php/news/comments/just_another_vague_speech#ixzz1JLbG62v9

and the Washington Post writes
Obama Has Been “Mostly AWOL” On The “Big Ideological Budget Discussions.” “They're also talking about the big, ideological budget discussions that must occur in the future. ‘There are going to be I think very sharply contrasting visions in terms of where we should move the country,’ Obama said. ‘That's a legitimate debate to have.’ Really? So where has the president been in that debate? Mostly AWOL, so far as I can tell.” Read more: http://www.gop.com/index.php/news/comments/just_another_vague_speech#ixzz1JLdT4Pbg
(note the source) And then "progressive" blogger Digby responds to the WAPO story with
So this is it: Obama turns to his bipartisan deficit commission’s blueprint for reducing debt Keep in mind that there was no deficit commission report. They couldn't reach the required consensus. I'm guessing Obama figures he can get this one through the way Clinton got NAFTA. I guess we'll see.
and here's a sample of what Digby's always furious commentators come up with
Actually, Obama doesn't so much engage in kabuki as he engages in one coy striptease after another. Keep 'em confused, bamboozled, and guessing seems to be his motto. ... The reason you can't say where he stands and what he thinks is because Obama has no core principles. I know it's hard to believe, in this day and age, but unfortunately it's true. The only thing he believes in is himself. .... Voila! The Dem/GOP collusion with the financiers pulling the strings gets what it wants. Mission accomplished! And Obama's meta-kabuki--of feigning to oppose the kabuki of politics while in fact doing just that--is just the ticket for the low information voters ("independents").
So the conveyor belt carries the narrative from the RNC to the media to the blogs and to the commentators who retell the story all over the net and to anyone else they know. The details are different: the RNC is unhappy that Obama is imposing socialist taxes and the "progressives" hate that he's giving up all taxes to allow the rich to keep every penny, but the underlying theme of the unreliable, weak, dishonest Democratic President is the same. And it's been the same since WWII hero George McGovern was made to look like a coward compared to Dick Nixon and Jimmy Carter was mocked for his sweaters and that killer rabbit. What's changed is that the Republicans now also use all the tools of the net and modern undercover marketing. But here we are. Barack Obama who gave up an opportunity for a quiet life of wealth (like several of his Harvard Law classmates who have become absurdly wealthy) in order to take a job where millions of unhinged armed psychos dream of shooting him, is lambasted as a coward by people who never face a bigger danger than carpal tunnel syndrome. And Barack Obama who managed to get elected President against all odds is presented as naive and politically ignorant. Generally, inconvenient facts that might cause the illusion to flicker are suppressed. For example:
  • Both Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders sided with the Republicans to forbid the Administration from closing Guantanamo.
  • The much criticized health care reform bill was hailed by Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee as being an accomplishment as significant as the passage of the Civil Rights acts. Barbara Lee, who was the only member of Congress brave enough to vote against authorizing the invasion of Afghanistan was a widely cited authority in progressive media until President Obama was inaugurated.
  • Progressive Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown joined Republican efforts to make the budget bill a hostage for choking the EPA - as a favor for Southern Ohio's miners and power plants
In fact, as WSY commentator Aleth noted, the critique is very light on specifics. Consider Krugman's complaint about the budget deal: not only didn't he know what was in the deal, but he never bothered to compare year to year Federal budgets to each other to see that even the cuts he imagined were taking place were minor. He certainly didn't appear to know what the coal state Democrats were up to. But he did confidently explain that the President was a weak negotiator who lacks leadership. There was a rare failure of the system last week on MSNBC when Ed Schultz (Republican until 2000, he says) was (unbelievably) hosting a panel on the status of black America. We got to see Republican PR hack Robert Traynham express his deep and sorrowful concern so many people think the President is failing to lead, Ed agreed, Cornell West chimed in to retransmit that concern as a left-wing rant against "plutocrats", and then a woman whose only claim to fame is that she said on TV that she was tired of defending the President agreed. The perfection of the conveyor belt: Republican hack, prompted by media guy, to left-wing diatribe, to concerned citizen was interrupted briefly by Al Sharpton who had the bad manners to bring some real into this nonsense. Rev. Sharpton just asked Professor West why well known academics were not then stepping up to this leadership void themselves. The question punctures the whole balloon of "progressive" anger that is used to disguise the conveyor belt. Because even if all the complaints of the progressive critics were true, their response is a giveaway. If the President is too weak to make the case, what is attacking the President supposed to accomplish. Can one imagine MLK saying that because President Kennedy was too weak and evasive to support the civil rights movement that the civil rights movement should just spend the next 2 years attacking Kennedy? Union leaders were often critical of President Roosevelt (not that you would know it from the fake history progressives seem to prefer), but they went out and organized and led strikes. Republican marketing is that the Democrats are too weak to get anything done and that Republicans are the strong. What possible advantage can sincere progressives gain from agreeing with that?
We might have a real chance to reach voters who are freaked out by what Walker, Kasich, and Snyder are doing. If they click over to the blogs that are "progressive/liberal/whatever" blogs and see these people calling Obama weak, irrelevant, a sellout, blah blah blah, why the hell would they want to join our side? Our side is a fucking mess. I don't even want to be on our side sometimes. (blogger ABL )