"The government should create investment conditions that allow City capital to flow into efficient-energy technologies that can be delivered in short order."
Sunday, 31 August 2008
Thursday, 28 August 2008
Sunday, 24 August 2008
Saturday, 23 August 2008
"The Democrats can usually depend on the mainstream media accepting their narratives uncritically, while the Republicans can expect them to punch holes in their storylines."
"Most amazing among the principles of the Republican Way of War is: Don't waste much time and energy probing the enemy's weaknesses. Go directly to his biggest strength. "
". . . as if popularity itself were a disqualifying factor and whoever draws the larger crowds is by definition the lesser candidate. "
Friday, 15 August 2008
Framing Science explains this week how John McCain’s campaign has successfully framed “the economy” as being about “energy”. They quote one pollster as saying:
“The Republicans' biggest problem in this election is that they are viewed as lessable to fix the economy. When the economy is defined as job loss, mortgage foreclosures, high health care costs, that's Democratic territory. Obama wants to play on that field.
"McCain wants to define it as being about energy, because his being in favor of drilling is on the right side of the [opinion poll] numbers.”
That's an impressive bit of framing. But the policy is bad. Climate Progress and Tom Friedman (to name but two) have demolished the notion that allowing more offshore drilling will solve America’s energy problems.
In another example of the way he combines clever framing with bad policy, McCain has said:
“We’re not going to achieve energy independence by inflating our tires.”
Climate Progress points out that whilst nobody has said that, the US cannot possibly solve its energy and climate problems without efficiency measures. [The same applies in the UK] They take the Republicans to task for cynically and dishonestly mocking energy efficiency and conservation.
Worse, McCain uses other frames and symbols in a hypocritical, dishonest way. McCain says he’s all for “clean energy”. For instance, his latest tv spots feature lots of windmills. Tom Friedman set the record straight this week:
"Senator McCain did not show up for the crucial vote on July 30, and the renewable energy bill [which provides for renewable energy tax credits] was defeated for the eighth time. In fact, John McCain has a perfect record on this renewable energy legislation. He has missed all eight votes over the last year -- which effectively counts as a no vote each time. Once, he was even in the Senate and wouldn't leave his office to vote."
The article details all the economic harm McCain’s votes have done to the burgeoning global industry. And there’s more, here.
As Joseph Romm says, some of the attacks on Obama’s energy policy -- in particular, his willingness to compromise on offshore drilling -- are unfair and inaccurate. But that doesn’t excuse Obama and the Democrats for failing to get their energy narrative together. And by framing the whole debate in terms of oil prices, politicians from both parties are dodging the real issue: how to achieve energy security and climate security in the post-oil economy.
Monday, 11 August 2008
Two questions keep coming up. I suggest that both are really false dilemmas.
Paul Willis asks:
"Do you think you could be persuaded by a politician's story over their policies?"
I don’t agree that’s the choice you need to make. If it works, a politician’s (or party’s) own story should work with their stances on issues (or policies), to engage both the heads and the hearts of the public. The personal story will make the policies seem real and authentic; the policies (framed correctly) will provide the substance and exemplify the story.
That’s what Margaret Thatcher succeeded when telling her political story. She argued that the solution to Britain’s economic problems was based on hard work and thrift, with government limiting its own spending and borrowing; England’s middle classes would thrive when freed from the bonds imposed by state socialism and the trade unions. The grocer’s daughter from Grantham worked all hours and played the frugal housewife.
For all his strengths as a personal storyteller, this is what Barack Obama is not doing now. Drew Westen, author of the acclaimed book The Political Brain, says:
"Barack Obama has told one story: that he will bring change and hope. Many have argued, from early in the Democratic primary season, that his was a campaign of soaring rhetoric and words without substance. That charge has "stuck" in the minds of many voters, who say they don't really know who Obama is and where he stands. It's a peculiar charge for a candidate who has laid out detailed plans for every issue of our time. Try going to his website or listening to his wonkish policy addresses.
"But whereas the standard Democratic response is to throw more plans and positions against the wall and hope that they'll stick, that's missing the point: that Obama hasn't yet told a coherent, consistent narrative of who he is that weaves together the themes of his campaign with his own life history. The result is that he has left his race, his exotic history, and the smear campaigns aimed at defining him as "not one of us" to resonate with voters."
The other false choice is: whether to tell a positive story about yourself or a negative one about your opponents.
Drew Westen’s brilliant article explains why this is a blind alley. He discusses why many American voters still have an uneasy feeling about Obama and says:
"His campaign needs to understand why that happened, because it's the same thing that happened to Al Gore and John Kerry. It's about narratives.
"There is a simple fact about elections that has eluded Democrats in every presidential campaign they have lost in the last 40 years: that as a candidate, you have to focus first and foremost not on a litany of "issues" but on four stories: the story you tell about yourself, the story your opponent is telling about himself, the story your opponent is telling about you, and the story you are telling about your opponent. Candidates who offer compelling stories in all four quadrants of this "message grid" win, and those who leave any of them to chance generally lose."
Westen argues that Al Gore didn't tell any of the four; John Kerry told just one and lost when he failed to respond to the two major stories told about him: that he was a flipflopper and a fake war hero. Neither campaign told a coherent story about George W. Bush.
He goes on:
"John McCain is telling a story about himself--that he's a man of courage and conviction who loves his country. He is telling a story about Obama--that he's a man of none of those things . . . After watching Obama enthrall the rest of the world and the troops McCain claims Obama doesn't support last week, he is now in full attack mode, trying to tell a story about his opponent's greatest strength (that Obama is someone who can inspire people, and can even do so on a world stage, where McCain's master narrative had claimed a decided advantage). So now he is telling the story of Obama as an arrogant, uppity, empty celebrity."
Westen says that, like Kerry, Obama has offered American voters one story (“change and hope”) when he should have offered four. And he wants Obama’s team to be much faster and more forceful when in making a counter-response and to do more to define McCain so as to drive up his negatives (that is, tell a story about him).
Westen’s story quadrants apply in British politics. In 2005, for instance, Tony Blair told a story about himself and his government: that the economy was strong, public services were getting better and it was no time to risk a change. He had a story about the Liberal Democrats: that we were irresponsible and unrealistic in our spending promises. When we took Blair to task over Iraq, he told stories based on his personal courage (“the right thing to do”) and fears about world security. And when we called ourselves “the real alternative”, he claimed that, in voting for the Lib Dems, people could let the Tories in. All of these worked, to various degrees.
Now, two (related) questions:
Do the Liberal Democrats (nationally or in your area) have stories for all four quadrants of Drew Westen’s message grid?
And do our story about the party (and Nick Clegg) and our policy stories match with and embody one another?
More on that soon.
Tuesday, 5 August 2008
Now, after a slow start, the McCain campaign shows us how counter-stories really work; in the process, they might be proving something thoroughly unpleasant about American politics.
McCain’s latest slogan, “country first,” implies that Obama puts something else (himself? his race?) ahead of the nation. McCain charges that Obama “would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.” His “Troops” spot claims that Obama, while in Germany, “made time to go the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops—seems the Pentagon wouldn’t allow him to bring cameras.” Then there’s the “Celeb”spot, with its intercut images of Obama in Berlin, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears. Framing Science has put up a McCain ad suggesting that Obama is the anti Christ!
New York magazine’s John Heileman explains it like this:
"The strategy behind all this isn’t hard to discern: Drive up Obama’s negatives and render him unacceptable to pivotal voting blocs. Thus the depiction of him as too young, too feckless, and too pampered to be president . . . the portrayal of him as precious, self-infatuated, and effete [and] the emphasis on Obama’s rock-star persona, designed to engender envy and contempt among the swath of Middle America for which hipness is no virtue but a sign of pretension."
In portraying Obama as a self-centred, elitist meritocrat, the Republican campaign has seized on lingering concerns about him. This is much more about emotions and instincts than words and policies.
Steve and Cokie Roberts say that the election will be decided over how Americans answer the question, is Obama one of us?
"As Peter Hart, a Democrat who conducts the Wall Street Journal poll with Republican Neil Newhouse, puts it: "Voters want to answer a simple question: Is Barack Obama safe?" The answer to that question draws on more evidence than years served, jobs held and positions taken. Voters want to know about a candidate's character, judgment and temperament. They want to sense his scars and his seasoning. And they learn these things through narrative, the stories leaders tell about their lives and troubles.”
They also point out that:
". . . to many Americans, Obama is still a stranger, an exotic and mysterious stranger with an odd name, a dark face, a weird pastor, a cheeky wife and a brief past."
The right-wing pundit David Brooks says that American voters cannot “place” Obama in any familiar social context. He paints Obama as a man who has always “lived apart” from American society. His advice to the McCain campaign:
"In the short term they have to try to define him [Barack Obama] as someone who thinks he's above everyone else."
So, the McCain people are saying that Obama isn’t “one of us”. That’s a powerful frame in politics: “us”. Normal. Acceptable. Part of the “mainstream”. Having the correct values. Patriotic. Like me. Not like “them” who are none of these things. And, yes, white. The notion of “us” can’t be separated from race.
David Gergen a spin doctor who has worked for Republican and Democrat presidents, from Nixon to Clinton, says:
"There has been a very intentional effort to paint him as somebody outside the mainstream, other, 'he's not one of us,'
"I think the McCain campaign has been scrupulous about not directly saying it, but it's the subtext of this campaign. Everybody knows that. There are certain kinds of signals. As a native of the south, I can tell you, when you see this ad, 'The One,' that's code for, 'he's uppity, he ought to stay in his place.' "
Last week, Democratic strategists were worried that Obama didn’t have a big enough lead over McCain. Now, they are worried that the election is a dead heat. (Jafapete has more details)
Obama urgently needs to take back control of his narrative. Part of the answer lies in re-telling his personal story, just like Bill Clinton, the “boy from hope”, did in 1992. Obama would do well to emulate Clinton’s mix of economic populism and embracing change.
But Obama has undermined his own story too. In the words of Dana Milbank, he has seemed more like a presumptuous nominee than a presumptive nominee over recent weeks. Obama connects best when he promises change and a fresh start and looks and sounds like both. New narratives on the economy and energy would help to show what change would mean.
Sunday, 3 August 2008
"Our message has become blurred and lacking a distinctive Liberal Democrat edge. We lack a political narrative that brings clarity and cohesion."