Monday, November 29, 2004

Gluttony- My Favorite Deadly Sin

Hope everyone's Thanksgiving was as enjoyable as mine (which, if you knew me well, you would conclude was intended to be a curse). The holidays in general, and this holiday in particular, have always struck me as uniquely American, consumption (in all its varieties) being our true national pastime. Eating and buying. God Bless America.

I've been thinking some more about the process of persuasion. Merely being right is not enough- in fact, it's not really anything at all. Republicans understand this (and they don't even have the benefit of being right). Much of the so-called Contract With America, the ideological genesis of the Republican revolution, actually lacked popular support. Rather than alter the goals of the contract, and thus back off their policy goals, Frank Luntz (evil, weird haired genius) found the langauge necessary to sell. If people have a problem with your policies, simply change the rhetoric.

This is a fundamental left-right wedge. People on the left frequently approach problems from the language of need. Why do you need a (Barret M-82 sniper rifle/Hummer/ 5,000 square foot McMansion)? Parse out the words- "Why do you need..." First of all, it's apparent that we are talking about you and that I know better than you do. Second, we approach from the perspective of need- no one needs a Hummer, but many people want a Hummer.

People on the right approach the same problem from a different paradigm- Why can't I have a (Barret/Hummer/McMansion)? Whether we care to admit it or not, for a good number of our countrymen, these things are cool. That alone justifies the need (what microeconomists would call a preference), and any attempt to restrict our access to such things amounts to an attack on what we want itself. This is one reason why the language of need fails to resonate. (I am remided of Phil Gramm's famously asinine quote, "I have more guns than I need, but fewer than I want.")

If we are to make inroads among fiscally responsible RINO's, we need to co-opt some of this language. Why can't I have clean water? Why can't we have safe schools? Why can't we all enjoy the benefits of marriage? Of safe, legal reproductive care? It's a subtle shift away from our traditional paradigm, but one I think it is necessary to make. After all, the Wobblies wanted not only bread, but roses as well.

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