Monday, October 19, 2009

Those Carville/Greenberg focus groups 2

Talking more about the Carville/Greenberg claim that a big chunk of hard-core conservatives seem to traffic in bizarre beliefs and paranoid, conspiratorial, thinking.

I'm not sure that everyone realizes -- and the Democracy Corps memo doesn't make this clear -- that pretty much all of the quotations they get are distilled echoes of talk show hosts. This is top down communication, not bottom up ideas.

For example, here's C/G:
When they look at the totality of his agenda, they see a deliberate effort to drive our country so deep into debt, to make the majority of Americans so dependent on the government, and to strip away so many basic constitutional rights that we are too weak to fight back and have to accept whatever solution he proposes.
And here's a quotation to support that:
There’s a school of thought that if you overload the system with programs and bailouts and all that, that it will create an opportunity, some people believe it started in the 60’s with welfare and Medicare and Medicaid; if you load the system down enough till it totally collapses it, I mean, I know it sounds kind of like a conspiracy theory, but it opens the door for this whole new way of governing. I’m not saying he’s a sleeper or anything like that, but it is something to think about… I think your statement’s correct. I think it’s intentional.
Yes, there certainly is such a school of thought: it's called the Rush Limbaugh program. The idea that Democrats deliberately seek to enfeeble the population by seducing them with government handouts until they are too weak to do stand on their own is one of Rush's constant themes, as anyone who listens to his show will recognize.

I don't recognize all of the rest of it, but I'm by no means an expert on the collected works of Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, Mark Levin, and the rest of the gang. I'll wager however, that if you asked a dozen people to listen to a one week-cycle the top dozen conservative talk shows, then asked each one to cycle it through three generations of the "telephone" game, and then ask that last group to tell us what was on the programs, you would wind up with something that would be very, very, close to the Carville/Greenberg focus groups.

The problem, for Republicans (and I think all of this is primarily trouble for Republicans), is that as many have said there are lots of people making lots of money off of this, and the way to stand out from the crowd (and therefore make money) is to adopt the most radical positions. So there's every incentive for this to keep spiraling on, farther and farther from policy positions and political rhetoric that can appeal to swing voters. Even worse, because it's good business for these people for the Republicans to be out of power, there's no financial incentive, at least, for the conservative yakkers to do things (such as moderate their rhetoric) that will help Republicans win. And, worst of all for Republicans, the politicians themselves, the people who normally are expected to value winning over all and thus moderate their party's crazy position, find it quite easy to jump to the other side of the fence and start profiting financially from Republican losses. Some, no doubt, are more interested in holding political power than making money, but in normal politics politicians are thought to have a financial incentive to stay in office, an assumption that may not hold in this case.

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