Advice to Democrats IV


Forget Jon Stewart. Take Michael Moore.

Step 1: do a careful, dispassionate, analysis of Mr. Moore’s “propositions.”

Step 2: do a careful, dispassionate, analysis of his rhetorical style.

Step 3: do a careful, dispassionate, analysis of how Mr. Moore plays in the red states.

Step 4: do a careful, dispassionate, cost-benefit analysis of Mr. Moore’s contribution to the Democratic effort.

The results are clear:

The benefit: as a swash buckling satirist, Mr. Moore made Democrats feel good about themselves.

The cost: Mr. Moore made the rest of the country look at the Democrats with horror. “This guy is your hero? And you want my vote? You have just got to be kidding.”

I don’t care whether Moore is a good satirist or a bad one. And I am not saying that there is no place for satirists. (And I am distinctly not saying that the Republican party does not have loose cannons of its own.) I am saying that Democrats paid dearly for this satirist.

How dearly? Run the election results again on the “scenario” machine. Remove Mr. Moore from the equation. He could have been the difference between victory and loss. That’s how much the red states hate him. That’s how expensive he was.

As many of us did, I watched Monday Night Football last night, and Indiana’s victory over Minnesota. It was an astonishing game between two great quarterbacks. But some of the best shots were of Tony Dungy and Mike Tice, coaches on either side line, working out the options, ruthlessly swapping in and out the right personnel, playing the game as ferociously in their heads as their players were playing it on the field.

This is the way the Republicans conduct themselves. Michael Moore is heartening. He’s funny. And he’s a liability. Time for the Democrats to get in the game.

14 thoughts on “Advice to Democrats IV

  1. justdance2


    I agree with everything you say. But cannot the same be said about the ones on the right? If Moore is turning off undecided voters, why wouldn’t Coulter?

    Undecided voters see so little difference between the two parties that it comes down to personalities. Stiff and boring (Dukakis, Dole, Gore, Kerry) is gonna lose to charismatic (Bushes and Clinton). Get used to the sound of President Obama.

  2. Ennis

    So why did so many people, on both the left and right, go to see his movie? Isn’t the market the ultimate arbitrer of such matters?

  3. SomeCallMeTim


    [Cripes – sorry about the length].

    I’m a Dem, and I think you may be drawing the wrong conclusions from the acidity of the vitriol being directed at Bush supporters.

    In Advice II, you suggested that our problem was our apparent belief that Red Staters were acting against their own interest, and therefore were stupid. You noted that the problem was that we mistook her value system for ours, and therefore missed the interests of hers that were being served. A couple of points:

    1. You mistake our real feelings. I know there was a lot of post-election complaining about this, but it came primarily from the pundit class. Most Dems I know are Clinton Dems – centrists to the core – and we frankly don’t care how she serves her interests, as long as it doesn’t screw up ours. We are fairly libertarian. We believe that a deal was struck in the 1990s about what basic good government policy looks like – socially liberal, fiscally conservative. We want, and we think she should want, and good manager of the country – just as two partners might want a good manager for a business they own.

    2. There must be certain basic agreements between us for any cooperative effort. We understand that she might want to go in a different direction than we do with the business (the US), but we think there are certain tells that indicate a new manager is needed. If your manager came in drunk every day, you might both agree that the man needed to be replaced, whether or not you agreed who the new man (or woman – we’re Dems) should look like. We think this Administration came in drunk every day (no allusion intended), and we think that’s pretty obvious. Moreover, we think comparing the last manager with this one is an object lesson in competence and its necessity for running the Show. (To separate competence from policy, to the extent possible – I would be infinitely happier if Rumsfeld were running the Show – he’s made mistakes, but he still strikes me as roughly competent).

    And here comes Advice III – stop calling them stupid. But, you know, our boy’s coming in drunk all the time, and our partner can’t (really can’t – she’s clearly not lying about this) see it. What else are we to think but that she has certain lackings? Now, our markings of how to determine if someone is competent might be wrong, but they are the same ones that we use in the real world – can the person talk with any depth about their responsibilities, are things going wrong, do they do sufficient preparation prior to taking on a new project, do their plans hold up to even minimal scrutiny, etc. So either we use some wholly new system of determining competence – one which nothing has prepared us to understand (and seriously, if you know what it is, I’d love to know), or …what? We admit the world is no longer comprehensible, and we do what everyone does in such a situation – sit down, shut up, and take it.

    All of which leads me to this question – how do we sort out what level of disagreement this is? Clearly, if it’s basic enough, we should limit our shared projects – hence the current attractiveness of federalism for many Dems. But are you seeing anthropological clues that indicate a basic inability to commuicate?

  4. Scott McArthur

    Attacking a sitting President head on always backfires. Clinton got more popular after monicagate. Nixon was reabilitated. Dems should have remembered that. Look at the GOP campaign to unseat Carter. They made it about the issues, not the man. The electorate linked the issues to the man and chose Reagan. In 2004 the Dems made it about the man and left it up to the electors to make it to the issues : too much work.

    But let’s keep some objectivity here. Moore is much less a Democrat then Coulter, Linbaugh et all are Republican. Moore is a gonzo journalist not a politico. There is a massive cultural double standard here that is probably linked to our lizard brain and its inherent respect for authority and fear of dissent and dissenters.

    But your bigger point is right. CULTURAL leftism is an ineffective strategy for the Democrats. Since More signifies this culture, he became a typhiod Mary for the Dems. And what I find so fascinating about this is that the Dems have a superior policy framework than the Reps. Polling reveals this continously. But cultural issues murder the progressive message. There is also a basic narration problem among Democratic spokesmen. They need to treat their communication abilities more seriously and worry about policy details less; leave that to the academics.

    Did you catch the Frontline espisode on PBS last night (The Persuaders) on the future of marketing. Amazing stuff. They went inside Frank Luntz – the GOP pollsters- lab. It was scary/ facination for a Dem leaning supporter to watch. Why aren’t the Dems doing this stuff?

  5. Grant

    Justdance: Good question. Why didnt Coulter and Moore just cancel out? But it seems to be, maybe, that Moore is the more successful provocateur. He is, by choice, more sensational, with Coulter taking a slightly higher rhetorical tone. Moore wants to be the capering jester more than Coulter and its works. Plus he gets the Academy Awards performances, and that puts him in the view corridor of the Right in a way that Coulter is not in the view corridor of the Left. Thanks, Grant

    Ennis, thanks, as always, I think people went to see his movie because they wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Here too he’s higher profile than Coulter. In fact, I heard of people paying for one movie at a cinaplex and slipping into Moore’s…in order to make sure he didn’t get the sale! These people were clearly there to sus out the enemy and not to applaud him. And I am betting the came out redoubled in their political intentions.

    Some Call Me Tim, wow, nelly, nice one. Interesting to hear about the centrist Dems. But I think I hear a small refrain of I know better. The waitress in question should get that the guy comes in drunk and if she doesnt… But what if she doesnt see it that way? Or doesnt care. This is the reason she wants less government…because they always come in drunk all the time. We need to rebuild her confidence in what government does, not find her wanting. As to the last question, my post today tries to get at what rebuilding might look like. Like I would now. Thanks for a great post. Best, Grant

    Scott, I missed the Frontline piece. The thing that kills me about the Right’s hostility for the cultural policy is that it seems to me that it represents a very Christian practice and the exercise of the generosity that is the defining feature of the church, at least by my naive reckoning. But then that was the point of Varities of Religious Experience, I think: that Christ would not be welcome in at least some of the institutions that bear his name. Thanks, Grant

  6. Ennis

    Grant —

    First, people who went to see the movie but bought a ticket for another movie wouldn’t be counted in Moore’s grosses. Over and above those people, he had record ticket sales for a documentary. Furthermore, he has consistently had those kinds of sales, while other documentary makers have not.

    I doubt you can get those kinds of record box office grosses based simply on people checking out the enemy. If you hate Moore, you can rely on your favorite media source to tell you about the movie without having to waste 2 whole hours watching it.

    I live in a red state, and was intrigued by the advertising that theater’s used — they used the review from the Fox movie critic who called this a must see patriotic movie. I’m sure people knew who Moore was. But the point is that he is a credible enough populist that people were perfectly willing to believe that he had made a patriotic movie. If that’s so, then it’s hard to believe that he lost the election for Kerry.

  7. Grant

    No, but my point is, if some people were “sneaking in,” others must have gone out of curiosity or with ill intent (and paid). He’s good theatre, providing value for money whether you agree with him or not. The real figure we need here is walk outs. I am guessing this was high. Because you are right, if you really hate him, you don’t stay for the whole thing. But the question is this: even a big box office is still within the margin of Dem loyalists. The number is not in other words big enough to suggest that nonDems went. Those who hate him didnt have to see the movie. He is a big media presence and it is now possible his stuff on cable rotation. Plus, there he was at the academy awards. Thanks, Grant

  8. AH

    Some call me puzzled. I thought we would look to whether a policies of the administration, one or a group of decisions was imprudent, given the stakes and the information at the time. Whether the humiliation of Abu G. was fatal to our honor and/or success.

    How do we declare that anyone was drunk? Except to beg the question.

  9. SomeCallMeTim


    If it wasn’t clear, “drunk” was a metaphor with unintended allusions. I think you’re right – we look at the decisions, based on (a) what we thought we knew then, and (b) what we know now.

    1. What we thought we knew then:

    This is normally a play about WMD. To me, what is disheartening about Bush (to be fair, also true about Dems, and the media) is that he even used the phrase WMD. We have no reason to fear anything but nukes. Nukes – or the production of them – leave a signature, as I understand it. A nuke program in Iraq (i) we would have known about, and (ii) we could have trusted the Israelis to handle, since it’s a greater risk to them.

    2. What we know now

    At a minimum, we know that this Administration is no better at ferretting out the truth than anyone else (and worse, apparently, then Howard Dean). So at least we can dismiss any claim of superiority in this area as a reason to keep them on. Given that they held fast to certain ideas throught the election (Cheney), I think we can make considerable arguments beyond that.

    3. General Competence

    I was really talking about the way in which we evaluate claims in an imperfectly modeled world, and in turn evaluate the claimers. I think you look to see if (a) things are internally consistent in models, and (b) if the models are at variance with commonly understood “facts”. So, for example, if the Bush Administration wants a tax cut for stimulus, then you would think that it should be structured for maximum velocity of money – toward the lower end. Furthermore, you can argue that if the downturn was the result of most economic pain in America, and it was the result of either 9/11 or a bubble, then, as it was no one’s fault, you would think you would structure the cuts to help those most likely to be hurt – middle class or below – absent other rationalizations. You can’t argue that you wanted to give money to the investing class, because money was (and is) relatively cheap.

  10. Ennis

    Grant: “with Coulter taking a slightly higher rhetorical tone”
    [selected quotes]

    Ann Coulter, who wrote in a syndicated column on September 12 that in responding to terrorists “we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

    the following week, Coulter was at it again: “Congress could pass a law tomorrow requiring that all aliens from Arabic countries leave….We should require passports to fly domestically. Passports can be forged, but they can also be checked with the home country in case of any suspicious-looking swarthy males.”

    What’s curious is that Coulter’s comments aren’t all that different, in tone and style, from hundreds of others she’s made over the years. But in the past, her ire was directed at her domestic political enemies—for which she drew fulsome praise from conservatives.

    here are some of Coulter’s past comments:

    “[Clinton] masturbates in the sinks.”—Rivera Live 8/2/99

    “God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.'”—Hannity & Colmes, 6/20/01

    The “backbone of the Democratic Party” is a “typical fat, implacable welfare recipient”—syndicated column 10/29/99

    To a disabled Vietnam vet: “People like you caused us to lose that war.”—MSNBC

    “Women like Pamela Harriman and Patricia Duff are basically Anna Nicole Smith from the waist down. Let’s just call it for what it is. They’re whores.”— 11/16/00

    Juan Gonzales is “Cuba’s answer to Joey Buttafuoco,” a “miscreant,” “sperm-donor,” and a “poor man’s Hugh Hefner.”—Rivera Live 5/1/00

    “I think there should be a literacy test and a poll tax for people to vote.”—Hannity & Colmes, 8/17/99

    “I think [women] should be armed but should not [be allowed to] vote.”—Politically Incorrect, 2/26/01

    “If you don’t hate Clinton and the people who labored to keep him in office, you don’t love your country.”—George, 7/99

    “We’re now at the point that it’s beyond whether or not this guy is a horny hick. I really think it’s a question of his mental stability. He really could be a lunatic. I think it is a rational question for Americans to ask whether their president is insane.”—Equal Time

    “It’s enough [to be impeached] for the president to be a pervert.”—The Case Against Bill Clinton, Coulter’s 1998 book.

    “I think we had enough laws about the turn-of-the-century. We don’t need any more.” Asked how far back would she go to repeal laws, she replied, “Well, before the New Deal…[The Emancipation Proclamation] would be a good start.”—Politically Incorrect 5/7/97

    “If they have the one innocent person who has ever to be put to death this century out of over 7,000, you probably will get a good movie deal out of it.”—MSNBC 7/27/97

    “The presumption of innocence only means you don’t go right to jail.”—Hannity & Colmes 8/24/01

    “I have to say I’m all for public flogging. One type of criminal that a public humiliation might work particularly well with are the juvenile delinquents, a lot of whom consider it a badge of honor to be sent to juvenile detention. And it might not be such a cool thing in the ‘hood to be flogged publicly.”—MSNBC 3/22/97

    “The thing I like about Bush is I think he hates liberals.”—Washington Post 8/1/00

    “The swing voters—I like to refer to them as the idiot voters because they don’t have set philosophical principles. You’re either a liberal or you’re a conservative if you have an IQ above a toaster. “—Beyond the News, Fox News Channel, 6/4/00

    “My libertarian friends are probably getting a little upset now but I think that’s because they never appreciate the benefits of local fascism.”—MSNBC 2/8/97

    “You want to be careful not to become just a blowhard.”—Washington Post 10/16/98

  11. Ennis

    This one is worth repeating, b/c we were talking about condescention:

    Ann Coulter said:

    “The swing voters—I like to refer to them as the idiot voters because they don’t have set philosophical principles. You’re either a liberal or you’re a conservative if you have an IQ above a toaster. “—Beyond the News, Fox News Channel, 6/4/00

  12. Ennis

    p.s. Grant — I’m actually not trying to be partisan, I’m just too frazzled these days to do a good job framing my remarks so I just toss them out there and trust your quite impressive sense of intellectual fairness to take them constructively.

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