Monthly Archives: January 2012

Zoom, zoom, Newt’s in space

Newt Gingrich is at it again, you can’t really blame him, he is trying to win in Florida and needs a hook. It’s time to get out the zoom lens. The “zoom lens” is a mental exercise and visual trick that helps to see both a progressive and conservative point of view; it’s another way to see the multiple causes that form a progressive opinion vs. the few causes that form conservative ones. While the lens is trained on Newt you see a candidate that needs votes and needs to tell the electorate something that will make him more desirable and set him apart from the field. Newt knows that he must cut through the media chatter – people don’t want to get bogged down in policy talk or quibbling. Newt wants to be seen as a big, bold idea man. He’s put forth an edgy idea and he’s channeling Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy at the same time. He’s calculated his position and is taking a gamble on the desperate needs of the unemployed; especially the Florida unemployed.

Like lot’s of Americans, Newt is a space fan and has been for a long time. He was a youth when JFK made the press to go to the moon and I’m sure moon-talk was the uber-cool, cutting edge, techno geekspeak of the day. JFK – the still wildly popular Democratic president- created a bold challenge for Americans and gave it a deadline. Newt really needs a fresh idea to jump start the economy so he is dusting the cobwebs off of the idea of space exploration and is trying to do what Kennedy did – it just so happens that he’s pushing it in a state that has lost thousands of jobs to the shuttering of the space programs. Gingrich is channeling one of the most popular Democratic presidents in history and one of the most popular Republican presidents in history too – Ronald Reagan. Both of these presidents had big ideas that saved their butts. Reagan’s ideas were big because he crafted our current economic down turn with his deregulation plans, rejection of “do-gooders” (empathetic/altruistic people), and desire for “morning in America”. It is almost irrelevant what either president was talking about, what was really important is how they made Americans feel.

Feeling is more important than thinking when we make decisions. Continue reading

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“Stupid” debates and other dumb extremes

At this site we are all about having civilized discourse. That doesn’t mean that we don’t deal with our uncivilized culture in politics. Our political culture follows our media culture – the more extreme and dumbed down, the more attention it gets. It does not speak well of us as a people that we have let it get this bad. We are partially responsible for tuning into the trainwrecks that pass for political discussion, the other part of that responsibility lies with the marketers of media, candidates, politicians – they go for the knee jerks emotional responses. Chris Wallace, a well known Fox news personality and debate moderator has even said of the debates, “”They’re all stupid. It’s like you’re tuning in to a car race, you really want to see if there’s a wreck.” That’s especially poignant consider a study came out recently that reported that people who watched Fox news were more poorly informed than those who  watched no news at all. We all know it and no one seems to know what to do about it; what passes for news in our media culture is sensationalist entertainment with a scant sprinkling of relevant facts that pertain to our lives. The creators know what sells more ads and gets more viewers in our hyper-consumer, hyper-celebrity culture – sex, food, and fireworks.

As humans, our brains are hard wired to think of three things before anything else in our lives to insure our species survival: we need food, we need shelter/security, and we need to procreate. What that means to media producers (and campaign strategists) is that triggering emotions around those survival instincts can “win” attention more easily than any other cognitive processes. Thinking about election reform, foreign policy, or any “policy” for that matter, takes a back seat when anything titilating, gruesome, or tasty comes into view. We are like raccoons with sparkly objects, we can hardly resist these reptilian prompts, they go right to our anthropological centers. We developed these sensitivities because, until very recently, we needed them to continue the species. Now it seems they may also prove to be the demise of the species; while we are mesmerized by the fireworks of conflict, we are not being active participants in democracy.

Another explosively controversial study has emerged, reported by LiveScience, this one find a correlation between low intelligence, right-wing ideology, and racism. Continue reading

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Obama Straddles the Fence

I began this post as a sort of Cliff’s notes on the framing of the State of the Union address, but now have done the equivalent of ripping the page out of the typewriter, crumpling it up and tossing it in the can. Obama’s speech had a lot of great points, he is a good speaker and has good writers – the majority of Americans can rally around the majority of the ideas put forward in the speech. He does speak of values – which is where his progressive streak sparks a flame – then he snuffs it out when he tries to walk the fence for the sake of being “moderate”.

Americans aren’t moderates! It is popular to seem moderate and say you’re moderate, but in fact that is not how our brains operate. There are really only two positions for each detail of an issue –  we agree or disagree, yes or no, good or bad – you can almost always break an issue down in this way. We answer those questions by checking our internal value system; is it making us feel empathetic (nurturing, caring) or judgemental (strict, authoritarian). The only other possibility is that of being apathetic or unaware; even if you are uninformed, malinformed, or ignorant you may have a strong opinion, as is painfully apparent today. We are like computers in that this system of forming opinions is basically a set of ones and zeroes.

Let’s try an issue. Continue reading

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An Occupied Kind of Tea Party

The Occupy movement has done much to change the conversation in our country around issues of commerce, the worker’s plight, and the inequity that exists between the very rich and the rest of us. I am thankful that they’ve done it because the status quo discourse around those matters was painfully apathetic. There is one unfortunate aspect to what has happened in the Occupy movement that provides a chink in their armor, it’s a path that creates further division – not unity – for their cause.

I would have hoped that early on the Occupy movement would have recognized the similarities between themselves and the Tea Partiers that demonstrated a season before them. You can point out many differences but the power comes from pointing out the similarities. The Tea Party started as a rejection of the bail out of the banks – little guys vs. big guys, the workers vs. the monied classes.  They were hostile to Wall Street and the preferences showed them over Main St. It was said that they despised all things big, Big Government, Big Banks, Big Business and Big Taxes – hey, I see a solid half of values matching up. Even Big Government and Big Taxes are contested concepts and relative terms; I don’t know many people that want bigger taxes and government just for the sake of being big. Since the start of the Occupy movement – and since it is commonplace to pit folks against each other – comparisons have been made between the Occupy and Tea Party Movement.

It is time for those of us with respect for our fellow humans to try and recognize our similarities and affinities and draw from them rather than point and laugh at our differences. Originally Tea Partiers were grassroots, organically organized, and rightfully upset at a system that had discounted their opinion. These very basic and authentic roots resonate with most of us, especially the Occupy sympathizers. I for one, as a sympathizer, want to reach out to my fellow citizens and human beings. I can respectfully disagree with some points and then wholeheartedly agree with many others. We agree that our system is dysfunctional. We agree that opportunity should be fair and that favoritism is fundamentally unfair. We don’t like our tax dollars or reputations to be squandered doing wasteful or hurtful things to others. There are a host of values that we align with that could be emphasized instead of taking cheap shots and trying to “gotcha!” each other.

I come from a family and area in the Midwest where it is common that find myself in a room of loved ones that do not politically agree with me, it does not make me love them less. It used to make me like them less, but now I understand where they are coming from and the values that they hold dear. Because I also hold my values dear and would fight to uphold them, it gives me respect for my debate partner to hear their well reasoned points ring with passion and integrity. When I hear rigorous debate that ditches the sophomoric name calling and embraces ethical rules of engagement, I have hope for the future. A glorious, wonderful thing happens when we give each other the time and space to express themselves in a respectable manner: our guard relaxes, we feel safer and we open our minds to begin learning from each other. We will never all agree with each other, but we can remind each other that we are human and at least in that, we have some common values. If we are to continuing to exist, we might as well try to bring out the best in each other.

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Changing the Frame

The right to bear arms

The last two posts have related to Gingrich’s surge in popularity lately and how he has positioned himself – or been positioned by advisers – to achieve that surge.  No doubt that the Republican establishment could teach the Democratic establishment a bit about good messaging and effective communication. Whether that communication is authentic is another matter and part of another post. Today I’d like to use another Gingrich moment as a jumping off point. He recently used a key tactic when framing an argument – changing the frame.

A few nights ago, the first question at the Republican debate was directed at Newt and it was a personal question relating to the bombshell interview with Newt’s ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich . She had said that Newt asked her for an open marriage and she would not grant it. Obviously this issue is explosive for the social conservatives that make up one of the three factions of the Republican base. As mentioned in Monday’s post, Gingrich and the Ladies, he is painfully aware that his reputation as a cold hearted womanizer does him no favors when running for office. The last thing Newt wants is to headline a Republican showcase with an airing of his dirty laundry. So what did he do? He did the only thing that might divert attention, he changed the frame.

One minute the audience was waiting to see if he would confirm or deny his ex’s story, the next we are hearing about the problems with our news media. Sure enough, most of us realize that there are plenty of problems with mainstream media in America, but the timing of his indignant response served little purpose other than pushing the current issue out of our minds. It reminds me of the comedic “look over there” schtick  – followed by running the opposite direction. However put-on his indignence might be, he did somewhat successfully execute a change of frame.

When a discussion leaves you no room for a position at all – the equivalent of “how long have you been beating your wife?” – it is time to call attention to the corner you’ve been put in and get yourself out of it. It may mean leaving some accusations unanswered, some questions hanging, and not feeling satisfied, but it is necessary to move forward.  The reason you let those unanswered feelings drop is because at that point you are not only spinning your wheels, but you are spinning your wheels while your opponent enjoys controlling the conversation.  Whether Gingrich should be held accountable for his personal life in a public forum is beside the issue; he got himself out of a jam to raucous applause. It is a good technique to know. Continue reading

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