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Get Your Cynicism Here

One of the ways you can sort of organize your thoughts for stoytelling, writing a novel let's say, is to think about the primary emotion you want to evoke in your audience. You want your readers awed, scared, moved, angry, paranoid, guilty, aroused, amused, depressed and so on. Not that you're stuck playing to a single emotion, but one will tend to predominate with other emotions are used to accentuate that core feeling.

(The kid series I'm working on right now I'm looking for "scared." The last thing I wrote I wanted "amused.")

It works much the same in politics. A good politician needs a narrative, and that narrative should evoke a primary emotion. For a long time the primary emotion of the GOP was anger. They wanted you angry. Angry at liberals, angry at the poor, angry at government, angry at minorities. Angry.

The Democratic narrative was built around guilt. You were meant to feel guilty about your prosperity, guilty about your whiteness, guilty about your maleness, guilty about your Americanness.

Anger is a much better motivator than guilt. Guilt is passive, anger is active.

But now both narratives are changing. The new Republican emotion is fear. You are particularly encouraged to be afraid of terrorists, but also to be afraid of Mexican landscapers, and afraid of science. Fear is the narrative. So for the next couple of months expect to get a heavy dose of fear.

The same government that failed to get Osama, and has spent the last three years trying hard not to utter his name, will be exploiting its own failures by evoking the emotion of fear. Be afraid: we haven't succeeded in making you safe, so vote for us.

The Democrats inherit the anger motif. They'll do all they can to make you mad: mad about Iraq, primarily, but also mad about gas prices and mad about the economy and, if they are clever, mad about being made to feel afraid.

The GOP moves their narrative from anger to fear. The Democrats go from guilt to anger. Fear and anger are both powerful emotions to evoke -- from a storytelling point of view. But the success of one narrative or another will depend to some extent on outside events. The GOP would profit from a terrorist "close call." Expect one to materialize, probably about two weeks out from the election, say third week of October.

The Dems would profit from bad news in Iraq but have no ability to influence events.

Fear vs. Anger is a wash, either one works. But the President has the power to influence real world events to support his storyline, while Nancy Pelosi does not, so advantage GOP. However, the GOP has the problem of backstory: the story to this point favors anger over fear. Gas prices are real, worries about the economy are powerful, and Iraq is a genuine fiasco. Advantage Democrats.

On balance the Dems have the better narrative but the GOP in the person of Karl Rove have the better writer. If the Dems weren't idiots I'd rather be playing their hand. I guess we'll see in a couple of months.

“Get Your Cynicism Here”

  1. Blogger Burt Likko Says:

    I disagree that the Democrats have the better narrative. Fear is the most powerful emotional motivator that exists, at least when the fear rings true. If the GOP's exploitation of this emotion fails, it will be because where Rove sees demons, the public sees only the wizard; if the Democrats' exploitation of anger fails, it will be because the Democrats' anger appears to be over losing rather than over the current state of affairs.

  2. Blogger Michael Reynolds Says:

    Oh, I agree, fear is the trump. But I think as you imply it's been overplayed and is weakening.

    By the way, how glad are you to be the hell out of Tennessee? I spent 6 months in Johnson City once, ran screaming for the exit when I realized I was making a daily trip to Wal-Mart out of sheer boredom.

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