Let me tell you a story about a candidate.

He had a certain resonance with the blogsphere, not to mention a large grass-roots organization. KOS gave some advice to his campaign early on, but didn’t necessarily endorse him. KOS also didn’t censor any of the negative commentary about the candidate on Daily KOS, no matter how bad it got. People got together in real life, met each other, and realized that not only were they not alone, they were legion. And they were excited. In the end, the corporate media simply crushed the campaign by smearing it for its own enthusiasm.

That was the Dean Scream.

Howard Dean supporters were too grass-roots, apparently. They were called “Deaniacs,” “Deanybabies,” and that was just on leftie sites. He didn’t talk enough about policy, we were told, and his policies weren’t so compatible with his online supporters. If only they weren’t so emotional, they’d realize how wrong they were.

Remember that?

Too many smart people are dumb about feelings. Since they know they’re smart, and trust in their smartness, they tend to stay dumb. Their friends know this, and still love them. But they also laugh at them, and not just behind their backs. It’s good-natured, but a little sad. Perhaps our anti-intellectual culture breeds an antagonism in our more intellectual people. Being clueless about feelings becomes a sort of badge of honor.

But ignorance is never a strength.

Let me give you an example. We’ve had this conversation before, only it was about political ads rather than actual candidates. Eliot Spitzer and Jimmy Siegel put together political ads that seriously pissed off the usual Democratic media consultants (the ones who had grown accustomed to losing). The established consultants, like Hank Sheinkopf thought they were too gauzy, too short on specifics. Sound familiar?

At the time, I didn’t know what the brou-ha-ha was about. Then I went and watched one of them. I admit it: I sat right down and cried. I cried because it hit me right where I lived, as a new father. If you don’t have children, you cannot know what I mean. If Siegel, no doubt a very smart man, hadn’t spoken that language, I never would have heard him.

Or remembered him.

Or taken the time to tell you about him and why what he did was important.

Kinda like a political candidate … dig?

Can you see why politics in this key is so important?

Now, on this issue, you could wonk away about gay marriage and adoption, child care subsidies, tax credits, health care, school lunch subsidies, education, or the laws protecting children, but you’re only dealing with the issue because it matters deeply to millions of people. If you can’t deal with the latter half, fine: stay and wonk. Everybody’s got a part to play. But if you disparage people because they have this strong, affective response, then you are going to be an obstacle to winning.

So much of politics is emotional. It’s emotional because we don’t just disagree, we disagree passionately, and we disagree about things that are very important to us. If you can’t touch those heartstrings, who will be motivated to go and vote? Motivation gets people out to vote even when Republicans are trying to make it difficult to do so. Motivation gets people to spread your message, even when the corporate media is lying to you or must plain blacking out a candidate they don’t like. Motivation gets people to enunciate the principles in the face of a decrepit punditocracy that is trying to sell us on the notion of paying for someone else’s lifestyle.

You may be right on the issues, but what did you bring to the fight? You have lots of specifics in your speech. That’s nice. Is the corporate media going to carry your message for you? Back in 2004, I remember how Kerry and Edwards gave policy speech after policy speech. The corporate media talked about haircuts and green tea.

I learned that lesson. Obama learned that lesson. Have you? You can’t get “wonk” through Jabba the Crowley any more than you can play a Bach chorale on the kazoo. So, excuse the fuck out of me while I go play “Tequila” on my kazoo. You can stand over there and make snarky comments about how it should be polyphonic, octotonic, and polyrhythmic.

But no one’s going to shake their ass to your jejune sniping, Fauntleroy, so take your dementia praecox and go back to the goddamn chess club.


So, politics can get emotional. On the other hand, policy and party politics are complicated things. Therefore, campaigning will always be an uneasy marriage between wonks and gushy people. Between the two extremes an awful lot can get lost. “Smart” people often miss the point (and are sometimes even proud of it), and people who can’t afford the time to be political junkies still cast votes.

Is it beneath your dignity to reach out to them? You know who you are. Or perhaps it’s a sign of intellectual laziness that you won’t extend the effort to speak their language? The Ugly American, abroad in your own country, what can the natives be babbling about?

It’s time for you to stop shitting on the people who share your values, Poindexter. They may feel strongly, but that doesn’t mean they’re stupid.

But wait, it gets worse. Now, the people who have faulted Obama for appropriating conservatives’ rhetoric are recycling right-wing memes about the netroots in order to attack Obama. Since there is so little difference between the Clinton and Obama positions on most issues, the only way for Democrats to attack Obama is by pretending that there’s something wrong with Democrats being excited about their candidate, that there’s something suspicious (and even dangerous) about charisma.

These people have internalized the corporate media’s metanarrative imperative of “the Democrat may be nice, but he doesn’t know who he is; the Republican may be a little rough around the edges, but he means what he says.” Democrats are used to having to stick up for a guy they’re not too excited about, against a Republican who positively frightens them, if only because that’s where you’ve been told you are.

But that’s not the story any more, so some people are getting nervous. Now it’s different. The presumptive Democratic nominee has enthusiastic support the likes of which you’ve never seen (unless you’re, like, old, ‘n stuff). Meanwhile, the presumptive Republican nominee got booed at CPAC, is hated by hate radio and the base, and he can’t even pull down the veteran vote despite his “war hero” status.

You’ve never been here before, and it shows.

Otherwise well-meaning Democrats, so lost in this new situation, are reverting to the corporate media narratives we usually reject, presumably because you don’t know any better. The Krugman line on Obama, i.e., that his supporters are a hateful cult, has been picked up by various other politically unsophisticated types in the blogsphere who play at being smart, but it’s nothing more than a regurgitation of the “rabid lambs” meme.

Remember what they did to Maryscott O’Connor?


You’ve called his supporters a cult, which means you’ve called me a cult member. You’ve reduced us to your own imaginary psychological model, like Bill Frist diagnosing Terry Schiavo through television.

And we’re supposed to be the irrational ones?

If I were to return the favor of your half-assed pseudopsychological condescension, I would ask why you feel the need to live down to the stereotype of the mealy-mouthed Democrat, uncomfortable with red-meat politics, who thinks that most Americans are stupid and need to be protected from themselves.

People feel strongly about the dire state of the country they love. A lot of people are looking for an answer. And, because we have a strong executive in our political system, these needs are focussed on that person’s selection.

Deal. With. It.

Consider Stirling Newberry’s take on this issue, and some of the comments that follow it. Many of their objections to Obama’s following boil down to their concerns about having an executive at all. Those are healthy concerns, especially given the times. But other people are confusing these very constitutional fears of an overreaching executive with the man running for that office. That’s the kind of stupid I’m used to seeing in intellectual people. The irrational is so distasteful that they won’t deal with it unless the irrational becomes rational, which is just irrational (not to mention doomed).

You wanted a new politics, “new” contrasting with what we were used to, which is otherwise known as “losing.” Now that we’re in uncharted territory for Democrats, at least in living memory, this is no time to go running back into the arms of our abusers and start telling right-wing stories about the netroots … unless of course that is the only narrative you’re comfortable acting out?

Do you want to succeed? Or is this getting too scary for you?