Saturday, April 30, 2005

On the Mechanism of the Elevator Pitch

It’s not what you say about the issues, it’s what the issues say about you,” or so claims the Decembrist.

But I think he gets it wrong. He says that the Republican strategy is to show that Bush is resolute and reliable by having consistent positions, repeating the same thing. Rather, the purpose is to assert a pseudo-principle, a sound bite as principle, to avoid analysis. Since principles are not subject to analysis, kind of like feelings, reporters can’t really attack it so much as repeat it. The elevator pitch meme is basically a fusion of three statements that act as pseudo principles:

“Smaller government, family values, and national security.”

It works like this:

Q: Mr. President, your policies in Iraq could be characterized as a total failure with the whole Middle East appearing to slide into the Iranian sphere of influence, preserving a formerly weak regime and possibly allowing it to develop nuclear capabilities, how aren’t your policies a complete waste of time, money and young American lives?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Flounder, you don’t mind if I call ya flounder, do ya? Sure, some of my opponents may say those things, but what they don’t understand is that I care about this nation’s security and/or spreading freedom, and I will do anything to protect it. My opponents may not be so devoted to our nations security and/or the Iraqi people’s freedom. Saddam was a threat to our security and he had to be taken care of, and now the Iraqi people are free. Next question.
So every question turns into an opportunity to state the relevant point (candidate/party of national security). It then turns from an opportunity for the reporter to analyze the position, by discussing facts and, well, talking about the issue, and into the politician questioning the reporter’s persistence when the answer is so obvious (TP:I am red. Q:Red could be viewed as bad, why are you red? TP: I am red, don’t you get it?)

To better illustrate, here is a hypothetical conversation with Judy Woodruff using part of my Democrat elevator pitch in appropriate places.

WOODRUFF: Senator, now that the president has laid out his plan, or more of his plan on Social Security, isn't it incumbent on the Democrats to do more than just say no to everything?

SCHUMER: Well, so far the President seems to be endangering the retirement stability that so many American families have come to rely on. We can’t support the current policy proposals from the president because we want to preserve this important resource for families.

WOODRUFF: But isn’t that like just saying no and not coming up with an alternative?

SCHUMER: Judy, you have to understand, American families are being squeezed all the time by the Republicans, in education, in health care, and now in retirement security. We want to make sure families have the resources to confront the challenges of the future. And that is why we take this position, because we are the party of family resources.

WOODRUFF: He said I'm willing to listen to good ideas from either party. The American people look at this and they see the Democrats not even willing to come halfway. Not even willing to engage in a conversation. Why couldn't that come back to hurt the Democrats?

SCHUMER: What, defending the resources American families need to succeed? I think the American people know better then that, Judy. [Sub-text: How stupid are you Judy?]
This illustrates the use of the “elevator pitch”. I mean how stupid are you Judy? We are the party of family resources!! Never mind what that actually means, if you do not stop everything you are doing and acknowledge that not only are we the party of family resources, but that any party that is not us is devoted to completely depriving every family of every resource it has, we will continue to repeat this point until you get it (meaning you start repeating it). This is principle! It is completely impervious to your analysis, Woodruff the Dense, for it cannot be analyzed. We feel it deep in our Democrat bones “family resources”. Viewed through the eyes of the average American TV surfer, you see a common sense folksy (Jewish Senator from NYC) guy demonstrating the complete incompetence of the flashy network news anchor. “Even I am smarter then Judy Woodruff,” they think to themselves, “The Democrats are the party of family resources! Duh.”

That is how it works. It makes the viewer feel smart as the news agent tries in vain to pull apart and deconstruct this (quasi-meaningless) statement. Instead of delving into the motives of the Democrat position, it practically begs the question of the press “Why aren’t you communicating this,” reversing the roles so that the news agent is the antagonist and the Democrat is the protagonist.

To see how we fall into the role of antagonist when discussing the issues (as opposed to what the issues say about us) the actual exchange (from Friday's Inside Politics, out of Lexis):

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Nice to talk to you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Senator, now that the president has laid out his plan, or more of his plan on Social Security, isn't it incumbent on the Democrats to do more than just say no to everything?

SCHUMER: Well, let me say first, he hasn't laid out a concrete plan. We're awaiting in the Finance Committee a legislative proposal. They haven't even been called up to testify. We have the outlines of what president wants and they're not very good. He was in a hole when he talked about privatization and now he's digging the hole a bit deeper by talking about these dramatic cuts to even middle-class people on Social Security.

It's our view that the president was the one who called this a crisis. Social Security is going to be in good shape 'til 2042. That doesn't mean we wait till 2041, but it doesn't mean we need to do something by this summer. And if he feels that it's incumbent, that it's a crisis, send us a detailed plan on what he believes and then will react to it.

But we're not going to, on the basis of one press conference and one speech, come out with our detailed plan, particularly in light of the fact that, again, we don't believe it's a crisis. We believe Social Security needs some changes, but we want to keep it basically the way it is. We're not recommending dramatic overhaul.

WOODRUFF: Let me read to you one of your Democratic colleagues in the Senate, Ben Nelson of Nebraska said. He said, "while the president did not lay out a complete plan to address solvency," he said, "I'm pleased that he did present one idea for us to consider as part of a solvency solution." And that of course is referring to the proposal to protect benefits for low-income workers and the benefit cuts for others.


Well, couple of things here. He did talk about in general terms the plan that Mr. Posen had out together. But we don't know the details. And as you know the devil is off in the details.

Second, what he has talked about we don't find -- I think the vast majority of Democrats -- don't find to their liking. And privatization would entail such a dramatic overhaul of Social Security, fundamentally it's destruction as we know it from an insurance policy to an investment policy, that we believe he has to take that off the table before we sit down and negotiate.

WOODRUFF: Well, the president is saying also though, senator. He said I'm willing to listen to good ideas from either party. The American people look at this and they see the Democrats not even willing to come halfway. Not even willing to engage in a conversation. Why couldn't that come back to hurt the Democrats?
At this point, she has Schumer, the rest is just watching him squirm. There is pretty much nothing at this point Schumer can say that will distract attention from the seeming incongruity.

SCHUMER: Well, because I think most of the American people believe we are defending a program that they love. And the president is trying to radically overhaul a program that they recommend. And that's why he's in so much trouble. The more he speaks about it, the less happy they are with his plan.

And there is a simple solution. We brought it up a lot of times. First, the president has to take privatization off the table. We believe privatization's equal to the destruction of Social Security as we know it. Then, my view -- and this is the view of many Democrats -- he could do just what Ronald Reagan did. Put together a grouch of respected Democrats and Republicans who would make the adjustments, twist the dials if you will, and preserve Social Security for this generation and for future generations.
Ok, three lines of what he should have been repeating all along and then back into responding to the Republican talking points. Point: Woodruff. Fifteen – luv. Serve:

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about judicial nominees…
At this point I realize that the point maybe this: fuck refuting their talking points, just make up shit.


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2:04 AM  

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