Thursday, I went out with some folks to canvass on some political issues, and do some grass roots activism. I did this long enough to figure out that I'm not really qualified for that kind of thing. The goal of that day's canvassing was to pass out information about Social Security privatization, collect names and contact info, and if we were really lucky, get the folks to write some letters to Congress telling them how they oppose privatization. We were partially hampered in this goal since the trailer park that we canvassed was majority (maybe 90%) Hispanic whom we couldn't communicate with through our high-school level Spanish (at best).
Well, anyway one of the more interesting exchanges occurred between a white, blue-collar handyman and my canvass monitor, Matt. Matt had already given the canned intro speech about SS privatization, and this groups goal to go to the congress with letters to stop it, and that we wanted him to write letters to the three legislators of his district-- Representative Tom Davis and Senators John Warner and George Allen. When we mentioned Allen, he was absolutely dismayed. How could Allen be like these other Washington sleazebags and go about cutting Social Security benefits and put them at risk in that dangerous New York Wall Street. That title quote is pretty much his verbatim reaction.
"What would his daddy think?" For those of you outsiders who don't call Washington home (and that includes all of you politicians, since you in your quest to enter the corridors of power in Washington, you continually insult the city
), George Allen the Senator from Virginia is the son of George Allen the legendary football coach of the Washington Redskins. Allen is one of the two mythic coaching personalities of the team, the other being Joe Gibbs. (OK, three if you count Vince Lombardi, but he died after one season here. He's more a legend to Green Bay.) Allen had the second best winning percentage in the NFL, and he got the 'Skins to the Super Bowl in 1973 (we lost to Miami). Allen could do no wrong in this town (even if most of this belief is projection by the fans), which was an incredibly powerful asset to his son when he entered politics. (Actually, Allen is still cashing in on the football-themed chips left by his father. Really, it's painful
, especially since he only played in college.)
It actually hurt me when I saw the reaction when we told him in essence that Allen the kid betrayed working-class folks like him. (It also hurt that my monitor, who was doing the pitch to attempt to teach me how, didn't know this bit of Redskins history, but in a much different way.)
But it was instructive because it proves that Democrats can actually talk to working people if they realize not to talk university to them. In fact, if you need some instruction, watch King of the Hill
. It's a funny show that is actually respectful to middle America. Mike Judge and Greg Daniels know how to identify with the "American everyman," and even made him -- Hank Hill -- the center of the show. George Bush and the Republican Party has been good at presenting themselves as the champion of middle America and common sense, but remember those impeachment numbers I posted earlier. If Bush was found to have lied about the threat of Iraq, 42% think he should be impeached, and I think Hank Hill would agree with those people.
Yet, on the flip side of my George Allen story, it also plays into my beliefs, shared by and articulated expertly by Jon Chait -- ideas don't win elections
. Good hair generally does. Republicans and Democrats have been gloating/agonizing over ideas. Republicans think they won the idea war, and they use the election of 2004 as evidence. Funny thing, since the biggest idea the conservative movement has ever had -- privatizing Social Security, an idea they've been incubating for 30 years even though the movement says it's a solution to just recently "discovered" solvency problems -- is sinking like a stone.
Here's a paragraph that will do well to demoralize you...
Political scientists have shown how factors like economic performance and the rally-around-the-flag effect can exert enormous influence over voting behavior. A recent study in Science magazine was even more disturbing to those who believe in the power of ideas. Scientists showed the subjects pairs of photographs, which turned out to be matched candidates in Senate and House races. The subjects had to judge within one second which candidate looked more competent, on the basis of appearance alone. Their choice matched the candidate who won an astounding 71.6 percent of the time in Senate races[!!!]
Good hair will help you. So does being the son of a local god!