Monday, March 21, 2005

The Four American Stories
Robert Reich coaches the Democrats to stop worrying about specific words and phrases (Death Tax, Ownership Society, Pro-Life, etc.) and realize that they have to construct a deeper narrative.

His theory is that they need to learn how to address the three uniquely American narratives:

The Triumphant Individual. This is the familiar tale of the little guy who works hard, takes risks, believes in himself, and eventually gains wealth, fame, and honor. It's the story of the self-made man (or, more recently, woman) who bucks the odds, spurns the naysayers, and shows what can be done with enough gumption and guts. He's instantly recognizable: plainspoken, self-reliant, and uncompromising in his ideals--the underdog who makes it through hard work and faith in himself[...]

The Benevolent Community. This is the story of neighbors and friends who roll up their sleeves and pitch in for the common good[...]

The Mob at the Gates. In this story, the United States is a beacon light of virtue in a world of darkness, uniquely blessed but continuously endangered by foreign menaces. Hence our endless efforts to contain the barbarism and tyranny beyond our borders[...]

The Rot at the Top. The last story concerns the malevolence of powerful elites. It's a tale of corruption, decadence, and irresponsibility in high places--of conspiracy against the common citizen.
I don't know how he expects the Democrats to do this, or how effective they'll be at trying (they, as a party, don't get the parable aspect of American culture, in my opinion) but I like these classifications of the traditional American narratives.

UPDATE [3/21/2005 - 22:02]: More on the way Democrats don't seem to get that uniquely American perspective, from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, with the amusing title War, bugs & Democrats. The author, Ralph Reiland, quotes Rick Perlstein from the Village Voice: "We talk about Southern culture, blue-collar culture, NASCAR culture -- which overlaps, in complicated ways, with evangelical culture. Certainly one tenet they all share is this: When somebody punches you in the gut, you don't smile, stride halfway between his point and yours, and say that maybe the guy has a point."

So why the funny title? He ties this difference between the Dems and the culture described above into the intrusiveness of the state overall, with an example about flies:
With the flies, California taxpayers in San Bernardino County were forced to spend $10 million for a 10-acre Delhi Sands fly 'preserve.' Another plan called for slowing traffic on the San Bernardino Freeway in order to reduce the number of deaths-by-windshield.

Imagine handing over the tax money for the 'preserve' and the bureaucrats' salaries and then getting up each morning an hour early for work and chugging down the freeway at half-speed in order to keep some bugs out of harm's way.

Any normal guy would stop at the first hardware and load up on bug bombs and flypaper.
So, to conclude (for now at least) I think Reich has a point, but he misses something too. He says the Democrats have "failed to realize that the rhetorical challenge they face is deeper than simply finding the right words and phrases," but he still asserts that it's a rhetorical challenge. I think it's an ideological difference, not a rhetorical one—and that's something that it'll take a long time to overcome.

UPDATE [16:28 - 3/22/2005]: Rick Perlstein (I can only assume it's actually him) commented on this post, in response to the misuse of a quote of his. The quote in question was: "We talk about Southern culture, blue-collar culture, NASCAR culture -- which overlaps, in complicated ways, with evangelical culture. Certainly one tenet they all share is this: When somebody punches you in the gut, you don't smile, stride halfway between his point and yours, and say that maybe the guy has a point."

Perlstein responds:
The author missed my point in a rather mentally retarded way. If you read the original piece--http://tinyurl.com/5g25b--you'll see I was referring to the kind of compromises Republicans demand Democrats make: on economic justice.

In fact those who meet those who punch us in the gut on security matters half way most consistently are in the Bush administration: the people who suck up to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
I appreciate Mr. Perlstein's correction, and I think it's too bad that his quote was misused by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. However, I think Ralph Reiland's point in using this quote is still accurate. He should have found a quote whose context better supported his point, instead of abusing Perlstein's work, but the conclusion he draws from the quote could easily stand without this particular framing.

1 comment:

Rick Perlstein said...

"We talk about Southern culture, blue-collar culture, NASCAR culture -- which overlaps, in complicated ways, with evangelical culture. Certainly one tenet they all share is this: When somebody punches you in the gut, you don't smile, stride halfway between his point and yours, and say that maybe the guy has a point."

The author missed my point in a rather mentally retarded way. If you read the original piece--
http://tinyurl.com/5g25b
--you'll see I was referring to the kind of compromises Republicans demand Democrats make: on economic justice.

In fact those who meet those who punch us in the gut on security matters half way most consistently are in the Bush administration: the people who suck up to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.