NOTE: BagNewsNotes is now located at Please update your bookmarks.

You will be automatically redirected in a few seconds...

« Terri's Mom | Main | Raining Down From On High »

Mar 23, 2005

Seeking Cover


Feeding off on the current Lakoff craze, the latest issue of The New Republic has a cover story by Robert Reich about "the lost art of Democratic narrative."  In the piece, Reich proposes a series of "story lines" the Dems can use to better package their policies.

As you probably know, language framing has become the new panacea for the party.  This concept is getting so much play, just yesterday the NYT had a front page article about the semantic battle over "private" versus "personal" savings accounts.

Nothing against verbal politics, but here at the BAG, our interest is in the visual narrative.  Specifically, I was wondering about the rendering of this book, and the possible (if unintended) symbolism of TNR's photo illustration. 

For example, what does it say about the Democratic party and the problems it faces that this edition is so old and yellowed? 

Maybe the party believes it can be a bestseller again just by updating its language.  But what if the problem is more structural than that?  What if the emphasis on changing a few words around is as logical as trying to insert a new title page smack in the middle of a book?

Could another inference here be that the party has grown too quaint?  Doesn't the title "Story Time," and the cute little drawing of the White House, suggest a children's book or a fairy tale?  (Could you imagine such a layout illustrating the party of Bush, Cheney, Frist and DeLay?!) 


And, what do you make of this particular White House?  (Could it be that the party's been leaning too much on FDR lately?)

There are still other elements that are either confusing, or seem to bode ill.  For example, why does the quality of the type (which doesn't look quite this bad on the original cover) look like cheap laser print?  Does it imply these ideas for changing the party lack weight or impression? 

And, why is this image so dark? 

Finally, what's with that lonely bit of type on the facing page?  Although it's obscured, the layout and style seems completely inconsistent with the title page.  ...But maybe that's the fundamental problem with the Democrats.  Maybe its a party with so many stories, it's virtually impossible to bind together into a single text. 

(photo illustration: The New Republic)


What I find interesting is the title "Story Time" which gives the impression that the notion of the Democrats finding a voice is like a fairy tale, and therefore in nothing more than fantasy -- something impossible to attain. This is bolstered by The graphic of the White House on an open plain with a quaint winding road (Where is the horse and buggy??). The flag on the top of the White House looks more like a banner from a castle -- very Disneyesque -- which further plays into this fantasy theme. At the same time, I find the whole notion of "Political Narrative" fairly insulting, as it seems to be a way of saying one thing to get what you want, yet meaning something entirely different. Fantasy in action.

The whole book/"story time" imagery is telling. As far as I can tell, the Lakovian line is that the Democratic Party's woes come not from its abandonment of American democratic opportunity and its embrace of economic Darwinism "lite", but are all the result of not having come up with a fantasy about America that is more compelling than the GOP's. That is, that the problem is that Dems are not sufficiently savvy about manipulating reality.

It is certainly true that, if it is difficult to distinguish between the two parties on the basis of their support (or lack thereof) for ordinary Americans, the only way to better one's opponent is to hire better PR agents. If the Democrats don't return to the party's earlier wholehearted support for the equality of opportunity in America, then a Lakovian approach is, indeed, the only way they will ever win.

I would submit, however, that a politics based wholly on fantasy - the manipulation of reality - is no longer democratic. The essence of democracy is that it trusts the citizenry to make wise decisions when presented with all of the relevant facts. A la Jefferson: an informed citizenry is the bulwark of democracy.

It is not the job of any politician to tell us stories or to suppress reality for the purpose of making us feel good about ourselves. To exercise our power as citizens, we must be presented with - not shielded from - all the facts we need to make sure our ship of state is wisely steered. As the (always wrongly truncated) saying goes: "My country, right or wrong. When right, to keep it right; when wrong, to make it right". The highest duty of a citizen cannot be performed if politicians are highly selective with the facts, since in being so they substitute their judgment for ours.

The problem is Americans have been presented with the facts and are ignoring them in favor of an interesting story. Look at the Schiavo case just as an example. Terri Schiavo's case has been hashed and rehashed in court over and over, and yet the facts are ignored for the wonderful story that we must save her for the sake of her parents, that they know her wishes better than her husband and friends did.

And this kind of crap is playing out every day on every issue. If the dems don't start coming up with better stories that play better in the press, they lose. It's that simple right now. Facts don't matter to people if they don't fit into their frame is what Lakoff tells us - not that Dems merely have to tell stories, that they have to break the frames the Republicans have created and get their own frames in place to have a chance.

If The New Republic did an audio version of this article James Earl Jones could read the story using his huge voice to talk down to us wee-liberals as we drink warm milk and cookies.

The top bar with the mentions of other stories inside is interesting. It's positioned/layed out to be seen clearly and constantly on the news stand. The titles are so leading they are basicly statements as much as they are contents, no page #'s and the writers name is as dark as OJ in TIME. The color used for the bar is curious. Orange seems to be showing up in a lot of political pundit type publications.

Robert Reich writes well and I think even a few good people will pick up this hideous 'zine just to check his opinion. Not me though. Yuck. yucko, tuey. The New Republic is just too lordly for me.

Parallel Universe commented: " ... that they have to break the frames the Republicans have created and get their own frames in place to have a chance."

I would suggest that *we* do only 50% of what P.U. suggested. Get busy framing our own structure, while IGNORING any concern for breaking down those created by the dark-side. Focus on the part that P.U. listed second, first.

I'm confident that if we stop, *altogether*, reacting to the nonsense, propagated by the right, and instead, propagate the MULTIPLE messages which appeal to Joe & Jane Sixpack, we'd win the day.

Sounds overly simple, sure. But, for the lack of REAL leadership, Dems cannot even vote as a block; too many frequent defectors. AND, elected Dems seem to have lost all faith in their electorate; opting instead to accept some preconceived notion that their minority position makes them entirely powerless. It is only their surrender and acceptance that makes it so.

Elected Dems are allowing the dark-side to bring the game to them, and so their defensive unit is always on the playing field.

Any potential leadership seems constantly caught up in the *process* of preparing for the next election cycle, rather than leading on the issues we sent them to work on in the first place. --DA

Considering that the White House has not been all that well received...

• Although a friendly place during James Madison's stay, it was soon remodelled by the envious British in 1814.

Flash mobbed by the Great Unwashed at Andrew Jackson's 1829 inauguration, I'm pretty sure that the first traffic barriers went up soon afterwards.

• Damaged again by fire in 1929, a timely reminder that overheating of one's assets is not a good thing.

• Preemptively threatened by alien invaders in 1956, who, having missed their first opportunity, revisited our small planet 40 years later with greater success (to the cheers of liberated citizens in theaters across the country).

...the surprising number of very real* and imagined threats against it strain the storybook metaphor. It's trying to capture the good old days that never were, and never will be.

*Including the following Pandora's Box, which got opened a little later we thought:

Samuel Byck (February 1974). Samuel Byck, a failed businessman with a history of mental illness, was investigated by the Secret Service in 1972 on the basis of reports that he had threatened President Nixon. In 1974, he hatched a plan called "Operation Pandora's Box" to hijack a commercial airliner and crash it into the Executive Mansion. On February 22, less than a week after the Preston incident, Byck went to Baltimore/Washington International Airport carrying a pistol and a gasoline bomb. He forced his way onto a Delta flight destined for Atlanta by shooting a guard at the security checkpoint. He entered the cockpit and ordered the crew to take off. After the crew informed him that they could not depart without removing the wheel blocks, Byck shot the pilot twice and the co-pilot three times (the co-pilot died). Police outside the airplane shot into the cockpit and hit Byck twice. Byck fell to the floor, put the revolver to his head, and killed himself.

No matter who the current tenant may be, may they be wise enough to resist lifting the lid.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

My Other Accounts

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 07/2003