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View Diary: Reason, Emotion and Politics: An Interview with Drew Westen (88 comments)

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  •  The problem you run into (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sagesource, sphealey, liquidman

    when you start trying to campaign with emotion, is you lose the rationality.

    For example, I think it's patently clear that we need to raise taxes.  Eliminate the Bush tax cut for the wealthy, and maybe even a little of the Reagan tax cut for the wealthy.  We have to get back to balance in the budget, and you can't do that by cutting taxes in the middle of fighting an expensive technological war.  But if I were to go out and campaign on my great determination to end this unjust and unwise tax cut, I would get killed on election day because to Joe Sixpack I'm talking about raising HIS taxes.  It doesn't matter that I passionately feel this is what needs to be done, or that it's obviously the right thing to do, or how good a job I do in communicating that passion.

    Instead, since according to Westen rational appeals don't work, I have to lie and dissemble.  I have to talk about how it's really only a tax cut for Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.  The truth is Joe Sixpack DID get a tax cut, we ALL did.  You simply can't show how that tax cut was a mistake without resorting to rational argument.  I have to tell Joe Sixpack that, yes, I'm going to raise his taxes, but it's OK because I'm going to raise Warren Buffett's way more.  It just doesn't work.

    I thought this was an important passage from Westen:

    you know, the more educated you are, the more interested you are in that kind of stuff. But the reality is that most people’s lives don’t revolve around politics.

    In other words, the majority of people, who are less educated, i.e. stupid, aren't interested in boring details or substantive policy proposals.  Instead, they are more interested in how expensive your haircut is or if you went to a religious school or if your husband's an adulterer.  That's the criteria that most people rely on when voting for President.

    And then there was this:

    And I think in all elections they want genuineness from their candidates. I’m thinking this election in particular, we’re really going to see people wanting candidates who don’t parse, who don’t sound defensive, who don’t stumble over things because they’re being careful about what they say. They want candidates to speak from the gut.

    Good grief, there it is again:  "genuineness," a.k.a. "authenticity."  Haven't we heard enough about that already?  Didn't our current disaster of a President win election because of his "genuineness?"  Don't the media daily inflict us with analyses of how unauthentic and "scripted" Dems are?

    Someone once said that people get the government they deserve.  If "authenticity" and "genuineness" and the ability to appeal to emotion rather than reason are the determining factors in the current American electoral system, rather than competence, rationality and intellectual brilliance, I think we deserve to see an endless succession of George W. Bushes.  Because that's exactly the kind of leader Americans will be electing.

    If Drew Westen is right, this country is in deep deep trouble.

    •  I didn't get a tax cut. (5+ / 0-)

      I got a one-time, pay-an-early-refund, take-it-back next-year $300.

      What tax cut did YOU get?

      "We're all in this together" -- Harry Tuttle, legendary plumber

      by bablhous on Thu Jul 12, 2007 at 08:38:26 AM PDT

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      •  My taxes went up (3+ / 0-)

        Since the Ken Lays of the world, bless their little hearts, got huge breaks, and all my federal tax money goes to war profiteers, local governments had to make up the shortfall in the federal money they were used to getting by raising local taxes.  So my property and other state taxes increased.  Bush's tax break was a hoax like everything else that comes out of his mouth.

        Well, I guess I don't know what you mean by "equal justice under the law." - Bushy McSpokesperson

        by gatorcog on Thu Jul 12, 2007 at 08:54:19 AM PDT

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        •  But isn't that a rational argument? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          sagesource, JVolvo

          Westen says those don't work.  Yes, your local taxes had to go up to cover the shortfalls; but in running for President, Bush can say he cut taxes, and he did.  Whoever the Rep nominee is can say, my Dem opponent wants to raise your taxes (by repealing the Bush tax cut), and he'd be right.  To counter that, I have to lie about how it's not really going to raise your taxes or make rational arguments about how it's going to raise Ken Lay's more and how when you think about it you really didn't get a tax cut.  Westen says that's a loser.

      •  Unless you made zero money (2+ / 0-)

        You got one.  It was just miniscule in comparison to what the wealthy got:

        Citizens for Tax Justice analysis

        I don't know how reliable that analysis is, but it looks good to me.  The point is, if Westen's right and rational appeals don't work, I can't argue against repealing the Bush tax cut because emotionally it's obvious that I want to raise taxes, and that's all that matters.  I can talk till I'm blue in the face about how I only want to raise taxes on the wealthiest or  on people making over $200k or whatever; those are details that Westen says make the people's eyes glaze over.  They stop listening after I say "raise taxes" and I lose the election.  So I can't talk about that without lying and dissembling.  I'm saying, if he's right, then this country is going to destroy itself.

        Just to get Godwin out of the way, Hitler was very masterful at making emotional appeals that resonated with the electorate.  I don't think that's a model we should emulate.

        •  I think you're oversimplifying (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bablhous, JVolvo

          He's not saying to throw all rational arguments out the window altogether. Notice his discussion of "sandwiching" -- grab with an emotion appeal, explain simply the rational, end with an emotional appeal. And always have available in-depth handouts or websites that discuss the issues.

          For the tax discussion, for example, I'd guess you could say: "Bush gave a tax break to his wealthy pals and shifted the burden on to the middle class at the local level, to those who can afford it less."

          Truthful. Simple. And verifiable to those who want the exact dollar details.

          •  Possibly (0+ / 0-)

            It just seems to me that absent rational analysis, the debate becomes "he said/she said;" while with it, people's eyes glaze according to Westen.  "[T]he more educated you are, the more interested you are in that kind of stuff."  Given that most voters are apparently almost pathetically uneducated, and therefore not interested in the rational, Westen says Dems should de-emphasize the "wonkish" points and do more of the emotional.  That may win Dems more elections, but I'm afraid it opens the door to compromising our ideals in the name of winning elections.  

            I think it's bad for the country to be picking its leaders based on emotional appeals.  Westen's approach would push America further in that direction rather than away from it.  Someone has to stand for rationality, and I want it to be the Democratic Party.

            Very interesting interview, by the way.

          •  I agree with SusanG, The key is to present a (0+ / 0-)

            story/analogy that gets them feeling, then put the data/reasoning in, then wrap it up with the emotional piece.

            E.G. The $$ poor single mother of two kids who struggles to pay the bills: she got a "tax cut" of $700.  Her kids are wearing Goodwill castoffs and she's driving a '92 Buick.

            Next, there's Winston Howell III who, while vacationing in the Swiss Alps, received a tax cut of $450,000.  He bought a second yacht and a third mansion.  And filled his swimming pool with caviar.

            Data: % of tax cuts/$$ going to xyz low-income earners, vs % of $$ going to those who want for nothing, etc.  "That just doesn't seem right, does it?"

            "I want to balance this out, shift the burden bla blah."

            Back to single mom buying her kids new clothes for school and a shiny red bicycle for Joey's birthday - if she only received abc more $$ from your fair, balanced tax plan.

            Emotion - data - emotion.

            Capice?

            Screw the "surge" - End Bush's War!!

            by JVolvo on Thu Jul 12, 2007 at 08:07:49 PM PDT

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    •  What do we want? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      4jkb4ia

      Pure rationality doesn't address motivation. Rationality helps us understand whether a given policy will deliver a desired result, but it does not create the desire for that result.

      Ultimately, we feel motivation in our hearts. Then we use our conscious mind as a tool to achieve the object of our desire.

      Rationality and emotion are not mutually exclusive, in fact they are complementary.

      I think Dr Westen is suggesting that first we need to remind voters why they want, in their heart of hearts, the same things that we progressives want. If we can do that, we've got them! Everything else is just implementation details.

      •  Who are we? Where are we going? (0+ / 0-)

        That Joe Straczynski's a genius.  He discussed all this over 10 years ago.

        Rationality and emotion are not mutually exclusive, in fact they are complementary.

        Interesting theory.  I disagree.  I think they are diametrically opposed.  Sometimes they agree on ends, but that's just a coincidence.  They are totally independent of one another.

        And that's the problem.  I'm sure it's completely rational as far as George W. Bush is concerned to give a huge tax cut to the wealthy and to fight insurgents in Iraq.  Do madmen know they are insane?  Do those who are evil know they are evil?  No.  They think themselves sane and rational and good, and they construct rational frameworks to support their emotional positions.  The difference is in what they base those frameworks on.  If you base your rational framework on rational positions, like "tax cuts combined with record spending is fiscally irresponsible," your framework is on solid ground; there is provable science and testable evidence supporting you.  But if you base your rational framework on emotional precepts, such as "we must win in Iraq because it will show how strong we are," you are on very shaky ground indeed.

        I don't disagree that a combination of rational and emotional appeal is the best possible approach.  But what I read Westen saying in his interview is that Dems need to lean far more in favor of emotional appeal rather than rational:

        It’s just that one side is beautifully using phrases – in this case, I believe unethically, like "Support Our Troops"—that is deliberately designed to confuse support for the people in the military with support the Iraq war. But if one side knows how to do that, and the other side doesn’t know how to do that, it doesn’t matter what your arguments are.

        My feeling is that if we do that, almost certainly we will find ourselves as far off in the weeds of irrationality as the Repubs find themselves today.

        What do we want, as Dems?  Do we simply want to win elections?  That's easy enough, just get as good at telling people what they want to hear as the Repubs, says Dr. Westen.  But then, who are we?  What do we stand for?  Do we stand for rational analysis and resolutions to problems, or do we stand for emotional flag-waving and appeals to patriotism?  Will we simply say and do anything to get elected?  Or is there a line we will draw, and say, beyond this point, we are going to appeal to your reason, and if you can't follow along that's your problem because the national interest demands this level of thinking?

        •  A challenge for leadership (0+ / 0-)

          ... is always going to be how to win the support of people who are not as well informed and often not as smart (whatever that means) as the leaders.

          There needs to be a reduced, highly simplified version of whatever the message is, and it needs to be something that people can connect to emotionally. That way people who don't have much information, don't pay much attention, and don't have the greatest critical thinking skills can still form a strongly positive impression of who we are and what we want to do.

          This is a technique, if you will. As such, it can be cynically exploited, but that does not mean that all uses are cynical and exploitive. Like other tools, it has no intrinsic moral character, and can be used to good ends or bad, with greater or lesser skill, etc.

          Drew Westen and George Lakoff argue that if we allow the GOP the sole use of this tool, we are signing up for more of what we've seen for the last 30 years.

          A simplified, emotionally powerful message could otherwise be called mythic, archetypal, or poetic. These are deeply true and powerful-- but not overtly rational-- cultural and cognitive forms.

    •  Why do you need to raise taxes? (0+ / 0-)

      Isn't there another phrase one could use?

      I don't know.  It seems to me there are strong emotional arguments that government should be responsible with the taxpayers money.  Racking up the credit card isn't being responsible.

      "Bloomberg had to leave the GOP. His long record of integrity and competence was an embarrassment to everything the Republicans stand for." - Otto Man

      by The Other Steve on Thu Jul 12, 2007 at 09:50:45 AM PDT

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      •  It was just an example (0+ / 0-)

        The point is it's hard to refute emotional arguments without resorting to rational ones.

        Saddam Hussein is evil, he must be removed from power!  Yes, but what happens afterwards?  Who cares, he's evil!  I know I'd be happy to be rid of him, so will the Iraqis!  They'll love us!

        Some Iraqis might be Al Qaeda members, we have to lock them up and interrogate them!  Yes, but do we really need to use waterboarding and stress positions?  Who cares, they're only Iraqis, enemy combatants who kill our troops, besides time-bombs are ticking!

        And so on.

        •  I know, I'm just going with it... (0+ / 0-)

          You said "raise taxes", and by saying that you give the impression that you just want to raise taxes.

          But don't you really want to do something else?  Isn't raising taxes just part of some broader goal?

          Doesn't the broader goal have emotional appeal?

          I think we're onto something.

          "Bloomberg had to leave the GOP. His long record of integrity and competence was an embarrassment to everything the Republicans stand for." - Otto Man

          by The Other Steve on Thu Jul 12, 2007 at 11:38:46 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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