Then [Dr. Benjamin] Spock started speaking at antiwar demonstrations. Copies of his baby book were returned to him in shreds. He picketed in front of the White House. A teenager shouted, "Traitor!"
and hit him with an egg (Spock’s wife was just glad it wasn’t a bullet). Here was a generation of mothers’ security blanket. Now he was taking a security blanket away: the belief that the government was worthy of implicit trust.
Rick Perlstein, Nixonland, p.181 (emphasis mine)
So, if Vietnam robbed Americans of the belief their government was worthy of implicit trust (Americans have never liked government much, but the post Vietnam-era is marked by a conviction the Government can’t do much of anything successfully), what must be done for them to regain it?
This was something Richard Nixon, with his gift for looking below social surfaces to see and exploit the subterranean truths that roiled underneath, understood: the future belonged to the politician who could tap the ambivalence — the nameless dread, the urge to make it all go away
; to make the world placid again, not a cacophonous mess.
Rick Perlstein, Nixonland, p.213
This book is great, of course, but I think half the stuff I quote from it here is just me being seduced by Perlstein’s prose.
Reading Plouffe’s memoir made me realise one thing: the Obama campaign had totally undermined the notion of convention wisdom. Every time they played to conventional wisdom, they were beaten. Every time they defied it, they were rewarded- a notion Plouffe underscores in the book.
Maybe that’s why the traditional media are so threatened by new media. Because it forces them to consider new wisdoms, and not just settle for the old one.
There’s this thing that Matt Yglesias especially does, and it’s kind of tiring. He argues that all the talk about political narratives is basically meaningless because in the end elections are all about the economy. Which is usually absolutely true, except for the times it’s not. And because elections happen only intermittently, the exceptions matter. Which is why you get the rules being broken in the ‘08 campaign, where America would never elect a black president, except, oh wait, they did; or like Australia in ‘07, when we changed governments in the middle of great economic prosperity. I think there’s even a bit of this in America in the ’60s, though I’d have to revisit Nixonland to be sure.
And this is not normally how elections go. But the exceptions were the result of narratives. And that’s why it’s silly to sit back and blame it all on the e-e-e-economy like T-Pain and Jamie Foxx. Yes, usually that’s how elections are decided, so that’s why paying attention to getting people jobs and that is an important thing. But elections are sometimes decided for other reasons. And when they are, you better have a narrative.