Recently, Michele Bachmann unveiled her creation story, the story of how she became a Republican.
To summarize, Bachmann became a Republican after reading Gore Vidal’s “Burr”. In Michelle’s words:
Until I was reading this snotty novel called ‘Burr,’ by Gore Vidal, and read how he mocked our Founding Fathers. And as a reasonable, decent, fair-minded person who happened to be a Democrat, I thought, ‘You know what? What he’s writing about, this mocking of people that I revere, and the country that I love, and that I would lay my life down to defend — just like every one of you in this room would, and as many of you in this room have when you wore the uniform of this great country — I knew that that was not representative of my country.
And at that point I put the book down and I laughed. I was riding a train. I looked out the window and I said, ‘You know what? I think I must be a Republican. I don’t think I’m a Democrat.’
Now forget the non-sequiturs for a second. Forget the fact that “Burr” is a piece of historical fiction. Forget these things and let’s concentrate for a second on what Bachmann is trying to DO. Because this strategy, this trick, appears again and again in conservative campaigning.
The goal of any political campaign is to win. In our Democracy, winning requires only 51% of those that vote. Towards this end, 2 of the key prongs of conservative strategy are 1) reducing the number who vote, and 2) target marketing towards the “average” American.
In this example, Bachmann is using strategy #2 (and yes, maybe I just wanted to say #2). She is dividing America into two groups:
- Elite intellectuals
- Everyone else
Now the political audience doesn’t naturally divide into these 2 categories so Republicans have to work very hard to make this division. They have pundits who spout about liberals and elite intellectuals 24/7, they have the Fox TV network and their pundits, they have their own newspapers like Newsmax which constantly spam their e-mailing lists with versions of this story.
Yet it’s still hard for people to believe that this is the only thing going on in politics. What about all the corporate lobbies? Are those run by liberal elites? What about Wall Streets influence? How are college professors responsible for what’s wrong with our government?
Yet they prove successful because they have a core base with similar beliefs and because they repeat it incessantly.
And, because of people like Gore Vidal.
Gore Vidal issued the following statement in response to Ms. Bachmann:
She is too stupid to deserve an answer.
Conservatives across the land cheered. Why? Because Mr. Vidal affirmed their efforts and their world view. They want to divide the world into liberal elites and everyone else in order to win elections and Mr. Vidal helped them.
But, but … Michele Bachmann’s story doesn’t make any sense and she is stupid, you say.
Forget about that. Don’t focus on the validity of Ms. Bachmann’s statement. This is the wrong way to approach conversations with conservatives.
You have to remember this. Forget what it is that conservatives are saying and try to remember what it is that they are DOING.
What they are doing is trying to divide the nation into elite liberals versus everyone else. If they can do this, they win elections. It’s that simple.
So Michele Bachmann throws out the bait and includes a favorite conservative target, Gore Vidal, in her story. And Gore Vidal takes the bait and confirms this skewed version of reality.
Thanks, Gore, real smart.
From a political standpoint, you’ve just alienated the entire conservative base and many independents – people who might be sympathetic to Democratic causes.
I’ll repeat. The larger goal here is to win. And you win by gaining a majority.
Has anyone ever joined a cause because someone called them “stupid”?
I write about this not just because I think this is a mistake Mr. Vidal made, but too often this is a mistake people in general make. They take the bait and call conservatives stupid.
Here’s a couple of things that Gore could have said or done which would have been more effective:
- Ignore her. Let people judge her comments for themselves. Trust in people’s judgment. When someone puts their foot in their mouth, you don’t always have to point it out.
- Make a joke out of it. Say something like: “I hope she realizes she changed her life based on a work of fiction.”
If Gore says something like #2, people will laugh and not perceive Mr. Vidal as a condescending “liberal”.
Yet no matter how many times I see it, people don’t realize that this is conservative strategy. Conveservatives are not dumb. Off the record, conservatives will tell you they don’t believe in many of the things they say. But they don’t like people telling them what to do. So they’ll say them anyways to fluster you. And bait you into calling them stupid.
When this happens, you lose.
Remember that ultimately, you’d like people to side with you, so try to refrain from taking the Gore Vidal route and being played in this manner. If you can’t respond using humor or in a positive light, choose your battles and walk away from the conversation.