11 August 2016
Frameworks, Pt. 4
[Quick reminder: in this first major section of this on-going Frameworks essay, we are attempting to analyze the strategies of the two major presidential campaigns. This is not an issue-by-issue policy examination or critique; it's more in the nature of a look at the animating, or structural, philosophies behind whatever specific rhetoric and policy provisions they have and will put forth.]
As we've seen with in Pt. 2 and Pt. 3, Trump and the GOP are using controversy and even fractious conflict to manufacture outrage in the belief it will be sufficient to drive an expanded and newly energized base to the polls in November.
The Democrats and Hillary Clinton are pursuing a very different strategy. At their convention, they trotted out a dizzyingly diverse array of political star power—the sorts of cabinet members, Governors, Senators, Representatives, and local and regional politicians that were noticeably missing from the Republican convention. They appealed to a broad range of constituencies. Where Trump and the GOP are directing their efforts specifically to a circumscribed base, Clinton's approach is more of an "all things to all people" approach.
The Democrats reached out to the passionately committed supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders' insurgency campaign as well as to the national security professional class. They spotlighted Black Lives Matter as well as police unions. They specifically appealed to various individual identity interest groups: LGBTQ people, African-Americans, Latinos, Arab-Americans, Jews, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, among others. They actively sought the votes of working and middle class folks as well as billionaire donors—labor, management, and owners. They even courted moderate Republicans!
Their hope is to expand their coalition of constituencies rather than constrict their focus to their base. Their convention was a clamorous and somewhat racous cacophany of competing interest groups vying for attention. It used a grand spectacle replete with a mixture of unabashed patriotism and specific policy proposals to attempt to ensure everyone who wanted to be was heard on the issues that matter to them. If the Republicans sought to move toward a more right-wing extremism, the Democrats sought to expand from the middle outward in both directions.
Where the GOP convention offered a vision of a crumbling, humiliated America, the Democratic convention proclaimed that America was once again on the rise—a great nation that will only get greater. The overriding theme had to do with the progress the country has made since President Obama took office after the disastrous Republican presidency of George W. Bush in the midst of the deepest and most serious recession since the 1930's and two seemingly interminable quagmire wars while admitting that there was more work to be done, more progress to be made.
Where Trump is selling outrage in the face of despair, Clinton is selling steady progress and calm continuity. Clinton's campaign is more policy- and performance-driven. She is running on her resume, her knowledge, and her competence. She claims that, by virtue of her vast experience in government, she is ready to hit the ground running on day one. She offers a smorgasbord of well-developed and well-thought-out and vetted policies suggested by a broad range of constituencies. And she knows how to work the levers of power to accomplish those aims.
The Democratic convention also offered a direct and precise emotional counterbalance to the Republican's Trumpfest. If Trump projected an image of the pessimistic, stern, domineering, even distant father who always knows what's best for his dependents but who assures them he is there to defend them, Clinton projected an image of the compassionate, empathic grandmotherly figure standing ready with open arms to soothe the emotional scars and welcome and protect the child from the intemperate outrages of the abusive father. "Love Trumps Hate," as the slogan goes.
[This may sound like simplistic psychobabble, but make no mistake about it: infantilizing the electorate is always a part of both political conventions' emotional subtext. George Lakoff's brilliant essay "Understanding Trump" explains why this so: "What do social issues and the politics have to do with the family? We are first governed in our families, and so we grow up understanding governing institutions in terms of the governing systems of families." This is the rhetorical frame Republicans are particularly good at exploiting, he asserts, and that Democrats perennially fail at. It is my hope that this series of posts will explain, at least in part from a philosophical point of view, why this is necessarily the case and why that is not necessarily a bad thing.]
If the Democrats' strategy works, it could be a game-changer, signalling a new political landscape balance and reversing what has been the standard demographic trends since the Reagan era.
Next: How does Hillary Clinton hope to carry out this strategy?