Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Politics is like a hippie drum circle

In many ways, this has been the first official week of the Obama vs. McCain presidential race. And it has been unbelievably ugly. Mark Halperin of Time Magazine urged McCain's people to use more racially-coded language. The RNC commissioned a top secret poll to figure out how to not "appear" racist (while presumably continuing to use racially coded language). The Tennessee Republican Party put out a racist press release. Meanwhile, Republican surrogates like Bill Cunningham and Kay Bailey Hutchison field tested various coded sound-bites to try to figure out what they can get away with in public and what will stick (and be repeated by traditional media). Josh Marshall has an insightful analysis of the McCain gameplan (here).

Honestly, judging by this past week, there are going to be so many racist attacks during this campaign it will be difficult to keep track of them all.

Which got me thinking... a couple things. 1.) All you folks who jumped on the Obama bandwagon thinking he was going to get a free pass from the media and the Republicans? Honeymoon is over. Welcome to the big leagues. Buckle up, because it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

2.) Politics is like a hippie drum circle. There are thousands of different messages in the debate, anyone can bang out whatever they want (although different voices have different megaphones to amplify their message), and the debate is really really noisy. But that chaos eventually resolves itself into a discernible pattern. You want that discernible pattern to be your message, not the other team's message. So how does that happen?

Well, again it's like a drum circle. Our team has to play our tune (our message) over and over and over and over again until other people start playing it. By the same token, YOU NEVER REPEAT THEIR MESSAGING. That just amplifies their message and is counterproductive. I think this is the #1 biggest mistake progressive blogs makes -- they repeat the Republican frame and sometimes fail to reframe it-- assuming that others will be as outraged as they are (while in fact just amplifying the other team's message).

If we want the traditional media to be playing our song, we have to repeat our song over and over and over again until that is all that they hear.

So when McCain (or his surrogates) say something racist during the campaign, don't just repeat it (their beat) rather reframe it by saying, "McCain and the Republican Party are racists." -- that's going to be one of our beats. And say it over and over and over and over until others start repeating it too. It's not elegant. It's not intellectual. It's really really basic. But I believe it's how messages move in our culture. (And even though most Republicans have never been in a hippie drum circle, you can be dang sure that their marketing and PR people understand the importance of a well-framed sound-bite (beat) and endless repetition.)

To illustrate my point, check out this video by Arcade Fire (there's really never a bad time for an Arcade Fire video). When the video opens, it's total chaos--just noise and everybody playing at once (they are transitioning out of one song into another). But if you listen really closely, underneath all of the chaos, is a discernible melody. And then, about 19 seconds in (literally I think it's 10 measures in 4/4 time--IN THE MIDST OF ALL THAT CHAOS THEY ARE COUNTING!) all the noise drops away to reveal the beat that was there all along. 48 seconds in, Winn gets the whole crowd clapping the beat. And by 1 minute in everybody is on the same page-- the entire band, the entire crowd, all singing the same song. It's extraordinary. Three people kept the beat during the chaos and didn't waver -- and then 1 minute later thousands of people are in sync with each other. Enjoy:

[A side note, if you're ever been in a drum circle you know it is really really hard to change the beat once one has been adopted by the group. You have to fight and fight and fight to get your new beat heard-- and in the interim the sound is really dissonant. But someone with a cowbell can pretty quickly change the beat with a more persuasive beat. A cowbell just seems to cut through the noise -- perhaps because of its pitch? I think DailyKos, Americablog, Firedoglake, HuffingtonPost, and Brave New Films are the progressive cowbells that can sometimes shift a debate in an instant. And for that I send them a deep bow of thanks.]

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