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We Report... You Deride

Thursday, April 14, 2005  
Raggedy Amy

Could someone answer a question for me? I'm being completely serious here.

Just who the fuck is Amy Sullivan?

I find it astonishing that anyone pays her opinions more mind than Hind Tit. There is no reason that she should command more rintellectual espect than Mann Coulter.

And this has nothin to do with her positions on issues. I have read over a dozen books written by Tricky Dick Nixon. I've done this because Nixon, who lacked almost all of the attributes usually needed for political success (good looks, charm, family connections, wealth) became Congressman, Senator, Vice-President and President. His success-- based solely on judgment and cunning-- suggest that anyone can benefit from reading his ideas about politics.

20 odd-years ago, Newt Gingrich analyzed the levers of power in Washington and proposed a strategy by which the wingnuts could gain control of Congress. It worked. When Mr. Gingrich tries to analyze Congress-- rather than spin for his buddies-- his predictions are almost always right.

In 1969, a young writer named Kevin Phillips wrote a book pompously titled The Emerging Republican Majority. In the book, he predicted that shifts in population (away from urban areas and toward the south and west) would enable his party to retain the Presidency almost indefinitely-- and eventually break the Democratic strangehold on Congress.

In the late 80's-- at the end of the Reagan years and beginning of Bush I's presidency-- Phillips wrote The Politics of Rich and Poor, which said that the economic excesses of the Republic Party would create a political climate which would permit a Democratic candidate to win. So you'd better believe that I pay attention to Phillips.

And I listen to what Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh say, because those guys have made a hell of a lot of money by saying things that resonate with an ungudly number of people. I've studied Roger Ailes's book on communications, because he made incredibly successful political ads-- and then reshaped the media with Faux News. I pored over Frank Luntz's wingnut playbook, because he's been right more often than not.

All of which is my way of saying that I can't fucking stand some people's politics but I'll pay attention to what they say when there's some reason to believe, based on their track record, that they aren't talking through their asses.

Can someone show me empirical proof, based on either her career or her past writings, that she's ever managed a politician who had to (a) respond to an electoral problem and (b) did so successfully? If she hasn't won a campaign (as she hasn't), what reason is there to believe that she knows anything about how to do it?

Failing that, can someone point me to ones of her articles that (a) analyzed a political landscape, (b) listed the strengths and weaknesses of various responses, (c) identified the probable consequences of each response and (d) had her analysis proved by the events that followed? There ain't any of those, either.

Sullivan's stock in trade is the "We're in a mess, here's how the liberals got us here and now we'll have to tack to the right to fix it" broadside. There's never any data-- tracking polls, election results, opinion surveys-- to document the truth of her claims. As Scott correctly notes, "she just projects her preferences onto some poorly defined demographic... You're not allowed to bring evidence of the actual effects of cultural products into the discussion; people believe what they believe, and one has to pander to that."

It's rather crass to call her "David Brooks with boobs". But it's also accurate-- the M.O.'s are the same.

When she does try to provide contemporaneous analysis, she's often astonishingly wrong. In the October 8 debate, John Kerry, was asked the following question: "Senator Kerry, suppose you are speaking with a voter who believed abortion is murder and the voter asked for reassurance that his or her tax dollars would not go to support abortion, what would you say to that person?"

Kerry answer-- taken from the official transcript-- follows:

"I would say to that person exactly what I will say to you right now.

"First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins. I'm a Catholic, raised a Catholic. I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today.

"But I can't take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn't share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can't do that.

"But I can counsel people. I can talk reasonably about life and about responsibility. I can talk to people, as my wife Teresa does, about making other choices, and about abstinence, and about all these other things that we ought to do as a responsible society.

"But as a president, I have to represent all the people in the nation. And I have to make that judgment.

"Now, I believe that you can take that position and not be pro- abortion, but you have to afford people their constitutional rights. And that means being smart about allowing people to be fully educated, to know what their options are in life, and making certain that you don't deny a poor person the right to be able to have whatever the constitution affords them if they can't afford it otherwise.

"That's why I think it's important. That's why I think it's important for the United States, for instance, not to have this rigid ideological restriction on helping families around the world to be able to make a smart decision about family planning.

"You'll help prevent AIDS.

"You'll help prevent unwanted children, unwanted pregnancies.

"You'll actually do a better job, I think, of passing on the moral responsibility that is expressed in your question. And I truly respect it."

Typical John Kerry response-- he was asked a direct question and never gave a "yes" or "no" answer. As both James Carville and Roger Ailes say in their books, when you're asked a question in a debate, you must answer it immediately. Voters won't pay any attention to anything you say until they hear your answer-- the longer you take to say "yes" or "no", the more they believe that you're bullshitting them.

I remember listening to Kerry's nonsense and looking at the faces of the audience and thinking "Jesus, he just completely blew that. I'm not 100% sure I even know what his answer means. In fact, I think what he said boils down to I have very strong beliefs that abortion is murder, and if elected, I have no intention of acting on them.

Which, of course, is almost exactly what W. replied: "I'm trying to decipher that. (pause to allow for laughter) My answer is, we're not going to spend taxpayers' money on abortion... I signed the partial-birth -- the ban on partial-birth abortion. It's a brutal practice. It's one way to help reduce abortions. My opponent voted against the ban. I think there ought to be parental notification laws. He's against them."

The next day, I got a look at the dials and the overnights. They indicated that my initial judgment was accurate. Religious voters hated that answer-- they thought it was insincere and disingenuous-- and Kerry's support among them cratered.

Five days after the debate-- given half a week's review time and the hindsight provided by polls-- Sullivan's assessment of Kerry's answer was: "John Kerry's answer... struck me as almost perfect... What was more important in terms of picking up those moderate Catholics who are still not in the Democratic camp yet is that for the first time in recent memory, the Democratic candidate expressed respect for pro-life views and acknowledged them as legitimate in a political forum.

And I'm sure it did. seem perfect to her It was exactly like a typical Sullivan article. It stammered and rambled. It offered sanctimony without substance. There was nary a tangible proposal in that morass of verbiage.

And the bottom line is that it didn't work. In fact, it backfired. Kerry did what Sullivan wanted him to do and he lost voters.

I'm not going to go all Somerby on you and ask why people pay attention to her. Amy Sullivan is a pretty girl with an earnest manner and the habit of framing fundamentally conservative views in the form of helpful suggestions to beleaguered Democrats. She's got a pundit boyfriend with almost identical views (Noam Schieber, of The New Republic) and I'm sure they make a dynamite impression on the Georgetown Cocktail Party Scene.

But if you assess the merit of her ideas, she has no more intellectual credibility that Daryn Kagan. Show me a documented case where Amy Sullivan's advice actually helped a candidate and maybe I'll pay listen. Until then, she's no more reliable than her brother-in-arms Andrew.

2:24 AM

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