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Friday, February 03, 2006 

You say NSA, I say Google

Here's the thing...the domestic spying story is going nowhere fast. Why? The American people could give a shit and it is not yet clear why they should. Most people rightfully do not believe the government would have a need/reason to spy on them. It doesn't impact them directly. All the noise coming out of Washington about domestic spying goes right over their head because, frankly, most people have *real* things to worry about. They have to think about working and paying their bills and taking care of their children or their aging parents, etc.

I have been thinking that there must be some way to explain this disconnect between Progressives and the American people. Thomas Frank's What's The Matter With Kansas rang hollow for me. People aren't stupid. They vote against their economic interests and side with people who couldn't care less about them because they are the cultural issues are a more determining factor for them. The American Prospect Magazine some interesting data that speaks to my thinking:

TAPPED:
In the great debate about how Democrats can stage a comeback (beyond simply waiting for the coming Republican implosion that never seems to arrive), American Environics (Ted Nordhaus & Michael Shellenberger) rejected some of the more popular recommendations out there. Rather than focusing on reframing the Democratic message, as Berkeley linguistics and cognitive science professor George Lakoff has recommended, or on redoubling Democratic efforts to persuade Americans to become economic populists, as another school of thought suggests, the American Environics team argued that the way to move voters on progressive issues is to sometimes set aside policies in favor of values. By focusing on “bridge values,” they say, progressives can reach out to constituents of opportunity who share certain fundamental beliefs, even if the targeted parties don’t necessarily share progressives’ every last goal. In that assessment, Shellenberger and Nordhaus are representative of an increasingly influential school of thought within the Democratic Party.
...
American Environics' extensive plumbing of Americans' attitudes laid out a darker, more nuanced vision of what the nation actually believes.
...
Where Democracy Corps found voters unable to hear economic appeals through the noise of cultural ones, Environics' research suggested an even more profound interrelationship between materialist concerns and a community's broader beliefs. They found economic changes driving changes in social values, and those, in turn, driving political preferences. Using data from Environics' in-home consumer survey in the United States, Nordhaus and Shellenberger were able to tease apart changes in the thinking of voters since 1992 on 117 different "social values trends."
...
Looking at the data from 1992 to 2004, Shellenberger and Nordhaus found a country whose citizens are increasingly authoritarian while at the same time feeling evermore adrift, isolated, and nihilistic. They found a society at once more libertine and more puritanical than in the past, a society where solidarity among citizens was deteriorating, and, most worrisomely to them, a progressive clock that seemed to be unwinding backward on broad questions of social equity. Between 1992 and 2004, for example, the percentage of people who said they agree that "the father of the family must be the master in his own house" increased ten points, from 42 to 52 percent, in the 2,500-person Environics survey. The percentage agreeing that "men are naturally superior to women" increased from 30 percent to 40 percent. Meanwhile, the fraction that said they discussed local problems with people they knew plummeted from 66 percent to 39 percent. Survey respondents were also increasingly accepting of the value that "violence is a normal part of life" -- and that figure had doubled even before the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks
There is the rub. The people have changed. We are more disconnected than ever. Most people are not reading political blogs or following the details of policy debates every day. Democrats need to adjust our understanding accordingly. Now, I'm a guy who likes numbers to back up my opinions so this argument fits right in with my world view. It rings true in my dealings with most people are aren't political junkies. We can see it in our culture almost everyday. Every man/woman for himself/herself.

The question becomes, given this revised understanding, how do we properly engage the American voters. And, yes, getting votes is really all I care about. It is the bottom line that I care about. After all, what is the good in being right or just if we are stuck in the minority?

Unless someone is able to establish or legitimately claim that this domestic spying program has been used for nefarious political purposes this dog ain't gonna hunt. Here is the Republican/Traditional Media framing:
"I am concerned that some of my Democrat colleagues used this unique public forum to make clear that they believe the gravest threat we face is not Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, but rather the president of the United States," Mr. Roberts said. -NYT
Bullshit, I know. They are wrong, we are right. Big fucking deal. Have a cookie. With the help of the media, this will be the frame. We can be right till we are blue in the face. This issue is not going to win us votes. The American people are not in the mood to get upset about something like this unless and until there is a real-life, comprehensible scenario to wrap their heads around. We need something that everyone can understand with a passing glance. A glance is all that most people have.

To be honest, I think the government's request for Google search history has more legs. Everyone has probably searched for something nefarious on Google. That is something that hits them right at their home computer. It is real, not intellectual. Close, not distant. And it doesn't leave us vulnerable on national security.

Does this make sense to anyone else or am I totally off base?

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