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September 17, 2009

Czars and learned helplessness

Psychologist Martin Seligman discovered that if you administer enough random shocks to a dog, the dog will eventually get so demoralized that it won't even try to avoid them when can easily do so. He called the phenomenon learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness seems to be the GOP strategy in the Obama age. Karl Rove taught the Republicans to attack their opponents on their strengths. So, Rove sent the Swift Boat Veterans to smear John Kerry's distinguished war record. But that's so 2004.

With Rove in semi-retirement, the Republican party is led by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin with assists from wingmen Dick Armey and Orly Taitz. This crew favors a different approach, one less surgical and more psychiatric. Freak out randomly: The president telling kids to stay in school?!!! Counseling seniors about living wills!?! Czars?!!

The key is that there is absolutely no way to predict what will set off the GOP. At this rate, the Democrats will be reduced to a whimpering puddle on the lab floor in no time.

Comments

This is a truly cogent analysis of our current political climate.
Writing like this should replace Maureen Dowd's or David Brooks'!
Fresh idea, coherent with reality, can this catch on?
Thanks!

Your comment about SwiftVets may be so 2004 but it's also so untrue. Karl Rove had nothing to do with SwiftVets. We came together as a group on our own and told the truth as we remembered our service in Vietnam. We had over 100,000 contributors but no one told us what to say or do. We were successful because we stuck to what we knew and told the truth.

Tom Wright
PCF 44 & 89

Well observed. And way to draw out the Swift Boater! They're still lying as brazenly as ever, I see.

I truly despise the Republicans, and their absolute freak-outs over anything Obama-related strike me as a powerful illustration of the persistent effects of racism in American culture. But the prospect of seeing the Democrats reduced to a whimpering puddle on the lab floor in undeniably appealing.

Come on Tom. I'm also a Vet (70-72) and what you guys did to Kerry was unconscionable. Good grief, the guy was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. Whether Rove had anything to do with rounding you shills up or not, what you did was certainly Rove-like and it was painfully obvious that it was politically motivated and very dishonest. I'm sure with some guys like you working on it, McCain's military record could be made to look crappy too...POW not withstanding.

I for one doesn't care if GOP devolved into self defeating army of crazies. Heck I'll help foster GOP internal culture that is ever more self destructive. After the war and hate mongering? I only wish the same thinking eat them alive as well.

I would encourage GOP to get stupid, then show them the public poll. Then again their continuing political defeat. While at the same time tell them how glorious their defeat is. They should keep trying, democrats are on the run, etc...

Two more election cycles like that, they will lost senate. They won't have enough number to hold filibuster.

I hope drunkards logic done by Glenn beck and Limbaugh rule GOP. Schizophrenia rules.

At this rate, the Democrats will be reduced to a whimpering puddle on the lab floor in no time.

Except they are not dogs in a science lab. (So glad I wasn't the scientist conducting that cruel experiment.)

Bill Maher had some good advice for the Dems last week on his show: stop trying to win over the dumbass minority, stop being polite with sociopathic Republicans who have escalated the attacks because they're still losers, and stand up for what you believe in. Even kids in school get training on how to handle bullies.

In a semi-rational world, people who attack their opponents with crazy lies and slanders ought to suffer in public esteem. Their influence should be diminished, not increased and their opponents should be emboldened.

Lindsay, I don't get the "at this rate" comment. You're comparing Glenn Beck to the Swifties. Alright, but the Swifties didn't actually reduce Kerry's performance in the polls: Kerry maintained a solid lead over Bush throughout the summer, but gained no post-convention bounce, and then fell behind after the RNC. Apparently, the weak DNC was more of a problem than any smear campaign.

What's actually happening is, the Democrats are underselling health care. The WHO study placing the US in 37th place worldwide is from 2000, and was covered by Ezra Klein in some detail in 2005. The fact that the media's only discovering it now, rather than in March, is a major failure of Obama's communications team. It's failures like this and not the death panels lie that's scuttling health reform.

The Swift Boat Vets and Rove weren't working together?

From the NYTimes, 8/20/04: "A series of interviews and a review of documents show a web of connections (from the SBVFT) to the Bush family, high-profile Texas political figures and President Bush's chief political aide, Karl Rove.

Records show that the group received the bulk of its initial financing from two men with ties to the president and his family - one a longtime political associate of Mr. Rove's, the other a trustee of the foundation for Mr. Bush's father's presidential library. A Texas publicist who once helped prepare Mr. Bush's father for his debate when he was running for vice president provided them with strategic advice. And the group's television commercial was produced by the same team that made the devastating ad mocking Michael S. Dukakis in an oversized tank helmet when he and Mr. Bush's father faced off in the 1988 presidential election."

So Mr. Wright is lying about the SBVFT connection to Rove. Also, Mr. Wright said, "told the truth as we remembered (it?)." Little bit of parsing there, Tom? The guys on Kerry's boat remembered his service as deserving of his awards, but you made them out to be liars. Members of SBVFT who had been in Kerry's chain of command had praised him during the war but changed their minds decades later--guess you remember things differently when politics is involved, hm? Lying doesn't get you your honor back, Tom.

God, smear merchants piss me off, particularly the ones who can't own up to what they are.

Your idea's really interesting, Lindsey, and I think it's valid. I think the difference may be between the effects of electrical shock and wingnut shrieking.

I think repeated electrical shock eventually causes one to abandon one's body. One of the notorious effects of torture is that it causes the victim to come to despise his or her own body as a helpless source of weakness and agony. Right-wing woofing, on the other hand, makes people tired and numb, but they'll still want to defend their interests from wingnut attacks, and most will harbor a lot of anger toward the shriekers. Victims can turn off the tube. They can yell back. They can take revenge on the wingnuts in other ways. They're not helpless. Eventually, the right wing will pay a heavy price for their histrionics.

BTW, I think you can predict what the wingnuts will shriek about: Anything they can.

And last...

I think you're wrong, Alon. Kerry suffered in the polls, even if it was after the DNC, due to the SBVFT attacks because he didn't fight back against them, particularly as they were attacking his honor and bravery. He didn't resolve the attacks on himself at the convention, the most opportune moment, and left the impression he'd be a weak president.

I think Obama's suffering in the polls for the same reason--he's being attacked by poo-flinging monkeys and he's not fighting back, nor is he defending those who support him and elected him. In fact, I think he's selling us out.

Perceived cowardice is bad enough; betrayal's so much worse.

Kerry didn't suffer gradually. The fall was abrupt, immediately following the RNC. He got no post-convention bounce, not even a temporary one; Bush got a permanent bounce. Subsequently, in the exit polls, Bush's top issue was terrorism, not the character issues that you'd see if the reason for the defeat was the Swifties or Kerry's non-response to them.

With Obama, the fall in approval rate is among Independents and especially Republicans. Democrats approve of him by the same high margins as they did months ago. Attractive as your theory of betrayal is, it doesn't square with the evidence, which shows Obama's falling out of favor with people who didn't vote for him to begin with.

Besides which, Obama never promised to be a Ted Kennedy. He ran as a moderate; his main strengths were that he was more human than the people he was running against, and that he wasn't a warmonger. Well, right now he's not a warmonger (no, wars of necessity like Afghanistan don't count), he's still more human than his opponents, and he's supporting a universal health care plan that is if anything more liberal than what he promised during the campaign.

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