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Idea IS the format

The occasional downtime of Daniel W. E. Light

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Friday, 12 September 2008

Saying "No" to the Yes Man

This found its way into my email inbox over the weekend:

It's a poster for the new Jim Carrey movie, YES MAN, with one or two minor alterations. The original looks like this:

I'm guessing it found its way to me on the back of this tweet of mine on Friday morning:

I made this suggestion as a response to reading the first few paragraphs of an article by George Lakoff on The Huffington Post, in which he identifies some mistakes he sees the Democrats making with Obama's campaign.

Lakoff starts by examining Obama's post-RNC 'No Maverick' commercial, in which the Democrats confront McCain's attempt to position himself as a 'maverick', ready to confront mistakes and repair damage done by the current administration.

Lakoff's view is that negating what he refers to as the 'Maverick Frame' actually serves to reinforce it, and that the Democrats should instead be focusing on establishing a new frame for McCain, one that puts him on the defensive.

Highlighting McCain's record of voting with the current administration over 90% of the time, Lakoff suggests that he could be presented as a 'Yes-man', a characterisation originally used by Howard Dean in his speech to the DNC.

Over the course of Friday I saw a few other Twitter users picking up on this, culminating in the appearance of

It's an unelaborate site, concentrating on the key reasons why we should understand John McCain within this frame; his Bush-friendly voting record; his close association with 'Big Oil'; the fact that his campaign team is haemorrhaging lobbyists, locking him into the traditional Washington political machine of which his presidency would undoubtedly be a willing and compliant extension.

Then, within the last few hours, a sign that the meme has crossed media:

At the same time that this is unfolding, it is being suggested that 'the liberal bloggers have become McCain central', and that this is playing into Republican hands. Writing on the Daily Kos, thereisnospoon mounts a compelling response to such claims:

"It is difficult for Republicans to turn on a dime, and there's very little creativity to come out of their collective establishment. If the campaign and the RNC doesn't push a meme, it doesn't get pushed. That has forced Republican candidates to largely have to own the slimy attacks put out by their own people."

"We, on the other hand, have no such obligation. The Obama campaign has been successful largely because of its inspiring "new brand of politics". Unfortunately [...] that makes it somewhat difficult for the Obama campaign to get quite as nasty with the opposition as it might need to. But that's OK--because that can be our job."

"It's our job to push memes the campaign can't. It's our job to focus on Republican chicanery that would waste the time of an Obama campaign that needs to be focusing its messaging on core economic issues. By talking about McCain's egregious lies and horrible personal ethics, we can help push the press to cover stories that the Obama campaign can't seriously push themselves."

"Everyone has a role to play: ours is to play hardball, to hit where it hurts, and to force the traditional media to cover what it might be uncomfortable covering otherwise."

The post as a whole reads as a manifesto for negative campaigning among the 'netroots', inciting Democrats to leave the moral high-ground to the above-the-line campaign, and to get busy with the nuts and bolts of slinging enough muck to stand a chance of actually winning the election.

I haven't figured out exactly where I stand on this, although I guess by posting on the subject I'm giving the Yes Man Frame a little bit more oxygen, and nailing my colours to the mast in the process. This in itself begs a number of questions, the most obvious of which is...

What the fuck does it have to do with you (i.e. me) anyway?

Isn't it arrogant not to mention presumptious of me to try and perpetuate this meme in my own small way, with the intention of interfering in and seeking to influence an election taking place in a country of which I am not even a citizen?

Well, I don't think so.

I've held the view for a while now that this is by far the most important election to have taken place in my lifetime.

I base this principally on the extent to which the Bush administration has damaged the global geo-political climate generally, not to mention the skepticism his stolen elections have inspired as regards the integrity of American democracy itself.

It also seems pretty clear to me that, though the outcome of this election will (hopefully) be determined by the will of the country's citizens, the impact will be felt throughout the civilised world.

This is epitomised in relation to the issue of climate change. I meet more and more people sharing my view that the adverse effects of global warming are upon us, and that we may find ourselves being forced to change our way of life much sooner than previously imagined, on a genuinely global scale. On this basis alone, the governance and energy policy of one of the world's largest polluters is of excrutiating importance to us all.

Beyond this and plenty of other practical considerations, there's a more abstract reason why I feel such a significant stake in this election.

I still believe that if any country in the world could ever claim to carry a flag for human civilisation as a whole, it is the United States of America. I still find substance in the idea of an American dream, albeit that this has been systematically subverted by those with an interest in repackaging it as a crass consumerist call-to-arms. I still have faith in the principle of democracy, and the idea that governance should be designed to best serve those being governed, smiling most kindly upon the least fortunate of us.

I think that now may be a tipping point for the meaningful survival of these values. I'm not sure they it can survive four more years of the incumbent regime, and the defeat of by far the most exciting presidential candidate since JFK.

Like Kennedy, in Barack Obama we find a candidate who seems to articulate and symbolize the libertarian ideals upon which the United States of America claims to be founded, at a time when the country itself and the world as a whole needs so desperately to be reminded what those are.

Contrast this with Mr McCain.

I watched closely as he accepted the nomination at the Republican convention, weaving his rhetoric into a mandate for the continuation of the Bush Doctrine, and it looked like more of the same.

I watched his choice for vice-president condemn 'unprovoked' Russian aggression whilst simultaneously endorsing Israel's right to judge for itself what steps were necessary to defend its borders, and it looked like more of the same.

I'm watching a campaign unfold that's permeated by double-standards, half-truths and plain, good old-fashioned lies, and it looks like more of the same.

As if that isn't enough, I just keep picturing the scene, a few months into a McCain presidency, when the first of the calls comes in from Dick, or George Sr, asking after a juicy little piece of legislation, or sowing the seeds of some profitable new foreign intervention. Every time I play it through, I just can't see John McCain saying "no".

That's why I'm hoping the American electorate do, while they still have the chance.

* * *

I just got in after a long weekend ready to put the finishing touches on this post and I found the following unsolicited message in my normally spam-free Gmail inbox
, under the subject line 're: Important':

"The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who Is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost invariably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And if he is not romantic personally, he is apt to spread discontent among those who are."
Henry Louis Mencken

Damn right.

posted by Dan Light  # 19:29
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I couldn't agree more - frankly i've spent more than a little time wondering why i shouldn't be able to vote in this election, given its clear global impact.

This is clearly wrong- but yet i just don't believe we'll get the right outcome. it's time to shut down the yes man.
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