Friday, September 30, 2011

Peggy Noonan and Narratives

Peggy Noonan recently got back to LiberalLand after attending a symposium in Colorado and she was struck by the ubiquity of The Narrative.
The Narrative has nothing to do with what is actually happening in the country. That would make too much sense. The Narrative is the story of a candidate or a candidacy, or the story of a presidency. Everyone in politics is supposed to have one. They're supposedly powerful. Voters believe them.
No, no, no, writes Peggy. You can't impose a narrative from above; it bubbles up from below.

Sorry, Peggy.   You are talking rubbish.  The Narrative is everything in politics.  Every leader must learn to tell the story of America so far, and the story of America as it is meant to be.  Ronald Reagan was the master of The Narrative, shamelessly appropriating the notion of the city on a hill and the last best hope of mankind on earth for all those who must have freedom.  Get the story right, and you've got the election almost sewn up.

But once you get elected then you better make sure that your narrative meshes with reality.

The Democrats have got completely tangled up in their narrative, and none more so than President Obama.  Their problem is that they are spinning stories for tactical moves, trying to move the public opinion needle, changing the story every time they speak to a different audience

The whole point of a narrative is to make sense of the world as it is, and as it ought to be.  The Democrats' problem is that their Grand Narrative, from Keynes to diversity to evil Bushism is failing.  It is failing because it does not explain how the world works.  It only shows that the Democrats don't know how the world works.

There is nothing catastrophic about this.  Narratives fail all the time.  Democrats love to talk about the failure of the Creationist narrative at the hands of Charles Darwin.  And talk and talk about it.  They talk so much that they don't notice that their own narrative is failing at the hands of a conservative future.

Peggy explains the Democratic obsession with narrative from their misreading of the Reagan era.  They thought Reagan's ideas were rubbish, and that he fooled the American people with a good story about Morning in America.  OK, they could play that game too.

But the Democrats decided Reagan was rubbish because they had to.  They had to believe that in order to keep on believing in their big-government narrative.  Reagan showed them that their economic and social ideas were all washed up.  They couldn't bring themselves to admit it.

But now the Democrats are about to pay for their delusion, big time, in the court of public opinion and election results.

Every human lives by narrative.  But the smart ones know when the old narrative is washed up and it's time to find a new one.

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