Mind Games and Politics

John Harris and Mark Halperin were on the Charlie Rose show the other night discussing their new book, The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008  which has as its  central theme the following:

Anger, prurience, invective, conspiracy theory — all are native
flowers on the American landscape. What is new is the greenhouse in
which these blossoms are cultivated and sold. This greenhouse was built
on two beams. The first was the disintegration of editorial filters in
the Old Media, which in an earlier age prevented the most salacious
tales and bitter accusations (though certainly not all) from entering
the public arena…

in turn helped promote, and was promoted by, the second beam, the
erosion of basic habits of decorum and self-restraint, in politics and
media alike…  The
result is that the extreme and eccentric voices who always populated
the margins of politics now reside, with money and fame as the rewards,
at the center. Michael Moore, please say hello to Ann Coulter. The
collapse of filters and the collapse of civility together have changed
the purpose of politics. The goal now is not simply to win, but to
persuade voters (and donors and viewers and readers) that an opponent
lacks the character and credibility even to deserve a place in the
. That is Freak Show politics. (WaPo)

Certainly that is right, but I’d take it even further: the goal is to persuade the supporters of the opposition candidate that they, too, lack character and credibility, to demoralize them, to depress their enthusiasm for their cause.

One of the most interesting features of the 2000 and 2004 campaigns were the bouts of self-loathing by Democrats after their losses, particularly among the liberal media and institutional elites.