A while back Kevin Drum asked

Politicians and corporations engage in meaningless puffery all the time, but to be effective it has to be based on at least a tiny core of truth. . . .

. . . So what’s the strategy here? In the primaries, I assume he’s calculated that it just doesn’t matter.

. . . But what about the general election? Independents aren’t going to go for this stuff. They’ll just shake their heads and wonder what the hell he’s talking about. So is he going to ditch this stuff completely after he’s won the nomination and pretend that he never said it? Or will he keep pressing, literally hoping that if you say anything often enough you can get people to believe it? It is a mystery.

Actually I’ve found the question fascinating from the opposite perspective: why do politicians in particular base so much of their campaign propaganda on things that are arguably truthful?

For corporations, you have the customer disappointment problem. If you make a completely untrue statement AND that statement convinces a person to buy your product you face a disappointed customer who will not only not purchase again but bad mouth you to other people.

Note, that there are a lot of folks who won’t care. They will buy the product regardless. But, then they would have bought the product regardless, so why bother lying?

Its only the marginal customer who will be enticed by the lie and it is her who is most likely to be disappointed.

Note, also that fly-by-night operations do not suffer this problem and so do indeed rampantly lie.

What about politics?

Well, here the ability to judge what you “bought” is far harder. Moreover, I tend to think the marginal voter is not even really interested in what he or she is buying.

The marginal voter is either expressing displeasure with the current state of affairs. This underlies the “Time for a Change” models in political science. Or, he or she is responding to a message.

In the former case, it doesn’t matter much what you say. In the later case its much more important that you be clear about which tribe is which than about any policy details.

So, to bring us back to this example Romney is saying “I am of the pro-capitalist tribe”  Though even that is not really accurate. Romney himself probably does care about capitalism but I doubt the marginal voter does.

He is really saying “I am of the pro-Karma tribe” in my tribe believes that people get what they deserve. Then he describes Barack Obama as wanting to institute a government that defies Karmic Justice. Its completely clear what side Romney is on.

Whether Obama wants to do this is fundamentally immaterial. The voter neither knows nor cares what Obama wants to do. The voter cares about tribal affiliation, and that’s what Romney is offering.

So, the question for me is – why isn’t this par for the course.

Part of it I think is – or at least was – a small fear that the Mainstream media would out and out call Romney a liar. That’s a horribly character tag to have and would cause voters not to want to affiliate with him. If that tag became conventional wisdom it would be damaging.

Perhaps more importantly though, I suspect much of it has to do with building a campaign team. While the average voter might not care how Romney is looked upon by the policy elite, his staff probably does. They would prefer not to associate themselves with someone who has low status in the beltway.

However, as the GOP continues to push back against the MSM, a crop of staffers has growing up who are less sensitive to such things. Thus you don’t have to worry that your entire team is looking at their shoes when you speak.

That I would guess, allows politicians to pursue a more direct strategy of agitprop.

About these ads