By “election stories,” I do not mean tales of all the adventures we’ve had on the way to the polls, fighting off pirates and dragons and the like. Nor do I mean telling young people how good they have it: “When I was your age I had to walk six miles barefoot through snow to vote.” I do not even mean the attack add that shows a local congressional incumbent with a tan and claims he took junkets to Hawaii. I mean the kind of ideas and national legends or mythologies that can energize large numbers of people for good or ill.
Take “The Domino Theory,” which led a generation of apparently well meaning leaders to conclude that if the communists were not stopped in Viet Nam, they would be knocking on our doors before long. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domino_theory
A different story from the same time – that the United States could and should put a man on the moon – led not too indirectly to the technological revolution that has allowed me to earn a living for a quarter of a century and built the remarkable laptop computer I’m typing on now (Intel was founded in 1968, a year before the moon landing).
Strangely enough, it was an interview with a Tea Party spokesman that got me thinking about political stories in the air this election season. His story was very simple “It’s about fiscal responsibility. In my household, if debt outgrows income, bankruptcy is sure to follow. Is it any different for the government?”
I heard Ben Bernanke argue the same week that, yes, the deficits will cause problems eventually if not addressed, but it is too early in the recovery to cut off government spending. To me, that sounds like a true economic fact, but it doesn’t have the force, the power, the mojo, of a story. It’s not the kind of thing that is going to hook my imagination the way the effort to balance the family books can do. It certainly isn’t starting any grassroots movements.
Supposedly, both mainstream political parties are uncomfortable with the Tea Party. Do mainstream Republicans or Democrats have any coherent stories this election season? Beyond, “It’s their fault,” I mean.
I honestly cannot think of any at the moment.
Nicely said, Morgan. The power of the anecdote. People can spout statistics all day long, but when someone stands up and says, “But my granddaughter can’t go to college… or can’t see a doctor… or whatever personal story” and others are moved to do something about it. It’s going to be an interesting election season.