Were Democrats Beaten By Their Own "War Of Narratives"?

Authored by Davide Battistella,

I read a quote somewhere last week that went something like, “JFK put a man on the moon, Obama put a man in the ladies room”. This got me thinking about President Obama’s oft cited, “war of narratives”.

Who says something like this?  Well, it’s people who believe that as long as they control the narrative, as long as they control the story, then they are winning. The facts don’t matter, the actual events, the situations, the way things unfold, these are also the things that do not matter.

What matters most to a person who believes that the world is based on a “war of narratives” is that their ideas and world view are the only possible alternative. Isn’t this what doomed the Democrats in the Election?  Did they not just believe that they had a superior narrative to the one that was being proposed by Donald Trump? So much so that they practically hid their candidate while waiting for her pronouncement as president.

With a president and leader, who holds a belief that the “war of narratives” is all that matters, Democrats have slipped into a very narrow (albeit progressive) world view. Is this starting to make some sense now?

From this perch, you ignore what is going on around you and it is your job and the job of your party to push any given issue through the filter of a given narrative. So take any issue and run it into the ground to convince people your narrative is the only acceptable one. You can blame people for falling down this slippery slope because it usually involves, at some point, the absence of using common sense.

Sure, Republicans push narratives as well, but they don’t seem to do it with such zeal and with the world view that whichever particular narrative du jour is the only plausible, logical story that exists.  One thing that emerges is that being “locked in” to a position can quickly and often turn into a small corner you have painted yourself into.

This tends to result in slinging your final arrows from the last square meter you are standing in. A war of narratives Alamo as it were.  Generally, you then have to fire your narrative in all directions.  But that is not enough, dems tend to push to the point that everyone in the world (outside their square) is “wrong” (more often labeled racists, sexists, or any list of “ists”) and that the logical Democratic conclusion is correct.

When you fight this kind of “war of narratives” you inevitably end up in an extreme position, this usually involves fighting for the survival of your “narrative” or point of view over what, to most people, might seem like common sense.  Issues are made more complex and solutions move further away from the real problems.

This is where Obama now finds himself on the eve of leaving office on Obamacare, Benghazi, Aleppo, the economy and many other issues where he placed the importance on the narrative rather getting to the core of whether the position serves America and American interests.  His legacy is just another narrative that needs to be defended at all costs. How many times have we heard recently that unemployment is at it’s lowest while out of work people are at the highest levels in recent history.

This whole narrative issue and infatuation with it created a situation where democrats have become out of touch with TROA (the rest of America). This does not mean I don’t agree with some of the the narratives I have seen touted, I’m just pointing out that when you are seemingly unwilling to shift from a narrative, or a series of narratives you can end up right where the democrats are now.

Apply this logic to just about any issue and you can quickly figure out that by not being nimble in their narrative, democrats over the last eight years have become everything they always claim to stand against. Take big major issues like abortion, same sex marriage, immigration, jobs, the economy. These are complicated issues with plenty of grey area and plenty of points of view to service. You can’t afford to paint yourself into a corner and the complexity requires an ability to view the problem through more than one lens. 

Most reasonable Americans would agree with both the rights and needs of individuals associated with any of these issues, until the point they are tilted a bit to far to the left, a bit to far toward special interest groups and until those people fire back and begin attacking anyone who is not delivering the most extreme version of the message.

Things begin being defined as absolute and in black and white terms leaving for very little grey (or what I like to call the place where actual change can happen).  This is the problem with being glued to one narrative.  This is where TROA fought back.  Not all Americans share the view of the East and West coast Americans and they let that voice be heard. Now the arrows are being fired in all directions from that corner they have painted themselves into and the narrative they are one hundred percent invested in.

An example of this came up between now President elect Trump (then Mr. Trump) and Hillary Clinton in the last debate. It came down to a tough question on abortion where Secretary Clinton could not move off of her previous position/narrative and Mr. Trump could make a statement like, “You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb as late as one or two or three days prior to birth,”

That is an image that is very uncomfortable to many people and hard to defend, but it is an extreme example of why things can not be defined in black and white terms. Secretary Clinton had no real response or perhaps did not respond in the moment but my point is to illustrate why you can’t win by sticking to a prescribed narrative. At it’s core it comes off as dishonest as well because folks see you are defending a position instead of taking one. It might legally be ever woman’s right to end a pregnancy with two days remaining but it might not sit well with your average person/voter.

These types of narratives become tough to sell. Even when a given narrative is being touted, pushed, repeated and exploited through what we learned is the vast echo chamber known as the mainstream media. Case in point; election 2016. People were actually so tired, and one might even argue perceptibly fed up, with having a single narrative shoveled down their throats that they naturally sought out other voices.

To understand this one only has to view a video like this one, where talking points are being voiced, verbatim, on show after show.


Remember how Hillary tried to “power through” pneumonia...

What this kind of “instant narrative” produces in people (in me at least) is a sort of, “OK, now-I’m-being-bullshited-to”, effect and what might may have started out as a good message is rejected with all the disappointment you feel when a record or CD skips at your favourite part of the song. In other words, you can do your job too well. You can push the message out to the right people in such a strategic way that they begin to understand that it is just another narrative, to them it too slick, too polished and when you cross into that territory the bullshit meter goes off and they reject you, they see “a candidate” as disingenuous. This seemed to go both ways in the is election. 

In a post election time of reflection, perhaps we’ve come to understand that the war of narratives is less important that just plain listening to people and getting back to basics.

Maybe Eugene Ionesco was on to something with this exchange between two characters in his play The Bald Soprano.

Mr. Smith: The heart is ageless [Silence]

Mr. Martin: That's true. [Silence]

Mrs. Smith: So they say. [Silence]

Mrs. Martin: They also say the opposite. [Silence]

Mr. Smith: The truth lies somewhere between the two. [Silence]

Mr. Martin: That's true. [Silence]

Whatever the narrative America, the truth does lies somewhere between the two. At the time of this writing, the weekend before the electoral college vote, the president is touting a narrative about Russian election interference, and how talk radio and “fake news” were the deciding factors in how about 120 million people voted.

Really, you want people to buy that narrative when they already now know, it’s just the next in a long list of convenient narratives with a list of talking points attached to it. Last time I checked, they didn’t replay the Superbowl when Russell Wilson dropped back to attempt a pass on the one yard line with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. That was what they term, “a bad call”. The Seahawks took it on the chin and everyone claimed their share of responsibility and nobody threw anyone under the bus.  They did not blame the Patriots either.  This is the sort of fair play decorum we come to expect from Americans in their politics as well.

The democrats rode with the narrative that Hillary Clinton somehow was the best democratic candidate even after a Bernie Sanders showed he was not push over and had a lot of grassroots support. That was also a bad call. Funding Jill Stein to run a recount effort, pushing electoral college voters to change their vote, these are the kind of narratives that turn people off.