Catching More Flies With Honey


Right now The Usual Wingnuts are having a fit because President Obama shook hands with Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the Americas meeting in Trinidad and Tobago. In other words, the President is behaving like a grownup, and we can’t have that!

What the wingnuts won’t tell you: “Obama drives Chavez out of limelight

Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez was greeted like a rock star by onlookers when he arrived at a 34-nation summit — but only because Barack Obama had slipped through a back door.

A short while later, a roomful of dignitaries from every nation in the Americas except Cuba met the U.S. president with thundering applause and a few whoops. Some stood up to clap.

No one else got as warm a reception, and Obama was repeatedly interrupted by applause as he promised an “equal partnership” with the region, including a bid to mend relations with Cuba.

Chavez didn’t speak at the opening ceremony and had to be content sitting quietly with the other leaders. It was a big change from the last Summit of the Americas in 2004, when he led the pack in defeating a hemispheric trade accord spearheaded by his nemesis, former U.S. President George W. Bush.

Though Chavez remains hugely popular among Latin American leftists, he has been considerably weakened by Bush’s departure and Obama’s arrival. He’s also less powerful because his oil-rich nation can’t simply buy as much good will now that oil prices have plunged.

“In the end, Chavez is a product of Bush,” said Marta Lagos, director of the Chile-based Latinobarometro polling firm. “Chavez would have never existed if Bush hadn’t opposed him the way he had.”

Can we just say that the wingnuts lack an appreciation of the power of good public relations, as opposed to throwing temper tantrums or behaving like your neighbor’s teenage brat who was never taught manners?

Along these same lines, I wanted to say one more thing about the tea parties — there is a debate on the Left about how seriously we should be taking the tea party “movement.” I do think it should be taken seriously as a potential cause of violence, but as a force that will turn the nation against President Obama — I don’t think so.

Awhile back, while we were debating the effectiveness or lack thereof of the antiwar protests, I took a look at mass demonstrations in history, noting which ones were effective and which ones weren’t, and formulated the “Bigger Asshole” rule: Effective demonstrations are those that make them look like bigger assholes than us.

It’s important to be clear how mass demonstrations “work.” Demonstrations should be viewed as a form of public relations. The point of them is to win public sympathy to your cause. They can also be tools for organizing, among other things. But demonstrations are a dangerous tool, because they can just as easily work against you as for you.

The really great mass protest movements — the prototypes are Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement — “worked” because the public at large sympathized with the protesters. The protesters behaved in a way that demonstrated they were worthy of respect, and the Powers Than Be they were protesting — whether redneck southern sheriffs or the British Empire — behaved like assholes.

On the other hand, a kid in a “Buck Fush” T-shirt screaming “No blood for oil!” over a megaphone for an hour and a half is just obnoxious. And don’t even get me started on the endless scatological references to “Dick” and “Bush,” the silly costumes, giant puppets, and often juvenile street theater that are standard features of leftie demonstrations and which broadcast the message “We are not serious; we are clowns in Clearasil.”

(Although I did like “Billionaires for Bush.” Humor is a good PR tool, when it’s really humorous.)

The true measure of “success” for the recent tea parties is not the number of people who turned up for them. (The final total may have been 300,000 nationwide, which does not impress me given the way Fox News pushed the parties. If there were a genuine groundswell of support for the “cause” I would have expected many more people than that.) The real measure is whether the tea parties gained public sympathy for the partiers. And from here I can’t see that they did.

If leftie demonstrators tend to come across as immature and unserious, I’d say the rightie demonstrators come across as frightening. They are dumb but sinister, like a beast defending its territory. I can’t imagine that someone who is not already inclined to think the way they think would have felt sympathy for them.

Update: See also Comments From Left Field.

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  1. joanr16  •  Apr 18, 2009 @10:53 am

    This is a thoughtful post on why protests over serious concerns (e.g. unnervingly huge budget deficits; trumped-up wars) end up having the opposite effect much of the time.

    Often the failure’s the fault of the message-sender (e.g. “clowns in Clearasil” or this week’s “Yes, Gabby, the president is near”* crowd), but sometimes the fault lies with the message-receiver. I won’t be surprised if this post stirs up a bunch of “Lefties love Obama a-huggin on evil Chavez!” reactions. Because, as we all know, Gabby cain’t read. Last night I saw that photo of Obama and Chavez both grinning when they met, and I thought, Oh no, here we go…. We can make all the sound and reasonable “more flies with honey” arguments we want, but the Gabby crowd will see that photo and get so riled up, they won’t be able to hear a thing for the blood roaring in their ears.

    *Probably mis-remembered Blazing Saddles reference. Lord, I’m old.

  2. maha  •  Apr 18, 2009 @11:15 am

    I don’t think most Americans who aren’t already on the extremist Right are that interested in Hugo Chavez, one way or another.

  3. joanr16  •  Apr 18, 2009 @12:46 pm

    I don’t think most Americans who aren’t already on the extremist Right are that interested in Hugo Chavez, one way or another.

    Unfortunately, my coworkers know who Chavez is, even though they may not all be able to recognize our current Treasury Secretary, or say what cabinet post Hillary Clinton holds. They may not remember Hugo’s name, but they do recognize “that crazy bleeper/commie/Socialist down in Venezuela who said all those terrible things about Bush.” Their level of interest in Chavez would be about the same as their level of interest in a possibly-poisonous spider (i.e., equivalent to their level of interest in Obama). Just s few of the grotesque facts of life in my red state.

  4. biggerbox  •  Apr 18, 2009 @1:40 pm

    The Right has long had a tendency to petulance. It’s hard to avoid when you walk around with a chip on your shoulder. It’s no wonder they were so fond of Shrub, who turned it into performance art: the petulant smirk, the contemptuous chortle, the nasty turn-and-bite if you dared question.

    I don’t think most people outside of the Fox News orbit will remember the Tea Parties a month from now, which is too bad, since they really allowed the angry incoherence of that fraction of the Right to shine clearly. As Jamison Foser notes in his Media Matters column, they are angry. It’s impossible to tell why or about what, exactly. It’s mostly that they aren’t getting their way, angry like spoiled children get red-hot angry. That is the much worshipped “base” of the GOP. Angry spoiled children.

    I believe America will continue to enjoy having well-adjusted adults in charge for some time, but it would be good for the country to acknowledge that the other side aren’t actually grown-ups with different opinions, they are cranky spoiled children who should be given a time-out.

    The rantings about Texas succeeding or Hugo Chavez or tax rates or anything else are the semantic equivalent of the “I hate you! I hate you!” one hears shouted through the child’s bedroom door. It’s time for the adults to continue to go about their business, and pay no attention.

    The only problem with the analogy is that pre-teens who are sent to their rooms seldom keep arsenals of firearms and explosives as a hobby.

  5. moonbat  •  Apr 18, 2009 @3:25 pm

    If leftie demonstrators tend to come across as immature and unserious, I’d say the rightie demonstrators come across as frightening. They are dumb but sinister, like a beast defending its territory.

    Dumb but sinister is exactly spot on. It’s their everyday M.O. It needs to be said how wingnuts are oblivious to the fact that they create their own enemies, and use the results of this creation to “prove” that their fearful stance is correct. This isn’t to say that there aren’t evil people out there, there are. But the right’s dumb and sinister stance multiplies them, manyfold, unnecessarily. And they’re totally clueless about how this happens. They have the emotional maturity of little children and have yet to learn how they create their own living hells. And they can’t stand it when someone like Obama pulls the wind out of their sails, deflating the favorite defenses/thought patterns of their childish egos.

    You’ve written some profound things about the nature of effective protest, including these few paragraphs today. I’ve often wanted to quote or link to your work in this area – may I suggest a sidebar where some of your best work can be readily accessed? Consider pruning back the blogroll to accomodate some of these gems. Thanks.

  6. aimai  •  Apr 18, 2009 @4:59 pm

    I think its a mistake to think that in this day of mass miscommunication that mass movements can control their message sufficiently to be seen sympathetically when the government or major media outlets don’t want them to be seen sympathetically. I was at the big bit NY anti war rally. It was as full as it could be of respectable, older, men and women (both my parents were there), Quakers, people with young children, etc… But not only was *none* of that shown on TV the only things that were were one shirtless younger guy mixing it up with the police. Hours and hours and hours of peaceful, solid, thoughtful *utterly middle class* and boringly mainstream political protest and the only thing NY One showed was a) traffic jam information and b) the shirtless guy shouting at the police.

    We didn’t control the megaphones or the images that were produced in the anti war movement. Interestingly enough the teabaggers found out that even though they *do* control their one channel and their talk radio they, too, were unable to control their message and image. But I strongly disagree that (pace the odd ANSWER and Mumia types) that the anti war movement did engage in much silly street theater. Most of it was darned sober.


  7. Hank Blathers  •  Apr 18, 2009 @5:32 pm

    I do not think that the majority of these folks are dumb. OK, some of the most outspoken are certifiably bonkers but what really is driving this “protest” is an apoplectic fear that the country is changing from a WASP dominated culture to one where multiculture predominates. The right can’t stand this change.
    The collapse of caucasian male domination is what right wing radio and FOX constantly trumpets and these baggers can only hear one discordant tune.

  8. Bonnie  •  Apr 18, 2009 @5:35 pm

    All these righwing nutjobs need to be put in a room with one book: Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Manners. The whole right wing gang is so sadly lacking in manners and civility that they should be put on permanent detention.

  9. joanr16  •  Apr 18, 2009 @6:43 pm

    All these rightwing nutjobs need to be put in a room with one book: Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Manners.

    Too many big words, not to mention no pictures of guns.

  10. moonbat  •  Apr 18, 2009 @8:53 pm

    Hank B – one of my all time favorite postings is about “the end of the long summer of the white male”. This line (or one like it) is found in I am the King Brat by Grand Moff Texan.

  11. ozonehole  •  Apr 18, 2009 @9:11 pm

    biggerbox said:
    As Jamison Foser notes in his Media Matters column, they are angry. It’s impossible to tell why or about what, exactly.

    You are very correct, Biggerbox. They are angry. They don’t even know why. They would probably be much less angry if they weren’t in debt up to their eyeballs, if they had jobs they actually liked, and if they were getting better sex (or any sex). But don’t expect any of them to realize the source of their anger. They are angry about liberals, Obama, ACORN, Al Gore, socialized medicine and tax increases (that never occurred) simply because FOX News, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the right-wing propagandists told them that this is why they should be angry. Al Gore is destroying their lives with his global warming of hoax – Sean Hannity says so, therefore it must be true.

    America’s right-wing media is just as effective as Pravda was in the old Soviet Union. The people who believe this propaganda are just pawns, but they don’t know it. When you try to explain to them how they are being suckered, they get angry about that too. They will continue to vote against their own interests until they wind up sleeping under a freeway overpass.

  12. Dave S  •  Apr 19, 2009 @9:37 am

    America’s right-wing media is just as effective as Pravda was in the old Soviet Union.
    I had a Russian history professor tell me, “In Russian, Pravda means ‘truth.’ Never in the history of mankind were so many lies told under the banner of truth.” But this was before the final ascendancy of Fox News. I think she may have to revise her statement.