Finally, for what is likely the first time ever in the history of time, the Democrats have a frame with which to attack the Republican party. What is a frame you ask? It’s essentially a caricature that every screw-up can be placed to support. The best example would be what the GOP did to Gore and Kerry, or, as they’ve been framed, the notorious liar and the weak flip-flopper.
The frame is this (and extra points to anyone who can point out instances of its use): Republicans are corrupt, over-reaching and abusing their power. It’s one of what Robert Reich describes as the four essential American stories: Rot at the Top. (By the way, if you have not read the Reich story from the New Republic last month about narrative and American politics, drop everything your doing and read it immediately. If you can’t get access to TNR, email me and I’ll send you the story).
The Rot at the Top. The last story concerns the malevolence of powerful elites. It’s a tale of corruption, decadence, and irresponsibility in high places–of conspiracy against the common citizen. It started with King George III, and, to this day, it shapes the way we view government–mostly with distrust. The great bullies of American fiction have often symbolized Rot at the Top: William Faulkner’s Flem Snopes, Willie Stark as the Huey Long-like character in All the King’s Men, Lionel Barrymore’s demonic Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, and the antagonists that hound the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath. Suspicions about Rot at the Top have inspired what historian Richard Hofstadter called the paranoid style in U.S. politics–from the pre-Civil War Know-Nothings and Anti-Masonic movements through the Ku Klux Klan and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts. The myth has also given force to the great populist movements of U.S. history, from Andrew Jackson’s attack on the Bank of the United States in the 1830s through William Jennings Bryan’s prairie populism of the 1890s.
Sound at all familiar? Democrats are using this frame on everyone: Delay over corruption charges, Frist over trying to end the filibuster, Arnold over attacking the unions, etc., etc. It’s a good frame for a party that is so thoroughly out of power. In fact, it’s exactly the frame that brought Republicans TO power in 1994 with the Republican Revolution. I find myself thinking, for the first time in months, maybe we aren’t so stupid after all…