What will the master narrative for the 2008 Presidential race be? This is a question that has been bouncing around in my head over the past couple of days for several reasons.
In The Decider from “On The Media” this weekend, Paul Begala said, “Democrats tend to be the party of the laundry list. We have four point plans for everything. We have more solutions than the country has problems. Republicans, understanding the media better, because they mostly are still disciples of Ronald Reagan, the master of the media, they mostly tell narratives, they tell stories and stories beat laundry lists every time.”
At a party this weekend, I was speaking with a journalist about what happened with the Lamont campaign. The discussion came down to narrative. The pre-primary narrative was about an unknown challenger taking on a three-term senator and former presidential and vice-presidential candidate. It was about Ned, who he was, what his issues were, and what was wrong with the political system. After the primary, the narrative shifted. It became about Lieberman, how he was fighting to hold onto power. How he wouldn’t give up.
I am reading drafts of a book about the Dean campaign that focuses on the archetypal narrative; Trippi’s role in the narrative, and how email was used to foster that narrative.
Narrative is important, and as I think about Lakoff, I think that perhaps what matters is less the frames, than the underlying narrative. The frames help shape the narrative, ideally, they give it some archetypal structures, but it is the narrative that matters.
So, what will be the narrative for the 2008 presidential campaign. Already, I imagine, people are trying to shape that narrative. When I was down at RootsCamp in DC, there were people from different campaigns there looking for possible staff and perhaps trying to start shaping the narrative.
You see the narrative taking shape already in blogs. Some of it is the superficial horserace components. Who has the most money and the most support early out of the gate? Who is the dark horse to watch? Some of it gets to issues: the environment, the economy, the war. A big component is excitement.
In Washington, one person, knowing I was from Connecticut asked what I thought about Sen. Dodd. I started talking about things like habeas corpus and reforming the bankruptcy law. My interlocutor didn’t want to hear about that. His question? Would the bloggers in Connecticut be excited about Sen. Dodd.
I like Sen. Dodd a lot, but exciting isn’t one of the first things that come to mind when trying to characterize him. How will the narrative shape around his campaign? I’m not sure yet.
At the other end of the spectrum is Sen. Obama. He is a great orator. The idea of a draft Obama movement is generating a lot of excitement, as can be noted by the hordes turning out to hear him in New Hampshire. Will that excitement carry forward? What sort of shape will it take? What larger narrative will emerge?
Perhaps a clearer narrative is emerging around Gore. His message about climate change resonates. There is a tension in the question of whether or not he will run. That tension will be resolved at some point, but a clear ongoing narrative is easier to imagine.
The same applies to Sen. Edwards. His message about economic justice also resonates. Katrina brought economic issues into stark focus. Yet economic justice seems to recede from the spotlight fairly quickly. Will Edwards’ supporters be able to build a sustained narrative around economic issues and/or expand the narrative?
Gen. Clark’s narrative seems to remain around security and defense. The way things are looking in Iraq right now, Gen. Clark may end up with a compelling story handed to him.
Sen. Clinton’s narrative seems a bit more challenging. She has a lot of money, a lot of connections; a lot of power. She is also being portrayed as polarizing. How will that play against the One America sort of themes that seem to reside in both Sen. Edwards and Sen. Obama’s speeches? Can something new be added to the narrative?
Likewise, for Sen. Kerry, what sort of narrative will emerge for him? Vilsack and others have potentially interesting stories, but can they catch fire? People have started to talk about a Bobby Kennedy-esque narrative. Will Obama, or perhaps Edwards take on the mantle of RFK?
More important, where will the narratives come from? How much will they be produced by ‘the people’, or to stay with the archetypes, from the Greek chorus? Will the people be the netroots? Something more than the netroots, or something other than the netroots? How much will the narrative be crafted by the campaigns and how much will the narrative be crafted by the traditional media?
I don’t have any specific answers. However, I will try to keep friends focused on what the underlying story is or could be.