To the Washington elite there appears to be a direct conflict between what Al Gore is saying to Democrats and what their consultant-du-jour, Drew Westen of Emory University here in Atlanta, is saying.
There isn’t. (Westen picture from The New York Times.)
Gore posits a world where reason prevails, just as in An Inconvenient Truth he offered an argument on climate change. But in both cases the result is the conveyance of emotions, anger followed by determination. Anger at the way things are, determination to make a change.
"We’re a party that talks like technocrats when people are asking us questions about the meaning of life"
is the money quote.
As I have written here, many times, power comes from a combination of
myths and values. Myths are stories which tell us how we got here.
Values are the lessons which emerge from those stories. Myths do not
have to be true, they merely have to be believed, they only need truthiness. But the values must
inform the real problems addressed by the myth or they cease to have
The Nixon Thesis of Conflict, which Al Gore tried to fight on behalf of his father by going to Vietnam (right) used the values of TV to create an "us vs.
them" world, and when the majority, the "us," became too large groups
had to be tossed overboard.
The original Nixon coalition accepted gays,
libertarians, and womens’ rights advocates. All were tossed overboard
in the name of keeping the anger going. It is far more important in the
Nixon Thesis to combine intense minority views than to appeal to
any unity, as Democrats did in the New Deal era. This has driven
Democrats crazy for a generation. They know, in their guts, that these
people are nuts, but their weapons of choice, their minds, have proven
inadequate to the task. This is the tragedy of Gore’s life in a nutshell.
What Westen is offering is a tactical route to a working majority on
behalf of Gore’s strategic political vision. But what that vision needs in order
to define power for the next generation are a collection of shared
myths and values, based on this new medium, which can act as a shorthand to those emotions, a key
which only the new Thesis can unlock, just as the Nixon Thesis was a
key that only Republicans could unlock (but that the Clinton AntiThesis
could, at its height, briefly pick).
Westen’s argument is that values drive emotions and emotions win
elections. He is absolutely right. But those values could not come to
the fore until a crisis came about to which the old values did not
speak, on which the old myths were irrelevant. Westen, in other words,
could not have won the 2000 election for Gore, who was faced with a
choice between representing the Clinton AntiThesis or staking out a new
Thesis which people could not understand because the old Thesis was
The choice of Gore and Westen is not either-or. It is and. The and, the emotion of consensus, is at the heart of the new Internet Thesis.