Hey there, and welcome to lever time the flagship podcast from the lever, an independent investigative news outlet. I'm your host, David Sirota on today's show. We're gonna be talking, of course about the midterm elections with less than two weeks until Election Day. Recent polls show pivotal races getting tighter and tighter for Democrats across the country. Lots of fears that the Democrats are going to wildly shift the bed. For today's discussion. I'm going to be joined by MSNBC host Chris Hayes. I spoke with Chris about all things midterms, the good, the bad, the encouraging, and the terrifying. Then, I'm going to be speaking with journalist and author anon Jared hardest about his new book, The persuaders. There's a lot of sound and fury in the world right now a lot of noise, but not a lot of persuading. I spoke with a nod about the power and necessity of persuasion in today's hyper polarized political environment, and what it actually takes to change someone's mind and win them to your cause. This week, also, our paid subscribers will get a bonus segment, which is the extended conversation I had with a non we ended up talking for almost an hour and had a really, really good discussion. I mean, we went really, really deep, make sure to check it out. If you want access to lever time premium, head over to lever news.com To become a supporting subscriber that gives you access to all of our premium content. And you'll be directly supporting the investigative journalism that we do here at the lever. Speaking of which, if you're looking for other ways to support our work, do us a favor, share our reporting with your friends and family leave this podcast a rating and review on your podcast player. The only way that independent media grows is by word of mouth, and we need all the help we can get to combat the inane bullshit. That is corporate media. As always, I'm joined today by producer Frank, what's
up Frank? How much David I'm feeling a little nervous. I'm feeling a little anxious, you know, we got these big midterm elections coming up. And it normally this is around the time that all of the corporate media starts putting out their stories of like, oh, you know, it's all going to be bad, everything's going to be terrible, because they need, you know, they need conflict to report on. But I feel like this cycle, we're seeing a bunch of quantitative data that is showing us that this might actually not be a good year for Democrats.
I mean, it seems pretty bad. It's a party that has, up until this point, not really campaigned on the economy or economic issues in the middle of an economic crisis. And I think the potential for bed shedding is very high. And I think we all have to acknowledge it. I don't think that's automatically what's going to happen. But I definitely think the potential for it is very real. And look, if you've listened to this podcast, if you've read the lever, if you know my work over decades, one of the things that I've been saying we've been saying for months and months, really years, is that you can't expect to economically pulverize people, and then have an election, try to avoid the economy and expect that things are gonna go well. I mean, that's just, I mean, it's not me that created the notion of quote, it's the economy stupid. That was the Democratic Party back in the Clinton era, right. So it's incredible that the Democrats, it seems have kind of, at least up until this point, forgotten that lesson. Now, before we get to our first interview, I just want to say there is something that I'm very excited about personally, and I just want to let everybody know because what you're listening to right now this is a safe space here for Phillies fans. I grew up in Philadelphia, as most most of you many of you know I am a huge Philadelphia fan, generally of the city of the place. You can take the boy out of Philadelphia. You can't take the heart out of Philadelphia, I live in Denver. And so the Phillies being in the World Series I mean, I am super psyched. I'm not that huge sports fan anymore, but come on. This is a safe space for Phillies fans. I hope everybody listening is cheering on the Phillies. And I mean like if you're rooting for the for the Houston Astros, like what are you doing with your life? Like seriously, what are you doing with your life? Frank? Are you into this stuff?
Oh, not at all. Not Not in the slightest. I spend zero of my time on professional sports, but I am from New Jersey. So by sheer proximity go i adjacency sheer, sheer adjacency I am supportive of the Phillies fuck the Astros? Absolutely not. There's actually a really great video going around of Ted Cruz at one of the series games very enjoyable and pn the audience just telling him to go fuck himself. It is highly recommend. Yes, he
was at the I think he was at the Astros Yankees game. And by the way, one last thing my my son and I pulled out my old baseball card collection. You was like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where they find the ark. And they're like pulling it out. They're like uncovering it from like, 1000s of years ago, my son and I pulled out this old unsealed box of baseball cards. And I found my 1974 Mike Schmidt cart Mike Schmidt, of course, also one one other point to make. Mike Schmidt, the greatest third baseman of all time. And if you have a problem with me saying that, if you think that another third baseman is better than Mike Schmidt sorry, you're just wrong. Mike Schmidt was the greatest third baseman of all times I found my 1974 card and my son and I had a great like, almost like cliched classic father son experience getting ready for the World Series. Alright, that's it for sportstyle I
don't know what any of this means. But it sounds very important to you, and I'm very excited for you and your son.
It was really great. We also I also showed him my autographed 1986 sneakers from Charles Barkley. The Charles Barkley gave me as a child after the game. I swear to god that happened. I swear to God, I have those sneakers. And by the way, those sneakers, were the subject of an episode on ABCs The Goldberg No joke, The Goldbergs no joke. Anyway, all of that sports stuff aside, I know there's some people who are listening are like, so annoying. You're talking about sports? I'm here for the politics. I get it. Yeah, I get it. I know. Like, right, producer, Frank is your proxy. So we're gonna get to the politics right now. For the first half of today's show. We're going to be talking about the midterm elections. Now look, we here at the lever don't usually parrot the talking points of the Democratic establishment. Actually, I shouldn't even say usually, we do not parrot the talking points of the Democratic establishment. But I think it is safe to say that this year's midterm elections are actually some of the most important election of our lifetime. I think that's actually true. Six high profile Senate races will decide control of the upper chamber and whether or not President Biden will become effectively a lame duck president, potentially for the second half of his first term. State legislatures and attorneys general races will most likely determine the fate of abortion rights and abortion access across the country. And secretaries of state races could potentially end with pro Trump election deniers overseeing elections in pivotal swing states during the 2024 presidential election, which could lead to a full blown constitutional crisis. I think those are all facts. Those are not just like Democratic Party talking points. I frankly, think the Democratic party elites have focused specifically on democracy and voting rights arguments and arguments about reproductive rights, all important arguments, but they have focused so obsessively on those arguments, and ignored economic arguments that it is difficult for folks to hear those arguments because the economic crisis is so bad. And I think there is a strategic problem with that. But I also think there is still some time left. And that leads into my discussion with MSNBC host, Chris Hayes. I've known Chris for many, many years, going back to the, to the years that we used to work at In These Times magazine. I spoke with Chris about the stakes for this year's midterm elections, the responsibility of the media in covering unprecedented threats to democracy, also the responsibility of the media to cover economic issues in a way that centers workers, something that the media often doesn't do. And I also talked to him about what it's like being the lead anchor of one of the country's largest cable news networks, what are the pressures? Like, what is what are the bosses saying? What kind of demands are being made? I've come to this revelation that anybody who is not going completely insane right now is like a hero like Syria, like Yeah, climate apocalypse, like election apocalypse, like inflation, like the pandemic is still going on. Like anybody who's like, sort of keeping it together. Like you are a fucking hero, if you're sort of keeping it together, and actually having this revelation makes me like, less mad at like little things like oh, okay, look, that hurt. That person's just like they're barely keeping it together. But you know what, everyone's barely keeping it together. I don't know if you feel that way.
I feel that way. I mean, I I definitely, like, it's the most cliche thing in the world. But the Serenity Prayer is really key to me, like, what can I control? What can I not? Because I think sometimes you end up in this position where it's like, it's up to me, you know, I take the the job I have very seriously it's like, I have to, like save American democracy. And it's like, I can't, I can't control any outcomes. I can't control any outcomes, I can do good work. I can focus on what I can control. But if I try to focus on things outside of my control, I will go insane. And so I really try not to, but it's very tempting to be drawn into worrying about things you can't control, I cannot control most of the things that I worry about. And I just tried to keep retelling myself that because it's the only way that I can stay sane. But yes, the poll is very strong, not to stay sane,
right. And the other thing is, is that knowing that you can't control those things, is an insanity creator, when the things you can't control are, like, super terrifying and scary, like, you know, like, climate apocalypse and fascism. And like, I mean, like,
those are the top of that those are the top of the list,
right? So it's kind of like insane, creating to know, you can't control it. I mean, I kind of use it for the climate, I kind of use the metaphor, we're I mean, it's not even a metaphor, it's actually true. We're on a spaceship, the life support systems burning. Lots of us know, the life support system is burning. The people in the cockpit of the spaceship, in large part have decided to bar the door closed and allow the life support system to burn. And you're like, Yo, we're all on the spaceship here. What like, and it's amazing that you can be on the spaceship, knowing that's happening and remain, you know, mildly sane. And it goes for inflation, and it goes for the election. So let's get right into the into the election. Let's just get right into that. Yeah, we reported here at the lever that Republicans have spent $44 million on TV ads focused on the economy and inflation since Labor Day, during the same time, Democrats only spent about $12 million on ads focused on the economy, less than 7% of the party's total. Why do you think up until now, Democrats have not been talking as aggressively about the economy, even when it's statistically, according to the same polls, the most important issue to voters?
I mean, I think there's two reasons, right. One is that there's always this question of what the issue space is going to be and how much you can define it. So I do think that like, I think it was a perfectly reasonable, and I think effective for wild tactical decision after dogs to be like, Look, we just got handed an issue that we own 6535 in an environment where we didn't have this and also that we're we care about, we should take advantage of this. Because if you're the party in power, and 8%, inflation, you're it's an uphill battle. Right. So you have to tell some kind of story. And I think some people have and I think actually the stuff that Biden has been doing about the fact that like they will cut Social Security, Medicare and want to do that, and are announcing it ahead of time. I think they probably should have focused on that earlier. But I always think it's this tricky thing where it's like, it's not just what your message is, it's what issue are you bringing attention to at a given moment? And when you're the incumbent party, and again, no, this is the this is the brilliance of running an opposition campaign when inflation is 8%. You don't have to do anything or say anything, or have any solution. Like, literally Todd Young senator from Indiana, like just has a picture of him at night, like filling up a car isn't even in the frame. He's like, at a gas station. He's like, $4 gas as like, it's like that's it? That's like literally the
sum of the message, right? And by the way, the response should be like, Dude, why aren't you talking to your oil donors about this? And I
think, look, I do think I do think that kind of populist message on this stuff and the stuff that I think Katey Porter has trotted out and Elizabeth Warren, which is like there's price gouging, there's profits going to the top. Even if I think like, as a Macroeconomic Analysis, there's like, arguments to be had about how much that's the driving factor. at a political level, you got to give someone you got to give people something. The other thing I'll say that's, like, really depressing to me. And it's something I've really changed my mind about. I don't, you don't get any credit for stuff that you did. You just don't and, and again, like I've just come around entirely on this. You do stuff because it's good. For a few reasons. You do stuff because you deliver stuff because you believe in it. It also builds longer term durable political benefits, right, like, you see how hard it is to take away the ACA. You see how Medicaid expansion, you'll see how hard it will be to claw back the student debt stuff, right? So you know, broader political sense. All that stuff is good. It's good policy and good politics, in the narrow sense of like, does it help you win the election? I don't think it does. Like I just think that stuff like, basically comes out in the wash. People are focused on their problems, understandably, that's how democracy works. And so, you know, I saw this great write up in Politico where they were like, talking about like, some pollster like testing like, messages on like, here's all we accomplished. It was like the lowest testing message if you were like, I do not want to hear it. And I don't blame him for not wanting to hear it. It's like it sucks when things prices go up a percent. And rent particularly is like through the roof, so I totally get that. But I do think it's a difficult terrain to message in to come back to your original point. I think the tactical play they they made made a lot of sense. There was a lot of data to suggest it. I do think that like, in the last month of the election, you have to talk about the economy. I want
to reiterate like your point about the permanent campaign. That is always what I internalized that term to me, that's an old political term, the permanent campaign, and the permanent campaign isn't a campaign to be like, hey, look, what we did, hey, look, every like every election, especially now is essentially a grievance election. And what exactly what are you mad about, and the Republicans are happy and have perfected the art of naming the alleged bad guy, I just want to underscore the alleged I don't agree with who they named as the bad, but like, they're very good at being like, this is the problem. And this is the bad guy. And the Democrats, even though they're in power, I'm sure they're like, we can't campaign on the economy and inflation because we're the ones that, you know, we're, we're in control. But it's like, that's not true. Like Donald Trump could figure out a way to run a campaign against inflation when he was the president, if that was the problem. Like, it's the it's the issue of like, are you willing to call out villains and tell me if you think I'm wrong? I think the Democrats are, they're sort of uncomfortable with calling out any other villain other than maybe like Fox News and like the Republican Party writ large, but they're not comfortable calling out, like, sort of specific villainous companies or even really specific villainous industries?
I think that's generally right. I think there's some I mean, like the oil companies in the Saudis are a great set of villains, right, from a political perspective. They're also like the people who are genuinely benefiting from the spike in oil prices. I think, I think they're individuals are an individual settings, but they are not willing to wage campaigns on it. Like that. That I think is I mean, I think you could have seen a big oil is screwing you by gouging prices.
That's the one I've been waiting for, man. I mean, really, because it's the Republican donors. And when you look at the campaign finance,
it works like three to three to one. It's ridiculous. Yeah. So it's not like, right, so there's lots of places like we know, there's lots of places where Democrats end up cross pressured by their donor base. Yes, oil isn't really one of them, like the ag sector, particularly like, even you know, the the real people who are making a mint right now, we're also coming in to pump a lot of oil are the sort of mid level producers who are like the most conservative donor like they're more conservative than the big big firms. Yes. But the other thing here too, and again, this is like the Mohammed bin Salman problem. And ultimately, like a huge problem about having your whole political economy dependent on fossil fuels is they need these people to pump oil. I mean, Joe Biden needs like the same people that you're going to, you know, that I think it's good politics to go after, and your ads are the people that you need to be like actually pumping more oil to bring prices down. Because if there's one thing that determines people's political mood, it's the price of oil. And this is something that I think is so important, in a political economy level over and above the climate is like, getting to a universe where this is not the central factor. I mean, you see it all across Europe right now. Like, it's just it's so determinative. Sure, but
let me push back and ask you, it's not like, being nice to the oil companies. Like it's gonna Okay, we're not gonna air ads, and we're gonna be super nice to you. Like, that doesn't matter what like they're literally they got like, the smartest numbers countries in the world being like, we're gonna pump this much and this much, right, like it was. So it doesn't have the political ads that they could air doesn't matter. And like, I feel I actually feel like
a little bit with the Saudis. I think there's more of an explicit Saudis fine, who also I think are made a great foil, like an app, you know. So I think there's more of a like, sure, that's a more but you're right. Like when you're talking about these these, these mid sized firms like they're not they're making calculations not based on who's running ads against
right, so my question then, let's go a little deeper here. Tell me if you think my theory is wrong, that the reason the Democrats don't like to name villains, the reason they don't run permanent campaigns, use the bully pulpit to really consistently name villains, traces back not only to their campaign donors, and you know, health care, pharma, etc, etc. But also, even with somebody like the oil companies that they don't get a lot of money from. It goes back to something about norms. It goes back to something about like the elite discourse, and we don't want to be portrayed as anti business. And we need to be portrayed as like serious and like serious parties, serious non fascist, non demagogic leaders, you know, they don't bash in a populist of course that will Word has now become bad. They don't bash in a populist way, like an industry. It's primitive. It's not cool. It's sort of anti norms. I feel like that undergirds a lot of democratic culture. Fair enough.
Yeah, I think it's pretty fair. I mean, I think I think that's like both institution norms. I think there's like a temperamental aspect to it, too. I mean, you'll see them like people will, you know, when, when they're in a corner, people will find the right targets to go after. Right, right.
That's why but you see by like, Biden, belatedly, now it's like, the oil companies are like, ripping us off. It's like, oh, you tweet from the election?
Right? It's a little bit of a, like a break glass kind of thing. But you're right. There's a resistance there. Yeah. And again, like I do think all of this. It's interesting. You're talking about populism, that being a bad word. I do think like, I do think like the weirdness of the political rhetoric and the and the sort of authoritarian impulses have spun people around on all this stuff, where people are very, like, wary about, who are they dividing against and how and what those lines are. But I also think, like, there's ways to do that, that are, like totally legitimate, not like abusive of the public, you know?
Absolutely. I mean, absolutely. I think like when when you see Katey Porter, as an example, she's like, she's not violating norms. She's
like, No, she's like, here's the profits. The profits are coming from in price, pricing power,
making powerful people uncomfortable, is not a violation of norms when it's so powerful people who were creating the problems. Okay, that's a good segue to my my next question, which is about the Supreme Court we mentioned talked about abortion. Obviously, that's even more heightened importance right now, public trust in the Supreme Court all time low. We know that there the court feels itself that it has a legitimacy problem. On a recent episode, even a pod save America, former President Barack Obama said if we reform the Supreme Court simply by figuring out ways to get more Democrats on there and stack it up, then it's not going to solve the legitimacy problem of the Supreme Court. It's just that we'll win more cases for a while. So So clearly, even he is acknowledging, you know, kind of very establishment institutional voice of the party, that the Supreme Court has a legitimacy problem. Why do you think the party leadership has been very, very hesitant to kind of make a political argument about the court as an institution beyond just saying, it's like, there's a discordance between, like, the court is ruining the entire world, which I you know, I effectively believe on climate, abortion, etc, etc. And like, Hey, we're not really prepared to do much of anything other than say, like, we got to get a Democratic president a Democratic Senate to put maybe one more judge on the Court not to actually structurally take it on what what is the his hesitancy to do this?
Well, I think there's a few things. One, I think, to go back to your temperamental norm thing, I think, like Biden is just like, doesn't like that. Like, I just think and that's deep. I think that's not like a political calculation. I think that's like, in his core,
former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he's like, 5000 years ago.
Yeah. And I think actually, like, this is the thing I think that he would probably agree with is just like, I do think people underestimate the role ideology has in politicians, like they really like they have their donors, and they have political calculations, but they actually do believe in things. Sometimes they believe in really wrong things, or things I think are wrong, but they really do believe in them. And they will pursue those beliefs sometimes to great cost. I mean, by not taking rhetorical paths that would be politically advantageous by like, and so I think that that, to get back to your original point about sort of norms and things like that, I do think that's a huge part of it. So that's a be it's also a little bit of this, if you don't have the votes, which they don't, right. Like, it's a little bit of like threatening to shoot a hostage, you can't shoot, right. If you're making a big threat about we're going to expand the court. And it's like, well, we know that Joe Manchin and Kristen Cinemark are only going to overcome this filibuster, they sure as hell aren't going to do to like expand the court. It's like what are you threatening? Right, although I will say I do think threatening has its own civic role in making the court a little worried, which I don't think would be the worst thing because right now, there's not a lot of checks on the court. So I think in like a constitutional sense, the interplay between power of the different branches, even if you can't do it, making noise about doing it might actually serve as a kind of useful check. On some of the court's worst impulses. At this point.
You're speaking my language. I am like in the middle of Jeff Russell's book, supreme power Franklin Roosevelt versus the Supreme Court. This
is what I would just write an example of that. Yes.
And you know, what's interesting about that is is that it is sort of I feel like the memory of that or the nobody you know, most people aren't old enough to remember that. I don't think you know, but But I guess the the created memory of that is like F Dr screwed up by challenging the court. And I don't think it's necessarily exactly the opposite. Like it was a huge, huge, like, clear win for him. But he definitely got some things out of that sort by having that fight that fights. And so it just speaks to your point about like threatening carefully with precision actually does have a utility, even if you don't have a hostage to, you know, to act on.
Well, and I think for folks that are not familiar, right, like the court packing was the Supreme Court kept overturning huge parts of New Deal legislation. FDR was like enough, we're going to add more justices to the court. There was a huge fight over this, it was actually quite unpopular, like we have polling from the time and people didn't like it. They thought it was overreach. Ultimately, though, before he ever kind of has to do it, or the question is called, like, the court kind of changes its jurisprudence. And there's always been this long political debate and historical debate about like, was that coincidence? was an accident, do they realize what's happening? But the thing I would I would say about that episode, and I totally agree with you. It's a really important one is two things happen. One is I agree that like it was more successful than history records as like, Roosevelt overreach, but also like, he spent political capital, like, it wasn't, you know what I mean? Like, that's the other thing about it, like, if you're gonna have a fight over the court, like, some people will think you're overreaching, some people will, you know, fight against you. So that's,
it's not a casual fight, right? It's like you're either or you're like,
That's right. It's not a casual fight. And so you got to think about where that political capital gets spent, which I think is the third reason, honestly, that it's been deprioritize, even though it's like, I agree with you, like probably one of the biggest threats.
Okay, I'm gonna ask you some media related questions, because obviously, you are in the media. And I'm going to ask you some like, hopefully, these aren't uncomfortable questions. But if they are, you know, here we go. Okay, like, you're at a network that has focused a lot on the January 6 situation, the threat to democracy, which to be very clear, I think the January 6, Riot and the threat to democracy are really important issues. But the latest Ipsos poll shows that only about 7% of Americans think this is the most important issue. In the election. We talked about that the economy, there's an inflation crisis, etc. So I guess one question is, do you think, if not only, specifically cable TV news, but cable TV news as part of a kind of fragmented media, and the ratings incentives, the click incentives with relatively fragmented small audiences, you know, not 25 Super Bowl level audiences? Do you think that contributes to or creates the incentive system for a discourse that like, doesn't focus on for instance, macro economic issues, or there's more of an incentive to focus in on something like a more cinematic like the January 6 and the threat to democracy are those incentives? Is there a problem there?
I mean, I'm writing a book about this right now. So I've literally a book's length thoughts. I mean, first of all, I would say the attentional incentives drawn everyone. In fact, the intentional incentives that I used to find the most intense and cable news are now on every one, every Patreon, every podcast, every tick talker, everyone is fighting in the same intentional battle. And you will see like, it's like, Wait, why is this Twitch streamer beefing with this Twitch streamer all of a sudden, I thought they were just doing the thing about, like other politics. It's like, no, because they need eyeballs. And like, what gets eyeballs is beef. So it's like, everyone is operating under some set of attentional incentives. Those intentional incentives are also gonna be very different than what pollsters say is, quote, the most important, right. So there's like a few things going on. One is like, I used to tell young journalists all the time. When you're pitching something, like, it's not enough to be a topic, it's got to be a story, right? So it's like, Yes, what's the number one story like, prices are up? What's the attentionally dynamically to tell that story? And we've seen it like if you watch local news, here's the family that it their, you know, their milk is up and like, but what people find, quote, most important, a poll and what they will attentionally adhere to is going to be different. And then I also think like, I've, I've been doing this for 10 years now. I think cable news is drawing good at drawing attention to some things and not good at drawing attention to other things. Partly because it's operating in a medium that has these attentional incentives and constraints. So like, big climactic battles, like whether America is going to be a democracy, which to me is like broader than January 6, but that is like part of it is a story that we're actually relatively good at telling in a way that fits the genre. Like I also have a podcast, I'm writing a book, like I'm actually working on like a TV show, and all of those kind of find different ways to like tell different stories, but Like, yeah, cable news is not great. I would not say that, like, the intentional incentives, and also the medium itself, are best disposed to give like, I think what we think of as the old Evening News, or the old newspaper, which is like hear all the stories in the world, or like all the news that's fit to print, it never functions that way. And I also think that's why people should not just get their news from cable news, which I say to people all the time, like, The scary thing is that everybody now is under those same incentives. So like, I'm not even sure anyone has the incentives anymore, particularly as audiences fracture, if 30 million people are gonna watch you at night, and you know, you have those 30 million and maybe a few go away, maybe not. It's like you can do like, here's the news of the day. But if you're fighting and scrapping each of those 10,000 viewers in the margin, like, it gets a lot harder to be like, here's what happened with the election in Kenya today.
Sure. So I guess then the the question is, with that as a good segue, are there examples where you wanted to do a set of stories that you either feared, would not generate the attention that the kind of incentive system, the demands of your job, require, or even more heavy handedly, where the bosses were like, Dude, you gotta be covering this, and not this, and you're like, but over here, this other thing is, like, super important. And I want to cover I mean, when I, when, you know, this comes up, the climate that always comes up in the sort of discourse about media coverage of the client, like, why aren't they covering climate? Right? So I'm just wondering, are there specific situations or examples or even topics where you're like, I want to cover this more, I know, we need to cover this more, I have an at least on a day to day let level a built in audience, it's not going to leave tomorrow, right? Like, like, I want to do this and the pressure system, the higher ups, the incentive system is just like, No, you can't do that. You've got to be over here.
Basically, never the higher ups like the the attentional incentives are empty. You know, you people see this who write for a living, like you can see like, what stories get clicked. Sure. Absolutely. You know, that like, some topics just they don't people don't click up. And like, that's true of a lot of things. I mean, the biggest thing that that's true of is climate, like the biggest thing I wrestle with is how to productively cover climate. And I think that's in some ways, gotten a little easier, partly because like weather disasters have gotten more persistent. But the biggest problem for me with climate at a at a sort of attentional level is just not it being Doom like. It just you could just say like, here's another example of how we're screwed. And here's another example of our screwed and like, we even have this thing where we like try to do the sort of like good news, bad news, good news, when we do them. So that there's some takeaway, like we did the thing about the Italian heat pump program, which is awesome. They're basically like subsidizing people to buy heat pumps. Yep. But yes, like, do we cover climate as much as climate is worthy of news? Like? Of course not. Does anyone like, probably not? But then here's the other thing. There are climate focused publications to do great work, right? Sure. But like, it's hard to get millions of people to watch that.
Alright, let me push back though. Let me ask you what the difference then, if the old adage in news all the way it's it's such an adage in news that it's like, it makes me think of Anchorman and like old local news, right? If it bleeds, it leads, right? Like, okay, and like local news is typically, like cliche, local news is like crime, crime, crime, right? Local crime, crime, it's always like crime still. Okay, right. And crime, in some ways, is a fundamentally Doomer kind of story. Like somebody got robbed, somebody got killed over and over and over again. Right. So I guess the question then is, if, if that's a successful ratings model for local news, why would climate Doom Doom or climate disaster, not be a successful ratings model for local news, national news. And finally, I just want to be clear, I'm not hope, like I think Doom or ism is a separate problem, but just on the on the apples to apples comparison. Why not?
I mean, I focus on this a lot, right? Like, it's, it's the diffuse pneus of it. So it's a little bit of like if you compare climate to Coronavirus, I think like, people, like we'll lose like way more people this week than we'll lose to homicide. like way more way, way, way more. Does it have the same dramatic impact? No. Is it playing the same role when you ask people like what are you most concerned about? COVID is at the bottom. It's still killing way more factors of people than homicide.
That's crazy to think about. I mean, it's you're right. I mean, it's like crazy. So what All
right. So why because people like it just that. And this has always been the struggle of climate is it like crime, there's something about personal threat of another person that's different than the As we just learned literally, of a virus or a molecule of carbon. Now, I do think the one place where this has changed, and which is true, is that like, people love weather. Like they love weather. And I think, and I do think the thing that has changed for the better is that weather disaster coverage, which does rate people are interested in has gotten much more climate imbued. In the last like, I'd say, three or four years, like we've always done it through that lens. But I think now it becomes more and more, you know, part of the mainstream way that it's understood, dude,
I'm your I'm coming to you from Denver, where we got Mike Nelson, the local weather guy is like Mr. Climate guy, right? Like, that's a big win. Right. So that your that's a really, it used
to be the opposite. Those the weather used to be like the most reactionary, anti climate, like caucus on Earth. Yeah. So that I think is a big thing. But like, I don't know, I don't think I've ever like solved the attentional Rubik's cube of climate. And I've, we've tried a bunch of different ways, there are different ways of telling the story. But it's a hard one,
your show, along with other MSNBC shows, focuses a decent amount of attention on Fox News, right wing media, the presumed goal has been to basically educate the audience on its lack of credibility, its partisan nature, etc, etc. But, you know, the question of whether there's already been buy in from like, the MSNBC audience, and in the meantime, Fox News has gotten gotten bigger and stronger. One question I always wonder about is, what is the utility of whether it's MSNBC, I'm not just, you know, isolating that sort of, sort of left of center media, constantly scandalized. scandalizing, by the way, on the merits, right. I agree with it, like Fox News, and the right wing media is an evil force. But what is the utility of it? Is there a political utility of it? Because I feel like everybody who watches your show, kind of basically knows that Fox News is like, you know, essentially evil, misleading, not accurate and incendiary in a horrible way. Like, what's the utility of it? Is there a utility?
I think there's two utilities. One is that like, sometimes people say things that are wrong that you want to correct. I mean, just in the same way that like you'd like argue with people on Twitter, or you share with people on blogs, like this person said that, like, they think there's weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And it's like, here's the thing here, weapons of mass destruction are okay, so just like straight correcting the record, just fighting, just public debate, which I think is Yeah, though. The other thing I do think is true is like, I do honestly think people who don't we monitor it much more than our audience does. And like, some of the stuff is like, really, wildly insidious, and people need to like the vaccine stuff, I think, like, isn't really fully appreciated. Yeah. Like, we have the lowest levels of vaccination of any pure country, we have just seen white deaths surpass the deaths of people of color. We're seeing like, it's coming out in this like Stark lives turned, like, more people are dying, more white older people are dying in the most conservative parts of the country, because like causally 100% of the messaging that has been primarily from Fox hammered into people. Yep. And I think it's like, at some level, you can't really understand what's going on in the country. Like we look at the numbers, you look at our vaccination numbers, it's like, what what is up with Americans? I will just answer that question is that one of the most powerful media platforms, it's just been telling people to do a thing that's going to make them more likely to die, and it's one of the sickest things I've ever seen in my life.
I mean, listen, man, when I talked to my brother who's a physician about this topic, like he can barely not, like keep from being in a rage because he sees it in the hospital every day like he sees people dying. The thing that's crazy I was talking to a friend about this the thing that's so crazy and your point is about Fox is so on point is like, here is actually an amazing success story of the dysfunctional public health system in America. We created a vaccine with government
corporation if you want to like yes again dies, right? I'm just saying.
It's like a free life saving vaccine super quick, somehow, freely available, widely available in a country whose public health infrastructure is otherwise a joke, right? Like this is a huge huge success story. And there's a large part of the population that is paying attention to this media machine that's like, No, we actually don't this huge success, we actually don't want like, get it out of my face like I don't want it. And now we see the results. And that results that higher death rates, even that hasn't turned, like woken people up. And I do think you're right, it does go back, in part to what you are plugged into on a daily basis. I think that's a fair point,
I would say, I've been saying this for a while that like, the vaccine to me is like the perfect encapsulation of American all contradictions, which is like, this incredible achievement, like born of the fruits of labor, from people from different parts of the world, including immigrants, and the public sector, and the private sector, right, like Big Pharma, and the government and all these things coming together, like in our top scientific researchers all coming together to create this miracle. And then, like, people just be like, no screw that. I don't want the magic pill that you have that with, like, helped me, you know. And then the here's the last thing I would say, which I think actually like unites this whole conversation, which is that like the thing I've also learned about fact, Fox and you see this in the, you know, conservative world, they're all chasing attention to, like, as much as they're the reason they're doing the vaccine stuff, is because that's what, that's what their audience wants. It's much less they're commanding them like everyone is on the is on the chase. It's like symbiotic.
It's symbiotic. It's like, they create the demand. And then it Yeah, but it's
more chasing than you would realize. Right? Like, it's like, even they can't just and you saw this the place you saw the 2016 primaries where they wanted to be like, do not vote for Donald Trump wanting to like, tell their audience like, that's not this guy, and they couldn't do it.
I want to ask one last question about the changing of democratic politics to bring this whole conversation full circle, we're two weeks before an election. It has been six years since the end of the Obama administration, with 2020 hindsight, knowing about the financial crisis, the bailout, the sort of social discontent with people, millions of people being thrown out of their homes, seeing that while also watching on their TV bankers getting bailed out. The ACA being touted as this great success now health insurance prices going up 24% The discontent from that, I believe helped create the conditions for the Trump Maga movement. And I wonder if you think there is any reevaluation in the democratic media space, the Democratic Party as a whole of the veneration of either Obama himself, or really Obama ism neoliberalism that led us to this moment, like, is there a willingness to kind of reevaluate the things that got us to this moment? Or do you think that just like, not like, not a kind of thing that people, liberals, whatever you want to Democrats want to even think about? Or do you think things are like changing a little bit? Like, if not, there's an explicit awareness of what's happened, that there's kind of an implicit shift?
Well, I think Trump's election changed the way that that period is gonna look that forever. I mean, I think there's a cardinal sin of those years. And it's born partly of the people around Barack Obama, partly Barack Obama, partly the Fed. But just there was an enormous more than the bailouts, more than anything. The failure to achieve full employment and to try to get to full employment as rapidly as possible. That's partly born of the austerity measures that come when the Republicans take the house. It's partly born of Ben Bernanke is partly born of the people around Barack Obama and Barack Obama and worried about deficits and pivoting the deficits. But the central, the central failure was being told you can't get back to full employment when in fact, you could have and I think if you got that, if that recovery wasn't the grinding, terrible recovery was for years, the politics country would be better, full stop. So that to me is like the big Cardinal error, even though there's individual things like the way they handled, mortgages was terrible, and all that stuff. But the bigger thing to me is like, you got to look at an international context, which is like, this happened everywhere. Now, partly, you could say it happened everywhere because neoliberalism happened everywhere, but like, the the crisis, its aftermath and the rise of right wing, authoritarian movements and sort of hard right politics has happened in basically every country across the west and outside. And I think like, the causes for that are just bigger than And they're even bigger than, you know, liberalism. I mean, I think a lot of them have to do with the aftermath of the of the crisis and the the ideological exhaustion of neoliberalism as a model. But I think there's a whole bunch of other factors that have produced it. And I think like in terms of reassessment, it's like, the thing about President is always like, compared to what, like, it's just, you know, you're, it's, it's like a class with a curve. It's like, you know, better than Trump not as good as FDR. Better than LBJ on some things worse than others, probably better than Clinton, like, you know, I think the healthiest way to look at presidents is always like, understanding what you know, where they are in that in that set. But the the most important thing, I think, to draw from that period, and in a weird way, a lesson completely learned by the Democratic Party that they are now paying for through the nose, is full employment, full employment, full employment, all of the things that they got wrong. The last crisis, a lot of them they got right this time, they pass the hair P, and they have pushed this economy to three and a half percent unemployment, rapid, the fastest growing jobs we've ever seen. More union and labor power than has ever been seen in my lifetime. And people hate it, because there's a percent unemployment. So part of it, too, is just like, you never get the same set of challenges twice, you know, and like, that has been like a really wild thing for me to watch someone who has so many scars, from the deficit, full employment battles in 2009, when there are all these people saying nonsense, who are wrong. And all of us shouting, that this is, this is madness. And we could have a much faster recovery, we shouldn't be talking about deficits, we shouldn't be talking about austerity, there's all this demand, there's all this bad debt, we need to get people back to work we need to stimulate, to win that intellectual battle. And then find yourself in a macro economic environment in the next Democratic administration, which ends up being almost the inverse, where it's like the fastest recovery and ever unemployment at three and a half percent more jobs created the never huge amounts of stimulus spending $5 trillion over the course of two years, totally unimaginable in scale to me back in 2009. And now you've got 8% unemployment and high home home and gas prices and people like this sucks.
I do think that at the beginning of Biden's term, he definitely learned some of those lessons from the early Obama years, and put them into play when when he the American rescue plan I have said from the beginning was like one of the best things that has ever happened legislatively, frankly, in my lifetime. Like, I can't really remember any piece of legislation that has been that dramatic. And that much of a essentially a divorce from the austerity ideology. Like it was like, actually, we're going to intervene in the economy and actually directly help people in the middle and at the bottom, instead of helping P sprinkling stuff at the top. And my fear is, and maybe this is maybe I'll ask you one last quick question. My fear is, if the Democrats lose the Congress in the election, the Republicans have said they want to cut Social Security and Medicare. And I'm sure they'll bring out some nice sounding banner called entitlement reform, quote, unquote. And Joe Biden has been warning about this, but I have a long memory. And I remember Joe Biden sort of fetishizing the idea of a grand bargain to do quote unquote, entitlement for 40 years. That's just a matter of record. Now, maybe Joe Biden has changed. But I wonder to ask you to speculate just a little bit like, Do you think there's a danger that like Republicans get into Congress, Biden is still the President Biden, you know, like every dammit, like Bill Clinton in 94, after the 94 election, sort of like a, like a sort of impulse to triangulate, and Biden is like, you know, what, I have a chance for this grand bargain on cutting Social Security or raising the retirement age, I have a chance to do this something that I pushed for for 40 years that I've never had in my entire life. And maybe this is like, are we going to enter a situation where the next thing we're going to hear about is another Bowles Simpson commission, but now with the Republicans in Congress, who want to do it and a Democratic president Am I Am I like crazy to like, be concerned about that.
You're not crazy, but I think there's two I think, first of all, it is literally more likely of like a default, which I think is like the real tail risk I'm worried about, because I don't think Republicans have any incentive to do anything other than make the economy terrible. Like why would they? They're trying to get Donald Trump and Republican elected in 2024. Like, what will increase the odds are that the economy be terrible, like, I just don't so. So partly, like, my bigger worry, is that a b? I think 10 years ago, I'd be more worried. I just think that things have changed. To the Democratic coalition so much. And I do think that Joe Biden retains enough raw political sense, which I think has been on display with the use of the strategic oil reserve petroleum reserve to get those gas prices down. And the student debt announcement, I think he retains enough just like old school, transactional sense of political astuteness that he understands that would be a terrible misstep politically.
Chris, thank you so much for taking the time with us. Thank you for taking all of my questions. Hopefully, they didn't make you uncomfortable at all. And I should I should send a thank you for being the kind of big boy kind of the year you are. And thanks for being the kind of person who like over many years, you and I have had these discussions, and I appreciate you doing your podcast. Thanks, man. You bet. We're gonna take a quick break. But we'll be right back with my interview with a non Jared hardass about the lost art of persuasion. Welcome back to lever time. For our next segment, I'm going to be speaking with journalist and author, a non Jew at heart us about the power and really the lost art of political persuasion. And Nan has a new book out called the Persuaders at the frontlines of the fight for hearts, minds and democracy. In the book, he argues that persuasion is one of the most powerful, yet neglected tools when it comes to overcoming the extreme polarization of modern politics and non details how activists, politicians, and educators use persuasion to reach across the aisle and achieve their political goals, rather than writing off their opponents as ignorant or unreachable. There's some big sections in the book, by the way, about the Bernie 2020. campaign. And on and I had a great conversation and spoke for almost an hour discussing and debating the topic going deep. Really, it's one of those discussions that you don't usually have in a five minute, or even five second soundbite environment. So here's that first half of my conversation with an engineer at heart. It's not, it's great to see you. As always, we've known each other a long time on this episode, you're going to persuade me that persuasion is what's lacking in our society. How are things with you? And great,
it's so good to talk to you. Yeah, this is a rare case where you're both the interviewer about the book, but you are also in the book. I don't know if that's why and it's kind of one of the conflicts of interest that you normally are breaking wide open. But here you are just we're just inhabiting that, that conflict of interest.
Yes, I am quoted in this book about persuasion. But we'll get to that in a second. Let's start with the top line here. The book is called The Persuaders at the frontlines of the fights for hearts, minds and democracy. One of the arguments baked into this book is the idea that persuasion is a critical thing in a democracy, that democracy is predicated on changing minds. There's that old idea that democracy is over politics in a democracy is war by other means and the war therefore, in part, one of the weapons is persuasion. And you argue that our culture kind of is lacking, valuing persuasion anymore. Tell us a little bit more about that thesis, what where you came to it from how you came up with this notion that we're lacking respect for the idea of persuasion in our politics, in our democracy.
I think if you step back and you say, for, you know, all of human history, there's been roughly two big theories about how we should make decisions about the future, right? Because shit comes up in any community that we got to make a group decision, right? So those people get led into the village or not, is this ceremony allowed or not? Should we drain the lake when the winter comes or not. And for almost all of human history, except for the quirk of the last few 100 years, it was felt, I think, by a very large number of people that it was best to let one guy in the community just decide those things for everybody, too complicated, to get everybody involved to get even 10 people involved. And so for most of human history, we've been rolled by just like the one guy, almost always an actual guy. And in the last few 100 years, a quite radical alternative arose, the one that has given you your, your kind of purpose and vocation, which is the idea that we should actually all make these decisions about the future together that we should have a like, rollicking roiling, perpetual, 24/7 conversation about everything at all times. And through this conversation through this argument through acts of expressing preferences and voting, but not only that, canvassing voting with our feet in any number of ways. Make the These decisions about the future, choose the future make the future through this kind of act of like mass, dysfunctional, beautiful group conversation.
And I start that way to say, this is a very small period of history where this has been the dominant view of how things should be done. It's had a really good run. And this idea is probably as imperiled. And as under real questioning, as it's certainly been in your in my lifetime, partly because of all the anti democratic stuff, again, happening in other countries to know it's not all just because the Electoral College and the Koch brothers, it's happening in Brazil, it's happening in Europe, it's happening in India, certainly one of the big losses. And I think the rise of China, the interesting phenomenon are real counter example of a country that has stuck to autocracy and been incredibly successful by certain measures. And so we're in this moment where the idea, the dominant idea of the last 300 years, which is that we choose the future, we should choose the future by talking to each other, and figuring it out and attempting to change each other's minds in order to change things. That idea is up for grabs, and in play in a way that I don't know, that I ever expected, in my lifetime. And so, to me, persuasion is at the very core of that whole idea. Because if, in a certain year, gay people cannot get married. And it is a live question facing this community. As more and more people come out as gay, that we need to decide whether we're locking more and more of these gay people out of this institution, or change our definition of marriage. If the idea of you and I talking that through and figuring out what are your values? What, what is your religion really allow? If you think about it more deeply? What is my fear behind this thing really about? What Why is it that gay people want to be part of this institution, if we can't have those conversations, what we're actually doing is opening the door for how things used to be a really long time ago, which is okay, let's sort this out through violence. Or let's sort this out by having one guy decide everything. And in a moment where we literally have the rising autocracy and rising political violence, I think it is very much related to this loss of faith in persuasion. And this loss of faith shows up in all kinds of ways it shows up in benign forms. And in malignant forms. I think it shows up in a kind of fatalism that a lot of us have that I certainly feel about those anti vaxxers, what are we going to come on, they're never going to come around those Trump people. I mean, if you voted for him once he voted for him twice, clearly, racism is something thrilling for you, you know, so on and so forth, all the way to the kind of very toxic forms where we're not persuading, because we want to overturn election results. And we think that's much easier than actually winning an argument. But in a whole bunch of ways. I think our culture has turned against the idea that it is possible to change people's minds. And that is both an empirically false statement. As you know, as someone who's worked in politics and saw, arguments make a difference how you frame a candidate makes a difference speeches, as you know, very well make a difference. A movement that in the United States of America, Bernie Sanders's movement would have been laughed out of town a few years before, it won nearly half the states in this country, right? We see it works. We see Donald Trump won the first time and did not win the second time. And the country's, you know, quite different. Because of that shift in mindset. A lot of people had millions of people had. And so I became interested in people who were resisting this kind of great write off that I saw around me right off that I participate in myself when I'm proud of it or not. Organizers in particular, this is in some ways a book about like the Tao of organizing, you know, about the soul of organizing. And I think what a lot of the organizers and others that I spent time with what they bring to the table is a deep moral commitment on some of these issues, a deep desire to change the society in very fundamental transformational ways, a real moral commitment to having a society that works for everybody. And yet, what I think most of them that I wrote about in the Persuaders share in common that is different from the rest of us, is they fundamentally believe it's possible to persuade, they have ideas about how to do so they're doing it on the ground every day, and they refuse to give up on people. That doesn't mean they think everybody's in play. It doesn't mean they're trying to go talk to you know, fascists who aren't like shooting beer bottles in their backyard for practice, but it means that they view a significant number of Americans as being in frankly a perpetual state of moral of contradiction of not being entirely clear about how to make sense of the world. And they view their role as organizers as not just to provoke not just to offer a policy agenda, but to walk with millions of people one way or another, in the process of forming a consciousness that will lead to the kind of world they want. And I became very interested in their project and tried to try to write about it so that we could all learn how to be maybe a little bit more like them,
what they're doing comes out of what is called and certainly used to be called, into greater degree, political education in the labor movement, right, the kind of old school labor movement had a piece of it that was about political education, which is, you know, it's about educating people on what's actually going on in the world so that they can arrive at a political analysis. I want to push back though, on one thing baked into this thesis, which is the idea that we are hostile to or that we can't be persuaded, or that that's under attack. I often think about the organizer, having done campaigns, having done those kinds of things in my life, where you're not you tell the story of people knocking on the door, this kind of idea of what as it's called Deep canvassing, you knock on the door, you're not just there to say, well, you vote for this or that candidate, but to actually just hear people talk about where they are politically or on different issues, or whatever. And that can be a persuasive moment. That can be a more persuasive way to change communities, people's thinking. But here's the key, here's where what I worry about, is that the minute that door closes, there is a 24/7 persuasion machine being pumped into that house, through cable television, through social media. And so it's not that people can't be persuaded. It's not that even regular rank and file folks are against the idea of being persuaded. It's that there's a persuasion machine connected to them through their phone and through their television 24 hours a day. So I think the the more micro question is, it's not can people be persuaded? It's how do you persuade people to even realize that they're being perpetually persuaded, and frankly, manipulated by the most powerful people through that machine, which they may not consider sort of be conscious of on a moment to moment basis is something that's trying to manipulate and persuade them?
This is why I love talking to you. This is the core question that's at the heart of the book. And I think you are exactly right, I saw that when I went to Arizona to actually witness people doing this deep canvassing one of the guys in particular, was just a, like, awful, beautiful example of this, because his consciousness was like, imagine if you like, print it out. 24 hours of Fox News transcripts, and then you took scissors and you just like, cut. Like, you cut different, like strips of ribbons of the words. And then you just like, threw them around the room, and then pick them back up and assemble them in a different order. And then just like had someone read them, like, that's how that man talked? Right? You are absolutely right. But to me, David, that is not a reason for us to be fatalistic about that kind of work of persuasion. That is the reason we need to get involved in persuasion and compete with that, because right now, you are absolutely right now, and I want to go deep on this, I think this is a really crucial point. The word that I would use here is meaning making and a lot of organizers use this word meaning making, what the apparatus inside the house and on the phone is doing the writes extended media apparatus is what I would call meaning making a very concerted, quite intelligent, shrewd process of meaning making, which is different from I give you the news, right, like people think of MSNBC as you know, people casually will say it's like the, like the left's Fox. Like it's not in a whole bunch of ways, right and I work with MSNBC. It's it's not and it's not for a whole bunch of reasons. The most important reason it's not is MSNBC is like covering like, the thing driving each block is like a thing that happened in Washington, or is happening in Washington, right? And it's not like starting with you and your life and what you're feeling right it's starting with like, this bill is advancing or like this investigation is going on or like this committee is doing this right.
And then it's explaining it to you you know, I mean, like your site very different MSNBC, but broadly, like in the tradition of media, you you in the same way you like start with, like, what's the development? What's the thing that's happening? If I stop sit back and think about what Fox is really doing. Or what a lot of these sites particularly more out there ones are really doing. They are actually they're not doing that. But for the right, they're starting in a different place. They're starting. It's kind of like user centered media right there starting with what are you feeling? What are you afraid of? What are your anxieties? Your kid came home and said, What about America and slavery? You have to do what kind of training at work now? What 5% of your time at work, and you're not being paid for those trainings. You gotta go to these trainings. And they say, What about people at those trainings? Right? What you people in our community now are called Latin X or not called Latino Latina. Anyway, what like, right, these things, it's kind of interesting. In my town, I used to be able to speak in English, all the cashiers, the Walgreens, I can't even these are the just regular experiences that regular people have all the time, their pre political experiences, you could say right there, just like your kid says a thing you notice something at Walgreens, just pre political. What Fox and the whole right wing system do brilliantly is start from those anxieties you're having. I don't know what research they do. I would love to know more about that. Maybe they just they get they start from that. Right. And then they got this truck of wares that they want to deliver to you. But they're not starting. I think as folks on the left who would like here's the truck of wares and why it's really, really important that you buy these wares. It's like, oh, yeah, you're you don't like these trainings. Huh? You're anxious that you don't like the Spanish speaking at the Walgreens? Right? Oh, your kid said what? Right. And then the whole content of the news is backing the truck of Where's awkward the into what's going on with you it is based on I see this as a writer who like writes about like what's going on in people in a deep level, like, it is very good psychological insight that that whole project is based on really good understanding of people and their anxieties. You can say the anxieties are dumb, not dumb, they're righteous, they're not, um, set that aside, people are just having these anxieties. People are seeing these stimuli. And people are just confused by life, people confused by every new thing that has ever happened in front of them. Right? And the whole right wing apparatus, the thing you are absolutely correctly describing as in the phone, on the TV, when that door closes? Is not just, it's not just that it has more time with that guy than the canvassers do. It's that it is like hooking itself on to the psychological experience of being a person in 2020, to a man who, like so many men in this country knows, like, I can't be a man in the way my dad was a man. And like, my son is clearly able to, like be a new kind of man and with I'm not like quite figuring out like, who am I? Right? How many how many men are feeling that white people? What does it mean to be white now? Like, can I not say things? What does ally ship what like, right? This people on all kinds of levels of that, right? From being annoyed at the trainings to being like super woke, but just still, like, what do I say, you know, manufacturing, we used to be a thing we do now we don't do it anymore. Because of permanent normal trade relations with China. Suddenly, the whole concept of like, what the shape of a life looks like, what kind of education we've just gone from that town in North Carolina, right? People are feeling these things. And the right is there for them. It is talking them through it, it is meaning making it as explaining it is connecting those feelings to the alien invasion on the border, it is connecting that George Soros, it is connecting that to Black Lives Matter and critical race theory. And Kimberly Crenshaw, like people don't go to Kimberly Crenshaw, by themselves, you know,
right. I mean, it is it what it's doing is it's it's, it's taking their anxieties, their state of mind, and and connecting it, persuading them to connect it to use persuasion, persuading them to connect it to a political a specific political project. And, and so I My point is, and I think we agree is that it's not necessarily that there's a hostility to being persuaded, it's that the most powerful people in the world have access to and have developed a machine of persuasion. That is all powerful. Now, I want to be clear, I agree with you that people rank and file people who are hooked up to that machine should not be written off. I mean, yes, like sort of hardcore fascists. Sure. Like, there are some folks who have just are down that rabbit hole. But I think back to the end, you write about this in the in the book, I think back to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, where Bernie went on Fox News did a Fox News townhall and there was some consternation about that. He was previously asked, I'm just using these as examples. He was asked after the 2016 election, you know, or do you think it was some question along the lines of Do you think all Donald Trump voters are racist? And he said, you know, no. I don't think all Donald Trump voters are are racist. And that was like a scandal like that was the idea. And I think that got to the crux of something that you're talking about, which is that there is this idea that we just right off the bat right off 80 million voters as essentially, all unpersuaded will deplorables. That idea, so fixed in the culture that it was scandalous for Bernie to be like, No, I don't think all 80 million voters are unreachable. And so I do think this is on both sides, right, this kind of tribalism, that you talk about. But I also want to take issue with another part of your book. And again, we're agreeing a lot here. But this, this part of your book also got to me, you wrote, many political campaigns seem to focus more on mobilizing sympathetic voters than on winning over skeptics, leaders who attempt outreach to the unpersuaded are attacked by their own sides as sellouts. Now, once again, I remember Bernie being criticized for being on Fox News and the like. So I agree with you. And I disagree. I agree with you that this is good if you write off whole swaths of the population, especially if you're in politics, you're basically in a certain sense, abandoning the small the democratic project. But I also do think politicians do use this idea of outreach to so called moderate voters, or swing voters as a way to justify actual selling out to their donors. And so I guess my question on this is, how do we discern between a legitimate effort to persuade persuadable voters? And what I would call an illegitimate effort, which was often used in the Obama years to use this sort of Obama is unity rhetoric, you know, not blue states, not red states, that ends up being a veneer for a kind of donor class agenda, like, how do we discern between the
two? That's such a good? That's such a good question, something I thought about a lot. So I'm going to let's do this using a specific example of a topic area of policy, healthcare, right? In many ways, and I recognize it's a subtle thing. So this may not be obvious, I'm glad we're teasing it out. What I am trying to argue for is literally the opposite of the thing you're worried about, right? I think what you're talking about is, in a way, what this whole book is up against, which is persuasion through dilution, which has been the dominant theory of the Democratic Party, right? You just persuade by just like, take the original, like, philosophical nucleus of a thing. And then just like add a ton of water, and then like, and then you will reach people in the middle, right. And there's a whole bunch of reasons this is problematic, which we should kind of go through, like, first of all, and this is an important moment in the book, like moderates are not people in the middle. Right. And I really learned this from not shank agrario. Above all, moderates are people who have not yet committed to one dominant moral frame, right? Like, you're not a moderate just because you want really progressive things, David, you're not a moderate. The real sense in which you are not a moderate is your worldview is very baked through a lot of reading, experience, whatever, right? If anyone who has ever spent any time talking to voters knows that thankfully, most people in this country are not like you and me. Most people are just like living their lives doing normal things, like taking care of their kids. Right. And so it is very normal to have conversations with voters in which they're like, I hate socialism. But I believe in I had the so much when I was covering the Bernie campaign, right? Like, I hate socialism, but Bernie really seems like he's a Lisa. You know, he just he just seems to fight for,
like, get the government hands off my Medicare. That's what that's
all right. Right. Yeah. And so the dominant story of Democratic Party is persuasion through dilution. So let's take healthcare, like, let's start with like, the load side, I think someone like Obama would agree that like the core philosophical nucleus of like, what he's pursuing is like everyone having health care, right? And then you water, water, water, water, in the hope of reaching people. And you get private insurance as the lead not, of course, universal, I mean, all the things, you know, right. And the hope is, you'll get Max Baucus, and you'll get this and you get maybe some Republicans and you know, you'll, you'll clone Romney's ideas, and maybe all of that, right. That has been the dominant frame. What the Persuaders is interested in as a book is people who have an actually an opposite theory, which is persuasion through standing very firmly in conviction of a more demanding a set of ideas and outreach. That is rooted in the power of that standing firm and conviction, right. So against the stick with healthcare and make that transparent. It was actually the opposite of what I just described. of Obamacare, it is advocating for something like Medicare for all. And sticking to that, and then saying, and I think this is where progressives have some answering to do in terms of the selling of stuff like this. I think there are ways to talk about Medicare for all or some equivalent thing that are frankly, way more Outreachy. In their approach, right. This is not outreach through not doing Medicare for all. It's outreach through like, first of all, I would call it freedom care. I don't know why, why it's not called Freedom care. Like, have you met American like you? I mean, like, let's like work with what we've got here people, right. Like, I listened to so many Bernie speeches about it that I admired. I listened to Elizabeth Warren speeches about it, listen to AOC speeches about it. Eloquent, powerful, Bernie, like healthcare is a human right. Here's the problem. Right? I don't know if you wrote those speeches, like the problem is that people who don't like universal health care also don't like human rights. You know, I
mean, those and you're speaking, you're speaking my language. I mean, I'll cut to the chase here. Like, listen, there were some of us in the campaign who were saying part of the message needed to be and I don't just mean this for the campaign. I think for the whole Medicare for All movie because we're talking specifics here. Let's talk about how that unshackled you from your let's talk about how that unshackled small business, even big business from the rapacious health insurance industry and its bureaucracy and paperwork. And, and horribleness, right, like, that's a part of the message that you're not backing away from, you're not watering down the Medicare for All message, you are expanding the imagination about what it would actually do. And that is, I think, a very, very, very persuasive argument. So I hear I think you're making a really, really good point here. That persuasion doesn't mean watered down, watered down, watered down into nothing. It means think about how to have your argument, meet people where they are, rather than necessarily where you want them to be. And that goes back, frankly, all the way to Saul Alinsky. I mean, that was Saul Alinsky his whole thing. You got to meet people where they are not where you want them to be to
stick with this example. And I think sometimes this is a huge overgeneralization. But I think it has truth in it. If you think about the left very broadly defined moderates, progressive liberals, like whoever's in that enormous bucket that votes, votes for Democrats most of the time, in some ways we have a little bit ASP backwards right now, which is the things we do end up being diluted, but the way we read to a lot of Americans is like as extremist. Right. And I kind of think we need to flip that around. I think we need the demands to be more radical, and the appearance and imagery to be more moderate. Right. And I don't think that's fraudulent, like, actually Medicare for all, would, practically speaking, be the single greatest expansion in the lived experience of liberty in this country in a long time. Right. And, you know, and I think there's a whole missing language, it's freedom, right? It's also like, healthcare is like, you know, those kinds of bills are just like the biggest stressor in marriages. Let's talk to people about their marriages, like, do you want to, like, have a more joyous marriage? Do you there's a whole level at which we're not communicating with people about what this stuff is? So I'm really glad you asked that. Because I think in a way, what this that and you look at who I who I interviewed, right? This is not a book with like Larry Summers as a character, right? Like, you know, this is a book about very committed progressives, radicals, in many cases, people who I think are as credible in their worlds as being like, you know, pretty clear stick in the muds for a set of ideals, not not compromisers. What they are all interested in, that I think not enough of us are interested in is, why aren't these ideas like bigger? And why aren't they reading to more people as as as as their ideas as their intuitions manifested into policy. And so I think the the alternative to persuasion through dilution is persuasion that is grounded in deep conviction, and oriented towards moral outreach, psychological outreach, emotional outreach.
That's it for today's show. As a reminder, our paid subscribers who get lever time premium, get to hear our bonus segment, the second half of my conversation with a non jeer at Harvard us about the power and the lost art of persuasion.
The whole Fox apparatus, as we were talking about has been built in this period, and it's not occurred to anybody that wow, that's a pretty interesting phenomenon. Like what would it look like to Build something like that for us.
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