The production of conventional wisdom is undoubtedly one of the most important factors in the ebb and flow of the American political scene. While it is certainly not the only factor that determines political outcomes, investing in the political infrastructure that has the ability to shape and alter conventional wisdom within the DC political industrial complex in a manner favorable to your cause can result in an almost immeasurable return on your investment. When the vast majority of talking heads on television and radio, along with the vast majority of elected officials and high level consultants seem to repeat your talking points and voice your desired appraisal of the political environment at any point in time, in many ways you have won any political battle before it began.
For example, we all saw this last week when almost everyone in DC, Republicans and Democrats, elected officials and political commentators, staff members and political consultants all agreed, long before any polling data came out, and even before there has been any substantive public debate on the topic, that Feingold's censure move was both motivated by his desire to run for President and highly unpopular nationwide. It was astonishing to witness how almost every single establishment voice in DC immediately agreed with these two basic ideas. The conventional wisdom almost immediately closed around Feingold in a strongly negative fashion, and polls on the subject demonstrate the impact this had. In particular, look at the Newsweek poll on censure that came out this weekend
:Newsweek Poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. March 16-17, 2006. N=1,020 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3 (for all adults).
"As you may know, Senator Russ Feingold has called for Congress to censure, or formally reprimand, President Bush over the issue of his warrantless wiretapping program. Censure is a way for Congress to express strong disapproval of a President's actions without going so far as impeachment. Would you support the censure of President Bush by Congress, or not?"
(Support / Wouldn't Support)
All: 42 / 50
Dems: 60 / 30
Inds: 42 / 51
Reps: 20 / 75
"Do you think Feingold and other Democrats who support censuring Bush are doing it more for partisan political advantage, or more because they believe it is the right thing to do?"
(Partisan / Right Thing to Do)
All: 53 / 33
Dems: 33 / 51
Inds: 55 / 31
Reps: 79 / 14
This is one of the most illuminating polls I have seen in a while. First, it shows that Feingold's censure resolution wasn't nearly as unpopular as the pundrity implied. While the country was slightly more against it than for it, in the same poll Bysh's job approval rating was 36% approve, 58% disapprove. In other words, Feingold's move was more popular than Bush
Second, and more importantly, the poll shows just how effective DC conventional wisdom on a breaking news story is at shaping public opinion. While those opposing censure held only an eight point edge on those favoring censure, those believing that Feingold acted to bolster his standing with in the Democratic Party have a twenty-point edge on those who believe he acted out of conscience. Because those who buy into the DC conventional wisdom have tremendous control over the communication apparatus that helps to create the national conventional wisdom, their cliquish beliefs that Feingold was acting to bolster his 2008 prospects quickly became the national CW. In fact, this message was so powerful that over 20% of the people in the poll who support the censure of Bush also believe that Feingold was acting primarily to bolster his 2008 prospects. With both Democrats and Republicans, consultants and staffers, elected officials and pundits all simultaneously voicing the same opinion on Feingold's motives, the narrative triangle was closed around Feingold, and DC conventional wisdom became national conventional wisdom. Suddenly, perhaps the most principled man in DC became yet another merely calculating politician, all because that is what a small clique of people in DC thought of what he did..
However, at almost exactly the same time, I noticed something else of great interest. In my frequent talks with other bloggers, and in the immense amount of time I spend reading other blogs, it finally dawned on me last week that the netroots has developed its own, entirely separate conventional wisdom. Almost universally, people were in favor of Feingold's action. Almost universally, we discerned that the Democratic strategy in DC was simply to step aside and let the Republicans implode. Almost universally, we agreed that was a really poor strategy. It surprised me how quickly we were all on the same page on virtually every facet of the censure issue. We have developed out own ability to manufacture and alter conventional wisdom, and to transmit that conventional wisdom within our own little confined world: the netroots and the blogosphere.
Much more on this in the extended entry.