Patterico's Pontifications


On Political Persuasion

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:37 pm

Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.John Maynard Keynes

Dafydd ab Hugh writes (all emphasis in his original):


Of course I’m all in favor of the Constitution of the United States, and I’m looking forward to your Constitutional Vanguard. But that fine ideal has virtually nothing to do with the vote. If we want to advance constitutional ideas, we must focus instead on the “package” that delivers the understanding, persuasiveness, and ultimately the votes we need… for that package is our catastrophic failing.

This election has driven home that the great majority of voters do not vote on the basis of logical argument; if they did, Ted Cruz would be cruisin’ to the nomination. But — and this is the important message — choosing a president by means other than formal logic is not a defect in the American people. Logic is but one element of intelligence; there are many others: human intuition, experience, a moral code, comity, emotion, unity, ideology, hierarchy… each of these ways of reasoning evolved, over tens of thousands of years, for a reason: Each of these delivered benefits ranging from mild pleasure to survival itself. Logic is vital but not all-encompassing.

A quarter century ago, I thought up a new analogy to categorize people, the Bonesian/Spockian axis. The Star Trek character Doctor McCoy, alias “Bones,” represents pure emotion, while “Spock” presented pure logic. (In our current, real-life crisis, we have the Bonesian Donald Trump and the Spockian Ted Cruz.)

This is the critical point: There are many, many more Bonesians than Spockians, by one or two orders of magnitude. If you dismiss the Bonesian voters as fools, if you try to “logic” them into line, you are guaranteed to lose the election. You need outreach to the great majority who make their decisions, not on debate-logic, but on other ways of knowing.

Both Bonesians and Spockians use rational means to make important decisions. The fly in the ointment is that each person uses his own rationality, and none is superior to all others. No one form of rationality is sufficient by itself; we must strive to achieve the Kirkian mean, represented by Captain Kirk. His “super power” is understanding both formal logic and all the other ways of knowing, then translating from one to the other. (Picture Ronald Reagan.)

Bluntly put, and upon reflection, Ted Cruz lost because he deserved to lose: He had only one arrow in his quiver: debate-logic. He is a truly great debater in the sense of a formal legal debate, and that is a very important ability, without which a president would stumble around like a punch-drunk fighter.

But Cruz fell far short in the alternative ways of deciding: the ways that are tremendously more persuasive to the typical voter. Reagan was a top-rate logician, but that’s not why he was elected. People voted for him in a landslide because he was one of us, because he gave us hope, we trusted him, he was a great leader, and he spoke our language. Each of these is a rational way to choose; none requires debate-logic. The candidate uses logic to decide the right course of action, but he must deliver his policy in a language more persuasive to the Bonesian voter. Alas, he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do it.

Trump, by constrast, has no capacity for logic, nor many other Reaganesque aspects listed above. In fact, he may have only one: Trump speaks the language of the common American. A few others did, but they lacked other elements, such as grandeur, leadership (real or feigned), decisiveness (ibid), and unity. For example, Marco Rubio came across as two-faced because of his earlier flirtation with unrestricted immigration. Rand Paul was too esoteric and oddball. John Kasich was low-energy and seemingly had no intent of instituting real change. Trump has the language, and he is a skilled enough con man to ape what he lacked.

Thus, all the candidates one both sides were flawed, virtually crippled. I still believe Cruz was the best candidate… but he will never be elected president until he learns how to persuade voters by means of understanding apart from debate-logic. Spockian logic must be married to Bonesian persuasion, because that’s where the votes are found.

I love your Constitutional Vanguard, but I think you’re barking up the wrong tree: We don’t need to revamp constitutionalism; we must learn how to translate it into the speech of ordinary humans.

Now I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but . . .

I think this is an amusing analysis and there is something to it in the abstract. Obviously, emotion and intuition are important to decisionmakers of all stripes, including jurors and voters. This is not a surprise.

As I will show, however, it makes no sense whatsoever as an explanation for Trump. And it certainly does not show that I’m “barking up the wrong tree” by focusing on Constitutional principles, liberty, and free markets.

I’d like to start by complimenting Dafydd on his well-reasoned piece. I note, not without some irony, that I mean it as a compliment to call it “well-reasoned.” After all, that’s what Dafydd is doing: using logic, reason, and argument to appeal to me — and, by extension, anyone I might share his argument with. He could have just repeated “your stupid” 1000 times — and indeed, that mode of argumentation would probably be more compelling to Trumpers, especially with the misspelling of “you’re” — but if Dafydd were to argue that way, he would insult our intelligence and his own. So, by the very nature of his argument — by phrasing it in intelligible English, placing his thoughts in a logical structure, and using bold type and italics to emphasize his key points, among other things — Dafydd shows that he believes that well-articulated arguments can be convincing to some. Sure, he views his audience (me and my readers) as heavily “Spockian” — but at least he concedes that there is room for an appeal based on logic.

Ah, but his point is that, to the vast majority out there, logic isn’t enough! And I agree with him. Where I disagree is the notion that the Trump phenomenon can be explained by Trumpers being “Bonesians” while non-Trumpers are “Spockian.”

Surely Dafydd would admit that some people are just stupid. Can we all agree to that? Others are not stupid, but instead rely heavily on an “intelligence” that has emotional components — Dafydd lists among them things like human intuition, experience, a moral code, comity, emotion, unity, ideology, and hierarchy.

It seems to me that there is room for an intelligence that is not coldly logical, but is human and intuitive — and that Marco Rubio is a good representative of that intelligence. Thus, the “Bonesian/Spockian axis” is a great explanation for the Rubio/Cruz divide. I’ll concede for the sake of argument that Cruz is a Spock-style figure. While Cruz’s personality appeals to me, and while I think the criticisms of his personality are wildly overblown, I can’t deny that many people are put off by his personality. Meanwhile, Rubio was and remains remarkable for his ability to “connect” with people on a human level. When people talked about his political talent, this is what they were talking about. Rubio clearly has that ability to form emotional bonds with people. It’s a real skill, and it’s not to be discounted.

We could debate whether Trump has a similar ability. To me, the concept seems laughable. Trump is a narcissist, and can’t truly “connect” with anyone because he is always thinking about himself. But place that debate to one side. Let’s just focus on Dafydd’s argument.

Dafydd dismisses Rubio by saying that he “came across as two-faced because of his earlier flirtation with unrestricted immigration.” I’m not sure what to say to someone who claims: “Rubio articulated inconsistent positions on an issue, so voters gravitated towards Trump instead” — seeing as how articulating inconsistent positions on literally dozens of issues is what Trump does, all day, every day.

So clearly there is something going on here besides Rubio seeming two-faced. And I don’t see why we can’t call it what it is: a toxic combination of ignorance and stupidity. As as an example, take that dentally challenged moron from Indiana. As long as I live, I will never forget the Trumpkin who squared off against Cruz in that pivotal state:

There is no universe in which you can call this man intelligent, in any sense. It’s not that he has a deep intelligence that rejects cold logic for warm human interaction. He’s just a dummy. We agreed five paragraphs ago that some people are just plain dumb, and this guy fits the bill.

I am going to be honest with you. I don’t know how to persuade someone like that. I don’t really even want to know how to try. There’s a reason I don’t want to get into politics. I don’t want to try to persuade the unpersuadable. In my own profession, I must be a persuader . . . but a critical part of my job is identifying the people who cannot possibly be persuaded, and getting rid of them. You can’t do that in politics.

I can only guess at what persuades a man like this. Because he has been persuaded by Donald Trump. Now. Donald Trump lies about once a minute. He is a blowhard, a narcissist, and a totally unprincipled and self-absorbed cretin. Yet he seems to have snaggletooth completely under his spell.

Well, great. Maybe the way to persuade someone like Mr. Sunglasses in the video above is to repeat, over and over and over, a very very simple concept in third-grade language. For example, rather than writing reasoned blog posts with links and evidence, I could say “Git the gubmint out of our hair!” every day for a year. Simple! Repetition! Etc.!

Well, if that’s what it takes to persuade a slackjawed troglodyte like our friend in the video, I am going to leave that exercise to others. I have no interest in it.

People try to dissuade others from serious discussion of constitutional principles and limited government in two ways.

One is the tack taken by Dafydd here. The argument is that there is no point to rational argumentation. Or, to be more nuanced about it, that there is little point to it — because, while you can take the logic to Spock, the Spockians are a distinct minority, so you’ll make almost no difference at all in people’s voting.

The second argument is related. The rise of Trump, we are told, shows that conservatism no longer matters. It turns out that the Republican party never really cared about so-called “conservative” principles.

I’ll address the second point first. It’s wrong. Trump has managed to use psychological techniques of mass persuasion to a credulous audience of boobs, and that has drowned out the conservative message — but that does not mean the conservative message is dead. Note: to the extent that the moron in the video articulates any positions, they are conservative. He is concerned about illegal immigration and wants someone to build a wall. He wants our Second Amendment protected. He disagrees with John Boehner.

It’s not that he’s rejecting conservative principles. It’s that he is intellectually soft. He is willing to put his trust in a con man because he is dumb, and thus becomes a perfect mark to be targeted by the scammer Trump.

The point here is that, when Trump inevitably fails, as we all know he will, conservative principles could easily make a huge return. The Smart Set will be shocked. OH MY GOD WE THOUGHT TRUMP PROVED CONSERVATISM IS DEAD BUT NOW OUR MINDS ARE BEING BLOWN!!!1! But you won’t be shocked, because you read this post, and because you understand the dynamic at work.

Now I will address the first point — which was, you will recall: why bother arguing Spockian logic when the world is filled with Boneses? A similar argument that I hear a lot these days is that we need to find simpler ways to communicate with a society that has an increasingly short attention span and no affinity for reading books.

There is something to that. But don’t discount the power of ideas. In that vein, I will remind you of (and then elaborate on) a point I made when introducing the Constituional Vanguard.

Astute readers with a knowledge of history might recognize the title of this post as the title of a tract by Lenin published in 1902. His idea was to create a “vanguard” of Marxists to spread Marxist ideas. It is little known that the Bolsheviks were a relatively small movement of activists when they took over. What they lacked in numbers, they made up for in zeal and organization.

Constitutionalists hate Lenin, but there is no reason we can’t emulate his idea of a vanguard of people committed to a cause. His cause was an economic system designed to oppress and ultimately kill millions. Our cause is protecting our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

You don’t have to convince the idiot rabble using logic. You just have to convince a minority that has the zeal to effect change. The idiot rabble will fall in line.

Take a look at the quote that opens this post. You may barely know who John Maynard Keynes is. But his idiocy has a direct effect on you every day of your life. The absurd Obama stimulus was a function of Keynesianism. So is most of what every government does on the planet. What caused this revolution? A book called “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” which almost nobody understands. I have listened to very smart economists like Don Boudreaux say that they have made their way through its pages and find it almost completely impenetrable.

The same goes for “Das Kapital” by Marx. Good luck understanding that, or finding anyone among the rabble who does. Oh, so I guess Marxism was never influential, then!

Here’s the obvious point: can anyone deny that these impenetrable books have had a yuuuuge effect on history — an effect, by the way, that outpaces, oh, I don’t know, “The Art of the Deal” by several orders of magnitude?

“Das Kapital” has contributed to the deaths of millions. Keynes’s “General Theory” has itself contributed to untold suffering throughout the world. Yet the people who died at the hands of Marxists, or who starved due to Keynesianism, have no idea what these books say.

And yet they have had a tremendous effect.

I bave a lot of plans for the Constitutional Vanguard. I will readily agree with anyone that one blogger, and his small army of (at last check) about 475 constitutionalists . . . we can’t change the whole world on our own.

But if we remain true to our principles, and go out there and evangelize for them, there is literally no limit to what we might accomplish.

Even if we can’t convince every toothless yokel in Indiana.

Rubio: Trump Is Still Unfit for Office But Sure, I Support Him!

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:39 am

A few days ago, I said Marco Rubio was “more than halfway to supporting Trump. I have no doubt he will.” This was in my post raking Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal over the coals for supporting Trump after they called Trump a “cancer on conservatism” (Perry) or “a shallow, unserious, substance-free, narcissistic egomaniac” (Jindal). Now Rubio falls in line in the zombie parade, and it is his turn to be mocked.

Allahpundit joins the fray with a post titled Rubio: I stand by what I said about not trusting Trump with the nuclear codes, and also I’ll keep my pledge to support the nominee. Allahpundit concludes: “Doesn’t work that way, champ.” Allahpundit quotes John McCormack noting how extreme Rubio’s criticism was:

Back in February, Rubio was saying of Trump that we should not hand “the nuclear codes of the United States to an erratic individual.” He likened the idea of Trump to the “lunatic in North Korea with nuclear weapons.” Asked by Greta Van Susteren if he really believed Donald Trump “is a con artist who should not get access to nuclear codes,” Rubio said “Absolutely. Absolutely.”

Rubio called Trump “dangerous,” and he was right. If Rubio genuinely feared handing Trump control of nuclear weapons in March, there is no reason he should support him in May.

As Allahpundit says:

There’s no way to square these two sentiments, that Trump is dangerously unfit for office on the one hand and that he’s owed unthinking partisan loyalty on the other, and Rubio knows it.

I watched the clip yesterday, and it’s painful to watch Rubio try to pretend that he is standing by all his previous statements about Trump, including one saying it would be irresponsible to hand Trump the nuclear launch codes, and yet repeat that he made a pledge.


Rubio is in a no-win situation, and I’m tempted to feel sorry for him — except that this is a Catch-22 of his own making. All the candidates who harshly criticized Trump but had already pledged to support the nominee knew this day might come. Now it has arrived, and journalists are asking them to square a circle and choose between statements that are wholly incompatible.

Ted Cruz comes next. Will he be the lying liar who broke his pledge? Or will he be the guy who supports the “utterly amoral” “pathological liar”? It’s a no-win situation similar to Rubio’s, and I can’t think Ted Cruz is looking forward to dealing with it. But deal with it he must.

Here’s a thought. If there is no good option, why not just say what you actually think?

Here’s Rubio’s interview in all its cringeworthy glory:

Join the Constitutional Vanguard!

Filed under: Constitutional Vanguard,General — Patterico @ 12:01 am

The next newsletter is planned for tomorrow. In it, I will announce the principles of the Constitutional Vanguard.

And next week, we’ll get rolling for real.

If you want to keep up, but for some reason don’t want to submit your email, I am going to archive the emails at this page. Signing up for the emails is best, but I don’t want anyone to feel left out.

If you want to sign up, go to this very short and easy form. We have had over 100 new subscribers in the last 48 hours, and we’re closing in on almost 500 subscribers in less than a week, which I think is absolutely fantastic. I want to see if I can get above 500 by the time tomorrow’s email launches!

I’m already getting ideas from the members, for blog posts and projects of various sorts to promote the Constitution. I want to have as many folks as possible on board for tomorrow’s all-important announcement of principles. Sign up today!

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