The New Obama Narrative

For the first two years of his administration, President Obama had no overriding narrative, no frame to define his policy making, no way to make sense of what he was trying to do. As of his 2011 State of the Union Address, he has one: Competitiveness.

The competitiveness narrative is intended to serve a number of purposes at once:

1. Split the Republican business community off from the hard right, especially the Tea Party. Most business leaders want real economics, not ideological economics. And it is hard to pin the “socialist” label on a business-oriented president. He may succeed.

2. Attract biconceptuals – those who are conservative on some issues and progressive on other issues. They are sometimes mistakenly called “moderates” or “independents,” though there is no one ideology of the moderate or the independent. They make up 15 to 20 percent of the electorate, and many are conservative on economic issues and progressive on social issues. He attracted them in 2008, but not in 2010. He needs less than half to win in 2012. He may well succeed.

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The “New Centrism” and Its Discontents

There is no ideology of the “center.” What is called a “centrist” or a “moderate” is actually very different — a bi-conceptual, someone who is conservative on some issues and progressive on others, in many, many possible combinations. Why does this matter? From the perspective of how the brain works, the distinction is crucial.

Because we think with our brains, all thought is physical. Our moral and political worldviews are realized as brain circuits with strong synapses. If you have two conflicting worldviews, you have two brain circuits that are mutually inhibitory, so that when one is activated, it is strengthened and the other is shut off and weakened. When a worldview applies to a given issue, there is a neural binding circuit linking the worldview circuit to that issue circuit in such a way that the issue is understood in terms of that worldview. The right language will activate that that issue as understood via that worldview. Using that language strengthens that worldview.

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