Monday, December 19, 2005

Boiling Frogs

No, not Tom DeLay (although it's an enticing thought)

No, I'm talking about the old parable:
They say that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water,it will leap out right away to escape the danger.

But, if you put a frog in a kettle that is filled with water that is cool and pleasant,and then you gradually heat the kettle until it starts boiling, the frog will not become aware of the threat until it is too late. The frog's survival instincts are geared towards detecting sudden changes.
Well, like many such stories, it turns out that a frog will jump out no matter what. But for just a moment, suspend literal interpretation and focus on the lesson of the parable.

I think of this little story many times when thinking of public policy, the Democrats, Republicans, and the voting public. It seems to me that of late, the Democrats have been in the unenviable position of pointing out that we, the frogs, are in the pot. The water hasn't gotten very hot, but the burner is definitely on. However, due to our collective short attention span, the slow heating of the pot of water is not very sexy news, not very sexy politics.

Take peak oil. Many on the left have been pointing out that petroleum depletion is a problem for literally thirty years. It's been pointed out that dependency on foreign oil will only get worse and will have negative consequences on the American economy and foreign policy. Lo and behold, these predictions have come to pass. But it's taken thirty years of gradual, incremental changes for us to get to this point. And we have further to go. We know that oil availability will inevitable get worse, and with worse consequences. But it may occur slowly, gradually. How do you mobilize the voting public on an issue like peak oil when the consequences are like very, very slow Chinese water torture?

You can look at many other issues that the left screams about in the same light. Global warming, health care, deficits, a declining middle class, perscription medication and many other core Democratic issues are slow boiling concerns.

Compare this with the Republican "blow-torch issues" such as gay-marriage, tax cuts, fighting terrorism and tax reform. These are issues with immediate impact that people can visualize and experience within their lives. An ordinary citizen may not be able to detect changes in global temperatures, but they can cash a tax cut. Ordinary citizens can deny the impact of petroleum dependence on our culture, but they are easily appalled by two men getting married. Just exactly why do you think the administration has announced the capture of al Qaeda's "number 3 man" on about ten different occasions? We used to be a culture that could delay gratification for the greater good over the long haul. That trait is quickly disappearing as the voting public gets ever more immediate gratification oriented.

It's incumbent on the Democrats to find a way to make their core issues have "immediacy". Conservation, as a public value, became important when Iron Eyes Cody made some thirty second commercials with a tear in his eye as idiots driving along the highway threw trash out the car window. The caption, "people start pollution, people can stop it" was the commercial message. Messaging such as this made conservation a "here and now" issue, not a frog in a slow boiling pot. A recent missed opportunity is Polar Bears. The increase in drowning polar bears due to global warming can mobilize public opinion around the need to reduce greenhouse gases. People can relate to that impact immediately, personally. Seen any liberal media polar bears lately?

Like the frog, we can't wait for the water temperature to reach boiling and have these problems become crisis. It's incumbent on all of us, but particularly our leaders in the liberal movement, to create images and messages that speak to the need for immediate action in concrete, tangible terms. Throwing up a global temperature chart and screaming that the sky is falling is effective when preaching to the choir, but is useless when messaging to voters.


At 10:41 AM, Blogger Lynne said...

"We used to be a culture that could delay gratification for the greater good over the long haul. That trait is quickly disappearing as the voting public gets ever more immediate gratification oriented."

Excellent point and excellent post.

At 2:10 PM, Blogger mikevotes said...

That is a great post. You capture the "grasshopper" side of the problem brilliantly. The problem is, that with these catastophes you're listing, the little sustainable ants will be taken along in the detruction.

Thanks. Made me think



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