The Obama "narrative" narrative

It’s not hard to see the attraction of such logic. If all there was separating you from your political desires was a perfectly calibrated bumper sticker, imagine all the time you could save once you arrived at the right slogan! Surely beats zero-sum budgetary tradeoffs, dreary committee meetings, bill “mark-up” exercises, Congressional Budget Office scores, parliamentary maneuverings, or even substantive non-governmental policy discussions on the topics you claim to care about.

This may be an understandable, if somewhat distasteful, intellectual path to tread for people whose jobs are based on winning elections. After all, politics has always been the systematic organization of hatreds, and hatreds do not linger long on process or policy white papers. Bumper stickers tend to be designed by people who see the target audience as bumps in need of a good sticking.

But “narrative” creep has long since passed into and occasionally overwhelmed the very activity that should theoretically be most immune to it: journalism. It’s unintentionally telling enough about their regard for the little people that journalists—even those of us in the opinion-manufacturing division—go hunting for magical slogans with which personages more powerful than us can move the pliable masses. But when the hunt for narratives, metaphors, and one-line explainers becomes a central part of the nonfiction production process, all of those nagging details fade to mush and entire conclusions are constructed upon generalized statements with little or no measurable relationship to fact.

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