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duh!!! (the use of brain scans to say the obvious )

Best,
Michael

On Jul 9, 2007, at 8:31 AM, Michael Balter wrote:

>
> As always, if my motivations for posting this are questioned, my  
> Progressive Missions Impossible team and I shall deny all knowledge  
> of it.
>
> Hearts over minds, he tells Democrats
>
> A brain researcher says the party needs to connect with voters'  
> emotions to win.
> By Robin Abcarian
> Times Staff Writer  (Los Angeles Times)
>
> July 9, 2007
>
> WASHINGTON  Drew Westen, a genial 48-year-old psychologist and  
> brain researcher, was talking to a rapt liberal audience about the  
> role of emotion in politics, how to talk back aggressively to  
> Republicans, and why going negative is not to be feared.
>
> It was Day 2 of the progressive "Take Back America" confab, and  
> those who had crowded into a meeting room of the Washington Hilton  
> were about to discover why Westen, a psychology professor at  
> Atlanta's Emory University and former associate professor at  
> Harvard Medical School, had quietly become the great rumpled hope  
> of Democrats who believe their candidates should have won the last  
> two presidential elections.
>
> Example: When President Bush recently refused to allow Karl Rove to  
> testify under oath about his role in the sacking of federal  
> prosecutors, Westen said, Democrats blundered. Instead of insisting  
> Rove testify under oath, they simply should have said (over and  
> over), "Mr. Bush, just what is it about 'So help me God' that you  
> find so offensive?"
>
> Westen has spent many years training psychologists, psychiatrists  
> and social workers, and his major brush with fame before now had  
> been the occasional commentary on National Public Radio. In the  
> last several months, though, he has gone from a politically  
> inclined nobody to a hot ticket, presenting his ideas to  
> presidential campaigns, political strategists, pollsters,  
> consultants and donors. In his work, they hope to find a grand  
> unified theory of How Democrats Can Stop Blowing It.
>
> In his new book, "The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in  
> Deciding the Fate of the Nation," Westen, who is not affiliated  
> with a particular candidate, lays out his argument that Democrats  
> must connect emotionally with the American electorate  and that he  
> can teach them how.
>
> He writes that when Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts let a Swift- 
> boat veterans group drag his reputation through the mud (2004),  
> when Al Gore put a nation to sleep with his talk of lockboxes and  
> Medicare actuaries (2000), and when Michael S. Dukakis said he  
> didn't believe in the death penalty even in the event of his wife's  
> rape and murder (1988), Democrats were exhibiting their single  
> worst tendency: intellectual dispassion.
>
> That style is ballot-box poison, said Westen. "The political brain  
> is an emotional brain," he said. "It prefers conclusions that are  
> emotionally satisfying rather than conclusions that match the data."
>
> When Westen and his Emory colleagues conducted brain scans during  
> the 2004 presidential campaign, they found that partisans of either  
> side, when presented with contradictory statements by their  
> preferred candidates, would struggle for some seconds with feelings  
> of discomfort, then resolve the matter in their candidates' favor.
>
> The scans showed that to do this, they used the part of their brain  
> that controls emotion and conflict. The area that controls  
> reasoning was inactive  "the dead zone," Westen said.
>
> Westen writes that it doesn't make sense to argue an issue using  
> facts and figures and to count on voters  particularly the swing  
> voters who decide national elections  to make choices based on  
> sophisticated understandings of policy differences or procedures.  
> He says Democratic candidates must learn to do what Republicans  
> have understood for many years  they must appeal to emotions. And  
> (talking to you, Mr. Gore) stay away from numbing statistics.
>
> "This is the best thing I have read in 30 years," said Robert  
> Kuttner, co-editor of the liberal American Prospect magazine, and  
> the man most responsible for Westen's rise. "This is the book that  
> should have been written a long time ago on why Democrats blow  
> winnable elections. Even when public opinion is on their side, they  
> don't know how to optimize that."
>
> Kuttner learned of Westen last year from mutual friends while  
> Westen was still working on his manuscript. Westen sent Kuttner a  
> few chapters, and the magazine editor flipped. "I told him, 'Fasten  
> your seat belt; you're going to be a rock star,' " Kuttner said.
>
> It has been, Westen admitted, the sort of wild ride an academic  
> like him usually only dreams about.
>
> Kuttner organized gatherings  in Washington, New York, Los Angeles  
> and Berkeley  to introduce Westen to influential Democrats. The  
> first took place in September in Washington.
>
> Guy Molyneux, a pollster with Hart Research Associates, was there,  
> and recalled being impressed but not bowled over. "He says a  
> candidate should be authentic but also speak to these more  
> emotional concerns, and I don't know if Drew fully appreciates the  
> extent to which that advice may conflict," Molyneux said. "If your  
> candidate is a policy wonk"  like Al Gore  "to some extent that's  
> going to come through to voters."
>
> After hearing Westen speak at Stanley Sheinbaum's Brentwood home at  
> an American Prospect event, Democratic activists and donors Jamie  
> McGurk (wife of former MGM honcho Chris McGurk) and Victoria Hopper  
> (wife of actor Dennis Hopper) adopted him.
>
> "Victoria and I took it upon ourselves to make him our mission,"  
> said McGurk, who with Hopper hosted Westen at a small gathering of  
> influential Hollywood political activists last month at her  
> husband's offices.
>
> "He is dead-on  just what the community needs to hear," McGurk  
> said. "I was so frustrated with the way our party has conducted its  
> messaging. He connects all the dots and backs it up with empirical  
> data."
>
> Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean blurbed the  
> book. Billionaire George Soros opened his home for a book party  
> last month.
>
> To some, Westen's ascent feels like a replay of what happened in  
> the 2004 election with another Dean favorite, UC Berkeley linguist  
> George Lakoff, who burst onto the scene with theories about  
> "framing" as a way to control political debate.
>
> Lakoff's ideas were important in helping Democrats think about  
> language and metaphor, said political professionals and activists,  
> but his work is deeply theoretical, and some felt his theories  
> didn't test out in polls.
>
> Lakoff, who has read Westen's book, thinks there is overlap in  
> their messages. He rejects the idea that he has somehow fallen out  
> of favor among progressives. "I have had an incredible effect which  
> you see every day. I made people aware of framing and that you  
> shouldn't use the other guy's frame," he said.
>
> So far, Republicans aren't quaking in their boots. Pollster Frank  
> Luntz, the GOP wordsmith who coined the term "death tax," said he  
> was looking forward to Westen's book "because it's based on  
> science." But, Luntz said, appealing to emotions can backfire.
>
> In April, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said of  
> Iraq "This war is lost," he was trying to trigger "not an  
> intellectual debate, but an emotional outcry," said Luntz, and "it  
> was misguided." And the reason Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New  
> York is the Democratic front-runner, he added (unable to resist a  
> dig), is that she "demonstrates mastery of policy  even though  
> Democrats know she is the least electable of her colleagues."
>
> What quickens the pulses of Democrats is Westen's take on how  
> voters think and his ability to articulate why, in his view, taking  
> the high road in the face of full frontal assaults such as the  
> Swift-boat campaign is foolish.
>
> "Positive and negative emotions are not the flip side of each  
> other," Westen told his Washington audience. "They are  
> neurologically distinct, and that means you've got to control four  
> things: positive feelings toward your candidate, negative feelings  
> toward your candidate, positive feelings toward your opponent and  
> negative feelings toward your opponent. So if you just go negative  
>  or positive, as the Kerry team decided to do  you are ceding  
> half the brain to the opposition.
>
> "Similarly, when you refuse to dignify an attack, it gives the  
> other side exclusive rights to the network of associations that  
> constitute public opinion and particular feelings  which is what  
> decides elections."
>
> Robert Shrum, Kerry's chief political strategist, who comes in for  
> a drubbing in Westen's book, has admitted he erred in not  
> responding fast enough to the Swift-boat campaign. However, he  
> takes issue with Westen's thesis that Democrats don't know how to  
> appeal to voters' emotions, calling Westen's research "pseudoscience."
>
> "I tend to be skeptical of people who think the future of the  
> Democratic Party resides in retooling its language," Shrum said.
>
> Some who have heard Westen speak are waiting to see whether his  
> advice can make a difference when it matters  during a campaign.
>
> "Beyond diagnosing past failure," Molyneux said, "if he can get out  
> ahead of things and start talking about the economy and healthcare  
> and Iraq  or if he says, 'This is how John Edwards could move out  
> of the second tier that he seems to be stuck in at the moment,' and  
> if that advice works, that's what catapults you to a higher level."
>
> (Recently, on the Huffington Post, Westen suggested that Barack  
> Obama's dip in the polls after two lackluster debate performances  
> resulted from a "turn to the cerebral," and that the Illinois  
> senator risked drowning in "the dispassionate river" when "what  
> Americans want most from their presidents is strength and warmth."  
> Obama has the right kind of electricity, Westen wrote, "but he  
> isn't using it.")
>
> At the conference, Westen said Democrats had been so flummoxed by  
> so-called wedge issues  abortion, gun control, gay marriage and  
> immigration  that they finesse them to the point of seeming  
> unprincipled.
>
> Take abortion, Westen said  an issue on which about two-thirds of  
> Americans say they believe there should be a middle ground.
>
> "You would never know that," said Westen during an interview,  
> "because most Democrats run from abortion like the plague. Their  
> strategists tell them to speak quickly and move on."
>
> That void, he said, allows the GOP  thanks to many years of well- 
> funded think tank research and experts like Luntz  to evoke and  
> capitalize on the emotions that drive voters' decisions.
>
> "You can't take things off the table, which is a standard  
> Democratic practice," said Westen. "I mean, if your opponent is  
> running on the relentless war on terror, scaring people, and you  
> want to run on prescription drugs, those drugs better be Valium,  
> because otherwise you are going to lose."
>
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> www.michaelbalter.com
>
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> Michael Balter
> Contributing Correspondent, Science
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