Every Hero needs a Villain

It’s one of the most basic rules of writing. Without conflict, you have no story. The hero needs something to struggle against – it doesn’t have to be a person, but they need something to fight. Something bigger than them, for preference, because an underdog story is even easier to empathize with.

That’s exactly what we just saw. President Obama swept into office with a huge majority and electoral victory. His party won significant control of both the House and Senate too. He did so by being the hero – the representative of the underdog party whose opponents had held the White House for 8 years.

Now two years later the Republicans are the underdog. Except they’re not really, because they’ve had enough votes to block the majority of proposals brought to the Senate, and Obama’s only had 2 years in office. A straight underdog campaign wouldn’t have flown. The narrative wouldn’t have worked.

This is where the Tea Party came in. The Republicans recognized that they couldn’t be too closely associated with the Tea Party – either major party wanting control must at least show the pretense of moderate leanings, and there’s nothing moderate about Teabaggers – so they propped up and encouraged the Tea Party mostly in private, while disassociating themselves from the most nutjob aspects. And it worked. The Tea Party was (and still is) viewed as a small part of the Republican party, or even its own separate entity – and yet, the Republicans got to benefit from the Underdog narrative by association. Most of the highest profile Tea Party candidates didn’t win (Angle, O’Donnell) – though a couple did (Paul, Bachmann*) – but that wasn’t really the point. They served their purpose of shifting the narrative.

Not that this is an original plot. Remember, there are no new ideas. Presidents always see their party lose control of the House in the mid-term elections, assuming they had control in the first place. Another thing that should be recognized when studying narratives is that they’re cyclical. This narrative is no different. As with all the past times (the Democratic takeover of the House in 2006 is a good example), there is already talk about this election being a “message” to the President that “the American people” (apparently all of us) disapprove. This is rhetoric of course, and an expected part of the narrative.

Ironically, the cyclical narrative suggests that Obama’s odds of being reelected just went up significantly. The last three first-term Presidents whose party lost control of the House in the mid-terms have been reelected – that’s Reagan, Clinton and Dubya. Precedent is on Obama’s side in 2012. We know how this narrative runs. There will be a lot of talk over the next two years which includes phrases like lame duck, and a lot of sound and noise from both parties resulting in not a lot of anything. In 2012 Obama will point to the Republican House and cast them as the villain who rolled in 2 years earlier and didn’t affect the change expected of them – just what they said of him now. He will ride that narrative as the hero and probably be reelected. Democrats might even regain control of the House.

Honestly, the formulaic nature of this narrative is so predictable that the story comes off as a hack job. It’s a bit sad that this story can still sell. But it does, over and over. I hope someone’s earning heavy royalties from it.

I might be terrified of all this, but I’m practical. No one has to be scared.

After all, it’s just stories. None of it’s really REAL.


* She was the incumbent, so not exactly a surprise

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