Mueller has spoken, and it was about as disappointing as the much anticipated Mueller Time was. We think that Mueller is going to be like a refreshing beer after a hot day’s long labor, but it turns out to be a bitter brew that might slack your thirst and wash the dry mouth away, but gawd it claws on its way down and threatens to be coming back out of every exit possible.
There are many many opinions about how people will react to Mueller’s testimony; who won the day; who made better points, and other partisan motivated-reasoning outcomes. So, what is reality? How will Mueller’s testimony affect our perceptions of impeachment, the Ol’ Pussy Grabber, and Russia’s interference with our election?
First Impressions Count
Psychology points us in several directions for anticipating the response to Mueller’s testimony at the two hearings. First, and foremost, is that it probably wasn’t watched by most of the population. It was seven hours long on a workday. Those folks who may not be working on that day are of a lifestyle who probably will be less interested in watching the hearing. Most people’s impressions of the hearing will be formed by the places where they consume their news: Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and social media.
There will be millions of soundbites and clips from the hearings that are shown, but I’m willing to bet that they will quickly settle on the same three or four to show. They will also settle on the same few comments and “insights” reinforcing the importance of the media narrative on shaping and limiting our interpretations of events. Whatever the chattering class of your preference is saying is pretty much what you’re going to believe.
For those of us who watched some, most, or all of the testimony, or who have the wherewithal (actually executive functioning) to watch the chattering classes chatter and still come away with our own opinion, then your first impression is probably the one. Mine was that overall, the testimony was too goddamn boring to make much of an impression. Watching Mueller for seven freaking hours have one of five responses:
- I stand by my report.
- I don’t agree with your characterization.
- Refers to internal DoJ deliberations.
- Interferes with other investigations.
- Or, not my purview, others are looking into that.
That did not (a) make for riveting TV, and (b) just didn’t matter to the average uninformed, disinterested, distracted, “independent” occasional-voter. My initial reaction was just that: from the get-go it fell flat. It was less TV spectacle and more TV morgue. That said, there were more positives coming out of it than negatives in spite of my fav’s, Vox.com’s, rather pessimistic reaction, Five Losers and 0 Winners… Yes it was That Bad.
The Democratic Performance
First, Nadler’s opening soundbite of getting Mueller to agree that he did not find no collusion, no obstruction, total exoneration, but rather “could not be exonerated” could and should be used in Dem 2020 commercials and the forces for impeachment irrespective of Repube attempts to discredit it by finding that there is no exoneration principle in US legal jurisprudence. The simple statement of no exoneration uses the Repube tactic of reducing a complex problem to a simple phrase or soundbite and forces the Repubes to play the Dem hand of trying to clumsily refute it.
Second, in the first hearing, the Dems’ strategy of focusing only on five of the ten obstruction charges helped them focus on a few which, theoretically, should’ve made it easier to create a clear impression about each of them. That probably didn’t work. But, Rep. Lieu’s sequence walking Mueller through the three parts of obstruction with regard to the Lewandowski incident was effective in spite of Mueller saying he did not necessarily agree with the points Lieu was trying to make with it.
Really, Mueller? You have to be that obtuse? Your reputation as an honest broker is so important to you now at this stage of your career that you gotta take a key moment down a notch? It’s enough to make you question whose side Mueller is on and start believing in conspiracy theories. That was just shyte.
Third, although I cannot pin it to a specific representative, I have a clear memory of the near resignation of McGahn over the request to create a false paper trail about being asked to fire Mueller. If I have that kind of impression, they did a good job of going over it repeatedly to create it despite Mueller’s lack luster fumbling responses.
Fourth, Rep. Escobar’s tantalizing dance with Mueller around using the word impeachment. It was one of the few moments of amusement during the entire damn dry desert of a hearing. There was almost honest-to-god flirting happening. She was inviting him to list the Constitutional remedies for Trump’s obstruction since he cannot be tried in the court’s while in office. The closest she came to the “I” word was, I think you mentioned at least one. Mueller actually smiled when he said it.
But, again, why? Why at this critical juncture when the Dems need only one selfie-instruction to huddle closer together and take a step back to get them to fall over the impeachment cliff, couldn’t Mueller bring himself to say it? It’s like your parents knowing that you’re going out drinking without anyone ever saying it openly. FFS. Aren’t we all grown-ups other than the Repubes? But, okay. It is a usable soundbite and clip of film.
Fifth, a similar thing happened with Rep. Schiff at the end of the second hearing. Schiff was going through a list of behaviors and conduct that is not welcome in the man paying pee-hookers to piss on the Resolute Desk, Constitution, and American values. He was trying to get Mueller to agree with him in a step-by-step walk up to impeachment. Mueller went a long for the most part, but at key moments, who drop a fly in the ointment by saying, I can’t agree with your characterization. Poor Adam Schiff’s face dropped every time like his prom date just pushed his hand away… AGAIN!
And sixth, Rep. Maloney getting Mueller to discuss why he didn’t subpoena the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s testimony was brilliant. Mueller essentially said he had enough rope to hang him with and the bit more he would get from questioning him wouldn’t be worth the time or effort.
Clearly the Dem strategy was to get the reticent Mueller to agree with parts of his own report. It wasn’t going to be the dramatic j’accuse moment they hoped for, but it was better than nothing. But, its effectiveness rested on the ability of the representative to be clear, succinct, and hold the attention of the listener.
They did repeat their main point: anyone else who obstructed justice in this way would have been indicted and jailed. Many of them hit their marks a bit mechanically, but the sheer repetition of the line will power-drive it into the heads of the listener whether they want it or not. That’s the way propaganda works.
The other thing it depended on was their reluctant partner, Mueller. He had to be a credible witness. His halting, stammering, flustered uncertainty, especially in the first hearing, really hurt his reputation. He was not the witness that they had hoped for, but he also wasn’t neutral. Some of his reactions, answers, and behaviors were harmful. He looked old, slow, and confused in the judiciary hearing most of the time and seemed to perk up in the second. Maybe he had had his nap, I don’t know.
These portions of the hearings and more all serve the Dems. They can use them in multiple ways to bolster either claims that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber should be impeached or defeated in 2020. The scary thing is that we’re waiting on Dems to make the right political choices. Christ, has there ever been a group that can snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory any more consistently than the Dems?
The Republican Strategy
Lot’s o’ Yelling
The Repubes’ strategy was to yell at Mueller for not doing his job good. As I watched it, my reaction was that they were creating sympathy for Mueller. Remember, angry white men get the benefit of the doubt, unless they seem to be overreacting. Louie “I’m NOT Gomer Pyle” Gohmert was the worst offender. His over the top scream fest did not score any points. Others were the fellow who puffed his chest up with the jactation that he had questioned the Butcher of Baghdad or some such, and, therefore, and ipso facto, he KNEW Mueller was practicing bad law and was a bad hombre.
Conspiracy Theories Galore
The other Repube strategy was to spout conspiracy theories and wonder aloud with suspicious undertones why none of this was investigated. Particular star power goes to the rank minority member, Devon “That’s NOT what I do with cows” Nunes (R – Cows), who opened the hearings by suggesting that it was Clinton who was colluding with Russia to get the Ol’ Pussy Grabber elected!
The problem with this line of reasoning is that it flies in the face of the commonly accepted narrative. Remember, persuasive design tell us that when you’re trying to get people to make a change that violates a social norm, it will seen as more difficult and require more motivation to do. The social norm here is that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber colluded with Russia not Clinton. You’ll have to do better than a scary voice, a sad face, and innuendo to get that job done.
This ploy shows you how desperate the Repubes are. They are experts at persuasive design. If they are trying to make the hard sells of Mueller is not the man you think he is and that the Russian interference was really involving the Dems and Clinton, which violate the standard narrative.
So, the outcome of the hearings is that there is probably increased sympathy for Mueller, no changes in opinions about the Ol’ Pussy Grabber and impeachment, and a foundation and beginning framework for impeachment that the Dems, if played well — Christ, what a thing to hang your hat upon — could lead to impeachment and/or defeat of the Repubes in 2020.