Friday, June 02, 2017

Enough With the Liberal Guilt Already

by Neil H. Buchanan

The 2016 presidential election was almost seven months ago.  Why are liberals still so willing to blame themselves -- and especially each other -- for Trump's narrow victory in the Electoral College?

The narrative that will not die is that "real Americans" abandoned the disdainful, sneering Democrats.  Those coastal elites who say and think nasty things about non-latte-drinking regular folk got what was coming to them, we hear over and over again.

And it is not conservatives who are saying those things.  It is liberals themselves who are engaged in this orgy of self-doubt and intramural finger-pointing.

To be sure, it is a sign of maturity to be able to consider the possibility that what went wrong was one's own fault.  The opposite of introspective doubt is, after all, stubborn self-righteousness -- most obviously personified in the orange-hued blowhard who is currently occupying the White House.

But when liberals think about the 2016 results, the now-standard response is to say, "We screwed up.  They hate us, and it's our own fault."  Again, there is more than a bit about that attitude that is admirable.  It also can prevent people from saying, "Well, there was nothing we could have done.  So there's nothing that we can do now, either, I guess."

Yes, it is a good thing to be able to look in the mirror and ask tough questions.  But that does not mean that people will always give themselves the best answers.  Liberals need to stop beating themselves up in order to be able to think clearly about what has happened and what to do next.

Unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton has figured this out.  Even less surprisingly, people still want to yell at Hillary Clinton for things that she did not actually say or do.  Clinton's bottom line is quite simply that she and her campaign made a lot of mistakes, but those mistakes are not why she lost.  Russia and Comey are explanation enough (as, we should recall, is the press's ridiculous treatment of Clinton throughout her career).

Even so, when Clinton says, "Here are the things that went wrong, here are the ones that I could control, whereas here are the ones that made the difference," what happens?  She is faulted by a liberal writer for having "found plenty of non-Hillary Clinton things to blame for her 2016 loss."  Sick burn!

Clinton is apparently supposed to have taken a public stance that says, "It's all me.  I'm not allowed to blame anyone else, internally or externally.  My fault.  Sorry."  That is not merely imposing an expectation on her that would not be imposed on anyone else, but it conveniently allows liberals to say that even their own supposed sins are really Hillary's fault.

A recent op-ed by a left-leaning law professor in The New York Times was titled: "The Dumb Politics of Elite Condescension."  To her credit, the author rightly rejects the idea that "identity politics" was the Democrats' problem last year.  She even lays out a decent policy-driven case for winning future elections.

Even so, we quickly learn that the problem with liberals is that we are just so snotty toward working-class people.  Examples?  The author writes: "We hear talk of 'trailer trash' in 'flyover states' afflicted by 'plumber’s butt' — open class insults that pass for wit."

In other words, this is the standard story in which Real Americans are supposedly so fragile that they will vote to put a lying, unqualified, bigoted, sexist threat to the planet in the White House because they cannot bear to be told that their states are uninteresting to outsiders.  How is that not a condescending narrative?

I must say that after all these months of reading similar articles by self-flagellating liberals, I continue to be surprised by the mildness of the litany of insults that supposedly motivated Trump's voters.  The fact is that adults are much less snowflake-y than many liberals seem to think.

The weirdest part of the op-ed, however, was when the author returned to the theme as follows: "In some cities, a construction boom is hobbled by a lack of plumbers. We might ameliorate this problem if we stopped talking about plumber’s butt."  Taken literally, that is laughable.  Even as an attempt at something that would pass for wit, however, it is simply bizarre.

Perhaps the worst error that liberals continue to make is to reinforce the false narrative about Hillary Clinton's now-infamous comment about the "basket of deplorables" during the campaign.  As I noted in the immediate aftermath of that comment, it at first appeared that the phrase would have a limited shelf-life and would soon become one of those phrases that political geeks use knowingly.

Instead, liberals have piled on and reinforced the false narrative that the Trump campaign (especially Mike Pence) used to portray Clinton's comment as proof of liberals' condescension.

For example, that law professor who is oddly obsessed with plumbers' posteriors added this comment: "This condescension affects political campaigns, as in Hillary Clinton’s comment about 'deplorables' and Barack Obama’s about people who 'cling to guns or religion.'"

Maybe Obama's comment was evidence of condescension, and maybe not.  It certainly did not cost him the election.  But it is worth reminding ourselves -- yet again -- that Clinton's comment was in fact the opposite of condescension.  In fact, she was doing exactly what her detractors from the left say she should have been doing.

Recall that Clinton coined her memorable phrase when she was trying to explain why Trump's campaign continually bobbed to the surface after multiple times in which it had appeared to have permanently been sunk by yet another of his many gaffes.  Why, people had asked Clinton, was she not winning in a landslide?

Clinton sensibly noted that there are some people who are simply beyond reach.  And anyone who thinks about this for even a second would understand that she is right.  Does anyone really think that, if Clinton had been a more skilled campaigner, Steve Bannon would have decided to vote for her?  Rush Limbaugh?  Jeff Sessions?  Betsy DeVos?  The people who think that Clinton killed Vince Foster?  The people who deliberately misinterpret the phrase "black lives matter" by pretending that it means "only black lives matter"?  Who believe that women who are raped were asking for it?

Clinton thus turned a good phrase and said that there is unfortunately a large group, a basket of deplorables, who are not reasonably part of any Democratic campaign's outreach.  This is not because liberals are too elitist, but because there is simply no common ground.  If Clinton had tried to campaign in such precincts, she would have been rightly criticized for wasting campaign resources.

But Clinton quite forcefully and clearly said that she did not think that all Trump-leaning voters were beyond reach.  She later apologized for calling it a 50-50 split, but given how fiercely the vast majority of Trump's supporters have continued to back him in light of everything that we have seen since November 8, Clinton might if anything have been too generous.

Again, however, the point is that Clinton did not condescend to the other basket of voters.  She said -- and I emphasize once again that there is no reading between the lines here, because she was as clear as possible about this in her remarks -- that she sincerely believed that there were large numbers of Trump-leaning voters who should not be judged harshly and are non-deplorable.

I most definitely do not expect any Trump supporters or Clinton haters to be convinced by what I have written here.  Instead, I am writing this to express my astonishment that liberals are so willing to believe bad things about themselves and their candidates that are simply not true.

As another example, consider a recent op-ed by Roger Cohen, who generally focuses on foreign policy in his writings for The Times.  Turning his attention to the U.S. political situation, Cohen expresses concern about people's increasing inability to find common ground.  He writes:
"This is the chasm to which Fox News, Republican debunking of reason and science, herd-reinforcing social media algorithms, liberal arrogance, rightist bigotry, and an economy of growing inequality have ushered us."
Did you catch that?  Wedged in among the list of obviously true explanations for what is happening, he adds "liberal arrogance."  At first, I assumed that he had tossed that in as matter of false equivalence, to be able to say, "Well, I didn't only blame conservatives."  Instead, he ended up devoting a large section of his column to this idea that liberals are to blame for their own fates.
"The liberal complacency that holds that these people simply need to be 'educated' is self-defeating. If that’s what the Democratic Party exudes — coastal complacency — it will lose, just like Ms. Clinton did last year.
"As Abe Streep, a journalist and writer based in Montana, put it to me: 'Nobody’s ever been convinced by being made to feel stupid.'"
So what, exactly, is the lesson for liberals?  The reachable people who are voting for Republicans are basing their decisions on fact-free nonsense.  It seems to me that voters need to be educated about the facts, and Cohen would appear to agree.

But if a liberal says, "There are more jobs in renewable energy than in fossil fuels, and the trend is entirely in that direction," we are apparently exuding "coastal complacency."  If we say, "Trump is lying when he says that immigrants are pouring across the border," we are evidently at fault because the people who believe such lies are "being made to feel stupid."

Yes, obviously there are nice ways and nasty ways to say the same thing.  Being nice is nice.  But this whole notion that the non-Trump world is filled with a bunch of disdainful prigs is nonsense -- or if it is true, the people who are complaining about it are certainly doing a terrible job of proving their case.

On the other hand, maybe I have just made Cohen feel stupid, in which case he can decide that the smart response is to start supporting Trump.  But I doubt it.

Similarly, millions of Americans are capable of understanding that they are not at the top of the economic or social heap.  The Democrats -- most definitely including Hillary Clinton -- have advocated policies that would make their lives better, yet many voted for Trump and the Republicans anyway.  Some of them are beyond reach.  Others are in play.

Liberals are right to try to figure out how to connect with skeptical voters.  Democrats are dangerously on the wrong track, however, if they think that they are helping their cause by reinforcing the big lie that liberal condescension is a significant contributor to our political dysfunction.

"Vote for us.  We promise to stop doing what we were never actually doing in the first place."  Do we really think that this is what will win back voters?


CJColucci said...

If I were the kind of rube who would vote for someone like Trump because of snotty comments by elitists, I'd be ashamed to admit it.

Joe said...

Ah. The self-aware rube with shame.

el roam said...

Thanks for the post . Finally , it is hard to understand : according to the respectable author of the post , the democrats , or liberals let's say , had simply to work harder , reveal misleading facts in the propaganda of Trump , and by that , victory could be won ??

This is really amazing , I must admit . So , even so , the other side , the opposite side , would go simply and catch a nap ? It wouldn't counterattack the misleading facts of Democrats ? They were born suckers ?? I don't understand it !!

And at first place , has to do with liberals ?? the persons ?? their personalities ?? the arrogance ?? So , Obama was black . He undoubtedly had taken care of them , by that Obamacare , Trying to help lower classes with medical insurance . So , he was an arrogant liberal ?? And the Neo conservatives around Bush the junior , were laymen ? Not arrogants ??

The issue , is far greater complicated than that , reflecting a sort of global trend ( the seeds of it at least ) :

Direct , and even brutal linkage , between , mean and purposes , that is the issue !!. Too much bureaucracy , serving lobbies , serving senseless ideas , senseless morality , over regulation , the administration has become so , self serving one , autonomous monster , all , instead of taking care of people , people living and breathing . And so :

If there is Terror , we shall torture terrorists . If too many Mexican invade and penetrate America , we shall build a wall ( and they shall fund it ) . If auction are issued , the cheapest offer should gain it . Too much regulation ? well , for every new one , you need to repeal two . If half trillion dollars are kept of shore , we shall enforce them to bring it back home . American factories , would be held at home , and if needed , we shall bring them back home to America .

Enough with that crap !! bunch of senseless and useless pseudo moral concepts . You got to do , what you got to do !! This is the real old good America in their eyes .

I could illustrate it , in ten thousands ways , but , one phrase , in the inauguration speech of Trump , here :

" Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People."

Do you need more than that ?? For the rest , we won't stay young simply !!


David Ricardo said...

It is human nature that whenever there is a defeat or a problem or a difficulty it has to be ‘somebody’s fault’. This attitude totally ignores the random nature of life, the fact that much of what happens to ourselves and our society is the result of random disturbances rather than somebody making a bad decision based on the data, information and knowledge at the time the decision is made.

The voting process is a sampling, a sampling of the registered voters. Registered voters are a sample of the population. Samples are subject to bias. Suppose the confidence limit on a Clinton victory were 95%. That still means there was a 5% chance of sample error, and maybe that is what happened in 2016.

Furthermore there were other factors and elements of nature that affected the 2016 election which can be considered uncontrollable.

1. Winning a 3rd straight Presidential election for either party is not the norm.

2. Ms. Clinton was the first woman to be the nominee of a major party. Bias against women in politics is still present.

3. For 2016 for Ms. Clinton was the end product of 40 years of negative, unfair press coverage.

4. The Clinton campaign chose to focus on an anti-Trump message, not a pro-Hillary message. A reasonable decision at the time and there is no certainty that a pro-Hillary message would have been more successful.

5. Clinton fatigue. Isn’t the nation really ready to retire the Clintons? Weren’t we ready before 2016?

6. The Electoral College, a relic of an 18th century compromise that has turned out to be highly un-democratic, a result totally un-anticipated by the founders.

7. Radical right wing talk radio and Fox News. Can any Democrat in a close election survive the hundreds of thousands of hours of spin, lies and vitriolic commentary of the past 30 years by the Rush Limbaughs and his ilk?

8. Tim Kaine. Everyone applauded and he looked like a good choice at the time., in retrospect maybe not.

9. Lack of Democratic control in key states like Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina etc.

10. Restrictive voting actions by Republicans. See 9 above.

11. Lack of good spokespeople by the Democrats. Really, did anyone think Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid or other charismatically challenged Democrats were effective campaigners?

The end result, none of the above mattered by itself, but taken together they probably produced a result that no single one of them could be blamed for.

Ok, 2016 is over. Dems need to get good candidates, not the amateurs who ran in special Congressional races in Kansas and Montana or the inexperienced one running in Georgia in a few weeks. Do that, organize, get out the vote, produce an agenda and Dems will win.

Greg said...

I think the problem with the "basket of deplorables" comment is that while it was technically not condescending, it was obviously a horrible sound bite. It's like the all too common case where the class is lectured because of the behavior of a few bad kids, and it's the good kids who feel bad or think that the lecture is unfairly targeting them. The basket of deplorables comment was the same thing, where moderate Republicans thought they were being called racists, even though the comment wasn't actually being directed at them.

Politicians of both parties have this problem, but Democrats are inconsistent about it and it makes them look foolish. Republicans will say "all democrats are commies who want to raise your taxes, take your guns, and close your church." This gets them the people who are convinced by this kind of rhetoric, and alienates those who aren't. Democrats will say something like "some Republicans are deplorable, but others are fine." People who are convinced by fiery rhetoric see "Republicans are fine." People who are turned off by fiery speech hear "Republicans are deplorable" and are turned away.

This really works against Democrats in other ways, in that Republicans have moved to a strategy of shoring up and scaring the base, getting them out to vote. Democrats are still courting moderates. Moderates are exactly the "good kids" who will think they are unfairly being called "deplorables" and be turned away, or at least choose not to vote.

As an aside, if a politician has to explain their comment, that should make it obvious that it wasn't well thought out as convincing political discourse. Actually explaining it (which is unfortunately sometimes necessary) really can make them sound elitist, since it implies that the receiver was incapable of understanding the original comment. This tends to happen more often when making nuanced arguments than when being hyper-partisan.

Shag from Brookline said...

Greg, have you considered the morality aspects of your analysis? Are you suggesting that Democrats should be consistent in the manner that you view Republicans as consistent as you set forth in quotes? Are you personally walking in the shoes of those who negatively reacted to Clinton's use of "deplorables" in your analysis? Is it more of a problem for a politician to explain a comment rather than for a politician to double down on a questionable comment? Did nothing make the Republican Trump look foolish or the other Republican candidates? Was the Souther Strategy of the Republicans used in a consistent manner moral?

As to the word "deplorables," take a peek at the history of the "Know Nothings." As to Trump's voter base of the Forgotten, what had the Republican Party done for them beginning with Reagan? And keep in perspective that Republican Trump lost the popular vote by almost 3 million.

Joe said...

The basket of deplorables was a soundbite that many tossed around but unclear really how much it really mattered. I'm not inclined many of the people upset about her comment (which was misconstrued anyway) only didn't vote for her for that reason. It was a nice gotcha but what politician doesn't suffer a few? Trump had lots. How much did it make his electoral success less productive? Often it HELPED him.

As to Tim Kaine, Virginia was not gimmee. That alone made him a credible choice. The other options including Warren (two women? no) had various issues too. Again, I question if the voters in the necessary states would suddenly change their mind about Trump or Clinton if Clinton had a different vice president. The list as a whole does suggest Clinton had an uphill battle. I said before that if it was someone else, I would have thought Clinton was the underdog. Trump, however, looked just too horrible all around.

Live and learn.

David Ricardo said...

This comment in the post above

"The other options including Warren (two women? no)"

is an interesting confirmation of my point (2) that her gender cost Hilary votes. Two women on the ticket is not politically viable, but two men is ok and has been for about 230 years?

Joe said...

Well, it's like Obama. He won. But, if he picked a black v.p., it might have been seen as "too much." Enough to matter if it was just to toss out a name, a Colin Powell type who had military cred or something? Maybe not.

Yes, sure, two women should have the ability to win. But, sexism is still a thing, so TWO women on the ticket is pushing things a bit far. Thing is that might be an issue in other cases too. There is usually an attempt to balance the ticket. Clinton/Gore there was seen as problematic (two Southern white guys), but even there, we are talking about two quite different personalities.

Shag from Brookline said...

Thomas Edsall has provided quite a bit of post election commentary addressing the future of both parties - and of Trump - at the NYTimes weaving in analyses of political scientists of the past election that may be more objective than the politicians. Ruth Marcus has a WaPo column suggesting that Mrs. Clinton stop looking the rear view mirror. This was a fluke election. Trump's performance at 150 days in displays this.

Greg said...

My point was that how you talk politically and how you think are not necessarily the same. I think many Democrats in Washington do hold nuanced views. I'm not sure that is the way to talk about them. "We love everyone" seems to be the more effective rallying cry for Democrats. Attacking Republican voters was just a bad call for that message, regardless of whether or not the allegations are true.

Then again, I was a Republican voter when I was younger who grew up and found myself thinking that while I might agree with the Republicans on first principles, I agree with Democrats on policy. "Policy trumps principle," but I don't think that makes for a good political rallying cry either. Ultimately, Democrats have the much harder argument in trying to say that various proposals are the best compromise while Republicans tend to want all or nothing and refuse to recognize that there may be competing values in any given situation. That makes the aforementioned fiery rhetoric work for Republicans and not for Democrats.

BTW, I agree that the deplorables comment was not the deciding factor in the election. I do think it is an example of how Democrats can look elitist even when they are trying not to be. Some of these things are easy to see in hindsight but harder to see up front, especially when the candidate has the kind of subtle, nuanced thinking that a candidate like Clinton has.