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So it finally happened:

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders formally declared an end to their political rivalry Tuesday, joining forces to take on a shared enemy: Donald Trump.

“I have come here to make it as clear as possible why I am endorsing Hillary Clinton and why she must become our next president,” Sanders said at a joint rally here. “Secretary Clinton has won the Democratic nomination and I congratulate her for that.”

Unlike the various Chicken Littles who thought Trump would be in the Oval Office unless he did this weeks ago, I actually think this is pretty much ideal timing. In the wake of yet another round of the email scandal (it does say something that an exoneration on the part of the Director of the FBI still somehow becomes a negative news cycle for HRC), a positive and unifying news event is a welcome change of pace going into the conventions. Hopefully it will be good for a bit of a poll bump, as some of Sanders’s supporters have still not migrated over to supporting Clinton. But even if this occurs, stuff like this shows why it’s not going to be like 1995 for the Clintons again:

What’s striking, though, is the degree to which this is driven by differences between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans are nearly unanimous in their disapproval of Comey’s decision, by 88 to seven. But according to the crosstabs, Democrats are substantially more split: 31 percent of Dems also disapprove, versus 63 percent who approve. Similarly, Dems say by 31-68 makes them worried about her presidency. Among independents, those numbers are 59-31 and 63-34.

In other words, nearly a third of Democrats disapprove of Comey’s recommendation against charges and say it makes them worried about her presidency, and a whole lot of Dem-leaning independents say the same.

What’s more, the crosstabs show that this is particularly pronounced among young voters and liberals:  A majority of voters under 40 disapprove, by 55-32. And nearly half of liberals (43 percent) disapprove, while 49 percent approve. Similar percentages of those groups say this worries them about her presidency. Given those demographic breakdowns, it is possible — though the polling doesn’t say one way or the other — that there is substantial overlap between those Democrats and Dem-leaning independents who disapprove of Comey’s decision and those who support Sanders.

This is why people (and they do exist, mostly though not entirely at Salon) who think that we’ll be returning to the dreaded days of triangulation are wrong. The circumstances that led to that were: a Democratic Party that had been losing for over a decade, an environment where the Republican Party was vastly more liked and trusted than it is now, an existential panic among many Democrats about the loss Southern conservative whites from their coalition (hence the Southern origins of the DLC), and a diminutive left-liberal wing that lacked organization or effective leadership. Given those circumstances, it wasn’t such a surprise that liberals got shafted again and again during those years, and quite a few of them developed an extreme mistrust and anger toward the Clintons as a result. As stupid and self-defeating a gesture as it was, useless crank Ralph Nader’s 3% of the vote in 2000 was just one manifestation of this anger, which shortly afterward would be channeled into more productive fora (blogs, social media, etc.). But it obviously still persists, and it most definitely colored the Sanders campaign near the end.

In any event, the incentives for Hillary to burn and betray the left are now long gone. There likely will be some overtures to traditional Clinton voters in the South–I’m sure it bothers them that their old base has abandoned the party–but I doubt it will amount to much, as the more promising way toward recovery in the region is the expansion of liberal pockets in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia, not in trying to prop up failing Democratic conservative pockets that aren’t likely to hold anyway. Also, the Republican Party is a historically unpopular basket case of bigotry, while the Democrats are about to win a third presidential term, a highly rare achievement. And the liberal wing itself is much larger now than it was back then, heavily organized thanks to the Sanders campaign and its leaders comprise some of the most popular and respected politicians in the country, who have a stature that easily compares with Hillary. Not only that, but Sanders’s dominating performances among young people–a key constituency for Democrats and one of the hardest to motivate–will make him a key figure on the political scene going forward, and will put the left at the center of Democratic politics going forward, and that left consists of quite a lot of people who will be vigilant in trying to spot triangulation and betrayal like they’re used to. They’re the proverbial squeaky wheel needing the grease: in the ’90s it was Southern whites that party leaders fretted most about losing, but now it’ll be the danger of Sanders voters flaking out. That will give the left more power in party politics than it has in a while, and that power is already showing, not only in the platform drafting, but in emphasis of the presidential campaign. How many times have you heard Hillary Clinton talking about her entitlement/plan this election cycle? Where’s that hard pivot to the center? Still waiting for that stuff guys. She’s already acting as though there’s no percentage in that stuff. Because, ultimately, there isn’t.

Simply put, there’s plenty to worry about with Hillary Clinton already, between the routine lapses in judgment, the out of touch one-percenter mentality and the batshit foreign policy that there’s no need to worry about massive betrayal of the left. Most likely she’ll distance herself from some liberal positions like ending capital punishment or the Fight for $15, but that’s not the same thing as running ads touting DOMA to homophobes. Not at all.

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There are all manner of things Dick Cheney doesn’t understand, I’m sure, but ultimately I think this paranoia is widely shared on the right. He doesn’t know what makes Obama tick? Well, that’s understandable, given that the president has only written two books (and, unlike Cheney, he didn’t use a second author on either), not to mention thousands of delivered speeches by this point, and he has as well as an actual record in office as president. That’s clearly not enough material to form a working understanding of how the man thinks and works. Now, granted, if you assume that all that is just for public consumption and that the real Obama is some kind of insidious bad guy with a plot to impose radical change on America, then it’s a lot harder to know what makes him tick, because he constantly seems to do things that undermine that strategy and make it hard to build a general theory. For example, by bailing out the banks and doing nothing for the public, Obama inadvertently empowered the increasingly ascendant Elizabeth Warren contingent, highly critical of finance. His troubled push for TTIP Fast Track is being viewed so skeptically partly because of bad trade deals the public has in memory, but then again, it may be that Obama himself has inked one too many deals too favorable to Republicans that liberal Democrats simply don’t trust him on this sort of thing anymore, spurring a more procedurally radical Democratic Party. Man, that guy is so sneaky. What appears to be giving away the farm and not being aggressive enough is actually a long-term radical plot. Who knew?

It is pretty fascinating how conservatives misunderstand liberals in ways that are simply not reciprocated. It’s fair to say that the left may exaggerate the extent of certain right-wing ideas from time to time (despite the visibility of the detestable Duggars, Quiverfull is a fairly modest movement), or it may be less than charitable in various interpretation of things, but there’s simply no equivalent to the sorts of things that conservatives pull out of their butts when it comes to trying to understand liberals. There’s simply no liberal Jade Helm. Stuff that may be similar in bugnuttitude, like the antivaxxers or 9/11 Truthers (which is hardly an exclusively left phenomenon) exists at the margins, and hardly get large cross-sections like the silly Texas stuff did/does. I do sort of wonder why this is. Residue from McCarthy perhaps? An intentional conservative media operation? Something else? At this point, given how easy it is to find actual liberals’ thinking online, it seems less acceptable than ever for this kind of ignorance to exist. And while turning liberals into cartoon villains may fire up the base, it’s going to make it very hard to actually defeat them in the near future.

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I’ve been meaning to write about this piece from a while back that argues against devolution. It’s a bit odd. For one thing, the two examples seem to confuse the very different ideas of devolution and secession. Having the blue states become part of Canada would not be an example of devolution, but one of secession. (So, for that matter, was the proposed Scottish referendum. Which failed in part because of promises of greater devolution.) While there are some domestic liberals who do favor secession (there’s a decent percentage in Vermont, at least), very few favor devolution (which is, after all, just a fancy word for enhanced federalism/less central control) so far as I can tell. Nearly all prefer federal to state power, and my guess is that post-2010, there would be significantly more liberal support for a unitary state (i.e. one without states) than an enhancement of the powers of individual states. The polling on this isn’t there but my guess is that it would be 3-to-1 with the public at least, and nearly unanimous among influential liberals. In any event, there has been zero support for the various devolutionary approaches that have been proposed in the past couple of years, such as block-granting Medicare. So the article comes off as baffling, arguing against a more-federalist liberalism that doesn’t seem to exist in any significant way, and has nothing to do with the specific examples raised.

A more relevant argument would have opposed the more provably real phenomenon of liberal secessionism. I don’t favor such an approach at this time, but it’s conceivable that at some point in the future, progressives might find it more enticing to create separate, smaller countries that could be enclaves of leftist politics. It’s not likely in the immediate future, but this country’s longstanding and ironic animus toward “bigness” could provide the basis for such a move, and if you disagree, then why is it that the first step in demonizing anything necessitates affixing the word “big” to it. You know, big government, big labor, big tobacco, big business, etc. I would actually be interested in reading some serious liberal arguments for and against this approach–my guess is that it would revolve around the anti-side arguing against hanging red-state minority members out to dry and appeals to mythos, and the pro-side invoking the lack of responsiveness of a very distant federal government and media as well as the poor people in blue states that should also be considered.

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The Achilles Heel of conservatism is thinking that everything boils down to a simple, easy to understand explanation that you don’t need some Harvard Ph.D. to explain. If you really think about it, it’s this belief that enables the FOX News type of worldview more than any other. It is, of course, highly similar to tribalism in its binary thinking, and at this point conservatism and tribalism are interchangeable concepts.

The Achilles Heel of liberalism is thinking that human beings are essentially rational creatures and that all that’s needed to win is to amass evidence and arguments. It doesn’t work because of the endlessly impressive human ability to rationalize and preserve, and it stems from an unwillingness to engage power dynamics, as Loomis says. But it perseveres, and Aaron Sorkin, Ezra Klein and Barack Obama are among its most famous proponents. Say what you want about Communism, but those folks were entirely aware of this problem and frequently chided contemporary liberals for not realizing it. Despite so much changing since the mid-19th century this problem really hasn’t.

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After all, being nice worked for Dalton.

This Times article is simply horrible. The article implies that it’s some deep failing that Obama was unable to twist enough Democratic arms on background checks, ignoring the fact that even with every Dem on board the filibuster would have ensured it wouldn’t have mattered. So the idea of whether Mark Begich feels intimidated or not is moot. With only four GOP votes, the venture was doomed to failure. People looking for a place to vent ought to focus either on the filibuster or the power of the NRA, not on Obama. This one really isn’t his fault.

Admittedly, a lack of fight has been a problem for the Obama Administration in places. But it’s been a very small problem in the grand scheme of things. The major problems do not include a lack of fight so much as poor assumptions and lousy priorities. The former comes in the form of baseless assumptions that Republicans are always close to pulling the trigger on a grand bargain and thus must always be placated and not have their feelings tweaked, and the latter comes in the simple reality that, with some exceptions*, if it won’t reduce the debt, the White House simply doesn’t care all that much. Put these together and they account for most of the teeth-gritting, frown-generating moments of the Obama Era. Endless health-care delays? Negotiating strategies that even little kids could outwit? The Smoot-Hawley-esque Budget Control Act of 2011, which included sequestration? Letting Tim Geithner guard the henhouse of FinReg? Shrugging at a climate bill? That’s most of them, and they’re all easily explained by one or both of the two flaws. Toss in an inexplicable fear of conservative talkers and a misguided attempt to placate coal country and you get a few more, like the Plan B decision, delay of climate regs, the indefensible SMOG decision, and so on. But really, between fear, assumptions and priorities, there’s really not much failure unaccounted for. Additionally, in those situations, Obama was in a position to act, and his actions were flawed. With gun control, Obama was in no position to act, making blaming him silly.

Since a lot of critiques of this argument involve Aaron Sorkin, I think it’s time to identify the flaw with Sorkin’s politics. There are different kinds of liberals out there. One kind believes that all you have to do is put the best argument out there and you will win (this assumes that dreaded cliche, the “free marketplace of ideas” along with the supremacy of reason, a curious Victorian idea whose time has long since passed). That’s it! If you don’t win, it’s because you didn’t put the idea out there enough, or didn’t phrase it right, or whatever. Sorkin obviously believes this, and so do quite a few (most?) liberals. But it’s completely wrong and glib and stupid and probably damaging too. Making the big speech is merely the beginning. After that comes organizing, action, and all the other hard work of molding public opinion. I do think the background check episode will wind up having helped. No, we didn’t win, but things will be different from now on. The NRA is never going to command the same prestige it used to. They don’t own the issues, they own the politicians, and politicians change. The NRA were revealed to be extreme, unctuous nutcases whose vision of a world in flames doesn’t have any appeal outside the Right. It’s never going to be the same again. I think so, anyway, and I’m not usually the “find the silver lining” type.

* I actually think Obama played gun control about right. Immigration is the other major outlier here–you could make a bankshot case that making undocumented workers legal, taxpaying citizens would have some impact on the deficit, but that’s a long way off. I think Obama’s support for it is partly political and partly out of social justice concerns, with a small fraction about possible long-term revenue gains.

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Yesterday I made a brief point about Jonah Goldberg’s claim about liberals and patriotism (read it here). The gist is that he thinks liberals are unpatriotic because they want to change America, which is not mutually exclusive, to be sure. But I have a bit more to say on this topic.

To say that one is more patriotic as another is an absurd statement. This is an emotion, and you can’t really compare what you feel versus what someone else feels with any accuracy. You can say that one side makes more displays of patriotism, but this is meaningless since external actions are not necessarily predictive of the internal state of a person. Such displays can be insincere or fake, of course, and complex expressions are expressed in different ways by different people. I don’t think someone putting an American flag up outside their house is insincere, I do think politicians’ rhetoric about patriotism often is, or is at the very least self-serving.

Wanting to make America a better place is hardly the act of someone who dislikes the country. Since circumstances both within and without the country never stop changing, simply preserving the status quo is a surefire path to decline and obsolescence. Strictly speaking, conservatism is supposed to be the mode of thought that recognizes this reality and tries to preserve what’s worth preserving in society while recognizing the need for change. The guiding value here is stability, one which political conservatives like Goldberg value not at all, preferring a mix of unsustainable stand-patism on things like finance and the environment, and radical experiments in neoliberalism, aggressive warfare, and so on. This is an obvious contradiction, but it’s always smoothed over by arguing that it’s returning to some idea of traditional America, before government moved in and ruined everything. But government bureaucrats didn’t just wake up one day and decide to ruin their America, of course. Changes in the function of the government came hand-in-hand with changes in technology, in science, in the composition of the population and social structure. It is, simply, impossible to go back to a pre-New Deal approach to government at this time without giving up post-1920s technology, deporting millions of people, etc., which is to say it’s not possible. Not without ending virtually all scientific research, aside from maybe a few vanity drugs that Pharma will pay for to turn a profit. Not without driving on dirt and gravel roads, or eating tainted food, or paying even more exorbitantly for medical care. It was the then-new problem of longer lifespans that made Social Security happen–people were living longer and there wasn’t a system set up for them. Then one was, and it made things better. Which is not to say that every government program works well, or is well run. Hardly.  There are some programs that have certainly lived out their usefulness because the problems they tried to solve no longer exist (we’re not suffering from a lack of wheat or corn at this moment in time). But the problem I have with a lot of conservative/libertarian critics of government is that they don’t think of government programs in terms of the problems that they’re intended to solve (since government is the problem they’re trying to solve). But the problems are what precipitated the solutions. This is not to say that patriotism requires a certain point of view, politically. But there’s a certain sort of narcissism on display here that you also see in the religious right, a notion that it’s their idea of the thing that’s most important to them, not an actual appreciation of the thing itself and why it is as it is, which would require a humility that they can’t bring themselves to exercise. The idea is quite debatable, after all. I don’t know how deep Goldberg’s patriotism goes, but this is the national equivalent of puppy love, so far as I’m concerned.

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Joe Klein is way too nice in his review of Jonah Goldberg’s latest opus, The Tyranny of Cliches, though the parts that are intended to bite do:

But most of Goldberg’s assaults against alleged clichés collapse into irrelevance. He devotes a chapter to undermining “slippery slope” arguments — which, in truth, are used by conservative organizations like the National Rifle Association as often as they are by liberals — but he ultimately decides that “slippery slope” arguments are “not so bad,” and indeed, he trots out an absurd one of his own in the very next chapter: “Liberals are uncomfortable with the topic of patriotism because their core philosophical impulses are to make America a different country than it is.” In other words, the reforming instinct — the progressive insistence that meat be inspected by the government, for example — is inherently un-American because it’s a first step down the slippery slope toward government control?

After a while, it just becomes exhausting. “Feminism was in no small part launched as a Trojan horse for an older and more familiar Marxist assault.” And “No Jews were tortured in the Spanish Inquisition” (only “former” Jews who claimed conversion to Catholicism were, but Jews were treated far better by the Muslims than by the Catholics, a fact Goldberg neglects). Gandhi evinced “stunning naïveté” and was, occasionally, “incandescently dumb,” without a mention of the impact of his philosophy on the American civil rights movement or the collapse of the Soviet empire. Does Goldberg really believe this stuff? Or is he just being tendentious for rhetorical effect? In the end, his vindictive thrashings have very little to do with the actual practice of politics; the idea that political clichés are banal isn’t exactly a blinding insight, either. Sadly, Goldberg has intellectual resources that might be put to grown-up use. But then, as the liberal cliché has it, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

There’s not too much to say about Goldberg himself that’s not been said before–he’s a milquetoast wingnut whose obsession with being taken seriously will always conflict with his aversion to hard work and research. The wind tunnel of conservative media and politics covers up the latter deficiencies, since superficial knowledge is positively helpful in this arena–it can be taken out of context and used as a weapon against liberals that much easier. Goldberg sees knowledge as power, but not as empowering–reading a book by Tacitus, say, is a source of attacks on liberals and nothing more. Of course, Goldberg makes a living based on the existence of tribalism in American politics, which he and his publication have long cultivated. Tribalism that wraps itself up in patriotic rhetoric and imagery, and that directly asserts that the other side lacks love of country. The truth is that what Goldberg does, and FOX News, and Rush, et al., is to stir up phony conflicts on a routine basis in order to profit themselves. The notion that tribalism is what many liberals object to would not compute with Goldberg, who no doubt would consider it a joke at best, and incredibly naive at worst, since working that paradigm pays his bills. But I suspect that the right’s exploitation of patriotism, and the use of it in such a self-serving way, is what makes liberals wary of making displays of flag-waving types of gestures.

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