Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Liberals and smugness -- who is right?

Jamelle Bouie: Not Smug?
Emmett Rensin’s “Vox” inside-the-family essay on liberal smugness (covered here) seems to have struck a nerve. Liberal black commentator Jamelle Bouie is chief political correspondent for Slate and a CBS News political analyst.

Bouie seeks to defend liberalism from the “smug” charge by going after what he calls Resin's three “fatal flaws”: 1) the black-led civil rights revolution, not smugness, drove (bigoted) working class whites from the Democratic Party; 2) the smugness Resin sees in media and social media represent only “small portions—fractions—of the Democratic Party”; and 3) “Affluent, college-educated liberals are just part of the Democratic Party.”

Maybe. From my perspective, the academy and the media -- old and new -- represent the party’s brains.

But watch. Defending his position, Bouie offers a “Good Fact” -- the exact way Rensin says is how the smug knowing operate. Writes Bouie:
Rensin doesn’t seem aware, for instance, of the partnerships between black and white Democrats in the South that delivered a measure of investment in public goods through the 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s—until racial resentment helped kill the white Southern Democrat as a political figure. [emphasis added]
Even if true, that's little progress for 25 years, mostly under Democratic presidents.

Bouie employs his “good fact” to refute Rensin’s assertion that blacks and others, “bereft of the material and social capital required to dominate elite decision making. . . were largely excluded from an agenda driven by the New Democratic core: the educated, the coastal, and the professional.”

Rensin is suggesting that minorities who have stuck with Democrats are losing out along with departed working class whites.  Bouie thinks otherwise, but "good facts" are on Rensin's side.

Conservatives are naturally delighted to witness the fuss stirred up by Rensin's reform-the-liberals effort. But as conservative Wall Street Journal commentator Peggy Noonan reminds us, Republicans have disorder in their own house:
Lately conservative thinkers and journalists had taken to making clear their disdain for the white working class. I had actually not known they looked down on them. I deeply resented it and it pained me. If you’re a writer lucky enough to have thoughts and be paid to express them and there are Americans on the ground struggling, suffering—some of them making mistakes, some unlucky—you don’t owe them your airy, well-put contempt, you owe them your loyalty. They too have given a portion of their love to this great project, and they are in trouble.

How Democrats Lose in 2016

Rensin: Calling Out Smug
Emmett Rensin, 26, an editor at the liberal website “Vox,” has written an amazing critique of what he calls the “smug style” in American liberalism. Rensin maintains smugness, growing for decades,
is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really — but by the failure of half the country to know what's good for them.
To liberals, Rensin writes:
stupid hicks [are] getting conned by right-wingers and tent revivalists until they believe all the lies that've made them so wrong. They don't know any better. That's why they're voting against their own self-interest.
Rensin adds:
Over 20 years, an industry arose to cater to the smug style. It began in humor, and culminated for a time in “The Daily Show,” a program that more than any other thing advanced the idea that liberal orthodoxy was a kind of educated savvy and that its opponents were, before anything else, stupid. The smug liberal found relief in ridiculing them. The internet only made it worse.
Rensin takes “real elites,” who recognize one another by their superior knowledge, and contrasts them to his “liberal smug,” who:
recognize one another by their mutual knowing. Knowing, for example, that the Founding Fathers were all secular deists. Knowing that you're actually, like, 30 times more likely to shoot yourself than an intruder. Knowing that those fools out in Kansas are voting against their own self-interest and that the trouble is Kansas doesn't know any better. Knowing all the jokes that signal this knowledge.
Perhaps Rensin best makes his point retelling his “popular story:”
Adlai Stevenson, Democratic candidate for president, is on parade. A band is playing. Onlookers cheer. He waves to the crowd.
A woman shouts: "Gov. Stevenson, you have the vote of every thinking person in this country!"
Stevenson replies: "Thank you, ma'am, but we need a majority."
The smug style says to itself, Yeah. I really am one of the few thinking people in this country, aren't I?
Bringing smugness into the present, Rensin fears:
Trump capturing the nomination will not dispel the smug style; if anything, it will redouble it. Faced with the prospect of an election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the smug will reach a fever pitch: six straight months of a sure thing, an opportunity to mock and scoff and ask, How could anybody vote for this guy? until a morning in November when they ask, What the fuck happened?
The wages of smug is Trump.
Now we have the full import of Rensin’s message to liberals: your smugness may yield up President Trump. Democrats are alienating the “rubes,” and there are more of them than us Knowing.

Sure, liberals believe in helping the “rubes” below them. But as Rensin says,
It is impossible, in the long run, to cleave the desire to help people from the duty to respect them. . . What kind of political movement is predicated on openly disdaining the very people it is advocating for?
And finally:
So long as liberals cannot find common cause with the larger section of the American working class, they will search for reasons to justify that failure. They will resent them. They will find, over and over, how easy it is to justify abandoning them further.  They will choose the smug style.
Rensin is telling liberals exactly what they need to hear to save their cause. It’s time to rediscover your working class roots.  

Comment: We have long pointed to the basic contradiction between meritocracy and democracy. People who gain power by being “better” will justify a system that inevitably works against the popular majority’s will. Rensin hopes liberals can recall or learn that they are no better than those they think they serve. He’s right that as of now, it’s only a hope.

Friday, April 22, 2016

2016: back home again in Indiana.

Sen. Robert Kennedy Campaigning in Indiana (1968)
In 1968, Robert Kennedy demonstrated his threat to capture the presidency by winning the Indiana primary over Minnesota Sen. Gene McCarthy and Indiana Governor Roger Branigin, who as a stand-in for Vice President Hubert Humphrey campaigned strongly through every county and finished second. The wealthy Kennedy won because he picked up working class white and black votes, a crucial victory that nailed down his base of support.

In 2016, the Indiana primary again looks crucial -- this time for stopping Donald Trump’s reach for white working class votes that will secure his Republican nomination. The Wall Street Journal, concerned about Trump’s strength following his sweeping triumph in New York, but perhaps with hope outpacing reason, editorialized that
Cruz and Kasich . . . need to go into Cleveland with a credible claim on GOP voter support. As for Trump, his . . . insults and bullying have built a loyal base of support but also a firm opposition. Even with his New York triumph, he has won only 38% of the GOP vote. His negative favorability rating—65% in the latest WSJ/NBC poll—is unprecedented for a potential presidential nominee.
The WSJ bluntly adds that Cruz needs to win Indiana:
Cruz would do best now to leave next week’s eastern contests to Kasich and focus on Indiana May 3, Nebraska May 10, and California June 7. With its winner-take-all rules, Indiana is now make-or-break for the Texan—and maybe for Trump too. Indiana Governor Mike Pence, a stalwart conservative running for re-election this year, will have an excruciating decision to make on whether to endorse a candidate or stay neutral. He’ll make some Republicans unhappy either way.
As a measure of just how unhappy the Wall Street Journal truly is about the Republican turn toward Trump, just listen to the paper’s columnist Peggy Noonan:
I literally put my hands to my face and sobbed, silently, for I suppose a minute. Because my country is in trouble. . . Because too much is being lost. Because the great choice in a nation of 320 million may come down to Crazy Man versus Criminal.
“Crazy Man versus Criminal.” Yuck.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Losing the mandate of heaven, American style.

China has the best book on continuous history--strong culture for thirty centuries, dominant world power for over two millennia. Dynasties lose power, or the “Mandate of Heaven,” when they can no longer provide order throughout the land, and the people rebel. It’s then time for a new elite that can keep the culture going.

Mandate loss last happened in America in 1968 with the failed presidency of Lyndon Johnson. The meritocracy that eventually gained White House power -- George H.W. Bush (Yale, 12 years, 4 as president, 8 as veep) with James Baker (Princeton), then Bill Clinton (Georgetown, Yale Law, president 8 years), George W. Bush (Yale, Harvard Business, 8 years), and Barack Obama (Columbia, Harvard Law, 8 years) -- began well enough but is now losing its grip.

One can see today’s loss in the pained writing of conservative, Wall Street Journal Pulitzer-prize winner Daniel Henninger. Progressives control the academic-based, diversity-preaching elite that runs the country, but their junior conservative colleagues enjoy sharing power. Or at least did.

Henninger has now given up, in fact seeing barbarians at the gate:
With no party spokesman for conservatism, an ideological vacuum existed. Freelance operators filled it. They included two hyper-ambitious Senate freshman, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. They also included a movement to purge and cleanse conservatism, led by groups such as Heritage Action and by talk radio hosts. Together they conjured an internal enemy — the Republican Establishment. . . The Trumpians and Cruzians, who of late have been knifing one another in a blind rage, say this is a rebirth. So was Rosemary’s baby.
Henninger trips mishandling a reference to the past, saying the mainstream media the barbarians so greatly hate "is essentially a Roman phalanx. It stays in formation and protects the progressive castle. The conservative alternatives showed no such discipline.”

Roman Phalanx
Well, castle defense was Medieval not Roman, phalanxes were mostly offensive not defensive, and while Romans did use them, they gained an empire by employing flexible infantrymen who out-maneuvered first Macedonian, then Carthaginian, phalanxes. Henninger’s faux pas unintentionally symbolizes meritocratic slippage.

Walter Russell Mead, writing in the American Interest, more directly maintains it’s the meritocratic elite that from both sides is hurting America. Says Mead:
One could read the New York Times for decades without hearing warnings about how one-party Democratic rule has entrenched patterns of corruption and sloth in major American cities. It’s much more fun to wring our hands about the problems of the poor, and blame everything untoward on Republican racist tightwads.
[But j]ust because deep blue Democrats prefer sentiment over analysis and let their allegiance to vested interests trump their concern for the poor is no excuse for Republicans [who] say “hold the line on taxes and starve the beast”
years of terrible decisions and the absence of serious planning at both state and local levels [mean] the chief victims of this neglect of duty are poor people—those who depend most on government for services.
[that] there is so little creative thinking about these issues is the fault of think tanks, public intellectuals and academics. It is the cognitive elite that has let the country down.
“It is the cognitive elite that has let the country down.”

Yes. However long it manages to hang on, our current meritocracy is losing its mandate, as measured by sustained popular dissatisfaction.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Rising Trump Lifts All Democrats

William Galston is a senior fellow at the liberal Brookings Institution. In the Wall Street Journal, he tells us “The Odds Rise of a Democratic Victory” in November. The favorable “odds” to which Galston points are 1) Obama’s improving popularity and 2) Trump’s likelihood of being the Republican nominee. But that’s merely the same as saying, “1) Trump and 2) Trump.”

Here’s why. Galston is right about Obama’s popularity. Obama was “upside down” in the “RealClearPolitics” average of presidential favorable/unfavorable poll ratings from June 2013 to early last month. Now Obama’s ratings are once again on average positive, just as they were leading into the 2012 election (which Democrats won).

Galston attributes Obama’s ratings going “rightside up” to an improving economy. But that’s not how people living the economy see it. The “RealClearPolitics” average on the country’s “right track-wrong track” course remains strongly “wrong track” by 64% to 27%, with the economy remaining the top concern.

As conservative Ed Rogers said last week in the Washington Post:
if the labor force participation rate today were the same as when Obama took office, the unemployment rate would be more like 9%, instead of the official 4.9% the Obama administration tries to sell. And, oh, by the way, . . .why is it that about 19 million more people are on food stamps today than when Obama took office?
No, it’s not the economy that’s boosting Obama’s ratings. It’s Trump. Trump is driving most Democrats, many independents, and even some Republicans behind the president. Trump makes Obama look better. People frightened by the prospect of a Trump presidency are more willing to ignore the current president’s shortcomings.

Of course, Obama won’t be on November’s ballot, it will be Hillary Clinton. But here, we have further confirmation that the FBI is unlikely to indict Clinton. We earlier pointed to the contradiction between FBI’s James Comey saying he wanted a “prompt” investigation of Clinton’s misdeeds and Attorney General Loretta Lynch asserting any such investigation would be “thorough,” meaning delay until past the election.

Now Comey has lined up behind his boss. Today, he says of the investigation, "The urgency is to do it well and promptly. And 'well' comes first."

So increasingly, Trump = President Clinton.