What the heck happened to Candidate Quinn?

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2013

Fascinating portraits today of Times journalistic culture: Christine Quinn was ahead in the mayoral race. She ended up losing badly.

This morning, the New York Times offers two assessments of this electoral reversal. In our view, these two pieces, taken together, provide a fascinating portrait of Times journalistic culture.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at this long analysis piece by reporters Kantor and Taylor. They focus on the possible role played by “gender and sexuality”—and on nothing else.

Not for them the tedium of the campaign’s various issues—of the possible role played by the candidates’ stands on stop and frisk, let’s say, or early childhood education.

At the Times, piddle like that tends to flow down the drain. In a very long piece, Kantor and Taylor discuss gender and sexuality and nothing else.

Gender and sexuality are important, of course. Obviously, there's nothing wrong with discussing the role they may have played in the campaign.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at that long analysis piece. For today, we’ll suggest Gail Collins’ new column.

Today, the reporters talk about gender and sexuality. Collins talks about race.

Race is important, of course, just as gender is. But Collins talks about nothing else, and her take about race is rather bougie—we’ll even say upper-class.

As usual, Collins spends the first half of her column apologizing for making you read about something other than kittens and letting you read about sex. After she finishes killing time in these ways, she starts explaining how Bill de Blasio came from way behind to register a big win.

According to Collins, “One very big factor was a TV ad.” In this passage, she starts to describe the ad:
COLLINS (9/12/13): Politicians around the country are going to be looking at de Blasio’s campaign to figure out how he made his meteoric rise. One very big factor was a TV ad he aired that featured his son, Dante, talking about his father’s stand on the issues. Michael Barbaro of The Times, in a postelection analysis, called it “the commercial that changed the course of the mayor’s race.”
De Blasio’s son did a TV ad in which he talked about his father’s stand on the issues! But according to Collins, that isn’t why this ad (supposedly) transformed this campaign.

According to Collins, the ad changed the campaign because of race. Because of a “feel-good moment:”
COLLINS: The thing viewers remember most about the de Blasio ad is not the candidate’s housing policy but the fact that his family is racially mixed: he’s white, his wife is black and Dante has the most impressive Afro since Angela Davis. That was what Mayor Michael Bloomberg was referring to when he called the de Blasio campaign “racist” in a New York magazine interview. “It’s comparable to me pointing out I’m Jewish in attracting the Jewish vote,” he added.

The mayor’s remarks were an excellent example of why the other big factor in de Blasio’s ascension was Bloomberg fatigue.

They also missed the point. The real key to the Dante ad was not that it reminded black voters that the candidate had an African-American wife. It was the way it appealed to our multiethnic yearning for racial harmony. The de Blasio family seems so happy. The pictures of them laughing together remind you both of how far we’ve come and where we’d like to go. It’s the same effect the nation got when Barack Obama talked about his background and you remembered that when Obama was born, less than 10 percent of Americans approved of interracial marriage.

De Blasio is still going to have to prove himself as a candidate, but, at the minimum, we’ll remember that he was a guy who made one ad that created one urban feel-good moment, just before Election Day.
Why did that ad turn the race around, if it did? In the analysis piece to which Collins referred, Barbaro said that de Blasio and his wife “instantly recognized the power of its message: that the aggressive policing of the Bloomberg era was not an abstraction to Mr. de Blasio, it was an urgent personal worry within his biracial household.”

To Barbaro, the ad conveyed de Blasio’s personal understanding of the problems of stop and frisk. To Barbaro, it also conveyed de Blasio’s understanding that contemporary New York is “a tale of two cities.”

Collins didn’t mention stop and frisk. To Collins, the ad didn’t work because it spoke to policy matters confronting average New Yorkers. Instead, she said the ad gave voters an “urban feel-good moment.”

The de Blasio family seems so happy! Collins said the ad “appealed to our multiethnic yearning for racial harmony.”

Did that TV ad change the race? We can’t answer that. Nor do we know how voters perceived the ad, although we’ll assume that some voters reacted one way, while others reacted another.

But we were struck by the way Collins busted past any discussion of day-to-day issues affecting average New Yorkers. Let’s just say that she may not be getting stopped and frisked on her way in and out of those Town Cars.

Going back to the famous Dowd quote about welfare reform, Timesmen and Timeswomen don’t give a shazam about policy issues. They give a shazam about upper-class life—about the ways they themselves feel.

Collins said the mayoral campaign turned on a feel-good moment. We can’t tell you she’s wrong in that assessment. If she's only describing the way she reacted, we won’t tell you that she was wrong to react that way.

That said, she skipped right past the issues affecting average people to talk about a feel-good moment. Needless to say, she offers no evidence supporting the claim that others reacted this way.

Tomorrow, we'll see what Kantor and Taylor reported about Quinn’s defeat. Through no obvious fault of their own, we thought their piece emerged from deep within upper-class Gotham culture.

What the ad actually said: Here's how the ad in question started, Dante de Blasio speaking. To watch the ad, click this:
DE BLASIO AD: I want to tell you a little bit about Bill de Blasio. He’s the only Democrat with the guts to really break from the Bloomberg years. The only one who will raise taxes on the rich to fund early childhood and after-school programs. He's got the boldest plan to build affordable housing and he's the only one who will lend a stop-and-frisk era that unfairly targets people of color...
To Collins, it wasn't about any of that. The ad worked because the family seemed so happy at the end of the ad!

We can’t tell you she’s wrong in that assessment. We can tell you that’s very typical of upper-class Times culture.

Who gives a fig about stop-and-frisk? How did the ad make me feel?

22 comments:

  1. Too bad Putin didn't mention Seamus.

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  2. I can only tell you that it made me feel good that de Blasio won.

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  3. You are right to hedge your bets abpout the accuracy of Collins's claim. That said, we the people are amazingly dumb. In truth, we don’t know squat from squadoosh; squadoodle is light-years beyond us. For that reason, we’re prone to believing every damn-fool claim that comes down the pike; in fact, we always have been.

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  4. I think the lengthy article which appeared in the New York Times a number of months ago which revealed Quinn's self-absorption, arrogance, pathological temper and vicious vindictiveness may have done her in. That and the fact that she was widely viewed as a political hack.

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  5. Somerby constantly exhorts philosophers to help bring back logical analysis to American discourse. Somerby himself supposedly tries to bring logical analysis to his discussions of media antics.

    So it's fair to ask, “What is the most discreditingly illogical thing a person demanding logical analysis can do?” Answer: To insist that logical analysis plays an important role in situations where logical analysis clearly shows logical analysis plays little role. Major case in point: voting behavior in America. Logical analysis (after the collection of evidence from extensive interviews with voters, and even more extensive experiments with people to learn about voting motivations not revealed in interviews) makes clear that for a very large percentage of the population (large enough to provide the margin of victory for either party in most elections) logical analysis of “the issues” of the kind Somerby is talking about has almost nothing to do with how they cast their vote, but, instead, it's the kinds of impulses that Gail Collins discusses that are responsible. Despite Somerby's claim, Collins isn't simply generalizing to the voting population her own reaction to the commercial, rather she's NOTING her own “feel good” reaction and recognizing that all the interviews and psychological studies show that if other people also had that “feel good moment” from the commercial then it would have been more than sufficient to motivate them to vote for de Blasio, without their considering for an instant his positions on the issues. The only question was: how many people shared her “feel good moment”? She didn't know until after de Blasio's victory.

    I personally would add that beyond the voters I've just been discussing, there's another, just-barely-policy-oriented segment of the public, for whom his willingness to marry a black woman allowed them to infer the little they needed to know about his positions on the issues.

    A hundred years of studies of human decision-making (or, alternatively, about five seconds of honest introspection) reveal the dispositive role non-logical processes play when we make choices, whether they be among candidates in an election, or among soaps, spaghettis, and automobiles in the marketplace.

    For Somerby to criticize someone for recognizing that psychological fact, demonstrated by logical analysis of all available evidence, is as pathetically illogical an act as anything he's ever accused anyone of.

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  6. I guess the people of NYC weren't as interested in Electing a lesbian catholic as MSNBC

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  7. the mediocre unknownSeptember 13, 2013 at 12:44 AM

    the ad was run when? Collins says "just before election day" Whereas I remember de Blasio being hailed as the front-runner a month ago http://www.democraticunderground.com/1014564645

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