YEAR IN REVIEW: A second memorable text!


PART 2—A TENDENCY OF THE TRIBE: Yesterday, we said that Julie Mack’s column was one of the year’s most memorable texts (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/28/11). Mack’s column appeared last April, in the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Mack is a fan of Rachel Maddow, but she thought Maddow’s treatment of a Michigan issue involved a massaged account of the facts. She thought Maddow was putting her thumb on the scale, creating a story designed to please the preconceptions of our own emerging tribe.

Pseudo-conservatives and mainstream journalists have toyed with facts in that manner for decades. We think it’s a very bad idea when progressives follow suit. We think Mack’s column captured this idea well. For that reason, we think it was memorable.

For our money, a second memorable text appeared in August, in the New York Times. The piece was written by Campbell and Putnam, a pair of ranking professors. For our money, the text remains memorable for several reasons—most strikingly, for the way it captured our liberal tribe’s increasingly reliance on race cards.

The professors were eager to tell us about the souls of Tea Party folk. In our view, parents who pay tuition to support this type ought to demand instant refunds:
CAMPBELL AND PUTNAM (8/17/11): Beginning in 2006 we interviewed a representative sample of 3,000 Americans as part of our continuing research into national political attitudes, and we returned to interview many of the same people again this summer. As a result, we can look at what people told us, long before there was a Tea Party, to predict who would become a Tea Party supporter five years later. We can also account for multiple influences simultaneously—isolating the impact of one factor while holding others constant.

Our analysis casts doubt on the Tea Party's ''origin story.'' Early on, Tea Partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes. Actually, the Tea Party's supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.

What's more, contrary to some accounts, the Tea Party is not a creature of the Great Recession. Many Americans have suffered in the last four years, but they are no more likely than anyone else to support the Tea Party. And while the public image of the Tea Party focuses on a desire to shrink government, concern over big government is hardly the only or even the most important predictor of Tea Party support among voters.

So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.
Did you notice the slippery use of the phrase, “supporters today?” We thought you did—and as you noticed, the professors used this helpful construct at two different points in their column! All in all, we were struck by a rather wide range of slippery plays in the course of this column. But that highlighted passage has stuck in our minds as a defining example of an unfortunate tendency of many folk within our own emerging tribe.

Race has been used to create a massive amount of suffering in our nation's brutal, benighted history. People who respect this fact might not be as quick to play race cards as these lofty professors were. Do Tea Party supporters really “ha[ve] a low regard for immigrants and blacks?” In this passage, the professors offered a very dismissive account of the minds and motives of millions of people, based on two pathetic questions they asked in their sad little survey. To review their one lone question about immigration, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/2/11.

Increasingly, our tribe seems to enjoy making this play. It often seems that we know no other moves. We think the play is dumb and built on bad faith. Putnam and Campbell strike us as a pair of cosseted hacks.

For that reason, we think their (very slippery) column was one of the year’s most memorable texts. For our money, it defines a very unfortunate tendency within our emerging tribe.

Tomorrow: A highly memorable text presents a memorable fact!


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