FROM BOTH SIDES NOW: Our team plays a familiar old game!


Part 2—Did Ed Schultz make the sale: They say a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Today, David Brooks does better than that. At the start of his column, he asks an extremely good question: Why can’t our liberal team seem to make the sale?
BROOKS (1/10/12): Why aren’t there more liberals in America?

It’s not because liberalism lacks cultural power. Many polls suggest that a majority of college professors and national journalists vote Democratic. The movie, TV, music and publishing industries are dominated by liberals.

It’s not because recent events have disproved the liberal worldview. On the contrary, we’re still recovering from a financial crisis caused, in large measure, by Wall Street excess. Corporate profits are zooming while worker salaries are flat.

It’s not because liberalism’s opponents are going from strength to strength. The Republican Party is unpopular and sometimes embarrassing.

Given the circumstances, this should be a golden age of liberalism. Yet the percentage of Americans who call themselves liberals is either flat or in decline. There are now two conservatives in this country for every liberal. Over the past 40 years, liberalism has been astonishingly incapable at expanding its market share.
Brooks is asking a very good question. That said, if you’re a liberal, you’ve probably memorized several responses. One example: We know we should say that many folk do support liberal policies. But they won’t say they’re “liberals” because the word itself has been demonized.

There’s a certain amount of truth to that. But that response leads to a second question: Why did we permit that demonization? What keeps us from winning these fights?

In the passage we’ve posted above, Brooks asks a very important question. He then goes on to answer his question. We’d say he’s right in much he says, although he skips a great deal too. This morning, though, we’d like to offer one possible answer to his important question:

Could it be there aren’t more liberals because we liberals just can’t make the sale? Consider what happened when Mitt Romney made an awkward remark.

“I like to fire people,” Romney said, as part of a longer presentation. As the gent began to get pounded for this very bad remark, liberal bloggers noted that his comment was being taken out of context. Steve Benen said so; so did Josh Marshall and Pema Levy, in two separate posts at TPM. Kevin Drum said the remark was being taken “wildly out of context."(Our emphasis; click here.)

These liberal bloggers were right, of course. To their credit, they noted the gong-show quality of the burgeoning reaction. But by last night, better-paid liberals were having good fun on The One True Channel. At 8 PM Eastern, here’s how Ed Schultz started his program:
SCHULTZ (1/9/12): Good evening, Americans, and welcome to The Ed Show, tonight from New York.

In less than 24 hours, New Hampshire voters will get a crack at picking a 2012 Republican nominee. I’ll show you why voters in the Granite State are starting to walk away from Mitt Romney. And I don’t think Santorum is going to pull a Tebow.

This is The Ed Show. Let’s get to work.

ROMNEY (videotape): I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.

SCHULTZ: Middle-class Mitt let the truth slip. And he’s sticking by some bad advice from his father…Tonight, my commentary on how out of touch Mitt Romney really is.
Schultz made no mention of context. Soon, he played tape of Romney’s longer presentation—but please note the rather slick way he proceeded from there:
SCHULTZ: Republican opponents are taking any opportunity to portray Romney as a ruthless corporate raider. Check out what happened when Romney made this gaffe about choosing health insurance plans:

ROMNEY (videotape): I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people that provide services to me. If, you know, someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I want to—I want to say, “You know, I’m going to get somebody else to provide that service to me.”

SCHULTZ: The question is, does that apply to employees? Apparently it does. Hours later, Jon Huntsman was taking his comment about firing people at face value.
Rather plainly, Romney was talking about getting rid of a lousy insurance company. But so what? “Apparently,” Romney’s remark “applies to employees,” Schultz declared. And how did Schultz know that? Simple! Jon Huntsman said!

By 10 PM, Lawrence O’Donnell was pimping Romney’s comment hard, and he didn’t make any attempt to offer you larger context. At one point, he interviewed Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chair. This was the first thing she said:
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (1/9/12): Well, I think all of these candidates, the whole selection of them, are doing a really good job destroying themselves. I mean, Mitt Romney said today he likes firing people. He also tried to say that he somehow empathizes with people who have been fired because he worried about a pink slip at some point.
At 6 PM, Al Sharpton said it was the Republicans who were taking the remark out of context. That was misleading even when it was said, as later events would prove.

Different folk will have different views about this type of conduct. Some liberals will say that this is just the way the game is played; this makes a degree of sense. For ourselves, we would not recommend that the liberal world take this low-IQ route. But please note: As we liberals lurk about waiting for rivals to make awkward comments, we are playing the same stupid game which has made a joke of our discourse over the past twenty years.

This silly shit used to come from the right, with the mainstream press corps eager to join. (Al Gore said he invented the Internet! John Kerry said he was for it before he was against it!) But increasingly, this silly shit comes from both sides now.

A bit later in The Ed Show, we may have learned why.

Schultz was trying to explain the problem with Romney’s business career—with the conduct which is now being attacked, within his own party, as “vulture capitalism.” Our reaction? We hope Gingrich, Perry and Huntsman can explain this important topic better than Our Guy did. Schultz spoke with Donnie Box, a man who lost his job in a Kansas City steel mill after Bain Capital got involved. For our money, Schultz wasn’t able to explain what Romney and Bain did wrong in this case. (Sometimes, a business will close, after all.) This was the closest he came (link below):
SCHULTZ: In the documentary or the tape that's been produced that we played, it says Romney took millions from employees. Explain that. What do you know?

BOX: Well, all I know is, you know, when Armco, they decided that were going to spin off the organization and management came to us as union members and said “Look, we’re putting the package together, we’re getting the financing to come in here and kick this business up and we’re going to make it go because this place can do it, it’s—you know, we sell a great product, we got great people.” Everybody bought into it. But you know—

SCHULTZ: Does a Mitt Romney presidency worry you, scare you?
Schultz was basically unprepared to discuss this matter. The film which Gingrich is going to run said that Romney took millions from workers. But Box couldn’t explain what occurred—and Schultz didn’t know either.

Schultz also spoke with Julie Kushner, a UAW rep who challenged Romney at a public meeting about Obama’s work with the auto industry. What did Romney say that was wrong about that? We’ll have to say Schultz was clear as mud on that topic too. The germ of an answer was floating around, right or wrong. But the discussion was fake and unclear.

To us, Schultz didn’t seem real prepared last night—except when it came to clowning around with an awkward comment.

Is this really the best our team can do? Are we ready to settle for this? Our leaders seem ready to play the same games Rush and Sean have played in the past, although we lack the corporate power which has helped them drive their low-IQ talking-points inside everyone’s heads.

Now that we’ve wandered back out of the woods, the silly shit comes from both sides. But can our team explain real topics? Can we advance the progressive perspective in ways which make good sense to voters? Do we know how to win their trust? Do we know how to speak their language?

The record of forty years says we cannot. In our view, Brooks is asking a very good question. We progressives should ponder it hard.

Tomorrow: The soul of bad faith

You can watch the segment yourselves: How well did Schultz, with the help of his guest, explain the problem with Romney’s conduct at Bain? How well did he explain the problem with Romney’s stance with respect to the auto companies?

In our view, he did quite poorly. To watch the segment in question, click here. Can you explain what Romney did wrong with respect to these two topics?

More to the point:

Can you explain it in a way which will make sense to somebody else? To someone who doesn’t share you tribal view? To someone who isn’t already convinced?

This could be the start of a big conversation. But do we know how to explain these topics? Or must we rely on Newt?


  1. I will die if I don't find out from a certain someone (a commenter dear to all our hearts) exactly what is the problem with "selling" liberalism to Americans.

    Just die.

  2. The right has succeeded and liberals have been demonized precisely because the right has used tactics like taking quotes out of context and the media has played along.

    Is the answer for liberals to do the same? Until recently I would have said no, the truth, if explained well, should be sufficient. After 2010 and Republicans winning based on "Dems cut $500B from Medicare" I'm not so sure.


  3. The way the terms have been defined, with all their connotations, I'm surprised the proportion of self defined liberals is that high. Better ways of figuring out that answer exist but we Americans like short, sweet and stupid.
    Ask which policies people prefer and then draw a conclusion from those answers. That would likely yield a much different outcome.
    Playing this game permits hacks like David to stay in his preferred seat.

  4. Liberals are victims of decades of cold war rhetoric from the right.
    Joe McCarthy claimed the State Department was filled with communists and communist sympathizers from liberal upperclass New England families.

    Republicans insisted that they were the only ones to be trusted with national defense. Democrats were socialists and soft on communism.

    Nixon's team convinced millions of blue collar workers that they were really conservative Republicans, and the enemy of Americans were the permissive, liberal, sexually obsessed dirty hippies and there com-symp professors.

    Romney has been hammering on this theme. His S. Carolina speech sounded like he intends to start a cold war with China and Iran, and he insists Obama has sold us out to our enemies, and apologized to the world for American power, and he, Romney will fix all that.

    His message is deregulate and untax corporations and everything will go back to good times; and people are listening.

    He goes on and on with Reaganesque comparisons of hardworking Americans vs the hippie-like OWS movement. The crowds cheer wildly.

    As I have been telling Bob for years, income inequality and the war on labor should have been the thrust of the Democratic Party for at least the last 6-8 years.

    They have finally caught on.

    I don't know if they have just now realized what has been happening, or if they just sat on their asses until they saw the groundswell of discontent that started with the Great Recession. Economists saw it coming.

    So did bankers and brokers, and they rode it out and came away with the spoils.

    Either way, the liberals better stay on their toes, else the Republicans will steal the message, and take the leadership back.

    I personally don't know how this rhetoric rings in the ears of our Gen-xers, but liberals need to sell their product to younger voters, not just frighten retirees.