Supplemental: All this week, playing with dolls!


Walsh helps define the question: Personally, we were less than thrilled when Rachel Maddow played with her dolls on her cable news program.

It struck us as pathetically silly. But then, we’d had a somewhat similar reaction when we watched Maddow playing with her remote control toy car the night before.

(For background, see this morning’s report. The toy car segment at least made some objective sense.)

Will progressives ever learn how to win friends and influence voters? Or will our avatars line their pockets by sillily playing with their toys on our tribal “news” channel?

Will progressives learn how to influence voters? Or will we just keep entertaining ourselves? Let’s consider this question in light of Joan Walsh’s post about Hillary Clinton.

Walsh discusses Clinton’s recent interview, in which Clinton took a semi-hawkish stand on international questions. In the passage shown below, Walsh offers her general reaction to this matter, one we generally tend to agree.

We tend to agree with what Walsh says. But look at that highlighted fantasy:
WALSH (8/11/13): As someone who supported Clinton in 2008 and who anticipates supporting her again in 2016, assuming she runs, I found the interview sobering. So far, my approach to 2016 is to say that Clinton may not be perfect, but she’s the not-perfect candidate we know, very well. I would rather not see progressives set up someone who seems perfect (Sen. Elizabeth Warren, perhaps?) who will turn out to be not perfect—whether on Israel, Iraq or some crisis that hasn’t emerged yet—as Sen. Obama did. Especially since I don’t see anyone on the horizon with Obama’s politics, charisma, or capacity to unite the party.

I’d rather progressives start out realistic, elect Clinton, let her appoint two Supreme Court justices, do some good things on economic policy, and continue with at least 98 percent of Obama’s foreign policy—while progressives work to change the House and Senate.
“While progressives work to change the House and Senate?” Especially in the world of the new Salon, what could possibly make Walsh think that we would know how to do that?

On the whole, we agree with Walsh’s take on the current batch of Democratic candidates. In our view, the Democratic bench is pitifully thin—and no, we don’t see Warren as a potential Obama II, although we tend to agree with her domestic politics.

That said, what could possibly make Walsh think that we progressives would know how to “work to change the House and Senate” during the tenure of the next President Clinton? This question brings us back to Maddow and her dolls.

Maddow was playing with paper dolls of former governor Bob McDonnell and his loathsome wife, Maureen McDonnell. During McDonnell’s term as governor of Virginia, Maddow dubbed him “Governor Ultrasound” because of a ridiculous set of bills he supported—bills requiring ultrasounds for women seeking abortions.

In the end, McDonnell signed Virginia’s ultrasound law on March 7, 2012. In this March 1, 2012 editorial, the Washington Post denounced the law as “a prime example of ideology, nanny-state paternalism and arrogance trumping plain good sense.”

Virginia is a purple state; Obama won it twice, by margins of 6.3 and 3.9 points. It’s an indictment of our competence as progressives that the ultrasound bill passed in Virginia, a state which has specifically said that it is designed for lovers.

In October 2013, late in his term, McDonnell had a 55-32 advantage in favorability, according to the Marist poll. People, we’re just saying!

Alas! When Maddow can’t prevail in such matters, she starts rooting for the politician in question to spend the rest of his life in prison. Also his spouse, where possible.

You don’t see discussions on Maddow’s show about the best way to communicate with purple state voters. Instead, you see prayers that opponents’ lives might be destroyed—and you see her playing with dolls.

The liberal world was asleep in the woods for a good many years. As we began to emerge in the aftermath of Iraq, corporate news orgs gave us leaders like Maddow and the new improved Walsh, cable slave to the thoroughly reinvented Christopher Matthews.

In recent weeks, Maddow has been staging an instructional film on how to avoid influencing voters. Over at Walsh’s Salon, the children trumpet louder and louder, playing similar songs.

Today, Walsh imagines a world in which we progressives will somehow know how to “work to change the House and Senate.” We think Walsh is playing with dolls when she types this dream.

All around our liberal news orgs, we think we see people playing with dolls. Do these people know how to influence voters?

On balance, you can color us skeptical. We’ll explore this matter all week.

Tomorrow: Rick Perlstein’s Nixon doll


  1. What would make somebody, other than Bob Somerby, think Bob Somerby knows anything at all about electing anyone to any office?

    1. "All around our liberal news orgs, we think we see people playing with dolls. Do these people know how to influence voters?"

      Considering Somerby's thesis for fifteen years is that liberal media types elected Bush, I'd have to say the answer to his question is either "yes" or Somerby doesn't read his own blog.

  2. I'm glad to see Bob take on Perlstein a bit.

    His books are fun to read, but his depiction of most of post-1969 life bears no resemblance to anything that I saw at the time. I think he gives way too much credit to the Right and their supposed cleverness and stealth, and the cravenness of the public, and not enough credit to the -- I hate to say it - economic determinist reasons for the conservatives' later success.

    In many ways 69-78 or so were golden years, culturally and politically, but you'd never know this from his books. Perlstein makes it sound like nutcase time-- but I remember seeing people increasingly progress in their politics during that era. And I grew up in a right-wing community back then!

    Then, something happened. But I don't Perlstein's figured out what it was.

  3. Somerby has been consistently arguing against polarization (which he calls tribalism). He has been arguing that we need to relate progressive values to real people's lives and talk in plain, not coded language about such issues. I see that as a specific improvement in our approach to winning more elections. There are lots of other things that can be done too but Somerby's ongoing suggestions that we reduce the distance between the extremes of both parties seems like common sense to me. Pretending you don't know that this is what he has been saying, for years now, is trollish behavior.

    1. Bob argues against polarization, then he practices it. Pretending you don't know that this is his little game for years now is sycophant behavior.

    2. If there was ever a Democrat who ran on a simple, unifying, non tribal theme, it was "no red states, no blue states, just the United States" Obama.

      It seems to me something else motivated his "loyal" opposition. I could suggest what it was, but you might find my suggestion tribal.

    3. I agree that Obama ran on a simple, unifying, non tribal theme, it was "no red states, no blue states, just the United States".

      However, he has not governed that way. His actual governing style includes contempt for the views of his political opponents and for the opponents themselves. That's what motivated his opponents so strongly IMHO.

      This point is addressed in today's column by Megan McArdle at

      Liberals tend to write off this anger as racism, as irrational hatred of Barack Obama, or as perverse joy in denying health care to the poor, but at its root, it’s the simpler feeling that your country is making a mistake and you can’t stop it because the people in charge are ignoring the obvious. Yes, a lot of money and energy was poured into the Tea Party by rich backers, but rich backers cannot create a grassroots campaign unless the underlying passion is there in the voters (paging Karl Rove and Crossroads). The Obama administration created that passion with Obamacare.

    4. In the primaries, Obama won the Red State caucuses and lost the Blue state primaries. He was especially weak with the traditional liberal constituencies of working class and labor, Catholics and older women voters. Given those problems, he had to present himself as a unity candidate. Unfortunately, his kid, PUMA and independent voters abandoned the party and thus he had weak coattails. You can dress this up any way you want but it doesn't translate to much party-wise beyond personal opportunity for Obama.

    5. @ 1:51 your analysis, even if it had not been nonsensical, has nothing to do with my comment
      @ 10:40 in reponse to the lead comment in this thread. Instead you want to engage in a tribal rehash of the primaries.

      David in Cal, to buy your argument you have to overlook the stance of complete Republican Congressional opposition to Obama before a health care proposal was made.

      Republican leaders in both the House and Senate worked to make sure the initial financial stimulus bill passed with no Republican support.

      The "Tea Party" was borne out of reaction against aid to homeowners swept under in the financial collapse.

      The debate over health care legislation certainly furthered the partisan divide, but if you can recall opposition to "Johnsoncare" being wrapped into a personal attack with posters of LBJ as Hitler in 1965, please bring us all some reminders.

  4. I think Walsh is hoping progressives will work to get senators and congressmen elected. That's all.

    1. Walsh has no right to express hope until she expresses disdain for Chris Matthews. Preferably to his face, on the air, on his program. Until then progressives will always be a pack whose poorly communicated tribal aspirations are undermined
      by his type of past behavior.