Part 4—Getting it right from the start: How did we liberals manage to turn ourselves into the world's biggest losers?
Paul Krugman's remarkable column helps answer that question. We refer to last Friday's column, in which Krugman said, two separate times, that white working-class voters "imagine" that they're looked down upon by us liberals.
We regard that as one of the strangest statements we've ever seen in print. It also helps us spot the traits which make us such massive losers.
Do white working-class voters "imagine" our condescension, our sneering disregard? Liberals, please! For an example of what such people actually see, consider a new post by Kevin Drum, our long-time favorite blogger.
Also, consider some instant comments to Drum's brand-new post.
Late last night, Drum offered a post about the new Timss scores. He ended his post with this:
DRUM (11/30/16): One other note. If you really want a takeaway from the latest TIMSS test, it's the same as the takeaway from every other test ever administered to America schoolkids: we do a terrible job of educating black children. The single biggest thing we could do to improve education in this country is to cut out the half measures and focus serious money and resources on poor, black school districts. But I guess the white working class wouldn't be very happy about that.As we write, Drum's midnight post has produced few comments. Truth to tell, we liberals aren't drawn to topics like this.
That said, several commenters noted the gratuitous snark lodged in the highlighted comment. "I have a lot of respect for Kevin Drum, but this is a cheap shot at the white working class," the fourth commenter wrote.
That commenter seemed to be a liberal. A few comments later, an apparent conservative imagined that he had detected an attitude on Drum's part:
"If you can't get a cheap virtue signal in by back-handing workin whitey every now then, then what's the point of having your own blog. am I right Kev? Well done."
According to Krugman, that person was just imagining that! Other commenters offered jibes about the stupidity of the white working class.
Our liberal world now runs on snark; we hate it when the practice spreads even to Drum. That said, we weren't just struck by Drum's gratuitous remark about the evil of the white working class, full stop.
Yes, we were struck by Drum's comment. But we were also struck by the astounding array of clueless assessments contained in the handful of comments to his post about the Timss.
Tell the truth—does anyone on the planet know less than we self-impressed liberals? Is anyone more deeply sunk in pleasing tribal script?
Drum's comments were a thing to behold. Within the first two dozen, we encountered a rich array of bungled assessments, including these:
Inevitably, two commenters praised the greatness of Finland. They didn't seem to know that American kids matched their counterparts in miraculous Finland in these new Timss results.
(Devotion to the Finland script is found across the ideological spectrum. It represents a remarkably successful propaganda campaign.)
One commenter insisted that poor black kids score just as well on achievement tests as poor white kids do. That claim is pleasing to us liberals, but it comes from Fantasyland.
(On our one reliable domestic test, the Naep, lower-income white kids tend to outscore higher-income black kids. This depressing fact can be explained in various ways, of course. If we gave a hoot about black kids—as a group, we plainly don't—we'd be aware of such facts.)
One commenter seemed startled when another commenter said that some school districts which are heavily black "have spent heavily on a per student basis."
The first commenter's statement was plainly accurate, of course. The second commenter seemed fairly sure that this couldn't be true. We liberals tend to be like that, just as conservatives are.
As we type, Drum's post has produced 33 comments, some of which have nothing to do with the subject Drum discussed. Those comments are marked by the high degree of cluelessness displayed by a fair number of commenters—and by simultaneous comments assailing the dumbness of the white working class!
Alas! On balance, the cluelessness of this small group of commenters is matched by their arrogance and condescension. It you want to know how we liberals managed to become such losers, this small selection of self-impressed comments might start to provide a small hint.
Krugman seems to think that white working class voters are "imagining" condescension on the part of us liberals. You'll rarely see a person who is so smart—a person whose work is so invaluable—make such a ridiculous statement.
Krugman, please! Our own tribe's sneering condescension has been an obvious fact of life for a very long time. So has the dumbness we routinely display as we assail The Others, decrying how stupid they are.
(We'll offer one comment: Sad!)
Liberals, can we talk? We're stupid and ugly and nobody likes us! This has been true for a very long time, but we ourselves grasp this fact very slowly. This remarkable lack of self-awareness helps explain how we became the biggest losers.
Krugman has been the most important journalist of the past sixteen years. We assume this will continue. When a person as smart as Krugman is so clueless about some point, it helps us see how blind we can be to our team's shortcomings.
Our tribe's sloth and cluelessness extend back many years. In the next few weeks, we'll be discussing the ways this slacker behavior has played out over those decades, helping send Donald J. Trump to the White House next year.
We plan to focus on several areas in which our world-class cluelessness helped doom our chances:
Next week, we plan to examine the way we failed to respond when James B. Comey—Comey the God—intruded on the presidential campaign on July 5, then again two days later.
James B. Comey, and the emails, will be our focus next week. In other weeks, we'll focus on the various ways Candidate Clinton got "defined" as corrupt and dishonest in the past few years. We'll recall the various ways Candidate Trump got a pass on those same themes, with a giant assist from corporate stars like our own Cantinflas, Rachel Maddow.
Alas! We'll also venture back through the years, examining the ways our ineptitude and sloth got started. This brings us back to the recent columns in which Krugman, as is his wont, got it very much right.
The defining of Candidate Clinton didn't start this July. It didn't start this year, or in this election cycle.
On the national level, the defining of Candidate Clinton started in 1992. Relentlessly, we liberals have agreed to enable this process, or even to help it along.
On three occasions since Labor Day, Krugman made a belated attempt to note this remarkable history. His attempts came much too late, of course. But we'll note them today all the same, for a particular reason.
On three occasions since Labor Day, Krugman tied the press corps' conduct toward Candidate Clinton to its earlier conduct toward a previous Democratic nominee. Even though his comments were fleeting, he was right every time.
Below, you see his first statement of this theme. Accurate headline included:
KRUGMAN (9/5/16): Clinton Gets GoredGuess what, dumb-asses? It was happening again! In the end, it produced the same result.
Americans of a certain age who follow politics and policy closely still have vivid memories of the 2000 election—bad memories, and not just because the man who lost the popular vote somehow ended up in office. For the campaign leading up to that end game was nightmarish too.
You see, one candidate, George W. Bush, was dishonest in a way that was unprecedented in U.S. politics. Most notably, he proposed big tax cuts for the rich while insisting, in raw denial of arithmetic, that they were targeted for the middle class. These campaign lies presaged what would happen during his administration—an administration that, let us not forget, took America to war on false pretenses.
Yet throughout the campaign most media coverage gave the impression that Mr. Bush was a bluff, straightforward guy, while portraying Al Gore—whose policy proposals added up, and whose critiques of the Bush plan were completely accurate—as slippery and dishonest. Mr. Gore's mendacity was supposedly demonstrated by trivial anecdotes, none significant, some of them simply false. No, he never claimed to have invented the internet. But the image stuck.
And right now I and many others have the sick, sinking feeling that it's happening again.
We're revisiting this for a reason. Pardon us while we quickly record Krugman's other statements:
KRUGMAN (9/30/16): [A]s recently as August Mrs. Clinton held a commanding lead. Then her polls went into a swoon.We agree with Krugman's assessment on September 30. ("The normalization of Trump was probably less important than the abnormalization of Clinton.")
What happened? Did she make some huge campaign blunders?
I don't think so. As I've written before, she got Gored. That is, like Al Gore in 2000, she ran into a buzz saw of adversarial reporting from the mainstream media, which treated relatively minor missteps as major scandals, and invented additional scandals out of thin air.
Meanwhile, her opponent's genuine scandals and various grotesqueries were downplayed or whitewashed; but as Jonathan Chait of New York magazine says, the normalization of Donald Trump was probably less important than the abnormalization of Hillary Clinton.
KRUGMAN (10/21/16): Hillary Clinton is a terrible candidate. Hey, that's what pundits have been saying ever since this endless campaign began. You have to go back to Al Gore in 2000 to find a politician who faced as much jeering from the news media, over everything from claims of dishonesty (which usually turn out to be based on nothing) to matters of personal style.
On October 21, though, he offered this assessment: "Mrs. Clinton won the Democratic nomination fairly easily, and now, having pummeled her opponent in three successive debates, is an overwhelming favorite to win in November, probably by a wide margin."
As you may have heard, that didn't exactly work out.
We've requoted Krugman for a reason. When he recalled the mainstream press corps' earlier war against Candidate Gore, he was taking the longer view of what happened this month. When we discuss Comey the God next week—inevitably, Rachel ignored what he did!—we'll be taking a shorter view of the process.
That said, Krugman was discussing a very important fact. The "abnormalization" of Candidate Clinton was accomplished through the repeated pimping of certain themes over the course of twenty-five years. In part, this "defining" of Clinton was fueled by Comey this year. In part, it was fueled by the earlier media wars which were aimed at her husband, then at Candidate Gore.
All across the liberal landscape, career liberals took a pass on that longer, destructive series of wars. Quite correctly, Krugman tried to evoke the war against Gore in three citations this fall. By way of contrast, we began discussing that war in March 1999. We began discussing that war the week that war began!
We were right about that war in real time, about the war which continued this year. We mention that to suggest that you listen to what we'll be telling you now. To suggest that you listen to someone who was right about this from the start.
We have no illusions, of course. Our tribe has made one point quite clear—we treasure and prize our right to be clueless. We treasure our tribal hauteur.
Our identity very much turns on the way we look down on The Others. When this sense of superiority is mixed with our trademark dumbness, it tends to produce a highly poisonous brew.
Trump voters don't have to "imagine" these things. Everyone can see these phenomena. Everyone but Us, that is. We're the world's most self-impressed losers.