Princeton professor tries to explain in the New York Times: Has the liberal intelligentsia ever been so unable to function?
We've been seeing it in the heavily scripted Oscar commentary of the past few weeks. We've been seeing it in the remarkably unhelpful election punditry.
Tomorrow, we'll return to full-time discussion of this existential dilemma. For today, consider what happened when the New York Times published the opinion column by the Princeton professor.
The professor sought to explain a deeply puzzling point. She sought to explain the decline in black voter turnout in the last presidential election.
According to the essay's headline, the Princeton professor blamed the decline on Barack Obama's "failure to deliver major changes." Sadly but typically, the column started like this:
TAYLOR (2/8/20): The sting of Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016 still hangs heavy over the Democratic Party. There has yet to emerge a consensus understanding of the party’s failure to beat an opponent who almost everyone assumed could be defeated. Some have focused on voter suppression, others on Russian interference. Mrs. Clinton continues to blame Bernie Sanders. But missing from the various theories is how Barack Obama’s tenure may also have contributed to voter disaffection because he failed to bring about the transformational changes he promised.According to the Princeton professor, black voter turnout declined from 67 percent in 2012 to 60 percent in 2016. We're then told this:
The dramatic contrast between him and his successor, Donald Trump, has, in some ways, created pressure on Democrats to focus only on Mr. Trump’s transgressions while ignoring other factors that may have contributed to his election. As the primary campaign ramped up last summer, for example, party insiders made clear they would vigorously challenge any scrutiny of Mr. Obama’s presidency. “Stay away from Barack Obama,” one said. A former aide to Mr. Obama, Neera Tanden, wrote on Twitter that Democratic candidates who “attack Obama are wrong and terrible.” She added, “Obama wasn’t perfect, but, come on, people, next to Trump, he kind of is.”
The perception of the “perfect Obama” is contradicted by black voter turnout in 2016: It declined for the first time in 20 years, falling to 60 percent from 67 percent in 2012. This surely cannot be attributed only to voter suppression or the lack of an African-American candidate on the ticket—after all, Mr. Obama framed Mrs. Clinton’s run as his so-called third term. It’s safe to presume that disillusionment with Mr. Obama’s record, even as people continued to admire him personally, is, to some degree, reflected in these turnout figures.
"It's safe to presume that disillusionment with Mr. Obama’s record...is, to some degree, reflected in these turnout figures."
Is it safe to make that presumption? Obviously, yes, it is! It's safe to presume that any number of factors "are reflected," to some degree, in the decline in black turnout.
The key words there—"to some degree"—make this claim almost completely pointless. That said, we were struck by the professor's failure to offer a more complete set of data concerning black turnout.
An obvious question popped into our heads—what was black turnout like before Barack Obama was the Democratic nominee? Using the same census data she used, this is what black turnout looked like in the last four White House elections:
Black voter turnout under recent Dem nominees:In short, turnout rose with Obama as candidate, then declined to where it had been under Candidate Kerry. Putting it another way:
2016: 60 percent (Hillary Clinton)
2012: 67 percent (Barack Obama)
2008: 65 percent (Barack Obama)
2004: 60 percent (John Kerry)
On its face, it isn't clear that there's anything here that anyone needs to explain.
In 2016, black turnout declined to where it had been the last time the Democratic nominee wasn't Barack Obama! The following data offer wider context:
Black voter turnout under previous Dem nominees:Make of those numbers what you will. But according to the data in question, black turnout in 2016 was as high as it ever had been, except for the two elections when Obama was the candidate.
2000: 57 percent (Al Gore)
1996: 53 percent (Bill Clinton)
1992: 59 percent (Bill Clinton)
Why would anyone be surprised by the decline in the black turnout rate in 2016? Why would anyone feel the need to blame that turnout rate on "disillusionment with Mr. Obama’s record," as the Princeton professor has done?
We don't know, but that's the way the essay began when the New York Times decided to publish the work of the Princeton professor. As we've long noted, work like this is constantly offered in the New York Times.
More and more and more and more, it seems to us that our liberal tribe simply isn't up to the task of dealing with this, The Age of Trump.
Simply put, we're routinely unintelligent, we're highly scripted and we're sometimes remarkably silly. More and more often, The Others think we're dumb and/or offensive, often for reasons which are perfectly valid.
Today, we're offering one small example of The Way Our Highest Progressive Elites Are Strongly Inclined to Function. Tribal groups whose leadership functions this way may not be long for this world.
Our meta-question is this:
Can you imagine the possibility that our Ivy professors and our most famous newspaper just aren't especially sharp? More and more and more and more, that seems to us to be The Story of The Age.
Can we liberals bring ourselves to conceive of this possibility? According to waves of anthropologists, the human brain just isn't wired for such counterintuitive tasks.
Why did black turnout decline in 2016? We'll answer the question with one of our own:
Given everything we know about human affairs, why wouldn't that turnout rate have declined in 2016? Elite professors and flyweight newspapers might start by riddling us that!
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. Is it possible that we ourselves, over here in our liberal tents, just aren't sharp enough to deal with a figure like Trump?
Trump seems to be bumping up in the polls. Are we going to know how to win?
Starting tomorrow: The rational animal's fictions
Coming soon: Award-wining work! The rational animal's lair!