FRIDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2022
One part of the problem is Us: Sadly, we live in interesting times.
Human history is repeating itself pretty much wherever you look. Consider the latest attempts to explain the likely outcome of our congressional elections this year.
At present, almost everyone seems to agree that the pendulum is swinging back in the GOP's favor. Of course, given the way our midterm elections normally work, and given the price of gas and food, everyone has always understood that this should be a "red wave" year.
For a brief "Dobbs decision" minute, it looked like things might be different this year. Now, indications are swinging the GOP's way, and people are trying to explain why this election seems to be going the way everyone always assumed that it would.
For the record, the dumbness of our politics is its defining characteristic. The agreement that we must never say so has long been one of the defining characteristics of our mainstream press.
The American people are pretty sharp, our top pundits always said. In fact, we the people aren't especially sharp at all, and we never have been.
Within the realm of public policy, we the people just aren't real sharp! In this morning's column, Paul Krugman cites a frequently-cited example:
KRUGMAN (10/21/22): [I]t’s hard to think of a worse metric for judging a president and his party than a price determined mainly by events abroad and technical production issues here at home, a price that isn’t even high compared with, say, a decade ago.
Yet gas prices may sway a crucial election, a fact that is both ludicrous and terrifying.
A sitting president, and his party, have little to do with the price of gas. But go ahead—just try to tell "us the people" that!
This year, as in other years, the election prospects of a president's party seem to be directly tied to the price of gas. It doesn't matter how many times we're told that this connection doesn't make sense. It seems that we the people persistently vote on that basis, year after year after year.
We the people just aren't super-sharp! Meanwhile, consider David Brooks' assessment of the coming elections, offered in a column across this morning's op-ed page from Krugman's.
Brooks discusses the reasons for the Democrats' (apparently) dwindling prospects. He ends his column like this:
BROOKS (10/21/22): The Trumpified G.O.P. deserves to be a marginalized and disgraced force in American life. But I've been watching the campaign speeches by people like Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for governor in Arizona. G.O.P. candidates are telling a very clear class/culture/status war narrative in which common-sense Americans are being assaulted by elite progressives who let the homeless take over the streets, teach sex ed to 5-year-olds, manufacture fake news, run woke corporations, open the border and refuse to do anything about fentanyl deaths and the sorts of things that affect regular people.
In other words, candidates like Lake wrap a dozen different issues into one coherent class war story. And it seems to be working. In late July she was trailing her opponent by seven points. Now she’s up by about half a point.
The Trump-era GOP should be a disgraced force, Brooks says. But their candidates are telling a compelling story, and it seems to be working.
Those observations seem to be correct—though we'd have to say that Brooks leaves part of the story out.
At his own site, Kevin Drum posts the first of those two paragraphs by Brooks. At the end of his post, he offers this—we'd have to say unwisely:
DRUM (10/21/22): The most discouraging part of this is not that Republicans do it. What do you expect an opposition party to do? The discouraging part is that after 50 years Democrats still have no idea how to fight it.
It's not that we lose every culture war battle. In fact, we win quite a few. But when Republicans sense weakness, they circle the wagons and beat the class war drums loudly and in unison. That's what we don't know how to fight.
Practically all the evidence suggests the United States is fundamentally a strong country right now. Probably the strongest in the world, and with the brightest future. It's extraordinary to think of just how good a place it could be if only we could figure out a way to overcome the debilitating fear that so many people still have of progress and change.
The most discouraging part of Drum's assessment is the way he ends it. He seems to offer this as the blanket explanation for why this Republican narrative works:
It doesn't work because there's a germ of truth to much of that the Republicans have said. It only works because so many people—so many of those hopeless Others—"still have a debilitating fear of progress and change!"
That's why the story works! It isn't because of anything we blue tribe members have said or done. It only works because so many members of the red tribe have a vast "fear of progress!"
We lost a chunk of time today. For that reason, we're postponing our treatment of the recent interview between Ezra Klein and Rachel.
But as our nation slides toward the sea, the dumbness is general—and yes, that does include Us, the vastly self-assured blue tribe denizens who are found Over Here.
Drum has long been our favorite blogger. But today's assessment is amazingly lacking in insight, and his tribally self-assured commenters took it from there.
Stating the blindingly obvious:
A lot of what the GOP peddles is built on a germ of truth. For example, the idea that our blue tribe is soft on crime is plainly tied to the horror show in which some of our most visible members created "Defund the police" as a political slogan.
For the record, our self-impressed team is so dumb that we still can't identify the principal problem with that self-defeating slogan—the fact that it was so unclear what it actually meant.
That said, our failing blue tribe has routinely allowed itself to be defined by the least discerning among us. Meanwhile, as a basic stance, we insist on calling The Others names. After that, we're surprised that they won't rush to do the various things we recommend.
The current state of our failing nation's politics is extremely poor:
The reds are full of crazy belief, and there's nothing the Kari Lakes aren't prepared to tell red tribe voters. Meanwhile:
On cable news, but elsewhere too, our vastly self-impressed blue tribe is often amazingly dumb. We can't reasons our way through a wet paper bag. In the main, we're just skillful at name-calling Others.
We're dumb and unpleasant and nobody likes us. Everyone knows this but us!