The smug style in American liberalism
April 21, 2016 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Vox: The smug style in American liberalism: "There is a smug style in American liberalism. It has been growing these past decades. It is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really —but by the failure of half the country to know what's good for them."
posted by Chocolate Pickle (189 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
The smug style of American liberalism, which we at Vox dot com definitely do not exemplify,
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:19 AM on April 21, 2016 [73 favorites]


Well if the 26 year old author of Twitterature World's Greatest Books in 20 tweets says it on Vox, it must be true.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:20 AM on April 21, 2016 [27 favorites]


This from the publication that employs Matt Yglesias? LOL
posted by selfnoise at 10:21 AM on April 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


I don't know if it's limited to the left...
posted by qcubed at 10:21 AM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


The truthyness can be pretty strong on the left, but it's crazy to say that it somehow equals that of the wingnut right. That's some industrial-grade false equivalence right there.

The flip side of the 'What's the matter with Kansas' behavior, where some lefties are happy to trade their economic future for people who claim to push their side on the culture wars (i.e. saying the right things on minority, LGTBQ, and women's rights) while moving jobs overseas just like the republican culture warriors do, seems to me to be a growing problem. Maybe the next book will be 'What's the matter with Brooklyn. '
posted by overhauser at 10:27 AM on April 21, 2016 [17 favorites]


i.e. saying the right things on minority, LGTBQ, and women's rights) while moving jobs overseas just like the republican culture warriors do

Speaking only for myself I'd rather be poor and legally/socially equal than rich and discriminated against.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:32 AM on April 21, 2016 [22 favorites]


This is the same complaint the right wing has had about the left for decades, except now they have apparently discovered the word "smug." See previous incessant complaints about how "intellectuals," "educated people," "science," "arrogant know-it-alls," and/or "elites" are out to get them and destroy the One True Red-Blooded American way of life.

*eyeroll*
posted by zarq at 10:33 AM on April 21, 2016 [66 favorites]


Yeah, I honestly don't know about this one. Some of it sounds like a tone argument and empathy argument, which coming from the perspective of being queer and/or PoC, just falls flat... it flattens the very big difference between class/wealth and orientation identity...

It touches on slacktivism, and then it blames liberals for Trump...

It reads to me as self-excoriating liberal white guilt, and giving it a name, "smug".
posted by qcubed at 10:36 AM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


All I'm really seeing in this is the same old shit about how liberals, in addition to wanting to make the world a better place, and working toward that goal, need to bend over backward to be nice to the people who have absolutely no impulse to reciprocate. It's the "I only hit youvote for Trump because you make me so angry, baby" school of rhetoric.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:38 AM on April 21, 2016 [54 favorites]


Thomas Frank, of What's the Matter with Kansas? fame, has a new book called Listen, Liberal: What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? in which he basically makes the same case. I tried to find an excerpt to link but they all talk about the Clinton legacy so much that it would be an election derail, but his point is basically that neoliberal economics (the kind espoused multiple times a day there at Vox - it's coming from inside the house!) in the form of market-based solutions to all economic problems, empowerment zones, microloans, "growing the pie," means-testing social programs, mostly abandoning mass political movements (including labor), and favoring "free" trade have led the Democratic party to represent the interests of professional-managerial class people over the interests of wage-earning/poor people. However, to the extent that this argument holds up (and I think Frank makes a fairly compelling case), Vox is among the worst messengers I could possibly imagine for that message.
posted by dialetheia at 10:39 AM on April 21, 2016 [62 favorites]


I think there is something of a good criticism in this article that gets buried beneath thick layers of smugness and anger. I do believe that few commenters on metafilter respect conservatives and republicans. I believe that many liberals do not see conservatives as having a different set of political beliefs, but being wrong, incorrect, and evil.

I believe politics is a balance. I think both liberals and conservatives would say the balance is between good and evil (but disagree on which side was which). I would prefer to read people who saw the difference as between this good and that good, with compromises and tough decisions moving us forward together.

I doubt that will ever happen, though. For much of history, politics was simply ruler vs ruler, or owner vs owner. I doubt the american experiment is going to change that much, in the long run.
posted by rebent at 10:42 AM on April 21, 2016 [18 favorites]


I believe that many liberals do not see conservatives as having a different set of political beliefs, but being wrong, incorrect, and evil

Because many of those beliefs are wrong, incorrect, and/or evil. Liberals and conservatives are not two sides of the same coin, and false equivalencies are super unhelpful. e.g. the current brouhaha over trans people in washrooms: literally every single belief (all of them unsupported by fact) on the pro-discriminatory-law side is morally wrong, factually incorrect, and arguably evil in its effects. Gay marriage, women being equal, different skin colours making no difference--these are not points upon which reasonable people can disagree. Or we could go to economics: trickle down has been proven not to work, flat taxes disproportionately affect the poor, etc.

Conservative views reject facts and reality and adhere to comforting narratives instead. So, yeah, that are "wrong, incorrect" and depending on effects of the specific belief we're talking about, "evil."

Saying that politics is a balance is an expression of inherent privilege; it is reducing real-world problems and injustices to abstract thought experiments that cancel each other out. Reality doesn't work that way.

I would prefer to read people who saw the difference as between this good and that good, with compromises and tough decisions moving us forward together.

That would be super cool if Republicans were interested in moving forward at all.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:51 AM on April 21, 2016 [87 favorites]


There is a smug style in American liberalism conservatism. It has been growing these past decades. It is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really —but by the failure of half the country to know what's good for them.

Hmm ... Whad'ya know, that works, too (looking at you, Drumpf).
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:53 AM on April 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


his is the same complaint the right wing has had about the left for decades, except now they have apparently discovered the word "smug." See previous incessant complaints about how "intellectuals," "educated people," "science," "arrogant know-it-alls," and/or "elites" are out to get them and destroy the One True Red-Blooded American way of life.

You forgot "egghead".
posted by briank at 10:53 AM on April 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


I'll take smug lefties over authoritarian righties.
posted by GuyZero at 10:54 AM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's also irritating that Vox collapses the complaint down to an issue of style, almost as if they are intentionally conflating the substantive economic elitism of many neoliberal policies with the style complaints that conservatives make about liberals, specifically in order to deflect from that substantive economic criticism. The "we know better than you" style they are talking about is exactly what they bank on every time they write another counterintuitive technocratic "explainer" about how it's really better for poor people if health care stays privatized, or college costs continue to soar, or financial regulations aren't reinstated. Vox is one of the leading purveyors of economic analyses with no basis in fairness or morality, instead substituting an overriding emphasis on efficiency and maximizing productivity.

The problem with this sort of analysis is that economics are inseparable from politics in that political will is required to institute economic solutions. This piece from Steve Randy Waldman makes that case very well: "technocratic economists in general engage in partial equilibrium social science when they ignore moral concerns and the constraints “legitimacy” places on feasible policy."
posted by dialetheia at 10:55 AM on April 21, 2016 [38 favorites]


> I'll take smug lefties over authoritarian righties.

In government, sure. In the way I spend my personal time? I'll skip them both.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:59 AM on April 21, 2016 [12 favorites]


However, to the extent that this argument holds up (and I think Frank makes a fairly compelling case), Vox is among the worst messengers I could possibly imagine for that message.

Yglesias after a Bangladeshi factory collapses, killing hundreds: Pobody's nerfect!
Yglesias after Weed_Arafat_69 posts a Vine reading one of his tweets, but in a stupid voice: This is unacceptable. Get someone to write about this right now
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:59 AM on April 21, 2016 [28 favorites]


It's almost as if liberalism really does know best, if its opponents are reduced to whining about the tone in which it wins arguments.
posted by ColdOfTheIsleOfMan at 11:01 AM on April 21, 2016 [16 favorites]


I do believe that few commenters on metafilter respect conservatives and republicans. I believe that many liberals do not see conservatives as having a different set of political beliefs, but being wrong, incorrect, and evil.

I'm probably guilty of this (Canadian, but still.) I just find the Republican and Conservative rhetoric way too often demonstrably false, and also way too often impenetrable. My step-father is a right wing guy. Also Canadian, has Sarah Palin audiobooks he listens to in his car. I feel like every time we talk politics he admits something about the Conservatives that goes completely against what he believes about them. But afterwards he still believes those things about them. You get these nebulous handwavey acknowledgements and it just continues going on regardless.
posted by Hoopo at 11:02 AM on April 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


I think this dude has confused his own personal irritations with analysis. By his own account he had a big Twitter argument with someone who kept putting down Donald Trump, and he's projected that into a Big Problem Liberals Have.

The whole "librulls are costal elites" stuff, common on the right, looks like his personal situation. He's a Beltway writer. His disparaging references to Ta-Nehisi Coates suggest that he possibly realizes that nonwhites are a huge fraction of the Democratic Party, but that he hasn't ever done what Coates did— go to the Black Belt in Chicago and talk to actual people.

It's telling that his big hero is Kim Davis. He thinks liberals were wrong to go after someone who personally exemplified homophobic self-righteousness. In other words, precisely the smugness and sense of moral superiority he attributes to liberals. Surely he could have found someone actually likable to champion.

A case could be made that the Democrats should compete better for the white working class; Rensin seems not to realize that that was Democratic strategy in the 1990s. That's what gave us Bill Clinton, plus a bunch of near-Republicans who made the ACA so difficult to pass. In 2016 it doesn't seem like "be more like Republicans" is the missing strategy.

"The rubes have seen your videos," he solemnly warns us. And you know, we've seen theirs. I don't think the US's increasing political polarization is a good thing... but I don't think unilateral disarmament is the solution. There's been a thirty-year campaign to demonize liberals and make any political compromise impossible. That campaign didn't come from the left. That we are "smug" about it is a pretty deep misreading. We're pissed.
posted by zompist at 11:03 AM on April 21, 2016 [43 favorites]


People who talk about the Earth being round are just so smug about it. They know they're right. They're always talking about watching ships vanish over the horizon, or posting photos taken "from space" showing the illusion of a round planet. When people with sincerely-held religious beliefs about the Earth being flat want to have equal footing in the scientific arena, they get shouted down.

Round-Earthers hold up triumphs like circumnavigating the globe as if that proves their point, not giving due consideration to whether Trident the Sea God had rerouted Magellan's course. They mock the Flat Earth Society as "kooks" and "loonies". The intelligence of roundness-doubters is routinely brought into question as if it were self-evident. The Round Earth crowd thinks it's just in people's best interests to be taught only one theory of planetary topology.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:04 AM on April 21, 2016 [73 favorites]


The author isn't from "flyover country", is he?
posted by Slothrup at 11:06 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


the working class have been fucked over in this country and the liberal establishment has stood by and let it happen

want trust? want attention? want votes?

do something to earn them, liberals
posted by pyramid termite at 11:11 AM on April 21, 2016 [19 favorites]


the working class have been fucked over in this country and the liberal establishment has stood by and let it happen

My beef with this line if thinking is that it presumes that American liberal elites actually control the entire planet and that global competition somehow doesn't exist.
posted by GuyZero at 11:16 AM on April 21, 2016 [20 favorites]


do something to earn them, liberals

Yea, slacker liberals. Maybe try campaigning on some of these ideas, idiots? Here are some freebies:

Implement a more progressive income tax system
Fight back against dismantling unions
Increase the minimum wage
Expand Medicare and Medicaid, maybe through an overhaul of the insurance system
Don't increase the retirement age
Increase access to higher education
Better public transit
Prevent Social Security cuts

I haven't heard liberals talk about any of this kind of stuff! They should wave a magic wand and override the conservative majorities in Congress and local jurisdictions and just make this stuff happen so they can be elected.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:18 AM on April 21, 2016 [74 favorites]


but by the failure of half the country to know what's good for them.

I'm pretty sure we've gotten to the point that nearly everyone in this country thinks that half the country doesn't know what's good for them.

IOW, it's a dumb piece and the author wouldn't have written it if he'd known what's good for him.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:18 AM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


...have led the Democratic party to represent the interests of professional-managerial class people over the interests of wage-earning/poor people.

And yet the professional-managerial class of Democrats are the only segment of the population who knowingly and voluntarily vote against their own financial interests to reallocate wealth in the form of higher taxes for themselves to fund government programs for the poor and working classes.

I mean, every privileged, upper-middle class Democrat I know knowingly faces higher taxes under both Sanders and Clinton than any Republican. The subset who are lucky enough to have stock market holdings think its absurd that capital gains are taxed below income in most states (except California), were glad to see Obama raise the capital gains rate, and hope that it's pushed higher.

Not that this is some form of heroism -- it's basic human decency. But it's unique among political populations.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 11:21 AM on April 21, 2016 [31 favorites]


...it presumes that American liberal elites actually control the entire planet and that global competition somehow doesn't exist.

Well, they pushed free trade agreements that increased that global competition.
posted by edeezy at 11:24 AM on April 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


I felt pretty uncomfortable reading this. It seemed like the author was being unfair, one-sided, and I was pretty sure they were secretly conservative. In other words, they were being meta, ultra-smug--doing the thing they mention in the article, "No! You!"

But as I kept reading I started to realize I was being kind of defensive, maybe. I started to feel like, hey, I resemble that remark. Especially when the author acknowledged that the vast and increasing and obscene wealth disparity is really a huge and maybe the biggest problem.

So, yeah, I agree with some of the comments that the author semi-buried the lede, in waiting to mention the really important economic critiques of liberalism and frontloading the smug stuff, the more cultural critique. But also I think that might have been a cunning and brilliant technique. I mean, conservatives are likely to start reading this and loving it and then, in some Trojan Horse action, read the stuff about how busted neoliberalism and corporate-serving trade pacts are.

Because that stuff is super true and super important. We can't get very far if we don't acknowledge just how much the Democratic party has betrayed and abandoned the labor movement and working class people (and really everyone who isn't $$$$ rich.)

And I think the article at least begins to tie together this economic reality, of the Democratic party prioritizing the interests of the highly educated, with the smug tone that pervades Metafilter and, well, the whole of all the liberal and lefty bubbles that I live my life in. ;)

And, yes, we really are right about climate change and queer rights, I totally agree with that. And there's an important way that this strategy isn't working.

Please, at least consider that you might be defensive, that this article might have something important to say.

I think the biggest thing it leaves out is the way the smug attitude really is a protective mechanism for oppressed and marginalized groups. That is super true and important and needed. I have seen and experienced that myself. The 15th time someone sealions you about queer issues 101 or says something microaggressive, it serves a vital function to roll your eyes and point to the bingo card.

So, yes, that is true.

And I think it's also true that the smug dynamic is part of what fuels Trump and his supporters.

This is super long, but one last thing is that I have been reading conservative blogs to try to understand Trump (okay, really, for schadenfreude about the GOP's messy breakup). And I've been reading comments from conservative Christians who are like, okay, the GOP betrayed us, we had a deal to support tax breaks (which we don't love) in exchange for support of homophobic policies which we do, and the GOP betrayed us, so let's vote for Bernie and support higher tax rates to get back at them, plus those economic policies are actually good for families.

And a few comments about how the GOP has been getting people to vote against their economic interests with cultural/value issues and how the Democratic Party is also doing that, like, hey, we will hire gays at our corporations while also making sure the 1% can keep snorting more and more $$$$. And, wow, is that true and important.

I'm not saying we need to abandon the fight for queer rights, because hell no, but it's also important to realize the way that the culture war is being used by the super-rich to divide and conquer everyone else and to be open to allies in unexpected places and to be willing to question ourselves, even when it's hella uncomfortable.
posted by overglow at 11:24 AM on April 21, 2016 [29 favorites]


I haven't heard liberals talk about any of this kind of stuff!

oh, they're great at talking

then it's triangulation time and things like that mysteriously don't happen

and then there's nafta ...
posted by pyramid termite at 11:26 AM on April 21, 2016


Well, they pushed free trade agreements that increased that global competition.

So when you say "they"... let me quote from Wikipedia's page on NAFTA:

Following diplomatic negotiations dating back to 1990 among the three nations, U.S. President George H. W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Mexican President Carlos Salinas, each responsible for spearheading and promoting the agreement, ceremonially signed the agreement in their respective capitals on December 17, 1992.

George H.W. Bush and Brian Mulroney are not exactly avatars of the "American liberal elite".
posted by GuyZero at 11:30 AM on April 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


"It is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really —but by the failure of half the country to know what's good for them."
And which is exactly what Obama was running against in '04 and '08 and '12 and look how's that's turned out. Tough to expect a 26 year old to remember that, tho, he was only 22, 18, and 14. Probably more interested in finishing school, getting someone to buy him liquor, and the next episode of 24 back then.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:30 AM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


then it's triangulation time and things like that mysteriously don't happen

The argument for not electing liberals because they're forced to compromise with conservatives seems like a very strong argument for not electing conservatives, which is to say, electing liberals.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:30 AM on April 21, 2016 [22 favorites]


I believe politics is a balance. I think both liberals and conservatives would say the balance is between good and evil (but disagree on which side was which). I would prefer to read people who saw the difference as between this good and that good, with compromises and tough decisions moving us forward together.

So what would your wiser than thou, middle path of compromises be for a basic rights issue like gay marriage? Or a basic social service like keeping lead out of the drinking water? Or the government providing health care but keeping rent-seeking insurance companies in the loop to keep conservatives happy. The last being the sort of compromise you advocate.

I'm shaky on politics but if I understand it the Southern Strategy was a deliberate structuring of the Republican Party as the party with no compassion for black people (or queer or the Other), as a cynical attempt to reach out to voters alienated by former schoolteacher LBJ's set up of social services. And it worked. For voters that don't want to pay taxes if it helps the poor black family down the street.

I don't think of the Republican Party as evil. I think of it as contemptuous, if we consider the absence of compassion to be contempt.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:34 AM on April 21, 2016 [28 favorites]


The smug style of American liberalism, which we at Vox dot com definitely do not exemplify,

I haven't had a working irony meter in ages, but if I did this would indeed have destroyed it.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:34 AM on April 21, 2016


George H.W. Bush and Brian Mulroney are not exactly avatars of the "American liberal elite".

I'll also quote from the Wikipedia page:

Clinton, while signing the NAFTA bill, stated that "NAFTA means jobs. American jobs, and good-paying American jobs. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't support this agreement."

If the liberal elite was opposed to free trade agreements and NAFTA in particular I imagine Clinton wouldn't support or sign it. I imagine Gore wouldn't be sent on talk shows to defend it.
posted by edeezy at 11:37 AM on April 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


I'm curious why a piece that barely touches on any policy details at all is turning into a fight over the Democratic party's trend toward market-oriented intervention and free trade. These are policies that Democratic politicians have chosen to pursue, but they have very little support from the kinds of liberals the author of the Vox piece is talking about.

I feel like there's a bunch of hand-wavey conflation of style and substance here that's leading to a bunch of conversations that have nothing to do with each other. Yes, liberals tend to express their criticisms using satire and lampooning of their opponents, while conservatives tend to lean on direct personal attacks (c.f. Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, Malkin, and the cast of thousands.) We'd all love to live in a world where we all expressed ourselves with the utmost decorum and never used smug condescension *or* vitriolic invective, but that's not the world we live in, and I'll be damned if I want my side unilaterally disarming.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:44 AM on April 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


Maybe the NAFTA talk is better off in the neoliberal thread?
posted by tobascodagama at 11:44 AM on April 21, 2016


I spend a lot of time in Facebook comments, and, if anyone is smug, it's the people who write "More mixed up thinking from liberal sheeple! Stop reading Buzzfeed for news and open your tiny brains!"

I mean, I suppose it might be liberals who are writing this stuff. I just sort of assumed it wasn't.
posted by maxsparber at 11:45 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I do think "why do they keep voting against their own interests!" is fairly smug, because of this

And yet the professional-managerial class of Democrats are the only segment of the population who knowingly and voluntarily vote against their own financial interests to reallocate wealth in the form of higher taxes for themselves to fund government programs for the poor and working classes.

which is not actually exactly the rule in general but I do know the kind of upper middle class people who say "seriously, go ahead, raise my taxes" because there is a principle that's more important to them than the money. I guess the counterargument is that this should be less remarkable when you already have plenty of money then when you don't. But I'm not big on "false consciousness" type arguments in general.
posted by atoxyl at 11:46 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Why All Those Other Liberals Are So Smug, Explained
posted by aaronetc at 11:46 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Maybe the NAFTA talk is better off in the neoliberal thread?

At least this is a good time to consider the different meanings of 'liberal' versus 'left' etc.
posted by atoxyl at 11:47 AM on April 21, 2016 [14 favorites]


Tough to expect a 26 year old to remember that, tho, he was only 22, 18, and 14

yeah I've been encountering this a lot lately online. Even here, I remember being a bit dismayed when some of the younger MeFites found Rumsfeld sympathetic after a Jon Stewart interview. It's like, where to even begin with this?
posted by Hoopo at 11:52 AM on April 21, 2016 [16 favorites]


Yes, liberals tend to express their criticisms using satire and lampooning of their opponents, while conservatives tend to lean on direct personal attacks (c.f. Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, Malkin, and the cast of thousands.) We'd all love to live in a world where we all expressed ourselves with the utmost decorum and never used smug condescension *or* vitriolic invective, but that's not the world we live in, and I'll be damned if I want my side unilaterally disarming.

The question I think this essay is really trying to get at is, who are the enemies of liberals? There's this tendency to think of them as rubes, as discussed in the article, as backwards, clueless rural people, when really our real enemies are the economic elite (at least those who are pushing selfish and hella short-sighted policies) and corporations. So it's not so much about disarming as it is aiming more precisely and recognizing--as Obama did, in that much-maligned and misunderstood bitterness speech quoted in the article--that a lot of the underlying dynamics of why working class white people are so angry and directing that anger towards POC and queer people, is because they (along with all of us) have been massively screwed over by the rigged economic system.

So, sure, let's use vicious satire and fun, hilarious clowning and biting sarcasm--let's just think a bit more about the best targets for such.
posted by overglow at 11:57 AM on April 21, 2016 [10 favorites]


Also, classism is real and hella under-considered.
posted by overglow at 11:58 AM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


So what would your wiser than thou, middle path of compromises be for a basic rights issue like gay marriage? Or a basic social service like keeping lead out of the drinking water? Or the government providing health care but keeping rent-seeking insurance companies in the loop to keep conservatives happy. The last being the sort of compromise you advocate.

I don't have an answer, wise or unwise. Like I have said here before, I think we got lucky by having a participative democracy, but in the end I think politics is more about great powers battling for their own self-interests.

That said, I think a great way to start talking about political issues would be to represent how people talk about their own intentions, rather than assuming we know what they are. I am queer and I believe that anti-lgbt policy is a human rights violation. I do not believe the people who are pushing anti-gay laws are doing so because they love human rights violations for the sake of loving human rights violations.
posted by rebent at 11:59 AM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


At least this is a good time to consider the different meanings of 'liberal' versus 'left' etc.

So I'll concede that free trade agreements are appealing to neoliberals as opposed to non-neo-liberal-liberals, but considering that basically the entire US political elite is basically neoliberal we're wandering into territory where we're talking about everyone.

I think to a bunch of the US population, anyone who is smug about their beliefs as opposed to aggressive and demanding is basically a liberal, regardless of what beliefs they hold.
posted by GuyZero at 11:59 AM on April 21, 2016


TL;DR:
You're not really better or smarter than the right if all you do with your knowledge is use it to mock them.

It's overlong, and suffers from much of what it decries, but isn't necessarily wrong in an age where political dialogue has devolved into a constant fb/twitter battle of gotcha soundbites in that smug smug tone.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:59 AM on April 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


I have somewhere a list of centrist dogmas, but number 1 is "This essay is neutral in calling both sides biased, and anyone who argues otherwise is just showing how biased they are." It's like a Freudian explaining to you that if you think his theory is bullshit, that just goes to show how repressed you are. The right has also learned to play the game recently, eg with tolerance ("if you're intolerant of our intolerance that just shows that you are the most intolerant of all"). But the centrist version is I think the worst, since it is most like the Freudian example in that it is deeply dependent on emotion: both sides are too emotional, and if you are emotional in your rejection of this equivalency, you just show how true it is. As a tautology it is indeed hard to argue with this bullshit. All one can really do is label it as the bullshit it is, and turn one's back on this entire style of discourse in favor of rational conversations about evidence, truth, logic, and other objective stuff.
posted by chortly at 12:03 PM on April 21, 2016 [18 favorites]


Thankfully we have the completely objective science of economics to decide so many questions of public policy.
posted by GuyZero at 12:05 PM on April 21, 2016 [11 favorites]


I just want to add - I don't believe that "Both sides do it." I do believe that everyone has opinions. I'm not confident that my opinion trumps someone else's. Therefore, I'm interested in listening to other opinions, to understand where the actual difference of opinion lies.
posted by rebent at 12:09 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm curious why a piece that barely touches on any policy details at all is turning into a fight over the Democratic party's trend toward market-oriented intervention and free trade.

because it's something that actually matters to working people?
posted by pyramid termite at 12:11 PM on April 21, 2016


Therefore, I'm interested in listening to other opinions, to understand where the actual difference of opinion lies.

So there's a flaw in your approach.
posted by GuyZero at 12:11 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


You're not really better or smarter than the right if all you do with your knowledge is use it to mock them.

Part of the problem with tone arguments is that it assumes that a discussion exists for the sake of convincing another person. When I argue on Facebook, I rarely give a shit about convincing somebody else of my opinion.

No, I respond to the vile, hateful, mean-spirited stuff, in part to let the people who say it know that they are not speaking in a vacuum and there will be people who contradict, condemn, and mock them for their viciousness, but also so that the targets of their nastiness know that they aren't alone, that the web isn't some cesspool filled with bullying bigots, and there are people who will stand up for them.

Does this make me smug? I can live with that.
posted by maxsparber at 12:20 PM on April 21, 2016 [49 favorites]


Wow, the compensatory energy released by MetaFilter being confronted with critique of its own favored political style (even one as totally self-defeatingly garbled as this one) could probably sustainably power the site's servers for months.

I'll take smug lefties over authoritarian righties.

But the point is, or should have been if this "essay" weren't so utterly scrambled, that knowing smugness is just the psychological and rhetorical signature of a different kind of authoritarianism, that of the technocratic investment in knowledge and expertise. Meritocratic solutionism, the kind of politics that believes above all else that you get the country back on track by getting all the right people together on Martha's Vineyard. One of many good reasons to be against "smug" and its relations — the "Church of Savvy" in the media, Tariq Ali's "extreme centre," or "crackpot realism" in Mills's classic formulation — is that this kind of "centrist" authoritarian technocracy is every bit as cynically antidemocratic and antiegalitarian as the right-wing version.

At least this is a good time to consider the different meanings of 'liberal' versus 'left' etc.

If only that were possible here.

posted by RogerB at 12:22 PM on April 21, 2016 [18 favorites]


Liberals are smug but the republican law factory is called ALEC.
posted by srboisvert at 12:25 PM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


knowing smugness is just the psychological and rhetorical signature of a different kind of authoritarianism

I don't know how to say this without sounding smug, but this is nonsense.
posted by maxsparber at 12:26 PM on April 21, 2016 [16 favorites]


Ok, having actually read the whole thing, this essay is total gibberish -- incoherent paragraphs and stand-alone sentences, laced with literally hundreds of insulting phrasings that are content-free and designed mainly to enrage liberal readers. Ie, it is standard conservative writing. If we want to have a conversation about emotion and style on the left and right, we can go back to one of the threads on Jonathan Haidt, eg. But this thing is just a steaming pile of garbage that causes far more problems than it solves. I can't even be bothered to list examples of terrible, disengenuously provocative paragraphs, but here's a couple:

The knowing know that police reform, that abortion rights, that labor unions are important, but go no further: What is important, after all, is to signal that you know these things. What is important is to launch links and mockery at those who don't. The Good Facts are enough: Anybody who fails to capitulate to them is part of the Problem, is terminally uncool. No persuasion, only retweets. Eye roll, crying emoji, forward to John Oliver for sick burns.
...
The smug style resists empathy for the unknowing. It denies the possibility of a politics whereby those who do not share knowing culture, who do not like the right things or know the Good Facts or recognize the intellectual bankruptcy of their own ideas can be worked with, in spite of these differences, toward a common goal.


To speak of style, this is not the style of someone sincerely engaged in either making an argument or trying to convince its purported audience. It's just trouble-making bullshit.
posted by chortly at 12:32 PM on April 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


#SLVOX
posted by aspersioncast at 12:36 PM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Conservatives can be smug and condescending too (e.g. Ann Coulter, Patrick Buchanan) - they just tend to be that way about different things.

You can paint the picture as you like, depending on which sources you select, and how far right, center, or left they are.
posted by theorique at 12:38 PM on April 21, 2016


My politics lean towards the left, but in general I don't actually like most of my fellow liberals, and I'll admit that smugness, is a big reason. Of course, right wingers are annoying for pretty much the same reason. Maybe politics just brings out the asshole in people.
posted by jonmc at 12:53 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


To characterize liberals as smug at this point in history, a person would have to be incapable of distinguishing smugness from profound shock.
posted by jamjam at 12:55 PM on April 21, 2016 [22 favorites]


I do believe that few commenters on metafilter respect conservatives and republicans.

I can say with absolutely no hesitation that this is 100% correct. I am one such mefite. I have no respect at all for conservatives or Republicans. At best they are dupes, at worst they are actively working to make life miserable for others.

When they have actions and beliefs worthy of respect, then I'll respect those actions and beliefs. I do not simply go around respecting people who are worthy only of contempt.

I believe that many liberals do not see conservatives as having a different set of political beliefs, but being wrong, incorrect, and evil.

Again, you are 100% correct when it comes to me at least.

This is because, conservatives have a set of political beliefs that are demonstrably wrong, empirically proven to be incorrect, and generally produce bad outcomes for everyone.

Global warming is real and has potentially catastrophic consiquences. Conservatives and Republicans believe that global warming is a massive conspiracy.

Evolution is the only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the fossil record, from our genomic record, and it has been empirically demonstrated in a lab setting at least once. Conservatives and Republicans claim that evolution is a massive conspiracy [1] and instead argue that the best explanation for the origin of species is the creation myth found in their religion's holy text.

Every study ever conducted has concluded that trickle down economics does not, in fact, work. All empirical evidence from real world experiments with trickle down economics has shown that it does not work. Conservatives and Republicans believe that slashing taxes on the rich is the best way to improve the economy in general.

To date exactly zero transgender people have ever been arrested for sexual misconduct in a public toilet, while at least three Republican elected officials have been arrested for sexual misconduct in a public toilet. Yet Republicans and conservatives are attempting to pass laws forcing transgender people out of public toilets.

So yes, I believe that the political and social beliefs of conservatives and Republicans are not merely different from mine, but are demonstrably incorrect, empirically false, and often have outcomes that couldn't be better designed to increase the amount of human misery.

I'll agree that they probably aren't cartoon villains cackling while they plot to do evil for its own sake. But regardless of intent, the actual real world outcome of their actions is (by my definition) evil.

I'm perfectly willing to change my mind and think that they're merely different from me, but that will require the facts to indicate that, and the facts don't indicate that.

If conservatives were to say that global warming was real and agreed that it likely would have catastrophic consequences, but argue that from their POV the unintended consequences of taking action to prevent or mitigate global warming would be worse than unchecked global warming then we could have a real talk, then they'd have a viewpoint which would at least not be based in simple, demonstrable, falsehood.

But when they base their beliefs on lies and falsehoods why should I try to think that they are merely different rather than wrong?

[1] My they seem to believe in massive conspiracies a lot, don't they?
posted by sotonohito at 12:55 PM on April 21, 2016 [34 favorites]


The question I think this essay is really trying to get at is, who are the enemies of liberals? There's this tendency to think of them as rubes, as discussed in the article, as backwards, clueless rural people, when really our real enemies are the economic elite ...

This piece just illustrates the deficiencies and pointlessness of politics-on-the-internet. So much of it is performative, symbolic, rhetorical. Is someone or some group too smug or too angry or not angry or enthusiastic enough. Are you on the right team? Do you know who your enemies are? Are you saying the right things at the right time? It's as if the all the worst energies of politics and advertising were somehow harnessed together into some kind of perpetual crowd-sourced media campaign. And almost none of that has any real effect on real day-to-day "politics"—unless you think perpetual crowd-sourced media campaigns are "politics."
posted by octobersurprise at 12:57 PM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I do believe that few commenters on metafilter respect conservatives and republicans.

I respect ordinary conservative and republican voters, though I do think they've hitched their wagons to the wrong clown car, but if you've ever worked close up with actual republican/conservative politicians and their various loyalists in the public sector, you might understand why there's so little respect in my comments about republicans. Normal people get a pass from me, because they've got nothing to judge by except the news narratives.

I think the real story here is how much social politics and people's esteem issues play into our politics on both sides now. There are obviously a lot of people in the electorate who feel badly beaten down and powerless and have a chip on their shoulders about it. That's not a reassuring indicator to me on the overall health and well being of our society.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:59 PM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


@RogerB - It's worth noting that this is also the prevailing ethos in Silicon Valley. The idea seems to be that the technology industry, entirely on its own, completely independent of government or anything that government touches, is going to save the world. An apolitical utopia.

It ignores, of course, the entirely bogus nature of the idea that the industry is in any way apolitical, as well as the fact that its workers were educated in schools funded by the government, and that they drive to work on roads built and maintained by the government, and so on. Evgeny Morozov is a great guy to read on this. Recent Guardian article here.
posted by ColdOfTheIsleOfMan at 1:00 PM on April 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


Next up on the Interbutts: People have strong opinions about things that matter to them, generally give few fucks about their tone when defending them. Everyone is shocked, shocked I tell you*.


*Not that shocked.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:02 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


shot: I believe that many liberals do not see conservatives as having a different set of political beliefs, but being wrong, incorrect, and evil.

chaser: This is because, conservatives have a set of political beliefs that are demonstrably wrong, empirically proven to be incorrect, and generally produce bad outcomes for everyone.

That's the unfortunate thing - if people put forth their political views and opinions as absolute facts, we aren't going to get anywhere. That's why Washington is in such a deadlock: when one side controls the House/Senate against a President, they simply obstruct the whole process and try to make it so he can't get anything done.

50+ years ago, there was a greater tendency for bipartisan cooperation and more local representation. Nowadays, it seems less about representing the people in your district and more about being a servant of your party.
posted by theorique at 1:05 PM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


That's because 50+ years ago was before the right wing went batshitinsane.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 1:08 PM on April 21, 2016 [19 favorites]


I also note that the author of the linked piece is being deliberately deceptive:
In 1948, in the immediate wake of the Franklin Roosevelt, 66 percent of manual laborers voted for Democrats, along with 60 percent of farmers. In 1964, it was 55 percent of working-class voters. By 1980, it was 35 percent.
Why yes, that's entirely true. And what happened between 1948 and 1980? It wasn't the Democrats sneeringly telling working class people to fuck off. It was the Civil Rights Act and the subsequent shift of the South (home of a great many working class people) to the Republican party.

So right away the author is telling a giant lie of omission, a lie that is necessary to maintain his narrative, but is still a lie.

Why did they abandon us, he imagines a puzzled liberal musing. Well, a good part of it was because the average white Southern working class man was never really on board with anything liberal and had been a Democrat until Civil Rights more out of a visceral hatred for "the party of Lincoln" than for any actual belief in what the modern Democratic party stands for.

A great many white working class men, and quite a few non-working class people of all sexes and colors, have a deeply held belief in authoritarianism and social hierarchy, and they just plain don't like it when a previously submissive, or completely unnoticed, minority group suddenly starts getting uppity and asking for equal rights.

theorique So, are you arguing that global warming isn't real? That trickle down really does work?

Opinions are one thing, but facts are another.

The question "what do we do about global warming" may have valid opinions other than "let's do our best to cut CO2 emissions to try and halt or slow it". But no opinion is valid that begins by assuming global warming is a lie maintained for nefarious purposes.

There may be valid opinions about taxing and spending other than mine. But any opinion based on the provable falsehood that cutting taxes for the wealthy improves economic matters generally is simply invalid and worthy only of the most withering contempt I can muster.

My political views are mere opinions. But the facts they are based on are facts.

Rush Limbaugh's political views are mere opinions, but they're worse than mine simply because they are based on lies rather than facts.

Facts matter.

Truth matters.

Reality matters.

I cannot, I **WILL NOT** accept as equal an opinion based on falsehood, on myth, on lies. Disagreement is one thing, disagreement based on falsehood is something else entirely.
posted by sotonohito at 1:11 PM on April 21, 2016 [37 favorites]


That's the unfortunate thing - if people put forth their political views and opinions as absolute facts, we aren't going to get anywhere.

The danger of assuming that there are no objective facts, only first principles, is just as great, if not greater. The "view from nowhere" looks really pretty when you're standing high above the fray, but you have to come down at some point and encounter actual facts on the ground.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:13 PM on April 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


My takeaway from this article is that "being right" isn't an end to itself and looks real ugly when rightness is used as a cudgel. And judging by like 90% of the comments here it's probably a good lesson?
posted by Tevin at 1:13 PM on April 21, 2016 [11 favorites]


I also note that while the author clutches his pearls in anguish over the mean bitterness of the Daily Show (of all things), while studiously ignoring the rise of hate radio and the entire deeply bitter and hateful right wing propaganda machine.

Amazing how you can conclude that liberals are big stupid meanieheads when you completely ignore what the right was doing.
posted by sotonohito at 1:15 PM on April 21, 2016 [17 favorites]


For me, the main point of the article was "right-wingers aren't really stupid." Okay, I'll grant you that. They're still wrong, though. If it's not because they're too dumb to know better, the only other option is that they're knowingly hateful because they just don't believe LGBT people, people of color, women, immigrants, or any other oppressed group really deserve basic human rights or jobs. To call them stupid may be too kind.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 1:18 PM on April 21, 2016 [16 favorites]


does this guy not know that "coastal liberal elites" is an age-old antisemitic dogwhistle or does he just not care
posted by poffin boffin at 1:18 PM on April 21, 2016 [26 favorites]


My takeaway from this article is that "being right" isn't an end to itself and looks real ugly when rightness is used as a cudgel.

"A lot of people don’t have much food on their table,
But they got a lot of forks and knives
And they gotta cut somethin'."
posted by octobersurprise at 1:19 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


My takeaway from this article is that "being right" isn't an end to itself and looks real ugly when rightness is used as a cudgel.

If the people who are wrong weren't harming others with their wrongness, I'd agree with you. If you're powerless to stop them, and you've tried reasoning with them, sometimes all that's left is ridicule.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:19 PM on April 21, 2016 [16 favorites]


"If you're powerless to stop them, and you've tried reasoning with them, sometimes all that's left is ridicule."

And all the good it's doing, too!
posted by Tevin at 1:21 PM on April 21, 2016


[One comment deleted. Don't troll here, and make an effort not to look like you're trolling.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:24 PM on April 21, 2016


And all the good it's doing, too!

Well, I mean, you just used it, so you must see some value in it.
posted by maxsparber at 1:24 PM on April 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


I'm not sure what to do when someone says that trans people don't have civil rights, or that black people do not experience racism on a daily, lifelong basis other than that they are wrong. Those are not opinions, dude, those are facts.

I grew up in a household with a fairly extreme sociopolitical philosophy that most people would consider rightwing (my poor dad would plotz at the characterization) and I have actually come to understand that the basis of their beliefs are a kind of charming naivete about humans as a species. And that's cute and everything but I'll fight tooth and nail against actually enacting the order they espouse because their naive vision of a nation of heroic individualists all toiling away under the steam of their own rational self-interest which will then somehow in step 3 create a shining utopia where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average has been born out by facts exactly NEVER. It's literally a fictional story in an overlong, frankly terrible book, and nothing more. I love my parents, and I respect everything they've done for me, which is a lot, but their politics are whackadoo and would create more human misery, not solve it. Actually factually, since we have any number of failed states to look at and see what happens when everyone has to fend for themselves.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:24 PM on April 21, 2016 [29 favorites]


Well, I mean, you just used it, so you must see some value in it.

Actually, the American right sees value in it too, but they're just not very good at it. I can't name them, but there have been several attempts by Fox News and other right wing outlets at creating their own Daily Show or John Oliver type thing -- and it's not like the Obama administration hasn't given them enough fodder -- but they aren't capable of doing it in any way that doesn't look pathetic to most Americans, so nobody watches them.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:30 PM on April 21, 2016


That was a confused and confusing argument, that as often demonstrated the smugness of the conservatives as it did the smugness of liberals. It tried and failed to make the argument that the smugness was "wrong" because conservatives are angry and smug liberals don't understand that. Yet, the examples all indicated the smugness of liberals is about understanding the facts, not ignoring the fact that the ignorant were also angry about real things. The smugness is, in fact, often about the ignorant misdirecting their anger because of their ignorance. And that ignorance is not an accident, but the result of a long, expensive, and determined campaign to create that ignorance through "think tanks," "news outlets," (broadcast, print, and online) and "talk radio."

It is akin to regulatory capture, but is, in fact, intellectual capture. It grew out of the perception on the right that when these news anchors and newspaper editorialists would present news unfavorable to the conservative world view, it was a result of conscious bias on the part of the media. Thus, the only way to counteract such "bias" was to create their own sources of "facts" and outlets to spread these "facts" around. They coupled that with organized campaigns to label all media they didn't own as full of liberal bias by orchestrating letter-writing campaigns to complain bitterly when their outrageous claims were called out in the media. It took many decades, but now ideas that were once dismissed as loony (e.g., those of the laughable John Birch Society) are now treated with seriousness by people who actually do know better, but are afraid of the consequences of out and out ridicule of ridiculous ideas. So it's not so much smugness, as snark and sarcasm to deal with resultant helplessness of watching our political discourse become such a parody of actual debate.

The only solution is to hope that, given enough time, the momentum imparted to the right wing by this campaign of ignorance will shift it far enough outside the bounds of decency that it will return to its former laughingstock status. Then the GOP can return to its former state of rationality and help with the governing of the country.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:31 PM on April 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


This seems like another example of the male tears phenomenon to me. The right is actively trying to restrict trans people from using bathrooms consistent with their gender, because, what? Perverts attacking children? Some panicked nonsense that's just a shadow puppet show for them desperately hoping this is a new wedge issue they can use as political fuel, which has got to be about as mean, as cynical, and as vicious a political move as possible. They're actively trying to shut down discussions of global warming, not because they don't believe in global warming, but for profits, which is damaging the earth for the sake of a few dollars. They won't sell cakes to gay people, they are promoting a culture of hostility and violence toward Muslims, they behave like the undocumented immigrant group that picks their oranges and makes their restaurant meals are rapists and murderers, and they are actively seeking to keep black people out of the voting process. They then go online and bully anyone who questions this.

And the problem is that liberals are smug in response? No, the problem is that there are liberals, and this tone argument is another master class in bullshit, in making it seem like there are two equally valid opinions and one side just won't respect the other because they sometimes make fun.

Oh boo hoo. Cry in your segregated bathroom or your straights-only piece of cake, you bigot.
posted by maxsparber at 1:31 PM on April 21, 2016 [48 favorites]


Which was all to say that the conservative Venn diagram of "evil people" and "otherwise nice people who have terrible ideas" are not just a single circle, and I am very intimately aware of that. But unless I am actually addressing a single individual, I'm just going to treat the terrible ideas and the evil people to the same level of ire because what is at stake are peoples' lives, literally. It's awesome if you're in a social position where these arguments are at the theoretical, relativist level of that one really lively Philosophy class you had once, but that ain't necessarily so for everyone.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:33 PM on April 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


Apparently step 1 in getting liberals to be less smug is to spend 7000 words smugly mocking them.

Like dialethia above, I could entirely get behind a more targeted critique of technocratic scientism, particularly exemplified by folks like Posner, Sunstein, the foreign policy establishment, or indeed any overblown economist. But this essay conflates social science over-certainty with global warming or evolution or gay rights, which are very different categories of thing. And it does so in the world's most unhelpful style -- one that seems intended to stir up more trouble than to solve problems.

But at least the conversations here have been a thousand times better than that!
posted by chortly at 1:41 PM on April 21, 2016 [17 favorites]


That's the unfortunate thing - if people put forth their political views and opinions as absolute facts, we aren't going to get anywhere.

You may not believe in global warming, but global warming believes in you. And me. And our children, and grandchildren. Is our model of climate change 100% accurate? Most likely not. Is there more than one reasonable response to the immensely complex question of "How do we achieve the massive international cooperation that will be required to stave off disaster?" Certainly. Are we doomed if massive swathes of people refuse to believe it's happening at all? Hell, yes.

Twenty-five years from now when half the coasts are underwater we're going to be hearing about how it's not worthwhile to try to apportion blame, and that people couldn't have understood what was coming, and so on--no. Just no. Within suitable tolerances, there are facts to deal with, and you can't Jesus them away.
posted by praemunire at 1:48 PM on April 21, 2016 [26 favorites]


And what happened between 1948 and 1980? It wasn't the Democrats sneeringly telling working class people to fuck off.

the 70s were the time period when the manufacturing base went to hell in the midwest, though - i don't think sneering and telling them to fuck off was a thing, but the historical fact is it happened and it happened when democrats were in charge of congress if not the whole government

there were other nasty things happening then, too - oil prices, crime ... not a good decade
posted by pyramid termite at 2:04 PM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Part of the issue is that in the USA, a lot of otherwise orthogonal ideas get bundled up into the Republican party which then gets identified as "Official Conservatism" in the American mind. But why should "limited government" be automatically bundled with "religious opposition to abortion"? Why should "tough on crime" be automatically bundled with "global warming skeptic" and "supporting the Second Amendment"? (The same bundling process also takes place with the Democrats, although with different viewpoints.)

But if you seek political influence, you're essentially forced to operate within one of the two main parties, otherwise you're out in the cold. So otherwise nuanced people hold their noses and cast their lot in with one of the only two choices.

(Yes, you can go Green or Libertarian. But then you're just LARPing as a politican - you're not actually risking getting elected.)

One of the "advantages" (?) of proportional-representation parliamentary systems is that small, obscure, or single-issue parties can actually gain an independent voice in the legislature. In the USA, this tends to occur via state-by-state variations and nuances in the Republican and Democratic parties. However, because of the centralization of power in the Federal government, many ambitious politicians have their sights set on the Federal level.
posted by theorique at 2:04 PM on April 21, 2016 [12 favorites]


The global climate change question is really interesting to me because I work with climate change science a lot in my research and seem to have a greater sense of urgency around these issues than most liberals. What's interesting to me is that because of this framing of climate science as "do you believe in it or not," I feel like many liberals are satisfied to stop caring substantively about climate issues once they are satisfied that they have the right facts. You can see this in pro-fracking and pro-pipeline liberals who want climate change cred for believing in it, but without taking any action against the massive investment in infrastructure that is going to result in massive methane emission increases. I don't mean to cast aspersions on any liberals, really, it's just an area in which I've noticed that having 'correct' knowledge (because no doubt, global climate change is already well underway) can often substitute for taking the 'correct' actions.

And what happened between 1948 and 1980? It wasn't the Democrats sneeringly telling working class people to fuck off.

Obviously civil rights legislation was a huge driver in pushing racist white people away from the Democratic party. But I think it's a mistake to ascribe that racism solely to the working class, or to insinuate that working class white people are predominantly racist. This piece, nominally about Trump, makes an interesting argument that blaming the white working class for racism can function as a way to offload blame for structural racism onto people who have very little influence or power over those structures, while sparing those who continue these systems:

Here’s where Nadine Hubbs’s Rednecks, Queers, & Country Music is so helpful. She shows how an educated white “narrating class” tends to see working-class whites are “ground zero for America’s most virulent social ills: racism, sexism, and homophobia.” Hubbs traces this to a Southern tradition of “white elites placing the blame for racial violence on poor whites as early as the turn of the twentieth century.” Hubbs quotes Patricia Turner, who has dubbed it “the fallacy of To Kill a Mockingbird”, which is the “notion that well-educated Christian whites were somehow victimized by white trash and forced to live within a social system that exploited and denigrated its black citizens.”

This class-based blame-shifting (“It’s not us, it’s them!”) actually supports racist and other systems of oppression. As Hubbs points out, the well-documented institutional racism that involves banks denying mortgages, employers not hiring blacks, and landlords refusing and/or exploiting black renters is not generally carried out by poor and working-class whites, but by white middle-class professionals. By casting intolerance and bigotry as the unfortunate/misguided attitudes of “poorly educated,” “low-information” white voters, we white middle-class professionals deflect attention from those well-entrenched institutions within which we work, institutions that systematically deny opportunities to a wide range of people based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, immigrant status, and class.

posted by dialetheia at 2:12 PM on April 21, 2016 [42 favorites]


Oh man if the US ever broke the two-party system it would turn into the twenty-party system overnight and would make France seem pretty unified.
posted by GuyZero at 2:13 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


the historical fact is it happened and it happened when democrats were in charge of congress if not the whole government

What is this supposed to mean? What specific actions or inactions are they supposed to be responsible for? What about the state-level control and the effects that had in a lot of areas?
posted by zombieflanders at 2:18 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


You can see this in pro-fracking and pro-pipeline liberals who want climate change cred for believing in it

Wait, how many pro-fracking and pro-pipeline liberals have you encountered? The polling I've seen shows something like 20-25% support for fracking among Democrats, and you really don't find polling results that get lower than that. If I remember right Keystone support was a little higher, but still well below a majority. It seems like a weird thing to hang climate hypocrisy on liberals -- none of us is doing all we could be doing, but the attitude of believing one thing on the science and another for public policy seems to be a very niche viewpoint among self-described liberals.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:23 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wait, how many pro-fracking and pro-pipeline liberals have you encountered?

You will often see it in places that rely on oil and gas extraction to drive their economy. They are often worried about the effects dismantling an industry will have on the people who live and work there. I know there was a recent thread here about Canada where some Canadian lefties were arguing about a plan to basically dismantle Alberta's oil infrastructure fairly quickly in favor of green tech. Situations like that can put a lot of us in a position where we have to prioritize which perceived good should take precedence at the expense of another.
posted by Hoopo at 2:28 PM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


“A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.”
-Spiro Agnew on antiwar protesters, 1969
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 2:30 PM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


You will often see it in places that rely on oil and gas extraction to drive their economy.

Right, I live in Western PA, ground zero for the Marcellus Shale boom, so I do see support for fracking, but not among any liberals I know. That doesn't mean some of the people I don't know who support it are closet liberals or people I just don't talk politics with, but the polling really does suggest that Democratic partisan affiliation strongly correlates with opposition to fracking.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:34 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


The article is not claiming that the "smug style" is the reason for the Democratic Party's decline in the second half of the twentieth century, but the other way around.
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark at 2:36 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


What specific actions or inactions are they supposed to be responsible for?

I think the point is that the Party In Power tends to get blamed for anything that happens on their watch, regardless of whether they did anything to cause it.

The only weird outlier example of this is 9/11, which should have been an electoral disaster for Republicans but they played the fear well enough to turn that albatross into an eight-year-plus stranglehold on American politics instead.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:40 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


My political views are mere opinions. But the facts they are based on are facts.

Unlike all those people who knowingly derive their beliefs from lies and falsehoods? Not that I'm blowing your mind with this bit of epistemology but I don't see how simply re-asserting that your foundations are strong accomplishes anything.
posted by atoxyl at 2:43 PM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Wait, how many pro-fracking and pro-pipeline liberals have you encountered?

Both Clinton and Obama were hesitant to take a stand against Keystone for years, with Clinton not expressing her opposition until it was already dead. Obama's State department under Clinton invested millions and had an 80-person team involved in the global promotion of fracking, which is extremely problematic (and was particularly ugly in Bulgaria and Romania, where they helped Chevron overcome local mass protest movements against fracking).

If you live in PA, I'm curious how else you'd frame the DSCC's support for Katie McGinty, their handpicked candidate running against Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania, when McGinty advocates against fracking bans and maintains the blessing of the party - in fact, the DSCC has spent over a million dollars to support her candidacy over Sestak. That liberals continue to use fossil fuel-friendly framing terms like "bridge fuel" to describe an energy source with massive leak problems and emissions with 84x more greenhouse potency than carbon dioxide, or talk about "all of the above" energy plans that only make very incremental changes toward renewable energy, speaks to their hesitance to argue for the kind of urgent changes we need to even have a prayer of limiting climate change. That's what I mean - many liberals seem to believe that acknowledging global climate change and making token efforts toward solar panels counts as being good on climate issues. It's not nearly enough.

Anyway, the details are a derail, but my ultimate point was that one of the downsides of this "it's just facts!" framing around politics is that espousing the right facts can serve as empty virtue signaling that removes some responsibility for political advocacy and substantive action.
posted by dialetheia at 2:46 PM on April 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


I'm with you that it's not nearly enough, but the actions of specific elected Democrats aren't anything approaching a useful proxy for the beliefs of liberals, which makes it a strange tangent to bring into a thread about liberals being too smug. I see no connection between citing established facts/expert opinion and being a hypocrite on climate change or any other issue.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:57 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can dial it back then - it's not even about being a hypocrite, it's about being satisfied to mostly support the status quo as long as they believe the right facts. The environmental movement has been treated mostly as a marginalized sideshow in Democratic politics for quite awhile now, unfortunately.
posted by dialetheia at 3:04 PM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yea, slacker liberals. Maybe try campaigning on some of these ideas, idiots? Here are some freebies:

Implement a more progressive income tax system
Fight back against dismantling unions
Increase the minimum wage
Expand Medicare and Medicaid, maybe through an overhaul of the insurance system
Don't increase the retirement age
Increase access to higher education
Better public transit
Prevent Social Security cuts

I haven't heard liberals talk about any of this kind of stuff! They should wave a magic wand and override the conservative majorities in Congress and local jurisdictions and just make this stuff happen so they can be elected.


To be fair, left-of-center parties across the English-speaking world have been falling all over themselves for 25 years to implement neoliberal policies.
posted by Automocar at 3:05 PM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


The environmental movement has been treated mostly as a marginalized sideshow in Democratic politics for quite awhile now, unfortunately.

Yeah, I think a lot of that is people voting based on their very short-term economic interests, not understanding the connection between the environment and their medium-to-long-term financial interests, health, and overall well-being. Environmentalism isn't a voting issue for most people, but I don't think it's because they feel they've done enough by acknowledging the scientific truth, but because they can't place something that might happen or even is likely to happen over something they see happening right now.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:10 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'll agree with that, but I do think that public acknowledgment that global climate change is real gives them substantial rhetorical cover for those poor, short-sighted, selfish decisions - "how dare you accuse me of being an enemy of the environment! I believe in climate change, unlike those horrible Republicans!"
posted by dialetheia at 3:20 PM on April 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


What is this supposed to mean? What specific actions or inactions are they supposed to be responsible for?

oh, you could just call it a "crisis of confidence" like jimmy carter did - didn't work that well for him ...
posted by pyramid termite at 3:20 PM on April 21, 2016


I'm interested if people here spend much time reading conservative material that they might not agree with but still deem worthy of serious consideration. I'll list a couple of sites that fit that shoe for me and hope others will do the same.

The New Atlantis
The American Conservative
posted by CincyBlues at 3:23 PM on April 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


I particularly like Daniel Larison from TaC which you just linked. He's mostly foreign policy, but his analysis of domestic things is usually very even keeled and realistic.
posted by Ferreous at 3:25 PM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Though there are a lot of other writers there who are trash people, like rod dreher
posted by Ferreous at 3:29 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


So reasoning collapses into reasonableness. By the more naïve and snobbish celebrants of complacency, arguments and facts of a displeasing kind are simply ignored; by the more knowing, they are duly recognised, but they are neither connected with one another not related to any general view. Acknowledged in a scattered way, they are never put together: to do so is to risk being called, curiously enough, “one-sided.”--C. Wright Mills, "Letter to the New Left," 1960.
posted by No Robots at 3:41 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


So I did read some of those articles in that TAC link. Their arguments seem to be based on the mindset people who aren't white enough or straight enough don't count as 'people.' It makes me want to grab some more conservative by the lapels and scream "Freedom and justice for all means Freedom and justice for all, you un-American twat!" And hurl them through a window. And maybe I could prove my real not-pussy-liberal American cred by firing an M-16 into the air or something.

Maybe I'm just smug or something.
posted by Zalzidrax at 3:54 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Jon Chait: Liberalism Is Working

we really need more words to separate out "political sphere that includes but is not limited to Democrats" and "dominant organizing principle of western governments."

and the main link is Rod Dreher-approved. Dreher's open racism in how he runs TAC really turned me off about three months ago.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:57 PM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


“A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.”
-Spiro Agnew on antiwar protesters, 1969


My college radio station was so enamored of that quote that they put it on the station promos: "We are an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize ourselves as intellectuals."

They put the quote on the radio station t-shirt for that year too, and golly, I loved it! I kept that shirt for years, and even when the sleeves started falling apart, I just cut 'em off to make the shirt into a tank top. Which I wore to a float trip last summer (suns out guns out), and then - sadly - lost at some point when my innertube overturned and the shirt sailed down the river (I had removed the shirt by this point, seduced by the sun and river and a whole lot of boxed wine and shouting WOOO with the other missourians who were talking about what a right nice day it was).

Anyway, I guess my general conclusion is that my shirt was great, my arms are sexy, and this article sucks
posted by Greg Nog at 4:05 PM on April 21, 2016 [12 favorites]


I'm not confident that my opinion trumps someone else's.

I'm like a million percent confident that the following opinions trump their opposites:

Women are equal to men.
Trans people are equal to cis people.
People of colour are equal to white people.
QUILTBAG people are equal to straight people.
The above named groups have been subject to injustice throughout history, and the present.
That needs to stop.

There is no argument in the universe that will persuade me otherwise. Republicans/conservatives are just wrong. Not all opinions are of equal value.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:08 PM on April 21, 2016 [24 favorites]


Jon Chait: Liberalism Is Working

A few counterpoint stories to that article: working for who? (h/t to various twitter folk for the links)
Majority of public schoolchildren live in poverty
L.A. council OKs law limiting homeless people's belongings to what can fit in a trash bin
Low-income Americans can no longer afford rent, food, and transportation
posted by dialetheia at 4:08 PM on April 21, 2016 [6 favorites]




Metafilter: an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals
posted by sotonohito at 4:11 PM on April 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


So I did read some of those articles in that TAC link. Their arguments seem to be based on the mindset people who aren't white enough or straight enough don't count as 'people.'

Rod Dreher has already been acknowledged as a trash person, yes. (I haven't ever actually read TaC before but just looking at it that seemed to be the main byline on articles that could be so described.)
posted by atoxyl at 5:13 PM on April 21, 2016


Oh wait is he actually their editor?
posted by atoxyl at 5:14 PM on April 21, 2016


Anyway I don't really bother to engage with social conservatism much because there's just not going to be a meeting point. As I said in the alt-right thread the way they want the world to be and the way I want to world to be are not compatible - doesn't mean I'm objectively correct but that doesn't matter. I'll engage with stuff like Marginal Revolution - more neoliberal/libertarian - from their left.
posted by atoxyl at 5:30 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I also note that while the author clutches his pearls in anguish over the mean bitterness of the Daily Show (of all things), while studiously ignoring the rise of hate radio and the entire deeply bitter and hateful right wing propaganda machine.

Yeah, it all suddenly made sense when a commenter upthread pointed out the author is 26. He grew up in a world where right wing talk radio was the norm and the Daily Show was apparently the aggressor. I'm old enough to have found Air America Radio or Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them a balm in a world gone mad, and this guy would lambaste them for being too mean to the people who tried to make "liberal" a dirty word that equated with "traitor."
posted by ejs at 5:30 PM on April 21, 2016 [17 favorites]


i hope the author discovers how to combat the smug style in american liberalism while working on his mfa
posted by Greg Nog at 6:09 PM on April 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


i hope the author discovers how to combat the smug style in american liberalism while working on his mfa

Hey, it seems to have worked for this fellow Big Ten MFA'er. At this rate, liberal smugness doesn't stand a chance!
posted by tonycpsu at 6:16 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


He grew up in a world where right wing talk radio was the norm and the Daily Show was apparently the aggressor

It's probably simpler than that. Some one was mean to him on the twitter or some patchouli-scented hippie snatched the last bag of kale from him at the farmer's market and now it's THE DEATH OF THE LEFT. Hey, some one's got to do it. Mickey Kaus isn't going to live forever, you know.

(That's if it's not even simpler and he's not peddling this guff for the clicks.)
posted by octobersurprise at 6:39 PM on April 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


People might be reading more into the author's politics than is necessarily evident - his pinned tweet right now reads "Boy wait until all these reactionaries who just followed me find out what I think we should do to the means of production." He has a few exchanges on twitter that helped clarify the essay for me; I don't think the writing was focused enough to get this across, but it seems like his ultimate point wasn't that conservatives aren't wrong and/or evil, it was that they aren't wrong or evil simply because they're stupid. When I reread the piece with that in mind, it was a little easier to take - he isn't saying don't attack Kim Davis for her evil beliefs, he's saying don't assume that Kim Davis only believes what she does because she's an idiot and can't even understand her own religion (although I think his article really suffers for some of the examples he chose, Davis chief among them).
posted by dialetheia at 6:49 PM on April 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


People might be reading more into the author's politics than are necessarily evident

Well, that's one way of putting it.
posted by RogerB at 6:51 PM on April 21, 2016


Kim Davis made $80,000 a year, was the daughter of a woman who held the same white collar govt. job, in a county with a sizable state university. She undoubtedly takes more more annual income than most untenured and likely most tenured professors there. In what alternate universe is she considered "working class?" And what is the working class now anyway? What do people mean by it, in a postindustrial era?
posted by raysmj at 7:26 PM on April 21, 2016 [17 favorites]


it was that they aren't wrong or evil simply because they're stupid

Well, duh, as the kids say (do the kids still say that?)

We could quibble over what, precisely, "stupid" means here, but I'm content to believe that Kim Davis, say, really believes what she says and that she has a world-view where all of what she says fits together and makes some kind of sense.

I don't think the writing was focused enough to get this across ...

I'm probably more sympathetic to the "even The New Republic"-style liberalism than many here and I see vacuity as the big problem in the piece. As think pieces go, "your favorite political party is too smug" is right up there with "your favorite band sucks."

Of course maybe I'm just the kind of elitist, pompous, self-satisfied, ivory-tower-dwelling dilettante who would say that.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:32 PM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Also, if there's any justice in the world, Vox will let him expound on his plans for the means of production.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:37 PM on April 21, 2016


Kim Davis made $80,000 a year, was the daughter of a woman who held the same white collar govt. job, in a county with a sizable state university.

$250,000 probably is about on track with what a middle class income would/should be if there had been wage growth in line with historical norms the last 30 years or so. $80,000 may seem like a huge, princely sum to a lot of people now, but that's not because it's actually very much in terms of raw spending power anymore. There really isn't much of a middle class anymore. That's what the economists mean when they talk about the inequality gap--there's this huge gap in the income spread now where the middle used to be.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:38 PM on April 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


In Morehead KY, that is a shitload of money.
posted by raysmj at 7:38 PM on April 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


Good point. Local cost of living does matter and that's probably a lot higher than the median for the area. But the point about the missing middle in the income spread is true. And that's still not anything approaching fuck you money levels of earning...
posted by saulgoodman at 7:43 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Gak, you're right. The median there is only $27,000.00 per household.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:46 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


I thought it was decent, if imperfect. I'm a liberal, and my fellow liberals can be awfully cringe-inducing at times. Do I think we're fundamentally right on the issues that matter? Social, economic, political equality? Of course I do. But the article is right that (many, obv not all) liberals have presented those values in a manner that does not always make them appealing to members of, let's say, 'non-elite' classes.

Smart progressives realise that Bernie could never implement his agenda without massive support from Congress. To do so requires, naturally, electing members to Congress that share his ideas. THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN without liberals reformulating their approach to 'flyover' country. Presidential elections can be won on the basis of dominating wealthy, well-educated states, and playing to Daily Show fans like myself. But you can't fully achieve a progressive agenda without buy-in from all of society, including NASCAR fans and people who watch Duck Dynasty.
posted by modernnomad at 7:59 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. As always, metacommentary about what Mefi or Mefites are like doesn't go on the blue.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:02 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, Bernie spent much of his time going on about how the South didn't go for him because the South is conservative and he's not. Most of the southern voters in the Dem. race were African-American and pretty liberal on economic issues, as well as civil rights and certain civil liberties issues. If you think you're going to pick up white middle income (lower middle to upper middle) white evangelical voters of any generation within the coming decade via a Bernie-like campaign, though, forget it. Doesn't matter how earnest you are. Those voters are long since lost to you.

The GOP splitting up is the only thing that will change matters, and send certain factions looking for new party homes. I won't predict how that'll turn out, but the factions won't be going for Bernie Sanders-like Dems under any circumstances.
posted by raysmj at 8:19 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


t modernnomad: Flyover country is massively over represented by the senate. Trying to get democrats to win Nebraska or what not is a fools task. You can't win it just on discussion, it's a game that's rigged against you.
posted by Ferreous at 8:20 PM on April 21, 2016


Kim Davis made $80,000 a year

Sure, but I can't imagine all the mocking signaling was lost on the poorer social conservatives of Kentucky, either. And she was roundly mocked for a number of lower-class signifiers - her ruralness, her clothing, her many divorces, being born again, etc. I saw about a hundred trailer park jokes about her when this was all happening, regardless of her personal income or social class. Again, that isn't to say that she isn't both wrong and actively harmful by any means - she is both.

Some one was mean to him on the twitter or some patchouli-scented hippie snatched the last bag of kale from him at the farmer's market and now it's THE DEATH OF THE LEFT.

To be honest, I think this is exactly the sort of sneering dismissiveness the author is talking about.

I wish he had hammered his point home better: that liberals will need to engage conservative arguments on moral terms, not just on technocratic correctness, in order to really achieve our agenda and win downballot races (where we've lost 900+ state legislature seats, 12 governors, 69 House seats, and 13 Senate seats since 2008). As he put it: This, I think, is fundamental to understanding the smug style. If good politics and good beliefs are just Good Facts and good tweets — that is, if there is no ideology beyond sensible conclusions drawn from a rational assessment of the world — then there are no moral fights, only lying liars and the stupid rubes who believe them. We need to re-engage with those moral fights, not just pretend our values derive from sensible, rational assessment and everyone who doesn't agree with us is a moron with the wrong facts. That means making an argument for e.g. health care based on morality - that everyone deserves to have health care as a human right, not just that it bends the curve or is most efficient or provides reasonable profits for our corporate partners or whatever wonky goodness convinces the WaPo editorial board that it's a good idea.

I disagree with the way he focuses on social issues, though - I think liberals have achieved a great deal of progress on social issues precisely because we've been able to make the moral case for progress on those issues, and it's been quite successful on the whole, at least over the long term. But on other policy issues, from health care to the economy to higher education, the basis for our arguments have been largely technocratic rather than moral, which leaves us arguing from a smug position almost by definition.
posted by dialetheia at 8:21 PM on April 21, 2016 [18 favorites]


the article is right that (many, obv not all) liberals have presented those values in a manner that does not always make them appealing to members of, let's say, 'non-elite' classes.

Honestly, I don't even know what this means. What does it mean to say that "liberals" (as opposed to some specific candidate) don't "present their values in an appealing way"? Who are these "liberals"? Who gets to decide what's "appealing" and to whom? Who decides who is an "elite"? At best, the claim here is that some people, some where, make some other people angry, which is merely a platitude. At worst what's being called for is some kind of clumsy political version of "always be closing."
posted by octobersurprise at 8:34 PM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


That means making an argument for e.g. health care based on morality - that everyone deserves to have health care as a human right

Do you honestly think that no one is, or has been, making this argument? Looking at your profile, I'm guessing you are a little young to have a clear memory of what happened in 1993-94. A major reason people make economic arguments in support of various liberal policy positions is because there are a significant number of people in this country who simply regard certain subsets of their fellow-citizens as outside the sphere of moral concern and thus moral arguments have only limited traction.
posted by praemunire at 8:35 PM on April 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


Why shouldn't a person with multiple divorces (which I don't see as typical of any class here--it's an American thing across the board) who wants to keep gays from marrying be mocked? The perceived ruralness wasn't really ruralness, unless you think rural people all have Little House on the Prairie in 2016. I looked at her and thought, Oh, Pentecostal. She was reportedly an Apostolic Christian, of the Pentecostal variety. But you have Pentecostal churches in NYC, already. Maybe some media people in larger East Coast cities thought that she was typical of rural America, and I don't doubt that some did, but I'm not living in an East Coast city or working in media and felt like she had mockery coming to her.

At the same time, I thought she looked ridiculous, and grew tired of media people talking about her all the live long day for a while there, and constantly putting her image before me. It was like the Gary Condit/Chandra Levy story or Baby Jessica in the Well or Elian Gonzalea the Cuban Boy coverage, with a social issue attached and bad hair. Over and over and over.
posted by raysmj at 8:46 PM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Do you honestly think that no one is, or has been, making this argument? Looking at your profile, I'm guessing you are a little young to have a clear memory of what happened in 1993-94.

If the most recent example you have is over 20 years ago, then yeah, I think we could stand to try again instead of taking those lessons to heart as if they are immutable. I would even argue that Obama made those arguments in moral terms during his campaign in 2008, but unfortunately pitched health care reform in much more technocratic terms once he was elected.

But in 2016, even Donald Trump got up at one of the Republican debates and said he doesn't think we should have people dying in the streets because of lack of health care. John Kasich was campaigning in moral terms on his Medicare expansion plan. It's not just a hard-left idea anymore because peoples' economic conditions have become so dire that everyone is experiencing those hardships, not just the people who are outside of that sphere of moral concern (though that is a very important point, I totally agree). Health care in 1994 still fundamentally worked for many people - our biggest problems were mainly HMOs (my mom worked in health care so I heard much more about those politics than you might think). Now, though, over 40% of Americans have a medical debt in collections. Even with the ACA, many people still can't afford to access the coverage they pay for because their deductibles are too high. If our best arguments for our ideas boil down to "here, read this Krugman column," we won't be able to connect our policies with those experiences for many people.
posted by dialetheia at 8:48 PM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


To be honest, I think this is exactly the sort of sneering dismissiveness the author is talking about.

Of course it's dismissive. I wrote dismissively. I think his piece is deservedly dismissed. Is the claim here that I shouldn't have written that, here, in this forum, for fear that it might turn someone away from supporting single-payer health care or a raise in the minimum wage?
posted by octobersurprise at 8:51 PM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think his piece is deservedly dismissed. Is the claim here that I shouldn't have written that, here, in this forum, for fear that it might turn someone away from supporting single-payer health care or a raise in the minimum wage?

Nah, just that it makes you sound like kind of a jerk. But the dismissal is still an example of the kind of argumentation he's talking about - your comment indicates that he must be a total moron who had one bad experience instead of granting that he might not be stupid and just had different experiences or values than you.
posted by dialetheia at 9:04 PM on April 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


I mean, every privileged, upper-middle class Democrat I know knowingly faces higher taxes under both Sanders and Clinton than any Republican

Presidents don't have the power to raise taxes.
posted by straight at 10:33 PM on April 21, 2016


God, this was dumb word salad.

Basically ignores what we know about how people actually form political opinions, how class and political affiliation interact, and full of just trollface examples.

He's right about one big thing: Smugness doesn't persuade people. And there are plenty of smug liberals. But there are also tons of smug conservatives, and the critique of most conservative/reactionary leaders isn't that they're dumb, it's that they're ignoring broader social interest to focus on their own selfish interest. Which, to be fair, covers plenty of liberals too — ex-Mayor Villaraigosa is pitching Herbalife, a pyramid scheme.

But the essay is too riven with stupid assumptions — well, I don't want to be too smug, but it's all attacking a straw man. It really seems like the author needs to make new friends who don't feed his cherry-picking confirmation bias.
posted by klangklangston at 11:19 PM on April 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


“The other side do it too” is not exactly a great counter-argument Klang. The point is that smugness in left-wing politics is wildly counterproductive, because it drives away the very voters the left *needs to convince* if they want power.

Every time someone on the left is condescending about 'fly-over country' the elite right rubs it’s hands in glee as the wedges they drive between different classes & races continue to work their deleterious effect on US politics.
posted by pharm at 1:07 AM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


A major reason people make economic arguments in support of various liberal policy positions is because there are a significant number of people in this country who simply regard certain subsets of their fellow-citizens as outside the sphere of moral concern and thus moral arguments have only limited traction.

One of the biggest issues faced by those who would use politics to improve the world is that borderline psychopathy is extremely widespread in the USA.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:02 AM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


This whole thread is starting to remind me of the episode of 30 Rock where Jack takes Liz down to Stone Mountain to find a new "real American" comedian to be on TGS.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:28 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is it just me, or does the US shift the Overton window for the rest of the western world demonstrably to the right?
posted by trif at 5:30 AM on April 22, 2016


Is it just me, or does the US shift the Overton window for the rest of the western world demonstrably to the right?

Define "western world." Central and Eastern Europe especially, I've noticed, tend to move in and out of that designation depending on the needs of the argument. Even Russia often gets lumped in with "the West" when we're trying to lay claim to all those exquisite Russian writers and composers, and then shoved out when the discussion switches to politics and history.

But if you're talking Western Europe - I thought someone in-thread mentioned this earlier but I haven't been able to locate the comment: one of the critical differences between the US and most of the developed European states from 1870-1970 was the development and success of explicitly labor-oriented parties (Labour and Fabian socialism in Great Britain, various flavors of socialist and communist parties in Italy, France and Germany, Social Democracy in its recognizable form in Germany and Scandinavia). On economic issues, this has meant that this region has usually been to the left of the US. Even some fascist states during the interwar period included mildly redistributive policies and rhetoric regarding economic justice, albeit usually tightly restricted to the "in" group (the "national" citizenry, the ethnic or linguistic majority, etc.).

On other social issues - women's rights, minority rights, free speech, immigration, civil liberties and democratic representation, the picture is a great deal more mixed, historically and even today. That goes double if you expand your perspective to include Europe east of the Rhine, where the experience of the Cold War led to significantly different local perspectives on a whole range of issues, including capitalism and nationalism (both of which were and are perceived as less problematic there due to bad memories of Soviet hegemony, which was explicitly anti-capitalist and internationalist).
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:07 AM on April 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


The left-right axis is subtly different in Europe, and because of the greater role of minor parties, you have both a broader distribution (righter rights and lefter lefts), as well as less debate on certain things that are very controversial in the USA.

Even right-wing parties like AfD, Sweden Democrats, or PVV tend not to have obvious libertarian leanings, because social democracy is still more of a baseline assumption in Europe.

Typically the far right-wing is more nativist/populist and anti-EU, while the far left-wing is more openly Marxist.

And yeah, like AdamCSnider said, Eastern Europe and Russia are their own special cases. And it's harder to generalize across national boundaries in Europe overall.
posted by theorique at 6:23 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


High above the River Plate, and at the last moment, the epiphany hits: "You know, I'm starting to the think the U.S. shifts the Overton Window to the riiiiiiiii..."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 6:26 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


it makes you sound like kind of a jerk. But the dismissal is still an example of the kind of argumentation he's talking about - your comment indicates that he must be a total moron who had one bad experience instead of granting that he might not be stupid and just had different experiences or values than you.

I emphatically did not say that he was a total moron. I charitably suggested that he wrote his piece out of pique. But if I'm a jerk for dismissing the author, what is he for dismissing millions?

That's the key deficiency here: he's lecturing an imagined group of people for presuming to lecture an imagined group of people. And his argument, like the dog chasing his tail, threatens to run up its own asshole and disappear. That there are smug people who identify as political liberals, is not in question; the value of that observation is.

you can't fully achieve a progressive agenda without buy-in from all of society, including NASCAR fans and people who watch Duck Dynasty.

"Fully" is doing a lot of work here and there's room for argument over what a "fully achieved agenda" might be, precisely, but history tends to refute the proposition that political legislation—either of the progressive or conservative sort—needs to be fully supported by everyone to be successful. We needn't endorse the Rovian cynicism of "51%" to observe that in a representative democracy some fraction of the polity, left or right, will always be unhappy with the results of a vote.

(The idea, tho, that "NASCAR fans" or "Duck Dynasty viewers" need to be placated reminds me of the hand-wringing post-election '04, when some Democrats vocally wondered how to make themselves more appealing to Bush's Americans. The question then, as now, is "If you think this is necessary, then what do they get out of it?")

I wish he had hammered his point home better: that liberals will need to engage conservative arguments on moral terms, not just on technocratic correctness ...

To a large degree this is just the perpetual argument over the importance of "message" vs. other factors (money, organization, demographics, etc.) in winning races and passing legislation. Republicans like to believe they can win any war with enough will; Democrats like to believe they can win any election with the right message. Message is important, obviously, but outside specific campaigns and/or specific candidates or races, I'm skeptical that it's a useful thing to discuss in the abstract. I also see inherent problems in the demand to cast issues in "moral" terms while at the same time expecting to respect and reach out to just those groups with a very different view of morality. A liberal's moral take on Kim Davis, for example, isn't going to play with just those Kim Davis supporters Rensin wants us to take seriously.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:28 AM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


And yet the professional-managerial class of Democrats are the only segment of the population who knowingly and voluntarily vote against their own financial interests

This is true only if you assume that low-income people who vote Republican for reasons of anti-abortion anti-gay religious values aren't intelligent enough to do the math on how that vote will affect their bottom line. I think the central point of this article is that that belief is wrong, and I agree with him on that.
posted by gerstle at 8:31 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I actually agree largely with this article, but only with some caveats. Liberals, on the whole, are relatively smug. Leftists are not, and there's a real difference. Also, smugness is a problem in the conservative camp, too - sometimes especially. The irony of quoting Kevin Williamson in a piece about smugness without noting that Williamson is one of the smuggest people ever to put words on paper is rather amusing.
posted by koeselitz at 8:49 AM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


This historical analysis, which is linked on the current Confederacy thread, is smug, but illuminating.
posted by puddledork at 9:00 AM on April 22, 2016


"“The other side do it too” is not exactly a great counter-argument Klang. The point is that smugness in left-wing politics is wildly counterproductive, because it drives away the very voters the left *needs to convince* if they want power."

It is against the premise that this is specifically a liberal problem. And the problem with the argument you're making (and he may have attempted to) is that there's no clear definition of smugness — he concedes as much right out of the gate.

You're trying to pick the corn from the shit here.
posted by klangklangston at 9:28 AM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


The point is that smugness in left-wing politics is wildly counterproductive

I have seen no evidence of this, and will not take it as a given. I don't even take the idea of liberal smugness as a given. It sounds to me like another example of conservative rebranding and concern trolling.
posted by maxsparber at 9:32 AM on April 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


(And I just finished that Chait essay — ugh. I kinda think by now, everything Chait writes is just to frustrate me personally. Otherwise, why fail to distinguish that "free speech" of classic liberalism requires the freedom to organize against free speech? The people who shut down the Trump rally were in the strictest sense acting consistently with the philosophy Chait is ostensibly advocating, which illuminates his inherently contradictory argument as coming from unexamined dogma, rather than articulable and defensible principles as he claims.

It's similar to something that galls me about the Vox article — if you're going to make arguments about underlying political structures, you should be at least conversant in the major arguments over those structures. The inherent susceptibility of liberal democracies to illiberal, anti-democratic organization has been a major topic in political science since the two big post-democratic political movements of the 20th century, fascism and state communism, gained power. If you're going to talk about the risks that Marxism poses to liberalism, you should well fucking know that people like Hannah Arendt were wrestling with this almost a century ago, and that a whole slew of proposed solutions have been mooted — I know I talk about her more than maybe I should, but Chantal Mouffe's career is basically all about wrestling with this question, and it's not like she's an unknown scribe toiling at the edges of Christendom. Similarly, how voters behave is central to the contention that "liberal smugness" is an important factor in limiting the success of liberal policies in swaths of the U.S., but Rensin demonstrates either ignorance or incompetence in discussing it.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:54 AM on April 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


It is against the premise that this is specifically a liberal problem.

It isn't a specifically liberal phenomenon, but it's possible that it is a specifically liberal problem. That is, when conservative commentators and politicians act smug this is generally accepted as justified by conservative voters, whereas when liberals are smug this infuriates them. Insofar as the Vox writer seems to think that winning over conservatives is something liberals should be trying to do (obviously, not something everyone here agrees on), then the fact that "conservatives do it too" isn't particularly relevant to the argument he's making.
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:47 AM on April 22, 2016


This is the same complaint the right wing has had about the left for decades, except now they have apparently discovered the word "smug."

Nah, not even that is anything new, surely?

- The Culture of Smugness (The American Spectator) - Jun 24, 2015
... a smug liberal elite that can’t rest until every inch of America conforms to their liberal prejudices.
... Like French Revolutionaries, the liberal elite wants American culture to begin from scratch, built on nothing more than the conviction that the past is wicked and the present good.
...Only the liberal elite could be smug enough...

“Liberal” Is Just A Synonym For “Smug” (Townhall) - Aug 10, 2014
... It’s an attitude of serene superiority over everyone else based upon absolutely nothing more than liberals’ utter certainty of the rightness of their collectivist cause.

Jon Stewart, Patron Saint of Liberal Smugness (New York Times) - AUG. 7, 2015

Why are liberals so condescending? (Washington Post) - February 7, 2010
... American liberals, to a degree far surpassing conservatives, appear committed to the proposition that their views are correct, self-evident, and based on fact and reason, while conservative positions are not just wrong but illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration.
... This condescension is part of a liberal tradition that for generations has impoverished American debates over the economy, society and the functions of government -- and threatens to do so again today, when dialogue would be more valuable than ever.

The Smug Radicalization of the Left (Commentary Magazine) - DEC. 3, 2015

etc.

(cf. metropolitan elite, Hampstead Socialists, Gauche caviar, etc.)

It’s also an old classic from within the left, at a wider level and from other angles, going back at least all the way to Marx. Some of the criticism is more on point, some less, clearly it’s a debate worth having regularly, and not just in America, but maybe it deserves a better treatment by someone who either adds something new to it, or at least doesn’t pretend so... smugly that he is actually saying anything new?

But, it’s Vox!

This thread is more interesting than the article.
posted by bitteschoen at 10:53 AM on April 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


liberals say 'totally' and 'super' way too much...
posted by judson at 10:59 AM on April 22, 2016


This thread is more interesting than the article.

The fact that this is true for a remarkably large proportion of posted threads is the reason I keep coming back to Metafilter.
posted by AdamCSnider at 11:09 AM on April 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


"It isn't a specifically liberal phenomenon, but it's possible that it is a specifically liberal problem. That is, when conservative commentators and politicians act smug this is generally accepted as justified by conservative voters, whereas when liberals are smug this infuriates them. Insofar as the Vox writer seems to think that winning over conservatives is something liberals should be trying to do (obviously, not something everyone here agrees on), then the fact that "conservatives do it too" isn't particularly relevant to the argument he's making."

Again, if the author had made that argument, it might be more defensible. He did not. He made the argument that the "smug style" in liberalism is an outgrowth of the loss of the working class, and that it has led to a new, growing problem recognizing the legitimate sources of anger from people on the right. Except that a litany of people being smug on Facebook to the author does not support this contention. And the essay ends with a devolution that assumes the smug style to have a straw man blame the poor for their own poverty, as if this is a consequence of the argument. But the validity of the argument isn't demonstrated at all, just that the author finds it galling to be surrounded by liberal smugness.

And sure, it may be a specifically liberal problem, but only if you start from what the essay posits is a position of liberal smugness — that liberal positions are inherently correct, and it's only that the "rubes" and "hicks" haven't had them explained properly. The whole article is basically an exercise in complaining that fellow liberals are doing smugness wrong. Like I said, it's incoherent at its core, and based on ambiguous readings of a bunch of distantly related phenomena — it's the political essay equivalent of a horoscope, where a tone argument substitutes for the procession of the stars. And now people who agree with the headline — that damn, some liberals are smug as hell and that's aggravating — are backfilling to pretend that it's an essay that supports that contention rather than stating it, and, like a horoscope, seeing hidden profundities in a vague and suggestive text.
posted by klangklangston at 11:09 AM on April 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


I don't think this essay is perfect, believe me. But one takeaway that I think might be relevant:

I think it's useful to occasionally be reminded that being right isn't enough in a democracy; you've also got to build a broad coalition around those right ideas. We shouldn't have to wait for the once-in-a-generation moment when stars align and we hold both Congress and the White House and maybe we can smuggle through the occasional Obamacare.

Liberals have coalesced around a set of policy positions that, to us, seem self-evident. The fact that they're points of contention in the political sphere seems to prove that the other party is insane. Except… the more “obvious” a position appears to me, the less likely I am to think about selling it to someone else. Persuasion often requires convincing people using a rationale that is different from one's own.

For instance, I think there is a moral imperative to universal health care, but I also think that you can persuade someone to support universal health care if you convince him that it will save him money — that the money he puts toward health care premiums would be spent more efficiently if paid as taxes toward a Medicare-for-all–style system, thus raising his take-home pay. Bill Clinton was, and is, great at framing even wonky liberal proposals in a way that makes them seem common-sense. Why wouldn't you want a stronger economy? Why wouldn't you want more money in your pocket? But among Democrats he's an outlier.

I want to push the Overton window back towards something sensible. I'm not trying to mend people's souls; I just want their votes. I don't expect a single working-class mom to do research to understand that gender dysphoria is in the DSM-5 and reflects mainstream psychological thought, but I do think that she can understand that “bathroom laws” are dumb and would have weird outcomes and are ultimately a silly way to pick on a tiny percentage of the population that poses no threat to her children.

It would be nice if a majority of Americans already felt this way and didn't need persuasion of any kind, but I don't have time to wait around for that world. I'm not suggesting that you have to tolerate your uncle saying racist things at the Thanksgiving dinner table. But your political party should be asking for his vote, and the votes of other racists. The point is not to bring the racists' ideas into the big tent, but to get the racists to vote for Democrats for reasons that have nothing to do with racism, and thus break them out of the right-wing echo chamber.
posted by savetheclocktower at 12:06 PM on April 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


My political views are mere opinions. But the facts they are based on are facts.
Unlike all those people who knowingly derive their beliefs from lies and falsehoods? Not that I'm blowing your mind with this bit of epistemology but I don't see how simply re-asserting that your foundations are strong accomplishes anything.
I doubt very much that anyone wakes up and decides consciously to base their beliefs on lies and falsehoods. But whether that's what happens or not, the end result is the same: large segments of America base their political beliefs on flatly untrue grounds.

It **DOESN'T MATTER** if Joe Republican deliberately and knowingly chose to believe the falsehood that global warming is a conspiracy, or if Joe Republican was duped into it. The end result is the same: Joe Republican's beliefs are necessarily inferior to mine and merit nothing but withering contempt.

This is compounded by the problem of epistemic closure. Joe Republican is not merely (again, knowingly or not) believing falsehoods and basing their entire political philosophy on those falsehoods, but Joe Republican is actively opposed to and resistant to the truth. Joe Republican actively seeks out news media that won't tell the truth. Joe Republican actively seeks out friends who won't tell the truth. Joe Republican themselves won't tell the truth and won't change their minds no matter what the facts say.

Again, there are views other than mine, opinions other than mine, that I think are worthy of something other than smug contempt. A person who agreed that global warming was real and had potentially catastrophic consequences, but who argued that governmental limits on pollution would have X, Y, and Z effects that could be projected to be worse than the consequences of doing nothing might be a person I disagreed with, but that disagreement wouldn't be smugly contemptuous or dismissive. Moreover, such a person could have an actual substantive discussion with me, while a global warming denialist is simply incapable of having a real discussion because, again, the basis of their beliefs is a lie.

Its the same reason why I can't, won't, get into deep discussions of the Problem of Evil, or the Biblical requirements for sex or marriage. Until we address what I see as the core issue (the fact that there is no evidence at all to indicate that the Christian god is not real) than why bother discussing the rest?

With a global warming denialist there's no point in talking about their views on the economic cost of regulation or whatever. Their core premise is where the disagreement lies and that must be addressed and resolved before any meaningful conversation can take place, otherwise we're just talking past each other.
posted by sotonohito at 12:14 PM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


The whole article is basically an exercise in complaining that fellow liberals are doing smugness wrong.

Reading it again the Kim Davis part is the oddest:
"But to the smug liberal, it isn't that Kim Davis is wrong. How can she be? She's only mistaken. She just doesn't know the Good Facts, even about her own religion. She's angry and confused, another hick who's not with it.

It was an odd thing to assert in the case of Christianity, a religion that until recently was taken to be another shibboleth of the uncool, not a loving faith misunderstood by bigots. But this is knowing: knowing that the new line on Jesus is that the homophobes just don't get their own faith."
As I read this, he's suggesting that the real error here isn't that people were disrespectful of Davis' variety of Christianity, but that they were too respectful. It wasn't enough to say that Davis was misconstruing a book that many other Christians read differently, it should've been made clear that she (and presumably her Christianity, maybe Christianity in general) were all McLaughlin-style WRONG! Now not only does this seem like a distinction with very little difference, but to the extent that there is a difference Rensin wants to choose the one which will cause maximum offense.
"But the smug style sees no true ideology there, no moral threat to contend with. Only a huckster and a hick: one to be ridiculed, and the other to be refuted."
One would think that, for anyone opposed to the likes of Davis and Huckabee, a huckster and a hick would be preferable in this context. Hucksters and hicks are mostly harmless, easily ignored, and likely to fail on their own. Rensin will have none of it. The, what, un-smug liberal, the engagé liberal, must see in Mike Huckabee and Kim Davis a true moral threat to contend with. He doesn't say how he thinks that "true moral threat" should be confronted but it obviously must be in some manner more potent than ridicule.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:14 PM on April 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


"Because politics is performative — if we don't mock together, we aren't on the same side."
Having been critical of Mr. Rensin throughout, I'm with him when he finds this kind of stuff silly and a little pointless, but the experience he says "... provided the direct impetus for this essay ..." seems to have very little to do with the rest of the piece except that someone slighted him in much the same way that SMUG LIBERALS ARE CONTINUING TO SLIGHT AMERICA.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:35 PM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that part got up my nose too, in part because I've had hundreds of actual persuasion conversations with Christians about gay marriage and religion, and actually do have a better grasp on Christian theology than a lot of the people I've talked with. For folks that have Christianity as the reason that they oppose gay marriage, it's often (while not always easy) possible to talk them out of either opposing it, or into supporting it, by talking about the values of the church, and church history, etc. For folks that have Christianity as the justification for why they oppose gay marriage, it's often not possible to dissuade them, because it's a post-hoc rationalization for things they already feel at a visceral level. There are ways to undo that, but they take a long time and aren't really the sort of thing that a single interaction can change, especially an impersonally mediated one.

Which highlights another problem with decrying the smugness in the essay's terms of "correct knowledge." With a lot of these questions, we actually do know that we can change people's minds by addressing them in the correct way, with both the correct facts and correct messaging. The essay would imply that knowledge is "smug," but since it demonstrably works, well, fuck it, I'll be smug about that then. (Which is the problem of having an incoherent, overbroad definition to begin with — his legitimate complaints are lumped in with illegitimate maundering.)

To take it out of the political realm: Yankees fans are, especially if they didn't grow up in New York, generally smug assholes. There's no amount of "correct knowledge" that will convince a Mets fan that the Yankees are a superior team, despite the pretty objective fact that the Yankees have historically been better at baseball than the Mets. And for a lot of people, the casual Mets fan will be even harder to convince, because the conversation will be less about baseball and more about identity.

But the consequence of that translated into politics is that there are plenty of people who will never be convinced, and whom trying to convince is inherently a statement of your belief in the superiority of your ideas to theirs, and — crucially different from baseball — whose legitimization of politicians to enact those beliefs has real, negative consequences.

And again, something worth noting about voter behavior — across the political spectrum — is that people tend to vote for politicians whom they feel represent them most closely on their strongest-held conviction, even if that person actively opposes them on other preferences, rather than voting for the politician whom most closely represents all of their opinions. People tend to feel strongly about a handful of positions, and most people (largely because they have other things in their life that are more important — jobs, raising children, whatever) don't have the time and energy to dig into all of the positions that politicians represent.

So even more than "liberal smugness" being an issue, the self-righteousness of people who do care deeply about politics in general is what distinguishes them from the average member of the voting public. Most people just don't care, and the essay errs in assuming that uninterest is because of elite liberal scorn for plebeian conservatives.
posted by klangklangston at 1:50 PM on April 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


So even more than "liberal smugness" being an issue, the self-righteousness of people who do care deeply about politics in general is what distinguishes them from the average member of the voting public. Most people just don't care, and the essay errs in assuming that uninterest is because of elite liberal scorn for plebeian conservatives.

The factor of identity is really key in situations like this. For a person who sometimes votes R and sometimes votes D, being a party member or loyalist is probably not that big a part of their identity.

But for someone who identifies strongly as a Democrat or a Republican, there's a greater tendency to hold on to the sillier fringes of party doctrine, not because the person has carefully and objectively considered it, but because it's what the identity group believes. And, true believers are more likely to presume that everyone else also has strong political convictions and interests, just as the true believers themselves do.
posted by theorique at 2:11 PM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


sotonohito : Moreover, such a person could have an actual substantive discussion with me, while a global warming denialist is simply incapable of having a real discussion because, again, the basis of their beliefs is a lie.

I feel exactly the same way, and that's what worries me. Also, I dislike denialists because their beliefs are wrong, and it's hard to hid my dislike when talking about their ideologically-driven nonsense. Then there are those studies showing that arguing with people tends to make them more attached to their positions. And the Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that they're probably not even capable of understanding my arguments, so what's the point?

This is making me more uncomfortable than when we were calling each other "Libtard" and "Rethuglican" and generally being assholes on the Internet. Now I feel like a) climate change is still a problem, b) theres' still a sizeable part of the population who just doesn't believe it, and c) I'm seriously not able to communicate with this asshole human being - one who must be more like me than he is different. I haven't learned much from these discussions; certainly not how to communicate with climate skeptics.

So right now I see this as a failing on my part. If I'm so smart, why can't I figure out a way to get this person thinking about climate science in a way that opens them up to a larger or more comprehensive belief system? (Not even my belief system. Even if they made an effort to understand the scientific method.) Otherwise, what's going to happen? We already have a huge divide between $liberals and $conservatives which isn't being helped by more communicating, at least not via mass media. How are we going to deal with this issue, and the next one, if we're divided into camps before either side even has a chance to learn about the problem?
posted by sneebler at 7:38 PM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


The article speaks an uncomfortable truth, IMO.

I've described American politics as being the Coalition of Finger Waggers versus the Axis of Assholes. Hey, nobody likes a finger wagger, even if they're right. When that finger wagger is someone fundamentally unlike you, the scale of reason is easily tilted in favor of impulsive opposition.

People across the spectrum routinely vote against their interests. My observation is that a good chunk of the electorate's interests is to tell those finger waggers to go fuck themselves. They may or may not care that the Axis of Assholes has actual policy goals that will hurt them in the long run. Or even know what those goals are. But they know what they don't like: someone with a fancy title and/or from some snooty college and/or the wrong color or religion or gender telling them that how they've always believed and lived is wrong. At some point, they do the equivalent of stick their fingers in their ears, saying "la la la" and side with the brashest, toughest talking alpha dog among the Axis. That the current dog speaks directly to their hatreds is just more encouraging.

Am I insulted, or offended that I am one of those smug finger waggers? A little bit. But I'll live with it over the willful blindness and hatred that motivates the Axis, destroying reason and responsibility along with it.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:04 PM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]




sneebler, well yes that's the problem. If it was just 25% or so who were actively involved in a lie based ideology we could write them off and move on as a nation.

But if it's close to 50% things get a lot more complex.

The question is: do 50% of Americans actually subscribe to a lie based ideology, or do they merely vote Republican for other reasons? Some people vote based basically on tribal identity and history, including plenty of Democratic voters. While such people may not shift their vote they aren't subscribers to a lie based ideology, though I'd argue that they are susceptible to it if they get exposed to it enough.

Part of it is simply the pervasiveness of the lie based ideology. Limbaugh, once a lone voice for lies, has been replaced by an army of liars who fill AM radio and run a great many internet forums. I personally know several people who literally literally listen to hate radio all day at work, listen to it during their commute, and probably listen to it at home. I suppose there might be a comparison to brainwashing involved, but I think the bigger issue is simply that an ideology based on convenient lies is available, 24/7, to anyone who wants to partake.

The ideology and the lies form a self enforcing system. The more a person becomes identified with the ideology, the more the lies are necessary to sustain it, and the more the lies are believed the more inevitable the ideology is.

Worse, and possibly the very worst news, is that as you noted, presenting facts contrary to a person's position tends to harden them in that position rather than shaking them out of it. I don't know of any studies that show a way that actually, repeatably and reliably, can get a person to stop believing lies and accept the truth.

So long as it is profitable to spread the lies, and the lie based ideology, it will be spread aggressively by profit seekers. And it is very, very, profitable. Hell, whole industries basically depend on the lies and the lie based ideology in order to remain profitable, of course they're investing in lies.

I wish I knew the solution, or even if there was a solution.
posted by sotonohito at 6:42 AM on April 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Liberalism is extremely harmful in a revolutionary collective. It is a corrosive which eats away unity, undermines cohesion, causes apathy and creates dissension. It robs the revolutionary ranks of compact organization and strict discipline, prevents policies from being carried through and alienates the Party organizations from the masses which the Party leads. It is an extremely bad tendency."

Yeah, but Mao was a giant dick full of idiosyncratic interpretations of Marxism. And also pretty smug.
posted by klangklangston at 11:38 AM on April 23, 2016


" I don't know of any studies that show a way that actually, repeatably and reliably, can get a person to stop believing lies and accept the truth."

First off, the ways out tend to differ at least somewhat based on the particular topic — what works on climate change won't necessarily work on gay marriage.

But beyond that, there are a lot of studies on persuasion, and the basics are that it helps if the persuader is someone the persuaded identifies with, and then the method is largely about avoiding an argument and using guiding questions to shape the conversation. For issues of discrimination, which can include economics (i.e. discrimination against the poor), finding an empathetic hook is usually the best way — ask them about their lives until they identify a person close to them who went through something similar, then ask them to devise a solution to it. For example, if they had a sister on food stamps, ask them about how they would want society to help their sister, what they would do for their sister, and then work to get them to suggest solutions that the government could enact for their sister. For gay marriage, it was about asking them to think about times that they've been in love, and what they would want for the government to do about their love. For things like global warming, in general people don't have a firm grasp of the facts, even wrong "facts," so you can both prime attitudes by asking them about things like the conservative climate denier who came around to supporting the global warming models (his name escapes me at the moment), and also asking them things like, "But if it was true, what would you suggest then?" Or, "Assume it is true for a second — how would you solve the problem?"

Basically, for a lot of conservative issues, the best way to get someone's opinion to shift rightward is to scare them and tell them, "Don't think! React!" But for liberal/progressive issues, the best way to durably persuade someone is not to argue with them, but to get them to empathize, think of their own solutions, and use guiding questions to allow them to get to the position you're advocating by themselves.

The real advantage there is that with them identifying with the solution, it's much less susceptible to reversion through attacks (another trick is to emphasize shifting them away from a partisan identity and toward thinking about their independence and how they aren't beholden to parties, because everyone has some issues that they disagree with the party on, and people like to think about themselves as independent).

When I was working on gay marriage or teaching gay history, my goal wasn't to convince the person, it was to show them that they already agreed and that it wasn't a conflict with other deeply-held beliefs to support it. Which, again, can be read as smug, and there were definitely times that I was smug about it, but it worked. I also got pretty good at distinguishing upfront between persuasion and argument conversations — argument conversations were generally with people who weren't going to change their minds, and since we were usually doing these in public, part of the goal was to hold your own respectfully and have them look to all and sundry like giant blustering assholes. Bystanders don't want to talk to you if they think they're just going to be yelled at about how they're wrong, but will want to talk to you if you seem sympathetic (even if you might be a bit smug).

I remember getting screamed at by some asshole who then tried to hit me with his car, and the next woman who came up was totally against gay marriage but was happy to sign a postcard to the governor supporting it and gave me a $100 bill as a contribution because the last guy had been such a public dick.
posted by klangklangston at 12:08 PM on April 23, 2016 [9 favorites]


Klang, do you have any resources or materials on how to hold those conversations with regards to trans issues?

I feel a strong urge to engage in less arguments and more convincing.
posted by rebent at 12:31 PM on April 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


People across the spectrum routinely vote against their interests. My observation is that a good chunk of the electorate's interests is to tell those finger waggers to go fuck themselves.

Over a hundred years ago, Nietzsche is said to have observed: At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid. People may count themselves a member of a group, not because they agree 100% with its views, but because they dislike those who are observed to publicly oppose that group.
posted by theorique at 5:56 PM on April 23, 2016


Health care in 1994 still fundamentally worked for many people

And the same can be said pre-Obamacare in 2013.Those are people who got their insurance from either their employer or from Medicare/Medicaid, about 85% of the population. The people that it didn't work for were the same two decades ago -- those buying individual insurance or the uninsured. Since Obamacare, the situation has improved immensely for those buying individual insurance or the previously uninsured. Anyone who does not recognize this simply is too young to remember or else were on employer or parents' health insurance and have no comparison for how bad things were in the decades of pre-Obamacare.

Now, though, over 40% of Americans have a medical debt in collections.

Please stop citing out-dated statistics from 2011 as "now." Since Obamacare, the medical debt situation has vastly improved. Pre-Obamacare, there were very high or no limits to out of pocket expenses. Obamacare limits out of pocket expenses for both employer and individual insurance. Obamacare also removed the lifetime limits for insurance. Previously an insurance company could simply stop paying once you exceeded a fixed limit of health care. Pre-Obamacare, an insurance company could simply terminate your insurance coverage if you became sick and too expensive. Now you can maintain your coverage, with annual limits to out of pocket expenses even if you need a $250,000 heart transplant or lifetime arthritis care.

Even with the ACA, many people still can't afford to access the coverage they pay for because their deductibles are too high.

People complaining about Obamacare deductibles must never have purchased individual insurance pre-Obamacare. Pre-Obamacare there were no limits to allowed deductibles and they are often twice as high as they are today. Obamacare also provides cost sharing that reduces deductibles and co-pays for those earning less than about $30,000 for individuals and $60,000 for families.

Especially for the poor, healthcare has improved greatly, at least in the states that implemented the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. Previously unless you were a single mother with dependent children, you got nothing, zero, bupkis, no matter how poor you were. Under Obamacare all poor people are entitled to 100% coverage for free or almost free.

Those who think that the 1990s were some golden age of healthcare in the U.S. simply don't know history.
posted by JackFlash at 6:06 PM on April 23, 2016 [7 favorites]


Rebent: The MAP Project has toolkits for talking about all sorts of LGBT issues.
posted by klangklangston at 11:23 AM on April 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


Jamelle Bouie @ Slate: Is Liberalism Really "Smug"?
It’s a comprehensive case. It’s a full-throated case. And it’s informed by a tradition of intra-left criticism of liberal elites, much of it fair and often needed. But it’s wrong. Or at least, it has three fatal flaws that make it far from persuasive.

The first is just history. That liberal smugness might deter the white working class from the Democratic Party seems reasonable, if unfalsifiable. But to suggest that it is a prime mover in their alienation from the party is to ignore the actual dynamics at work. The driving reason working-class whites abandoned the Democratic Party is race. The New Deal coalition Rensin describes was devoured by its own contradictions, chiefly, the racism needed to secure white allegiance even as the party tried to appeal to blacks.[...]

This is blinkered. And the result is an essay that doesn’t criticize "liberalism" so much as it positions Rensin against other members of his cultural cohort. It’s what you might write if you’ve mistaken the consumption habits and shibboleths of your tribe for a politics that drives one of two major political parties in a democracy of over 300 million people, if you’re convinced of your own centrality to the currents in American history. I can think of a word for that.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:08 PM on April 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


Thank you!
posted by rebent at 5:14 PM on April 24, 2016


Is "Smugness" A Significant Causal Factor in American Politics? (SPOILER: No.)
To state the obvious, if a large percentage of the white working class defected between 1948 and 1964, as Bouie says it’s pretty hard to argue that Jon Stewart and people saying mean things about Kim Davis on Twitter played a major causal role.

And that’s not the only problem. While substantial majorities of manual laborers and farmers might have voted for the Democrats in 1948, that doesn’t mean they were a voting bloc for the left. The 1948 election didn’t just come in the wake of FDR; it came in the wake of Congress passing the Taft-Hartley Act with veto-proof majorities, a rather important fact that inevitably gets out of stories about the Golden Age of the Democratic alliance with the white working class.

The most fundamental problem with Rensin’s argument is that it treats conservative control of Congress and many statehouses as a recent development, an anomaly to be explained, when in fact it’s the rule. Democrats may have controlled Congress with the support of southern and rural white voters for most of the 20th century, but the periods in which Congress had an effective liberal agenda have always been fleeting. And even in the pre-1937 New Deal and the heyday Great Society, southern conservatives retained enough influence to force painful compromises and constrain ambitions. Smugness on social media is neither her nor there in explaining these longstanding institutional and cultural conditions.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:42 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]


People complaining about Obamacare deductibles must never have purchased individual insurance pre-Obamacare. Pre-Obamacare there were no limits to allowed deductibles and they are often twice as high as they are today.

Deductibles have increased drastically since the mid-2000s. Figures G and E in this report through 2014 indicates that high-deductible, high-premium health care plans have ballooned from 0% of plans in 2005 to 20% in 2016, and that the proportion of workers with deductibles over $1000 has increased from 10% to 41% - 61% for people who work at small firms (less than 200 employees). Slide 14 in this presentation indicates that deductibles have increased 67% since just 2010.

To state the obvious, if a large percentage of the white working class defected between 1948 and 1964, as Bouie says it’s pretty hard to argue that Jon Stewart and people saying mean things about Kim Davis on Twitter played a major causal role.

I agree, but this makes a bit of a straw man of Rensin's argument. I don't think he argued it played a major causal role in that split, only that it exacerbates (or at worst extends) that split into current day politics.

I do agree that analyzing things in terms of "smugness" puts too much of the blame on liberals, though. While I don't agree with all of this piece, Carl Beijer makes a good argument that resentment (the old Nixonian ressentiment) is the real issue and that it arises independent of smugness (though it may be amplified by that smugness). This resentment is arguably the force that is primarily fueling Trump this year:
Nietzsche would argue that this gets it backwards. There are certainly smug liberals, but liberal smugness isn't really a significant or consequential force in politics - reactionaries just don't care what liberals actually think of them. What is significant, however, is the psychology of ressentiment among the oppressed. The conservative working class feels its powerlessness, feels its immiseration, and gets that elites are much better off; and for that reason, they are driven to rationalize and justify their opposition to their oppressors. The imputation of unearned entitlement and a superiority complex among elites is an inevitable expression of this.

The crucial thing to notice here is that the perception of smugness precedes any actual instances of smugness. If this is true, then no amount of diplomacy, outreach or sensitivity to the right-wing underclass will alleviate this particular problem; even if liberals are optimally gracious and understanding, the right will still invent reasons to read smugness into everything they do.
As far as the particular flavor of that resentment in our current politics, this upcoming book by Katharine Cramer, The Politics of Resentment looks very interesting. She did five years worth of unstructured interviews with rural Wisconsinites in 29 communities, trying to determine why they supported Scott Walker so strongly and what formed the basis for their resentment of urbanites and public sector employees. A few pages are available through Amazon's look inside feature. Here's a short excerpt from the introduction:
Their conversations enabled me to examine what it looks like when people who might benefit from more government instead prefer far less of it. Listening closely to people revealed two things to me: a significant rural-versus-urban divide and the powerful role of resentment. ...

This book shows people making sense of politics in a way that places resentment toward other citizens at the center. It illuminates this politics of resentment by looking closely at the manner in which many rural residents exhibit an intense resentment against their urban counterparts. I explain how people make sense of politics when the boundaries they draw between "us" and "them" coincide with real, geographic boundaries. I show that, although this form of thinking about politics is often criticized as ignorance, these understandings are complex, many layered, and grounded in fundamental identities.

I learned, as a city girl, that many rural residents have a perspective I am going to call "rural consciousness." ... It includes a sense that decision makers routinely ignore rural places and fail to give rural communities their fair share of resources, as well as a sense that rural folks are fundamentally different from urbanites in terms of lifestyles, values, and work ethic. Rural consciousness signals an identification with rural people and rural places and denotes a multifaceted resentment against cities.

When I heard people using this lens to interpret their world, I heard them claiming that government and public employees are the product of anti-rural forces and should obviously be scaled back as much as possible. Viewing politics through the perspective of rural consciousness makes wanting less government a commonsense desire.

Instead of partisan identities, many of the people I spent time with in rural areas used identities rooted in place and class, this perspective I am calling rural consciousness, to structure the causal stories they told to each other - and to me - about the state of the economy before, during, and after the Great Recession. It informed their frequently negative perceptions of public employees. Even though there were public employees in their times, and sometimes even in their groups, many rural folks did not view public employees as truly rural. ... This perspective provided an environment ripe for the Tea Party, Scott Walker's success, and support for small government generally.
posted by dialetheia at 6:16 PM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]


Deductibles have increased drastically since the mid-2000s.

You are confusing employer insurance with individual insurance. Obamacare had little or nothing to do with employer insurance other than a few tweaks around the edges like requiring free preventative care and contraceptive coverage.

The reason for this was simple. People in general were happy with their employer coverage and didn't want anyone changing it. Recall that Obama's campaign pledge was that if you liked your employer insurance you could keep it. And people vigorously defended their employer insurance plans because they generally liked them so leaving it alone was a major selling point for Obamacare.

Instead, Obamacare was targeted only at the individual insurance market for those who don't get their insurance through an employer and at Medicaid for the poor. People wanted their employer insurance left alone.

Obamacare's primary purpose was to extend to the individual insurance market all the same protections that the employer insurance market had for decades courtesy of ERISA and HIPPA:

1. Universal coverage. You can't be denied insurance based on your health status.
2. No exclusions for pre-existing conditions.
3. Community rating. Everyone pays the same rate regardless of health status.
4. Mandate and penalty. Cost of insurance comes out of everyone's income whether they enroll or not.
5. Subsidies to help pay for health insurance. For employees it comes in the form of untaxed income.

These features were added by Obamacare to the individual market to bring it up to the standards already enjoyed by employees. People who have always gotten their health insurance from their employer likely take these benefits for granted and never realized that they didn't exist in the individual market before Obamacare.

Back to employee insurance. You indicate that deductibles have gone up by 67% -- but as you also note starting from near zero. So a 67% increase from zero is actually a small number.

You also note a large increase in High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP) starting in 2005. That is no coincidence because that is the first year of the Health Savings Account (HSA) program that is only available for HDHPs. The HSA is a tax loophole that allows families to put up to $6500 a year tax-free into an investment account. The money can be used for medical expenses or else saved for retirement.

Many employers offer employees a choice of a low deductible health plan with higher premiums or a high deductible plan with lower premiums. And many employees are flocking to the high deductible plan by choice because combined with the lower premiums and the HSA tax loophole they end up paying less each year for insurance. So the increase in high deductible plans in the employer market is largely customer choice.
posted by JackFlash at 7:56 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


You are confusing employer insurance with individual insurance. Obamacare had little or nothing to do with employer insurance other than a few tweaks around the edges like requiring free preventative care and contraceptive coverage.

I have no idea why you keep bringing this back to Obamacare at all. My original point was simply that people are increasingly unhappy with and unable to use their health insurance options, which remains true. Most people do get their insurance from their employers, and their deductibles have skyrocketed, as I've shown.

Back to employee insurance. You indicate that deductibles have gone up by 67% -- but as you also note starting from near zero. So a 67% increase from zero is actually a small number.

No, you misread the graph. The y-axis isn't the deductible, it's the increase since 2010, so of course it's at 0% as of 2010. From the other link, the average deductible in 2010 was $917. It also isn't just employer insurance, it includes individual. Besides, that's a ridiculous argument even if you were correct, which you aren't; going from a $0 deductible, where everything is covered, to a >$1000 deductible is a big change and it's exactly my point.

I would also be really hesitant to assume that people love their HDHP/HSA programs; many people choose those options because they're the cheapest available/the only option they can afford, and then can't actually use their insurance because the deductibles and copays are too high. Which was my original point. I remember very clearly when my previous employer (before the recession) changed their health insurance offerings to emphasize the HDHP/HSA options - it came with a reduction in the PPO options and increases in their premiums. The increase in employee cost-sharing via HDHP/HSA plans was a GW Bush era health care trend that I am really surprised to see Democrats supporting, even rhetorically.
posted by dialetheia at 1:13 PM on April 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Resnin responds to Bouie responding to Resnin
On the first point, Bouie is correct. Racial animus that had threatened to destroy the liberal coalition as far back as the early twentieth century was a major driver of the realignment that culminated between the late 1960s and the early 1980s.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t something I deny in my own piece. [...] That I didn’t explicitly address this my piece is a fair critique by Bouie, but I don’t believe it fundamentally undermines my point.

[...]

The second of Bouie’s arguments—that elite liberals in media, on twitter, etc. don’t really matter as much as I think—is a lot less defensible. [...] Are the majority of Americans watching The Daily Show and reading Twitter and taking their cues accordingly? No. But the people who make their policy and write their media do, and they decide which issues get attention, and which don’t.

Bouie might argue that the choices are not “total” influence or “no” influence. I agree. But I believe elite circles have enough influence that they may be held accountable for the role they play in American policy. For Bouie’s argument to make sense—for him to maintain that it’s a mistake to devote time to a long critique of elite liberal attitudes toward the working class because those attitudes doesn’t have much power—you must believe the opposite. You must, at least, think that whatever influence it does have is vanishingly small.
Lemieux responds to Resnin responding to Bouie responding to Resnin
Resnsin still has no idea of the magnitude of this concession. Remember, his argument is that southern white workers not voting for Democrats is a recent development driven by factors such as Gawker posts and Jon Stewart monologues. If this realignment was not only driven largely by resentment towards the Democratic embrace of civil rights but was mostly complete several decades ago, his argument is reduced to virtually nothing right at the outset. (And when you add in the fact that even before the realignment these voters might have been voting for Democrats but generally weren’t voting for liberals — that this realignment was more about more coherent parties emerging than a change in voter ideology — any possible bite to his argument becomes even more threadbare.)

[...]

We have seen a nearly perfect case study to test Rensin’s point: John Roberts’s inept and constitutionally unwarranted re-writing of the Medicaid expansion. John Roberts’s version of Medicaid effectively granted the most important expansion of the welfare state in nearly 50 years to Democratic states and denied it to most of the states in which the white working class helped install Republican statehouses. My challenge: name me one single coastal urban liberal who was pleased with John Roberts’s version of Medicaid. If, as Rensin asserts, the dominant ethos of such liberals is “if they won’t vote for us, deny them economic justice,” they shouldn’t be hard to find! It’s also worth noting that the the large state role in Medicaid, both in 1965 and 2010, was not the preference of urban liberals but was a concession to more conservative Midwestern and rural Democrats. We smug effete liberals generally prefer national programs that provide uniform benefits and despise the neoconfderate ideology Sebelius represents, the fact that decentralization effectively punishes Southern workers notwithstanding.

It is true, in the 90s, that many Democrats — some reasonably described as liberals and some not — pursued policies, most notably welfare reform, that denied economic justice to elements of the working class. But these misguided policies were more a way to appeal to white working class voters rather than a sign of contempt for them, passed during a period in which Democratic elites were suffused with anxiety about their dwindling support in the South. Rensin is right about the policy merits but completely wrong about the politics of their passage.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:11 PM on April 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


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