Smug versus condescending

Remember that fun couple of months when we were all saving the Affordable Care Act? Something jumped out at me then and I still think it is incredibly salient today. At the very beginning when we started phoning Representatives, their staffs reacted like it was a breath of air to a drowning person. This really puzzled me. This blog has a lot of readers, but not that many. At any given time I don’t think we had more than a couple hundred actively burning up the phone lines. At the beginning when I started hearing this stuff it could not have been more than a couple dozen people. These politicians represent the whole country. If you count just the Democrats at that time they represent a bit over half of it. That’s a bit under two hundred million people. Say around a hundred million old enough to pick up the phone. I know that not everyone does, but enough people still do that often enough that we never should have had the impact we did.

A piece fell into the puzzle when I listened to Keith and Rachel on MSNBC. I have to confess that I don’t enjoy loud partisan entertainment all that much, even when it’s on my side. I think I watched either of them for the first time a few months after the ACA. When Maddow went to credits, what I felt more than anything was kind of smug. I felt great about being on the right side of objective reality but I did not feel like doing much of anything.

Watch an hour of O’Reilly some time, and then check your feelings. Odds are pretty good you will be mad. If you are a liberal you will be mad at all the stupid and misleading things he said about you. If you are a conservative you will feel pretty steamed about the terrible liberals, laughing at you while they wreck everything. Either way you will want to do something. Maybe call FOX and complain about their accuracy, maybe bottle that rage up and save it for Sunday dinner when you can really stick it to that smug liberal nephew. You know what a metric shitload of conservatives do when FOX or some jackass on Clear Channel pisses them off? They call their Congressperson. I know this because Congressional phone volunteers receive what amounts to a nonstop stream of angry invective from FOX viewers and Glenn Beck fans and people who followed the very easy instructions on the all-caps mailer they just got from Tea Party Freedom Fighters Inc., a subsidiary of Koch Industries. It never ends. That is why I think the firebaggers accomplished nothing, despite outpunching this blog by a couple weight classes. A few more anti-ACA phone calls would barely register among a sea of frothy wingnuts, whereas your positive calls were literally the first supportive pro-ACA message some Reps received from the outside world. Their districts were full of liberals who really wanted to see Americans get health care, but none of them picked up the phone.

To me this disparity is one of the most crucial, underappreciated factors in Washington, DC sausagemaking. It helps explain the aggravating headwind that liberal policies always face, where progressive proposals that somehow make it to a bill inevitably get chipped down and lose support over time, whereas conservatives bills if anything pick up steam and constantly get peppered with amendments that make them worse. No matter what the polling says about how popular a policy is, elected Democrats often act like they are fighting a rear guard action against a hostile press and public because in their office it really feels that way. Every one of them gets a daily tally of where that day’s calls and (especially) letters fall on various issues.

So Kevin Drum just weighed in on the old question about whether liberals have a bigger problem with being smug being condescending. Personally, I say why not both. They’re two sides of the same thing anyway. Kevin more or less noodles at the end but that is the part that interests me.

[L]iberals and conservatives have different styles. No surprise there. The question is, do these styles work? Here, I think the answer is the same on both sides: they work on their own side, but not on the other. Outrage doesn’t persuade liberals and mockery doesn’t persuade conservatives. If you’re writing something for your own side, as I am here, most of the time, there’s no harm done. The problem is that mass media—and the internet in particular—makes it very hard to tailor our messages. Conservative outrage and liberal snark are heard by everyone, including the persuadable centrist types that we might actually want to persuade.

I certainly do not want to dismiss the persuadable moderate thing. A dumb person who is outraged at least radiates sincerity, whereas a smug smart person is practically begging for a wedgie, even when you suspect they are probably right. But at the same time the conservative outrage reflex has a much more basic kind of practical advantage. It gets you yelling at some volunteer phone intern, who dutifully makes yet another little check next to Agenda-21-golf-ban-against. Smug doesn’t really compel you to do anything. You are awesome already, even if the world does not appreciate it. I think we could all afford to meditate on that once in a while.



Pick Up The Damn Phone

I just got off the phone to my Congresscritturs:  Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, and Joe Kennedy.  I spoke to aides at each place, thanking Senator Warren for her support for the Iran deal, and urging in the strongest possible terms that Senator Markey and Rep. Kennedy pull their fingers out and do the same.

The bad guys are hitting the airwaves, the junkets, the phones hard on this one.  President Obama got this one right: the anti-deal folks include all those who screwed up the Iraq call.  We shouldn’t — we must not — let the nation listen to them again.

Joseph_Hauber_(attr)_Falter_Pilz_Schlange

To that end: aeons ago I did a summer’s worth of answering the phone on Capitol Hill for a congressman.  I’ve asked, and what was true then is still true: phone calls make a difference to these people — and you’d be surprised how few calls it takes to register with them.

So get on the phone.  Call your representatives.

House of Representatives numbers.

Senate numbers.

Thank your peeps if they’ve already got this one right:  affirmation matters a lot to them.  If they are still thinking, urge them POLITELY to come out in favor of the deal.  Tell them how disappointed you are, how angry, how motivated for change you have become if they tell you that they’re going to try to block the deal.  (Again — do so politely, but firmly.  That’s vastly more scary to them than bluster.)

If you want a great quick review of the arguments for the deal, there’s no better place to start that James Fallows. This post and this one will put you ahead of the entire neo-con policy apparat.*

In any event.  Call. Call now. Get your friends to get on the horn. It matters.

*This one opens with a longer list of Fallows’ arguments for the deal in the context of an opponents view.  The asymmetry of intellectual power will, I think, speak for itself.

Image:  attibuted to Joseph Hauber, Unsterblichkeit – Falter, Knollenblätterpilz und Schlange,** before 1834.

**translation help, anyone?

 



They were careless people, Tom and Daisy

This will never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever happen, but it’s a good thought (via):

I have a fantasy. It’s that every politician and pundit who goes on TV to discuss the Iran deal is asked this question first: “Did you support the Iraq War, and how has that experience informed your position?”



Battle Flag Acquisition Strategies

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Early this morning, I was doing some research on the endurance of corporate culture, studying how sometimes the spirit of a smaller, acquired firm can permeate the larger, acquiring organization. It’s not unusual for a big behemoth to acquire a scrappy smaller company solely for the purpose of infusing the moribund giant with fresh blood, and when the companies’ interests align, it can create an unstoppable marketplace force…for a while.

With that dynamic still on my mind, I moseyed over to Booman’s place and read a post that hit upon something that has been bothering me about the focus on the rebel flag in the wake of the domestic terrorist massacre in Charleston:

But the focus on the Confederate Flag can have an unfortunate side effect. What, after all, does that flag mean when it doesn’t simply mean white supremacy?

It’s meaning in those cases in nearly identical to the meaning of the modern conservative movement. It’s about disunion, and hostility to the federal government, and state’s rights. It’s anti-East Coast Establishment and anti-immigrant. It’s about an idealized and false past and preserving outworn and intolerant ideas. It’s about a perverse version of a highly provincial and particularized version of (predominantly) Protestant Christianity that has evolved to serve the interests of power elites in the South. It’s about an aggrieved sense of false persecution where white men are playing on the hardest difficulty setting rather than the easiest, and white Christians are as threatened as black Muslims and gays and Jews.

“Those blacks are raping our women and they have to go.”

That’s what the Confederate Flag is all about, but it’s also the basic message of Fox News and the whole Republican Party since the moment that Richard Nixon promised us law and order.

But it’s not black people who have to go.

It’s this whole Last Cause bullshit mentality that fuels our nation’s politics and lines the pockets of Ted Cruz just as surely as it has been lining the pockets of Walmart executives.

Today, maybe the governor down there had an epiphany. Maybe this massacre was the last straw. But, tomorrow, we’ll all be right back where we began with Congress acting like an occupying Confederate Army.

If we solve a symbolic problem and leave the rest untouched, then what will really change?

You can’t bury the Confederate Flag without, at the same time, burying the Conservative Movement.

Let’s get on with it.

He’s right. For many white people, the rebel flag represented moldy old myths about the antebellum South. But think about how nicely that mythology dovetailed with the lies about the pre-Civil Rights era that paleocons like Pat Buchanan tell themselves.

Like a moribund corporation, the GOP acquired Confederate culture with the Southern strategy, harnessing the racism in the South and its echo nationwide to build the present day Republican Party. That’s why Ronald Reagan launched his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi. That’s why an always-wrong, New York City-born legacy hire who is relentlessly eager to send other people’s kids off to die in glorious causes is tweeting nonsense that his ancestors would find…puzzling:

So, the rebel flag should come down in South Carolina and every other state capitol in the former Confederacy, and with surprising (to me) swiftness, it looks like it will. That will be more than a symbolic victory; it will be the partial righting of a very old wrong.

But there’s a danger in “otherizing” the South in this context. It’s not wrong to condemn its blinkered myth-making and prideful backwardness, but there’s a hazard in moral preening within and outside of Dixie, a risk of declaring a tidy victory when the dinosaurs in the state capitols of the former Confederacy finally sink into the tarpit they’ve thrashed in for 150 years.

The risk is that we’ll lose focus on the modern day “Congress acting like an occupying Confederate Army,” as Booman put it. At its core, the Southern strategy was an attempt to roll back progress by hitching the anti-New Dealers’ star to the creaky old Confederate wagon. Its organizers weren’t all or even mostly slack-jawed yokels waving rebel flags. They included a fiery libertarian business man from Phoenix, a glib B-movie pitchman who hailed from Northern Illinois and a twitchy, paranoid Quaker from California.

To achieve true victory, we have to finally drive a stake through the heart of the Southern strategy, not just the Confederacy. So let’s make expunging the rebel flag from the public square the opening salvo in a larger battle to take our country back. Yes, that’s right, TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK. With no lies and decaying myths about what that means. The flag that represents it isn’t spotless. Its founding was rooted in slavery, genocide and the oppression of women. But unlike its dying counterpart, this flag is worth saving.



Chaitsplaining the Perils of PC

Jonathan Chait has written a lengthy screed on the perils of political correctness. He reviews its history, provides numerous examples of its pitfalls and even name-checks Balloon Juice fave Freddie deBoer, who is quoted as follows:

It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing. There are so many ways to step on a land mine now, so many terms that have become forbidden, so many attitudes that will get you cast out if you even appear to hold them. I’m far from alone in feeling that it’s typically not worth it to engage, given the risks.

It’s a long piece, but if I may attempt to summarize, Chait divides libtards into two camps: Radical leftists (black hats!) who are the intellectual heirs of Marx; these social justice warriors infest Tumblr and other platforms and try to win the day by shutting down opponents. The second group, Classic Coke liberals (white hats!), are the heirs of Enlightenment traditions. These free speech advocates try to win through application of reason. Read more



Long Read Scroll: “Liking Jazz Is Not Enough”

NERDFIGHT!

Yes, of interest only to specialists or fellow OCD sufferers: Blog favorite Ta-Nehisi Coates applauding Jeet Heer (who just took a job with the “new” TNR) bashing favorite blog-target Andrew Sullivan.

I’d forgotten (I did hate-read the original “Bell Curve” issue, which caused me to cancel my subscription for the first or second time) that all the TNR writers who were not Andrew Sullivan or Marty Perez had strong disagreements with that article.

You may now resume your regularly scheduled Balloon Juice.



NN ’14

I’m going to Netroots Nation for Balloon Juice tomorrow. I went in 2011 and mistermix and DougJ went in 2012. Also, there was the famous John Cole and ABL Balloon Juice trip to the Democratic National Convention in 2012.

I will cover the keynotes: Vice President Biden, Senator Warren and Reverend Barber. I’m also going to the Ohio caucus and I hope to hit some other state caucuses. I will (of course) go to the public education privatization panel (my personal obsession) and anything I can find on voting rights. I’m also going to the Fight for Fifteen panel and lunch. I have corresponded with Angry Black Lady and when I figure out which panel she’s on I’ll go to that too.

Here’s the schedule of events. I’ll do my best to get posts up on events in a timely manner but as you probably have figured out by now I am not very good at speedy-quick “BREAKING NEWS” type dispatches, so just be your patient and kind selves and remember I am not (actually) a journalist.

This thing looks huge, just a jam-packed schedule. I am absolutely thrilled it’s in Detroit this year.