The disaffected vs. the professionals

I was amused by the way The Slatest described a contretemps between their guy Josh Voorhees and angry Bernie Sanders supporters:

On Tuesday night, Josh Voorhees wrote that Hillary Clinton won the first Democratic presidential debate. A number of Bernie Sanders supporters subsequently wrote to Josh to inform him that he was a stupid man with a stupid face and that Bernie, as confirmed by a number of online polls, was the obvious winner. Last night, the Voorhees struck back, informing those Sanders supporters that it was in fact their faces that were the stupid ones, that online polls are a bad way of deciding who did the best in a debate, and that by the way, HILLARY WON* (*from his subjective perspective).

After that, Voorhees’ actual piece was a disappointment as entertainment — low-key, professional. He didn’t call anybody’s face stupid. Although he well might have, given the emotional nonsense that he was up against:

Several were nuanced and well reasoned; others … less so. “Hey dumbass,” began the first, “You should be ashamed of yourself you hack!!!” The next was only slightly more measured with its criticism: “How much money were you paid … you either got big bucks to do this article or you have an intellectual issue,” it read. “Are you blind or just bought? Grow a pair and admit the truth,” read another. One industrious reader, meanwhile, sent eight different emails, most of which included graphic photos and all of which came with the prose that matched the tenor of the distinctly un-PC subject line they shared. I could go on, but you get the point.

Folks, if you’re a dispassionate observer (a creature the people who wrote to Voorhees probably find it difficult to imagine) who understands politics in general and the current situation in particular, Hillary Clinton won that debate, on so many levels. And no, you don’t have to be in the bag for Hillary to see that. I’m certainly not. I’m very concerned that her performance will keep Joe Biden out of the race, and I really wanted to see him run.

Charles Krauthammer is no shill for Hillary, and he went farther than anyone else I’ve seen, saying she essentially sewed up the nomination Tuesday night. His column saying so was headlined, “Game over.”

That’s the sort of conclusion one reaches when one is an informed, professional observer who does not have a dog in the Democratic fight.

But if one is an emotional participant who adores Bernie Sanders (who clearly came in second, but largely because the other three candidates were so awful) and doesn’t really fully understand the way polls and other such things of the political world work, you think you have absolute proof that the professionals are lying or crazy or corrupt:

You want to blame the media professionals for something unprofessional, even self-interested? Then blast them for posting those instant surveys on their websites without making it absolutely clear that such reader-participation games are most assuredly NOT polls, and should not be seen by anyone at any time as indicative of opinions of the general population.

News outlets provide those things because they are marvelous clickbait. To put it more politely, they drive reader engagement. They make people feel like they are participating in the story, and they don’t cost anybody anything. But they do not provide useful information. As Voorhees puts it, “they’re mostly for entertainment (for the reader) and traffic (for the outlet).” A low-key version of bread and circuses, you might say.

All of this said, the argument can be made quite strongly that we are at a point in time when professionalism — whether on the part of journalists, pollsters or for that matter political consultants — doesn’t count for much, because there are so many of the disaffected, emotional people who don’t understand what they’re looking at that they constitute a sufficient plurality to swing elections.

We saw it with the Tea Party uprising in 2010, we’ve seen it in the dysfunction of Congress exacerbated by that election. We saw South Carolina go for Newt Gingrich in 2012. We’re seeing Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders.

Now, some of you will get indignant and say Bernie Sanders, for one, is tapping into genuine yearning for a society more like Denmark, and that his supporters know just what they are enthusiastic about.

I’m sure that’s quite true. (His dedicated followers are probably more like those of Ron Paul than of Donald Trump.) But I’m reacting to the subset that unloaded on Josh Voorhees, who are exemplars of the kind of proud, indignant ignorance that marks too much of political interaction these days.

And yes, my liberal friends — we see much more of this in the dysfunction of the Republican Party. Sanders’ supporters love his policies; Trump’s love his anger and contempt. In a column I’m grateful to Norm Ivey for bringing to my attention this week, David Brooks brilliantly described the sickness that pervades what was once the conservative party, but which is now overrun by clueless agents of destruction.

But foolishness is no respecter of political parties, and this surge of emotionalism against the professional consensus regarding Tuesday’s debate is but one small example of the tantrums one can find among the disaffected of the left.

27 thoughts on “The disaffected vs. the professionals

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    I’m veering a bit away from my topic, but that Brooks column was SO good that I just have to quote some of it:

    A weird contradictory mentality replaced traditional conservatism. Republican radicals have contempt for politics, but they still believe that transformational political change can rescue the nation. Republicans developed a contempt for Washington and government, but they elected leaders who made the most lavish promises imaginable. Government would be reduced by a quarter! Shutdowns would happen! The nation would be saved by transformational change! As Steven Bilakovics writes in his book “Democracy Without Politics,” “even as we expect ever less of democracy we apparently expect ever more from democracy.”

    This anti-political political ethos produced elected leaders of jaw-dropping incompetence. Running a government is a craft, like carpentry. But the new Republican officials did not believe in government and so did not respect its traditions, its disciplines and its craftsmanship. They do not accept the hierarchical structures of authority inherent in political activity.

    In his masterwork, “Politics as a Vocation,” Max Weber argues that the pre-eminent qualities for a politician are passion, a feeling of responsibility and a sense of proportion. A politician needs warm passion to impel action but a cool sense of responsibility and proportion to make careful decisions in a complex landscape.

    If a politician lacks the quality of detachment — the ability to let the difficult facts of reality work their way into the mind — then, Weber argues, the politician ends up striving for the “boastful but entirely empty gesture.” His work “leads nowhere and is senseless.”

    Welcome to Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and the Freedom Caucus….

    Reply
  2. Doug Ross

    It’s just a bunch of old(er) white guys who believe they know what’s best for the younger generation (and everyone else as well). Nothing new here.

    Remember – you said McCain was a better choice for President than Obama. Seven years later, that professional opinion isn’t looking so hot.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      It doesn’t look so hot to people who disagreed with me THEN.

      But that should not surprise, should it?

      As for “It’s just a bunch of old(er) white guys who believe they know what’s best for the younger generation (and everyone else as well).”

      Really? That’s what you got out of that? I don’t even know where to start. Josh Voorhees is an OLDER white guy? That white boy graduated from Davidson in 2004. And who are the young people he’s trying to impose his views on, and what are those views?

      That’s a very puzzling observation, Doug…

      Reply
        1. Doug Ross

          Donald Trump has 4.6 million Twitter followers. Jeb Bush? 365K. Old school conservatives are like old school newspaper industry – the game is changing and they want it to stay the same.

          Reply
            1. Doug Ross

              Snoop Dogg has more power than most politicians. One tweet from him can drive huge web traffic. In fact, Wired Magazine had an article recently about a new phenomenon know as “The Snowden Effect”. When Snowden tweets a link, the web hits spike dramatically.

              Reply
              1. Doug Ross

                How do you think people under the age of 40 get most of their information today? It’s through Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, etc. They aren’t reading newspapers or watching TV news channels. That’s for the AARP crowd.

                Twitter has more influence than MSNBC certainly… and more than but a few newspapers.

                Reply
              2. Brad Warthen Post author

                “Snoop Dogg has more power than most politicians.”

                Really? That’s like saying that in 1956, Elvis Presley was more powerful than Dwight Eisenhower because he was on Ed Sullivan.

                As for “When Snowden tweets a link, the web hits spike dramatically”… if John Dillinger had been able to Tweet while he, too, was a fugitive, you’d have seen a similar surge…

                Reply
                1. Doug Ross

                  Everybody thought Dillinger was a criminal. The jury is out on Snowden. It’s closer to 50-50 than you would like.

  3. Doug Ross

    ” the politician ends up striving for the “boastful but entirely empty gesture.” His work “leads nowhere and is senseless”

    Welcome to Lindsey Graham as well. His campaign is the epitome of an empty gesture that leads nowhere.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I assure you he’s not talking about Graham.

      The reference is to people who promise the moon to gullible followers when what they promise is impossible. He’s not talking about running for office when you don’t have a chance; he’s talking about policy gestures. You know, shutting down the government and such…

      Reply
  4. Mark Stewart

    I wonder if a single member of the “Freedom Caucus” is an attorney? I would bet not.

    Shockingly, the correct answer is 1/3 of the caucus members have law degrees, with a handful from prestigious schools.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Ted Cruz graduated magna cum laude from Harvard law school. From Wikipedia: Referring to Cruz’s time as a student at Harvard Law, Professor Alan Dershowitz said, “Cruz was off-the-charts brilliant.”

      He clerked for William Rehnquist.

      And this is the guy who keeps playing nice with Trump, hoping to inherit his supporters when he self-destructs. Which one could say exhibits a certain sort of intelligence, the kind we refer to as cunning or craftiness.

      Back in the early part of my career, when I was a reporter covering several counties in rural West Tennessee, I came to a realization one day: The county commission members that I respected and counted on to understand the issues and pursue smart policies tended to be lawyers. Not necessarily, but as a sort of rule of thumb.

      I don’t know if that’s as reliable a guide today as it was then, especially when you consider what Mark just noted…

      Reply
  5. bud

    Given that Brad voted for George W. Bush twice and Sarah Palin I’m not sure his opinion should be give much weight when trying to decide who won a given debate.

    Reply
  6. Harry Harris

    I’d like for Brad to consider a couple of points. Considering Dr. Krauthammer a reliable arbiter in this case is ill-considered. He’s no professional observer and certainly may have a dog in the Democratic primary fight. He may well consider Hillary more beatable by his group of candidates than say…Joe Biden, who such pronouncements might discourage from entering.
    Characterizing the boorish behavior of a group of “angry Bernie Sanders supporters” and some supposed “proud , indignant, ignorance” or “tantrums “of disaffected left-leaners as common among Sanders supporters or resembling Sanders’s conduct of his campaign is misleading – perhaps on purpose. I would still encourage Brad to look at Sanders’s actual proposals before dismissing them based on some label and opposition rhetoric.
    Consider the likely outcome of a Sanders win if he gets congress to do some things.

    Medicare gradually expands, replacing part of the ACA for more lower income workers instead of “premium support ” putting insurance companies back in charge and 12 million losing coverage (under Bush’s scenario).
    The minimum wage gradually goes to $12-15 per hour (24-30K per year) and more families can buy stuff beyond food and the crappy cars that help keep them cash-strapped. Some cross the paying-income taxes threshold taxes as opposed to higher transfer payments like earner income credit (a favorite of “compassionate conservatives.”
    Stock traders (as opposed to investors) pay a small transaction fee discouraging hedging, rapid trading, and much of the risky stuff that makes the markets too volatile for most of us to use responsively. The proceeds are used to lower college costs for all students at state schools, putting pressure on private ones to be more efficient and reasonable. This contrasts with Republican budgets cutting Pell grants and raising borrowing costs on students while cutting taxes for all but a few of the financial speculators. Even Bush who claims he would end special treatment for Hedge-funders would cut their top rate to 25% and put the budget into deep deficit claiming that they would create jobs by starting companies (instead of buying companies as recent history has demonstrated to be their MO). 53% of his tax cut plan go to the top 1% (yes, one percent) of earners.
    FICA taxes are applied to wages and salaries above the 117K level shoring up SS payments for decades instead of raising the retirement age even above the 67 level and kicking-off a few rich people (removing almost all support from politically powerful people and making the program much easier to cut or kill).
    On foreign policy, Sanders main proposals in the Middle East involve air support and advisement roles while pushing the wealthy “moderate” states in the region to fight their own battles with the worst actors in the region (ISIS, Taliban, AQ, and other violent Islamists. We would support our allies, but not fight in their place unless our own safety were threatened. The other scenario (Republican) involves ambitious and often empty rhetoric that has been shown to make US the target of the worst actors in the area.

    Gun control tightens for unstable folks and rapid-fire enthusiasts as opposed to the dangerous reliance on and condoning of deadly force we have today.
    Make the choice.

    Reply
    1. bud

      Very well said Harry. Now I feel guilty for my cheap shot at Brad.

      But I found much of what Brad said to be very condescending to Sanders supporters. We’re not flaming “communists” (a characterization I heard on Fox “News” last night) who would give all the wealth of the hard working job creators to the lazy rabble who prefer handouts to work. And by the way, I thought Hillary won the debate. But if that had been the first time I had ever heard Bernie Sanders I would have likely given him the win simply because he is someone finally saying things that badly need saying.

      Reply
    2. Mark Stewart

      I find every one of your, or Bernie’s, points to be objectionable as public policy except i) tax breaks for the 1% would be the wrong approach and ii) we do need to get guns out of the hands of those with mental issues – and that is not an insignificant number of people, btw.

      I personally like Bernie – he was a great college professor. As a Presidential candidate he is a total non-starter. He has support now because he is tapping into that occupy Wall Street lefty populism, but his support will evaborate when the stakes get higher in January/February. I think his tone is what is going to hobble him more than the fact that he labels himself a socialist; Bernie is a complainer and a whiner. That is not Presidential; it’s not leadership.

      Reply
    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      “Characterizing the boorish behavior of a group of ‘angry Bernie Sanders supporters’ and some supposed ‘proud , indignant, ignorance’ or ‘tantrums’ of disaffected left-leaners as common among Sanders supporters or resembling Sanders’s conduct of his campaign is misleading – perhaps on purpose.”

      Say what? Let’s revisit what Brad actually said, just above that…

      Now, some of you will get indignant and say Bernie Sanders, for one, is tapping into genuine yearning for a society more like Denmark, and that his supporters know just what they are enthusiastic about.

      I’m sure that’s quite true. (His dedicated followers are probably more like those of Ron Paul than of Donald Trump.) But I’m reacting to the subset that unloaded on Josh Voorhees, who are exemplars of the kind of proud, indignant ignorance that marks too much of political interaction these days.

      And yes, my liberal friends — we see much more of this in the dysfunction of the Republican Party. Sanders’ supporters love his policies; Trump’s love his anger and contempt. In a column I’m grateful to Norm Ivey for bringing to my attention this week, David Brooks brilliantly described the sickness that pervades what was once the conservative party, but which is now overrun by clueless agents of destruction.

      But foolishness is no respecter of political parties, and this surge of emotionalism against the professional consensus regarding Tuesday’s debate is but one small example of the tantrums one can find among the disaffected of the left.

      Seriously: How could I have been more clear that I was talking about a subset of Sanders supporters? And how could I have been more considerate to my friends on the left in my (unsucessful) attempt to get them to hear what I was saying?

      Reply
      1. Harry Harris

        I appreciate your pointing out that I missed the nuances of your post. I over-reacted to seeing the “tantrums” language in a criticism of both left and right.

        Reply
  7. Phillip

    I didn’t see the debate except in snippets; reading the transcript, as I did, gives you a very different perspective then seeing the debate. (And of course, as is famously known, people listening on radio thought Nixon cleaned Kennedy’s clock in 1960).

    The larger point is that this obsession about who “won” the debate (or any of these debates) is a ridiculous exercise, the most obvious indicator that most of our political coverage is really boiled down to sports coverage. Hillary won Game 1, Sanders’ back’s against the wall, will they use DeGrom on 3 days’ rest?—will quarterback X try to play even with the injury? blah blah blah blah blah.

    The point of the debates in an ideal world is to give each candidate the chance to explain his or her views, to make counterarguments against other candidates’ points, and thus to inform voters so that they can better make their own decision. Zingers, one-liners, looking good or looking not so good, none of that has much if anything to do with the reality of the issues that face our country.

    I do think Hillary made good arguments as did Bernie. But Bernie’s great accomplishment in this campaign will have been to demystify and de-taboo-ify the word socialist, or the phrase “democratic socialism.” He will have kept some very important issues and points on the table. Maybe that’s being a “complainer and a whiner” as in Mark’s words. Or maybe that’s a guy who’s just serious-as-a-heart-attack and calls it like he sees it. Maybe he’s not truly Presidential material at least as viewed by our entertainment-centered culture, but he’s already accomplished more than most expected.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *