Everybody knows that the New York Times is a glorified newsletter from a rich kid’s sleepaway camp, right? Even worse is NYT Blogs. They’re like Exxon for your Facebook feed. They’re among the most noxious greenhouse gases polluting the internet; and because an election is about to happen in America, armchair pundits and political analysis fanboys are making it worse. I rank the political discourse on Facebook (all of it) somewhere between a LOLcat and Instagram pictures of shoes.
There they are. Those instagrammed shoes. That’s what millions of people are interested in doing and looking at.
Millions of people.
If you’re an armchair pundit, the most annoying thing about you is that you want to seem like you can call the election. It’s like fantasy football, but with this delusion that you’re actually doing something. The defense mechanism that keeps this going is the classic Appeal to Authority, which means posting from the New York Times and The Guardian. So it was no surprise that when heart-throb counsellor Ross Douthat pulled out his guitar and started singing Kumbaya, the gang was going to sing along.
With a headline like that, the moths are going to circle the flame. That’s like the music box on an ice cream truck. Of course, were talking serial killer-style ice cream truck. I can already tell by the use of the word “Liberalism” rather than “The Democrats” that this is going to be an accurate, measured piece.
Last month, Republicans staring at defeat in November alternated between blaming Mitt Romney and blaming the American people, when they should have been looking harder at the flaws in contemporary conservatism. Now that Romney has surged back into contention, liberals are making a similar mistake. They’re focusing too intently on the particular weaknesses of President Obama’s debate performance, rather than on the weaknesses in Obama-era liberalism that last Wednesday’s Denver showdown left exposed.
Are they? Isn’t that what this first paragraph is ultimately doing? When did the rich kid from Newhaven learn Three-card Monte? On the mean streets of Manhattan? I wonder how much money he lost before he figured it out. And I wonder how he blamed northeastern liberal arts colleges for it. Anyway, he must have examples of the “weaknesses in Obama-era liberalism” from the presidential debate in question.
Four years ago, the Obama presidency was hailed as the beginning of an extended liberal renaissance — a new New Deal, a resurrected Camelot, a return to the glory days of Lyndon Johnson before Vietnam wrecked his presidency. Health care reform was the highest priority, but it was supposed to be only the beginning. With the Democrats enjoying huge Congressional majorities, everything seemed to be on the table: immigration reform, a program to combat climate change, card-check legislation, a wave of trust-busting in the banking sector — and at the least, the very least, a return to Clinton-era tax rates.
And here I thought that racism and Southern opposition Great Society legislation did Johnson in. Maybe I’m wrong about Nixon’s foreign policy. Or maybe I’m reading a column called “Liberalism’s Glass Jaw”. Douthat could also be forgetting to mention that after 8 years of George W. Bush, anything resembling political Tylenol was what Americans were looking for. And sure, Clinton-era tax rates. Notice how he tacks that on at the end to appear level-headed? It’s as though he believes that he appears to have reasonable political expectations simply because he can regurgitate a reasonable expectation that he likely heard a smarter person say. But when Douthat leans on big ideas, he comes across as the maniac with a thesaurus he really is:
The Obama administration’s legislative successes have offered hard lessons to liberals as well. Indeed, it’s the failures of the successes, if you will, that have cast the longest shadow across his re-election effort.
“The failures of his successes”? I don’t think I will, junior. The thing about Douthat is not so much that he has a genuine reason to not vote for Obama (he doesn’t, besides being a self-declared conservative) the problem is that he’s talking himself into voting for Romney. Because he has to vote Republican, because he believes “liberalism” exists. Failures of his successes. Who types that phrase out, looks at it, and says “Yeah, that works”?
Actually, what Douthat means is that he is unconvinced by Obama, and Obama’s policies. None of this is Obama’s fault, and none of this actually has anything to do with those policies. Douthat is a card-carrying conservative, whatever the point of that is, and he won’t see anything but “failures of successes”. All of that being 100% true, it means that there is no difference between reading his column and talking about the presidential debate with a guy in a Romney ’12 t-shirt, or, for that matter, a guy in an Obama ’12 t-shirt. If, for some reason, you try to argue that using the term “liberal” or “conservative” is the problem, you’re going to get blamed for being one or the other. And if that kind of logic seems baffling, try this one on for size:
It may have been an empty rhetorical gesture, but the fact that Romney could actually out-populist the president on “too big to fail” during the last debate speaks to the Obama-era tendency for liberalism to blur into a kind of corporatism, in which big government intertwines with big business rather than restraining it.
I’m not going to try and tell you that Obama isn’t in the pocket of big business – of course he is – but the idea that conservatism isn’t equally blurred into a “kind of corporatism” is like when a little kid says they “need” a toy. It’s like desiring something into being. 17 year old virgin boys are working hard on that project all around the world, and getting nowhere, but here in the 21st century, you can make that a political project and everyone’s just fine with it.
Again, every administration has its share of disappointments, and every ideology has to make concessions to political reality. But what we don’t see in this campaign cycle is much soul-searching from Democrats about the ways in which their agenda hasn’t worked out as planned.
Here, Douthat goes for a double: have the Republicans made even a token gesture to take some responsibility for the US economy? Has Romney sat down next to a Republican who can’t afford a kidney transplant for a photo-op where they both smile and Romney promises his dying supporter a place in heaven for resisting a government handout in order to earn that kidney through free enterprise instead? Again: people are posting this on Facebook and saying “Thoughtful analysis of the presidential debate”. Yeah. Thoughtful.
Of course it has to be thoughtful, it’s from the New York Times. Right? They can’t be wrong. Or pointlessly stupid. Or a waste of time. And this election is really important: ALL OF TIME COULD END AS A RESULT. All of our everything: gone. But that’s where Douthat’s yapping finds an audience, by saying things like this:
It’s not that Romney offered some detailed, brilliantly persuasive alternative. He didn’t, and couldn’t, because his party has at best a sketch of a policy agenda rather than a blueprint. But Romney isn’t running for re-election, and this was a case where merely seeming forward-looking, energetic and reassuring was enough to remind Americans of all the ways that the Obama era has disappointed them — and in so doing, sent shivers down liberalism’s glass jaw.
It’s also not that Douthat has offered some detailed, brilliantly persuasive alternative. He didn’t and couldn’t because his argument is, at best, preying on Democrat readers looking for all the ways that the president might not win re-election. For armchair pundits, reading Douthat is looking in the mirror to see how fat you are: the insecurity is there before the mirror has its say, and the mirror isn’t going to magically convince anyone of anything. But by having as little as two thoughts, anyone can see through the empty arguments and see political journalism’s glass jaw: newspapers and blogs have made political discourse into an apocalyptic version of fantasy football. And that is every bit as boring and stupid as it sounds.