A Very Serious, Thoughtful Argument that has Never Been Made in Such Detail or With Such Care

Jonah Goldberg is the most painfully self-unaware man on the planet:

I think at some point the disconnect between the country these people are describing and the country we actually live in is going to undermine the Democrats’ credibility.

Right, Jonah. The disconnect between Democrats and America. That’s the problem.

(Via Sully)

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4 Responses to A Very Serious, Thoughtful Argument that has Never Been Made in Such Detail or With Such Care

  1. 1
    nobody.really says:

    Oh, Goldberg has done a lot worse than this.

    Goldberg makes what I think is a fair point: MOST Americans have health insurance. MOST Americans have jobs. MOST Americans are making their house payments. To the extent that Democrats emphasize the experience of those who do not, they are speaking about a minority of Americans.

    And I agree.

    I’d like to chide Goldberg for his presumption that the only thing MOST Americans care about is themselves. I would like to think that people would care out of sheer compassion, and the fact that Democratic politicians are not cravenly trying to appeal to the self-interest of the majority of Americans is, if anything, evidence that the Democrats have a higher opinion of their fellow countrymen than Goldberg does.

    But I can’t, cuz I don’t. Rather, I think that Democrats are principally appealing to the frustrations most Americans face with a declining income and increasing prices, whipped into a fear of catastrophic financial ruin that is still rare, but growing more common. That is, I think the Democrats are appealing to people’s self-interest – calling on the middle-class majority to reinforce the social safety net not to help the poor (who remain a minority), but rather to reassure the middle-class.

    The larger point is this: Goldberg implies that when politicians describe America, the public wants and expects accuracy. I find little evidence for this. Rather, I believe politicians (and salesmen generally) speak to appeal to people’s hopes and fears. Thus, careful politicians will try to emphasize how seriously they take various situations, whether or not they think the situations are serious, because the people who DO care will be more motivated that those who DON’T care and think the politician is making too big a deal out of a situation.

    Recall that Phil Gramm spoke from the same talking points that Goldberg is speaking now: “You’ve heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession,” and “We have sort of become a nation of whiners, you just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline.” I expect that there are multiple sides of the issue, and there are perfectly sound reasons to argue that our economic situation is not as dire as many suggest. But no one really wants to explore that in the context of a political campaign. The message that comes across is simply, “I’m indifferent to your pain.” People who aren’t feeling pain wouldn’t respond to that message one way or the other; people who are in pain will respond very negatively. Lacking an up side to the issue, the McCain campaign jettisoned Gramm.

    Similarly, in 1993 Spy magazine asked 20 freshmen members of Congress whether the US was doing enough to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia. None of them wanted to acknowledge that they didn’t know anything about it – as they didn’t, because Freedonia was a fictional nation referred to in the Marx Bros. movie Duck Soup. Instead, every member expressed deep concern. They clearly thought there was little down side for doing so, truth be damned.

    Thus I predict that US politicians of every political strip will speak darkly and seriously about the significance of Russian encroachment in Georgia, and how “this situation is unacceptable,” etc. Not because they expect to do very much about it, but because the people whose fears are triggered by these events will care deeply that we look tough, whereas the people whose fears are not triggered won’t care much one way or the other. There’s only one up side, so that’s the side politicians will take, regardless.

  2. 2
    RonF says:

    I think it speaks terribly t0 the cultural state of this nation when within a random group of 20 Congressional Freshmen, none of them have seen Duck Soup.

  3. 3
    Lu says:

    I haven’t seen Duck Soup, but I knew right away that there was no such place as Freedonia. Quick, name a country in Europe!

  4. 4
    Daran says:

    I haven’t seen Duck Soup, but I knew right away that there was no such place as Freedonia.

    I’m curious as to how you know that? The name is clearly European in style, and while I know the name of every European country, and it isn’t one, I doubt I know the name of every province or region of every country.