Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Mmmmm. Hamburgers

Josh Barro is a Never-Trumper who has become a de facto moderate Democrat.  He still has some roots in the conservative movement, and he has some advice for Democrats who want to win elections.

It's interesting advice.

There were some lonely voices, notably Jon Chait, before the election warning Democrats about their PC problem.  Given that Chait placed his argument on the Internet, it quickly got heated and dumb.  He agrees, of course, with Barro's argument that the problem Democrats have is that they are self-righteous prigs.  I think Barro's argument about hamburgers is bizarre, but the overall critique of the Left being obsessed with offensive behavior has some ring of truth to it.

I voted for one Republican in my lifetime, and it was Bush in 1988.  I had waded through the PC-wars of the late '80s and found them stifling, judgmental and unproductive.  That had at least some impact on my vote.  I didn't vote for Bush some much as I voted against Dukakis and the modern PC culture.

Now, having said that, there are certain things worth fighting against.  As Barro says,

It's possible to stake out the ground that, for example, characterizing Mexican immigrants as a mass of criminals and rapists is wrong, but what you wear at Halloween isn't really a concern so long as you're not in blackface. It's possible to push for the policies you think are important on climate change without making people feel guilty about their hamburgers.

Now, I can hear the arguments that if someone appropriates someones culture as a costume or as a party, that's disrespectful.  College students don't carry about Hindu spring festivals, they just like bright colors.  The problem I think the Left has created for itself is that it has equated emotions with acts.  If something or someone makes you feel bad, tell them why.  If they continue to do that, they are an asshole.  Don't hang out with assholes.  If someone punches you in the face, call the cops.

To be a liberal means on some level to value human liberty.  American liberals came to see inequality as the hallmark of a lack of freedom.  Jim Crow was an easy expression of inequality leading to a lack for freedom, but so is unequal pay, marriage inequality or excessive corporate influence on politics.  There is very little reason for liberal to give up their positions for a more equal America.  Those positions are popular, not universally so, but popular nonetheless.

You can never convince someone to change their mind by labeling them.  You can't make anti-racists by calling people racist.  Leftists and some liberals have thrown up their arms in exasperation over the Basket of Deplorables.  Look, you don't want the Deplorable vote.  You want the person who might vote for Obama, but couldn't vote for Clinton.  Clinton got hammered from the Left for being a "Neoliberal shill" but also from the Right for being an avatar of PC finger wagging.

I don't know if the "campus Left" and "online Left" will allow much deviation from the PC line, but there has to be a way to repackage the goals of a "kinder, gentler America" into something that appeals to voters who might like your policies but not your hectoring over gender.

"Liberty and justice for all" feels like a nice place to start.  The Right has effectively stolen the idea of liberty from liberals, but liberals need to steal it back by arguing that "the law in its majesty allows the rich and the poor equal freedom to sleep under bridges" is a piss poor form of freedom.  If you are  a slave to your paycheck, are you free?  Thomas Jefferson didn't think so, why should we?

The "justice for all" in an obvious call out to BLM and criminal justice reform, especially on drugs.  I've become convinced that until we fix our drug laws, we will continue to plunge both our country and Mexico into crime and violence that needn't otherwise exist.  "Justice for all" is equality before the law, and that not only means the poor are treated fairly, it means the rich and powerful are help to account.

The Democrats probably could continue to inch leftwards on economic issues, but they have to adopt a new tone when it comes to political correctness, one that focuses on the freedom to criticize and not the license to silence.  I doubt it will be that easy, but it is clear that culture is the divide Democrats have to cross.

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