Lessons From Atrios

TMC always says to me- blame Atrios. Partly it’s to remind me that she was a very popular blogger long before I started peddling my own particular brand of obnoxiousness (and still is, or at least waaay more popular than I am because she’s charming and sociable and diplomatic and I’m a curmugeonly grouch even to people I like), but it’s also because he was the one who encouraged her to get involved in other sites because he was impressed by her insight, as am I.

I like Atrios a lot though I don’t often highlight him because he’s not a tl;dr writer like I am (when I started my own sites I consciously tried to emulate his style though I seldom succeed).

Recently he’s posted some longer format pieces that I think are very instructive that I’d like to share with you.

Mirror Not Yet Invent

This isn’t about the “circular firing squad,” but people who fail at their jobs should resign honorably whether or not they really deserve it. That’s why they get paid the big bucks, that’s the price for taking on great responsibilities.

In practice this doesn’t happen, of course. Instead they’ll stick around and make sure to get jobs for their kids, too, because meritocracy.

Ok, so that one wasn’t so long but it is an essential introduction for the rest. I really like this one because it has that Dickensian “Marley was dead.” feel to it.

Primary Colors

Sanders lost. Some of his supporters were and are convinced that he would have won. I think that’s silly. Maybe he would have! Who knows?

But Sanders lost the primary. Clinton won. Many of her supporters – and the people working for her – were strongly convinced of the same about their own candidate. That belief – right or wrong – had relevance during the primary. It really had no relevance for the general election. That battle was won, there was no need to keep fighting it. It did not matter whether Clinton was the better candidate, what mattered was making her win. She was the candidate. Continuing to be invested in the idea that she was the best candidate blinded people to ways in which she wasn’t a perfect candidate (even if you believed that overall she was the best one). Maybe it was a hangover from 2008. They couldn’t stop fighting the primary.

Some of the reasons she might not have been were unfair. Like, you know, sexism. Lots of Clinton supporters in 2008 told me privately (and some people here expressed it in the comments if I remember correctly) Obama couldn’t win the general election because he was black. If true, also unfair! It could have been true, though it turns out it wasn’t. Racism and sexism are horrible. We live in a horribly unjust and unfair society. Other largely unfair reasons Clinton had problems as a candidate included 25 years of “scandals” that mostly weren’t and media treatment of the Clintons generally. Unfair!

But you can’t wish unfair away, and you can’t make it go away by screaming “unfair!” at it. If Sanders had been the candidate there would have been a lot of unfair things he would have had to deal with, as Obama, Kerry, and Gore did (that racism and misogyny are things which have to be dealt with makes Obama’s and Clinton’s situations more obscene and depressing, and, yes, more unfair, but no less real). Hell I concede even Mittens dealt with some unfair things. Yes, yes, they would have tried to make Sanders seem like commie-loving Stalinist. Unfair! The man just likes Scandinavia. Still he would have had to deal with that and everybody knew it.

A lot of us thought she would win. Including me! If you think the polls are bullshit you’d better have a good reason to think so, not just a gut feeling. It turns out the polls were bullshit in this election in a way they haven’t been before. I’m not sure anyone will ever really know why, or if polls will ever be anything other than bullshit again.

Anyway, you go to an election with the candidate and electorate and the horrible unfairness of everything that you have. The key is to have a strategy for dealing with it. You get no extra points to compensate for the unfairness.

So many of the arguments for why voting patterns in the primary demonstrated that Clinton was the better candidate were transparent bullshit. They were transparent bullshit in part because the exact opposite arguments were made in 2008. I don’t fault them for making those arguments to win the primary, I fault (some of them) for apparently actually believing those arguments. Performance in a partisan primary says almost nothing about how you will do in a general election. Bernie Sanders, Susan Sarandon, and the Berniebro army didn’t lose the election, any more than voters who stayed home or Latinx voters who voted for Trump did. Clinton, the Clinton campaign, and the broader professional Clintonworld did. It was their job to win. They took on that responsibility. That might be horribly unfair, but that’s the way it is.

Don’t Overlearn

Obviously when there’s a colossal failure, there are things to be learned, but any time there’s a Democratic loss they’re supposed to learn the same lesson they’re told to learn, strangely, when they win. Be more conservative! Reach out to white males, just not white males in unions! Don’t improve their lot in life, just make it clear you hate the same people they hate and listen to the music they listen to! Don’t love gay people so much! Forget women, all those white women didn’t vote for you anyway!! The problem is Democrats are out of touch with the culture of Real America!

Obama won twice. It’s important to remember that. And whatever his flaws, he didn’t do it by pretending to be a cultural conservative. He wasn’t always perfect on those issues, but he probably catered to the hate-gay-people-and-women crowd much less than most Democrats. Also, too, he’s black.

It’s hard threading this needle. I think to support Trump you have to be a racist or not care much about racism. I think the strength of Trump support is due to that racism. But things are fucked up and bullshit, still, in this country. Yes I know the stats show that Trump supporters on average aren’t poor. But that doesn’t mean they’re doing well, either. The story of the past 35+ years is that while the poors have largely stayed poor, the middle class has gotten hammered too. Those household income stats mask declining actual fortunes, fading retirement hopes, and the fact that things are fucked up and bullshit for their kids and their communities.

People do believe there’s a secret welfare state for the blahs, the immigrants, the gays, for everybody but them. This is, of course, wrong. There is no secret welfare state. But we all know the government is always handing out cadillacs and obamaphones, but for some reason I never got my free cadillac.

Here at my little blue lemonade stand I can point out that there’s no secret welfare state, but no one who needs to hear that is going to hear that from me. And there’s no advantage to pointing it out either. Everybody should get access to the secret welfare system! Everybody should have free cadillacs and obamaphones, or at least access to free college and a cable company that isn’t always screwing them. Instead, fix the fact that things are fucked up and bullshit, or at least promise to.

Trump voters are rich! They make $70,000 in household income! That’s higher than average! Well, sure, they aren’t poor. But good luck putting two kids through college on $70,000 per year without loading them with massive debt. This shit is much more expensive than it used to be. Nobody over the age of 50 who isn’t currently writing a tuition check seems to be aware of that. Good luck doing that if you’ve had even one recent negative event in your life (a layoff, a hospital bill). Good luck having any savings when you’re 60 and nearing retirement, assuming your knees haven’t given out yet. People don’t.

It’s false that things are more fucked up and bullshit for relatively well off white people than for others, but it’s not false that things are more fucked up and bullshit for them than they used to be. It’s stupid of them to blame the secret welfare state for taking all of their money, but they do.

As for minority voters, who really are supposed to be a part of the Democratic coalition but who didn’t quite manage to vote as much this time, things are obviously still fucked up and bullshit for them. Our immigration system is horrible. This was not fixed. I’ve read dozens of excuses for why Obama kept deportation levels so high, but, whatever, he did. Cops keep killing unarmed black people and getting away with that. I don’t know how much this is new, and how much it’s that we hear about it more, but Democrats aren’t exactly out in front on this issue. And many of them really are poor, and the poor always get screwed.

All of us savvy people “know” the Dems are better for the notrich than Republicans are, but I can forgive people for not knowing that. And if I can’t have mine, why the hell should “they” get theirs?

As for Clinton, I know what her policy proposals were. I’m not sure anybody else did. The media is horrible and don’t talk about policy, but we knew that. I also know that improving the EITC in a complicated fashion and promising free college, but not for all people because that’s crazy Bernie talk, but for some people and “debt free” college for all and can you fill out this form please to determine your eligibility* and oh by the way none of this shit will get through Congress anyway so why aren’t we promising the moon if we can’t deliver the half a moon we are promising. All the Dems are now on board with “expanding” Social Security. This is great! What does it mean? Probably giving more to the blahs and the immigrants and the gays.

Sure all of this is “pundit’s fallacy” stuff. But I’m not gazillionaire Tom Friedman telling you that what the people really want is to invade more countries and have better cell service in the subway. I don’t actually think all the country wants from our politicians the same things I want. I do know that things are fucked up and bullshit for much of the country. President Trump is going to make everything a whole lot worse, of course, but candidate Trump said he’d fix things. We’ll keep the immigrants out. We’ll bring back coal jobs. Show me a problem, and I’ll fix it. Not set up a plan to adjust the framework to tweak the incentives to modestly change the market outcomes. Just fix it.

*I knew kids in high school who couldn’t get their parents to fill out college financial aid forms. This type of thing is a problem nobody talks about.

tl;dr Shit is fucked up and bullshit and neither our benevolent nor our malevolent overlords know or care.

You Lost The Election To Donald Trump

This isn’t about anger or recrimination, it’s just getting back to what I’ve said all along. If you do this, you’re in it to win it. The responsibility is too great. I would’ve said the same thing about Bernie Sanders had he won or anybody else. Don’t do this fucking thing unless you can win it. And if you don’t win it, take the responsibility and consequences of that, which are going to be far less than the consequences for most of the people – yes, including Trump voters – of this election. I’m not aiming this just at Clinton herself, but most of the people who run Clintonland, which has basically run Democratic DC, for decades (with some exceptions). That doesn’t include everybody who worked in Clintonland as basically if you worked in Dem politics for the past couple of years you worked in Clintonland. Didn’t have much choice. The responsibility falls on the people who ran it. Yes Obama was president for these past 8 years, but he never really created Obamaland outside of the White House. He should have, but…

A big problem in this country is that elites fail upwards. Hey, maybe it was just a bad dice roll, but you were the one betting everybody else’s money. Resign honorably, hand off the keys to someone else, disappear behind the scenes. You’ll be fine, most of you are quite wealthy. If you’re unsure how to spend your time and money, you can pay me to give you some advice about how to do that. I’d manage quite nicely. I hear southern Italy is nice, though I’ve never actually been. Let’s go on a trip together! And your power isn’t really going away, anyway, just your name on the business cards and letterhead. Let it go.

Anyway, if you don’t have Eschaton bookmakered you probably should.