Tuesday, January 31, 2017

On Bogus Progressives

Does anyone actually think Nicholas Kristof is a progressive of any sort?

Some contributor to the New Republic does - ironically in an article criticizing Kristof’s repeated efforts to legitimize a favorite conservative canard. The piece is entitled "The Myth of the Liberal 'Echo Chamber' on Campus.” Of course, Kristof's tired talk of a "liberal echo chamber" comes straight out of the conservative echo chamber. It's the right’s standard lament about "liberal intolerance" in academia but with the surprise twist that it is delivered by a "liberal." (It isn't.)

Such an absurd turd needs constant polishing and Nicholas Kristof’s practiced hand-wringing is equal to the task. He has written several pieces pushing this stupid thesis. I will explain why it’s stupid in this footnote(1) but my point here is somebody actually called Kristof a "progressive." Granted, that is what he calls himself - I’m just stunned that someone is humoring him. (Not really.)

Seriously, Kristof routinely scolds the poor. He circulates conservative urban legends about rampant cheats on disability. He bashes teachers unions. And he simply adores sweatshops - he just loves them. They are one of his favorite things - that and decrying "intolerant" progressives, apparently. In the first article, he makes the requisite acknowledgements that their working conditions are appalling, but his enthusiasm builds across time. By the second article, he says clothing labels should proudly boast that they are made in sweatshops. 

If the enormity of his Orwellian pose escapes you, let me explain: Progressives have historically opposed sweatshops. It was a focus of their reform efforts at the turn of the last century - and the one before that. Tragedies like the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire repeat themselves in Bangladeshi garment factories. Like in the Triangle Fire, the women workers were locked in the building during their shift and many eventually  jumped to their deaths attempting to escape flames and suffocation. In 1911, the horror shocked America's conscience into action. Today, good "liberals" ignore such troubling thoughts, lest they feel bad about their last thousand purchases.(2)

Of course, 1911 had its Nicolas Kristofs to do damage-control too. See also antebellum pro-slavery propaganda. The eternal narrative is "These people never had it so good and are/should be grateful."

The point is progressives do not whitewash sweatshops. Call me an impossible-to-please "purist," but that's a pretty definitional baseline thing, both past and present. If someone opined that women should not be allowed to vote but identified as a feminist, it would not be purist to call bullshit.

Nicholas Kristof had also praised welfare reform. Yes, he later admitted he was wrong on that, but his apologia was not entirely awesome. And how genuine is his contrition if he continues to parrot conservative talking points afterwards?

If his soul-searching is actual rather than affectation, he should revisit his other opinions because his whole career seems to consist of oily moralizing and concern trolling. "This is painful for a liberal to admit but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency.” Such lines are his stock-in-trade. Nicholas Kristof is pretty much John Stossel minus the porn mustache. Most of these shills are.

Well, okay, Thomas Friedman has the porn mustache too.

Such pundits are not progressives or even liberals. They exist to make right-wing schemes and fever dreams seem reasonable to liberal readers. They cynically prey upon liberals’ famous open-mindedness to promote unconscionable policies. It's just like that sardonic Dead Kennedys song "Kill the Poor" - "Jane Fonda on the screen today / Convinced the liberals it's okay."

It’s a pretty shitty literary industry. Do you want to be a published pundit? Then comfort the comfortable, afflict the afflicted, and guy the gullible. Tisking is uplift and you can say the most grotesquely reactionary things so long and you insist you are a "sensible” Democrat and don’t sound quite as paternalistically racist as, say, Rudyard Kipling. 

Obviously, Nicolas Kristof is not the only Potemkin progressive pontificating out there. Since the last Democratic primary, pretending to be a progressive has become quite fashionable - particularly among centrists bashing actual progressives. Pseudo-progressives are everywhere saying all sorts of shockingly ignorant and incongruous things on Twitter and other social networking sites. (3) They sound like conservatives do when mis-invoking Martin Luther King - which I suppose is appropriate when you remember what King thought about  white moderates.(4)

But such posturing is actually nothing new. Indeed, it is literally old news. Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) is a progressive watchdog organization has been monitoring the corporate media since 1986. (No doubt you've noticed that I've linked to them a lot.) They have repeatedly revealed that the acceptable spectrum of opinion on American television goes from the center to the far right. Fascists like Pat Buchanan were routinely piped into our living rooms: Leftist critics of U.S. foreign policy like Noam Chomsky not so often. Alas, print isn't much better. The media has been paving the way for Donald Trump for quite some time.

Of course, if you are going push the Overton Window to the right you cannot announce it. That would defeat the purpose. So you have centrists pretend to be progressives. In 1990, four years after its founding, FAIR exposed several
 phony television progressives. In 1998, they once again complied a field guide of these counterfeit leftists.  And in 2004, they discovered nothing had changed: actual progressives were absent as usual. And so it goes. Therefore, I was not actually surprised that The New Republic described Nicholas Kristof as a progressive since it isn't really liberal either.

This is how the establishment press operates. Surprise! It caters to the establishment. As I keep saying, the mainstream media is composed of enormous corporations that make their revenue almost entirely by selling advertising to other enormous corporations.  You don't need a conspiracy theory to explain this: It's just business. The Invisible Hand of Self-Interest isn't particularly invisible here. But what might be surprising to some is the fact that centrism is profoundly unpopular with most voters - but it is spectacularly attractive to advertisers so pundits must sell it to us relentlessly. 

To put it another way, think of all those round table discussions on reproductive freedom or women’s rights where all the speakers are men. They are monstrous and absurd. But they are not unlike every discussion we have on class or the economy: Only rich people are invited to opine. 


This became a two-parter because you cannot bash sweatshop apologists enough. Part two is here.


1) Broadly speaking, there are basically two kinds of conservatives: economic and cultural - and an increasing number of them are both. Likewise, academia roughly breaks down to the humanities and the sciences. Kristof concedes that many economic conservatives may prefer the private sector to academia because it is more lucrative. No shit. If you want to get rich, you are probably not going to major in philosophy or art history. As for the hard sciences, if you are a conservative geologist, you would certainly prefer to find new oil fields for Exxon than teach "rocks for jocks" at a local college - ditto with chemistry, biology, etc. But cultural conservatives self-select themselves out of academia too because they are inherently hostile to the subject matter. Think of the humanities: There is the nude in art, gay writers, philosophers questioning the existence of God, etc. And forget the sciences because biology teaches evolution and geology teaches that the earth is millions of years old. Never mind global warming, the scientific method, and critical thinking skills as a whole. Unless whole subject matters are gutted of core content, most conservatives are going to feel uncomfortable in academia. Some might feel fine, but not the bulk of them.

2) Full Disclosure: Although I try to buy at least American made - if not union made - it is next door to impossible to not own some sweatshop-produced product. It sucks. But Kristof thinks it doesn't. This site has a mix of union and American made merchandise.

3) It's gotten too easy to flush-out frauds and I'm getting bored. So, here's a few pro tips to help the phonies out there improve their game and making things more interesting.

First, actual progressives are alarmed about economic inequality. Historically, we always have been, so we are sort of invested in it. Therefore, trivializing it may impact your credibility. 

Also, try to avoid pitting it in a false trade-off against race or sex because we progressives are pretty big into intersectionality and if you don’t know what that is it will show. Moreover, posing false trade-offs is a favorite conservative tactic (liberty vs. equality, jobs vs. the environment, etc.) and you don't want to blow your cover right away.

Second, we progressives generally consider ourselves on the left, so spouting Horseshoe Theory is not something any leftist would logically be inclined to do since we are loathe to associate with the right and highly unlikely to conflate the two. It’s a conspicuously centrist conceit and thus a great way to accidentally out yourself. Not to mention the fact that, if you are pretending to be a progressive while you are invoking that horseshoe horseshit, you are equating yourself with the far right. And lest you think moderation prevents moving too far along the arc, remember that Donald Trump is a textbook ideological moderate. Do not confuse the temperament with the ideology.

Moreover, I should also mention that conflating right and left is exactly what reactionary cranks like Glenn Beck and Jonah Goldberg do when they call progressives "fascists." And that is not a good look on you or anyone else. I have written about this a bit previously.

Finally, when you say the left is a greater threat than the right, you have shown your true colors. Give up, go home, and find some honest occupation that does not entail slandering good people. It’s not the shooting star you really want to hitch your wagon to.

4) There’s a Facebook meme in which someone says she is thinking of naming her cats Thoughts and Prayers "because they are useless.” I might name my next cat White Moderate.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

It's Both, Stupid

When Bill Clinton first ran for president in 1992, there was a sign on his Little Rock, Arkansas campaign headquarters wall that read, "It's the economy, stupid."(1) It was a brief and blunt reminder to relentlessly hammer George Bush Sr. with this significant - and then signature - issue.(2)

Well, good luck getting many Clintonistsas or establishment pundits to admit that the economy impacts voter behavior today. The middle class has been shrinking and the wealth gap has been widening, but many busy wordsmiths hold the passionate conviction that voters are totally okay with that. According to their anything-but-the-economy arguments, nobody votes their pocketbook anymore and only spoiled college boys care about factory closings or job layoffs. Their breathless lectures on privilege and realism displayed zero self-awareness. They would be hilarious if they did not have such catastrophic consequences.

I am not arguing that racism and sexism were not factors in the outcome of this election – on the contrary, they were profoundly important – but class was a massive factor as well, and these writers don't seem to see wealth as a form of privilege. They are, at best, oblivious to the possibility that it might be, and at worst, in militant denial that it is. They can't imagine that it matters to anyone because it doesn't matter to them. And that, of course, is the very definition of privilege. So, small wonder they cannot possibly fathom how race and class interact. Indeed, they see the two as mutually-exclusive.

For example, take this little gem purporting to prove that economics had nothing to do with Trump's win because - drum-roll, please - his supporters are split on the issue of trade.

No shit. Both parties are. Republicans were practically the exclusive party of "free trade" until Bill Clinton passed NAFTA. It's a pretty libertarian pro-business position, so OF COURSE a huge hunk of Republicans still favor free trade. Trump just used anti-NAFTA rhetoric to peel away enough blue collar votes to swing the Rust Belt.

This could have alienated traditional white collar conservatives, but it didn’t. They correctly reasoned, "Trump doesn't really mean it: He's a businessman. He makes most of his merchandise in China." Conversely, many working class voters disastrously rationalized that Trump did not really mean his racist rhetoric, but hoped against hope that he might move the needle on trade and voted accordingly. In short, most of the people who voted for Trump did so because they thought he was lying.(3) Some did from a position of affluence and strength and others did from a position of desperation after decades of declining fortunes. Watch both videos. They are heart-rending.

So white collar conservatives accordingly stayed put instead of bolting across the aisle into Hillary Clinton's camp. Apparently, all those establishment GOP endorsements she chased down had no benefit. Indeed, in this anti-establishment climate, they were a definite detriment with many voters in both parties. Moderate Republicans were supposed to flock to her banner in the spirit of sensible bipartisanship. Of course, that did not happen.(4)

What accounts for the confusion of that article’s author? Best guess says abysmal historical illiteracy and going by Trump's statements in that vacuum. Not only was the GOP's pro-business proclivities unknown to her, she was apparently unaware that working class whites do not have a monopoly on racism. Indeed, racism has been driving suburban growth since the Fifties. White flight has long been monetized and politicized – frequently violently. The suburbs are not quite bucolic bastions of liberal enlightenment.

This impacts trade politics. Remember Rush Limbaugh’s racist defense of NAFTA:
If you are unskilled and uneducated, your job is going south. Skilled workers, educated people are going to do fine 'cause those are the kinds of jobs NAFTA is going to create. If we are going to start rewarding no skills and stupid people, I'm serious, let the unskilled jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do - let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work.
The suburbs are filled with people who think like this; which is why those so-called soccer moms who were supposed to break for Clinton stayed with Trump instead. These people hate unions, go to high-tech suburban mega-churches, and love the fact that they can buy stuff at Walmart for next to nothing because that's what the people who make it are paid. These Paula Deen-like ladies would love to have their own slaves. Alas, "political correctness" and the Thirteenth Amendment prevent that.

And lest this salient facet escape your attention: Rush Limbaugh was not siding with Bill Clinton - Bill Clinton was siding with Republicans (who Rush Limbaugh spoke for). George Bush Sr. had negotiated NAFTA, but Bill Clinton fought his own party to secure passage.(5) The Clinton Administration went so far as to have Al Gore debate Ross Perot about it. Overt support doesn't get much more theatrical than that. That’s the problem with making memorable moments - people remember them. And they remembered in 2000 when Al Gore was running.(6) But, no, let's blame Ralf Nader even though NAFTA was why we lost Congress in 1994 and had such great difficulty holding onto it ever since. Recall that we had a virtual lock on Congress for several generations since the New Deal.

Arguing that white working class votes were a big factor in Trump's win is not the same as saying most Trump voters were white working class – just that a strategically significant sliver of them were. Indeed, studies discovered that most Trump supporters were fairly well off. Earlier, the same fact was discovered about Tea Baggers. The popular misconception that they were mostly working class people voting against their own economic interests was wrong. When these studies were first released they provoked puzzlement. They should not have. It just means they are typical suburban Republican voters – the ones centrist Democrats were willing to betray working class voters to get.

You may be thinking, “Jerome, lay off the article's author. She’s probably just a kid.” If so, that’s both ironic and irrelevant. Ironic because Millennials are inexplicably one of Clintonitsas’ favorite scapegoats just now. Irrelevant, because the mainstream media is filled with equivalent gibberish. The article epitomizes both. There's less and less daylight between click-bait websites and the press.

During the 2012 election, Fox News and other conservative outlets told its viewers that Mitt Romney – a man who said “let Detroit go bankrupt” – was going to beat President Barack Obama in a landslide. But the landslide slid in the other direction. A pretty predictable scramble for half-assed rationalizations ensued. This year, the rest of the corporate media assured us that Hillary Clinton would crush Trump and when that did not happen a similar spectacle followed that debacle.

In both cases, the loser had alienated labor. Bigly. Perhaps that's a bad strategy for both parties.


(1) Actually, it was just "The economy, stupid" but everyone remembers it as “It’s the economy, stupid.” I am going with the more familiar form to make my post’s title work.

(2) But it was also a directive to display empathy towards the victims of the “mean season” that Ronald Reagan began. For working people, his Thatcherite austerity measures meant union-busting. For the rich, it meant a party on borrowed money. George Bush Sr. had promised “a kinder, gentler nation.” (It was an odd promise after the Willie Horton ads that got him elected.) But it was not gentle enough. Bush infamously promised “No new taxes.” But the bill for Reagan’s party was due and Bush broke his improbable promise. Pro-business policies meant exporting jobs and the economy was already feeling the pinch. And here came Bill Clinton with his Kennedy-esque youth and charm.  Most people wanted to believe Clinton would reverse the perverse zeitgeist Reagan had inaugurated. Instead, Clinton co-opted it – shortly after his Sister Soulja moment.

(3) Interestingly, both candidates followed the same strategy: Poach voters from your opponent and hope that your base thinks you do not mean it. At her private fundraisers, Hillary Clinton assured Wall Street donors that her populist rhetoric was all for show. Clinton actually said it was necessary to have “both a public and a private position.” She mocked Millennials as “living in their parents’ basement” talking about Scandinavian style socialism “whatever that means.” I guess she doesn't really "love Denmark" after all.

(4) Hillary Clinton was banking on disgust for Trump, but vulgarity aside, Trump was not saying anything Republicans had not been saying for decades in more genteel terms. Republicans have been milking the Southern Strategy since 1964. It admittedly had peeled away a lot of white working class voters – indeed, it appealed to racists of every income but that escapes mention for some reason. Suburban voters inexplicably (okay, not inexplicably) get a pass. Trump just cranked up the volume. As I wrote before, "The [racist] dog whistles are now air raid sirens. All subtlety and plausible deniability has been spectacularly jettisoned." But the rhetoric was always there. What Trump did that was truly new was break with the GOP party establishment on trade. No GOP nominee had done this in modern times. Yes, Pat Buchanan had advocated this strategy, but the Republican establishment had always beat him back. Well, Donald Trump was Pat Buchanan's revenge, wall and all.

(5) During the primaries and well after the general election, I routinely ran into Clintonistas who insisted it was not Bill Clinton but George Bush Sr. who signed NAFTA. Actually both did. Bush had a signing ceremony after the treaty was negotiated, but the Senate had not yet ratified it by the 1992 election. Once in office, Bill Clinton pressured Democrats to secure passage and did the final signing. But hey, don’t take my word for it – just ask the Clinton Presidential Library. I was shocked that Rachel Maddow had pushed this bizarre narrative that Bill Clinton had nothing to do with NAFTA. Again, who can forget the Gore-Perot debate? Yet, to this day, Clinton supporters still deny that Bill Clinton had passed NAFTA the same way that Republicans deny Ronald Reagan had granted immigrants amnesty. (Indeed, Ronnie did.) Any fact that contradicts how they imagine the man is loudly ignored.

(6) It is important to note that Al Gore was not just going to bat for NAFTA against the wishes of working people but that he was smug and condescending about it. He was the hated Taylorist efficiency expert with the clipboard. Here was a managerial technocrat telling working voters that they were too simple to understand international trade issues that they understood all too well. They knew the treaty would pit them against Mexican workers in a race to the bottom in wages, hours, and working conditions. Al Gore’s performance validated every rightwing screed about the “liberal elite.” The debate played great with the yuppies in the suburbs, but it was a demoralizing, fuck-you gut-punch to the old New Deal coalition. Of course, it was supposed to be.