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Really, Matt?

I just finished listening to Susie Madrak and Matt Stoller from last night’s blogtalkradio broadcast of Virtually Speaking. Highly recommended. For the most part, they’ve got the Obama situation right. Matt Stoller gets a bit closer to Obama’s psychology when he talks about how Obama has seen liberalism and rejected it. The New Yorker profiled Obama back in 2008 and came to much the same conclusion. Essentially, Obama sees New Deal liberals as cockeyed optimists who aren’t dealing with reality, in spite of the empirical evidence that says they are right. They’re too naive and confident in government’s ability to work for fairness and equality. In particular, Obama had a problem with his *mother* not his father. She was a bit too idealistic for his refined tastes. So, he rejected liberalism for tradition and convention. Some of us detected this early but couldn’t quite put our finger on why he seemed to be such a passive Democrat but this paragraph gets to the heart of what Obama’s political philosophy really is:

Obama’s mother is, in his portrayal, an American innocent out of Henry James: a young girl who ventures into the world believing that things are as they seem to be; that a person’s story begins when she is born and her relations with other people begin when she meets them; that you can leave your home without fear of injury or loneliness because people everywhere are more or less alike. She had no idea what she was getting into when she left Hawaii—no idea that only months before she arrived Indonesia had suffered a failed but brutal coup and the killing of several hundred thousand people. Eventually, somebody told her what had happened, but the knowledge didn’t change her. “In a land where fatalism remained a necessary tool for enduring hardship,” Obama writes, “she was a lonely witness for secular humanism, a soldier for New Deal, Peace Corps, position-paper liberalism.” She had a faith, inherited from her father and resistant to experience, “that rational, thoughtful people could shape their own destiny.” She should have counted herself lucky for emerging from the experience with only a second divorce and two bewildered children. “Things could have turned out worse,” her son wrote. “Much worse.”

It seems that Obama would rather Americans accept their fate, embrace fatalism to see them through hardship and stop trying to reshape their lives through vision and rationality. Obama is the antithesis of the New Deal Democrat. He just doesn’t believe in it.

That profile also contained a critique of Obama’s vs Clinton’s approaches to persuading the public on policy. Their conclusion was that she was just better at it because she understood what was at stake and could frame the argument in a way that described what the little guy was up against and then propose well crafted solutions to solve the problem. I can attest to that personally. In 2007, I got to ask Hillary the final question at her break out session at YearlyKos2. I asked her about infrastructure because I was very interested in mass transit and only a few days before YearlyKos2, a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. She did exactly what the New Yorker article described. She framed the problem, identified the players and proposed concrete solutions. Her answer was detailed and thorough and convinced me that she really knew what she was talking about.

I don’t know where Matt was at the time. Probably waiting to get into a meeting with John Edwards or the Big Kahuna himself.

But anyway, the good stuff ended right about there. Matt says he was conflicted in 2008 but all I remember from Matt Stoller at that time was that he resembled so many of the people who were *trying* (not too hard) to be neutral but really, really, REALLY wanted Obama to win like the voice over narrator of the anti-Nader Anonymous video. I suspect that Obama totally made Matt cry sometimes. Then Matt goes on to say the State Department is messed up, which reminds me of all of the “Hillaryland at the State Department” articles we see in the Washington Post and New York Times whenever the electorate starts having buyer’s remorse over Obama. Then he complained that she didn’t apologize over her Iraq War Vote. Yes, Matt, Hillary Clinton, the senator from fricking New York was the single most important vote and primary reason the Iraq War Resolution passed even though she specifically and strongly urged Bush to let the UN weapons inspectors do their jobs and only go to war as a last resort. That she failed to wear a hair shirt and plead for your forgiveness demonstrates a shocking lack of obsequiousness on her part. Then there was a gratuitous slap from Susie about PUMA, which I don’t think either of them really understood. While there were plenty of PUMAs who were all about Hillary and plenty of the rest of us who hoped desperately that the party would come to its senses before the convention, PUMA was actually a movement that came to life after 18,000,000 votes were trashed at the RBC meeting in May 2008.

That’s what PUMA was all about, Susie. It was the disenfranchised rebelling against the party that ran what turned out to be sham primaries and then selected a nominee behind closed doors. It was about wasting our money and our time on phone banks and canvassing when the result was already decided. It was about screwing with the election process and conveniently eliminating inconvenient votes in Florida and Michigan. It was about the undemocratic caucuses and the theft of delegates from one candidate that were gifted to another who wasn’t even on the Michigan ballot. It was about the apalling spectacle of the ends justifying the means and absolutely no accountability to the voters who had a legitimate claim to be counted. The separation between the candidates in terms of primary delegates was thinner than a gnat’s wing by the time they got to Denver and got even thinner when the Credentials committee restored Florida and Michigan to full voting status. But by then, the damage was done.

I was there in the ballroom when the Kossacks jeered Hillary over her lobbying comment and as a worker in the pharmaceutical industry, I knew exactly what she meant. There was no ambiguity, Matt. The problem was that Edwards had been speaking a few minutes before and had riled the crowd up with his P.T. Barnum routine. There were a lot of suckers in that crowd that afternoon and after Edwards was forced out, they climbed aboard the Obama bandwagon. The funny thing is that industries like Big pharma were never afraid of Obama. They were nervous about Hillary. And if you want to know why you need look no further than the telecomm vote in July 2008. Obama voted for immunity, Hillary didn’t. The Clintonistas were not surprised by this. We understood her.

But what bothers me the most is the persistent and factually incorrect assertion that Hillary ran a poor campaign. I realize that that is the conventional wisdom that the left blogosphere keeps telling itself to justify pushing Obama on the rest of us but it never made any damn sense. In what world does a candidate win NJ, NY, CA, PA, FL, MI, MA, OH, TX, NV, IN, WV, KY, TN, RI, NH and still get accused of running a poor campaign? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say that of Obama because he couldn’t win the big, populated Democratic states? This is a world where the voters don’t really count. it’s a world where caucuses in sparsely populated states count more than voters in a dense state like NJ.

Matt, you are still suffering from an indoctrination hangover. For some reason, young, Ivy League educated males such as yourself were predisposed to like Obama and dislike Hillary. Only you can answer why that is but I think it was Anglachel who correctly identified it as white male graduate student syndrome:

Big Media Matt put up a post the other day before Josh’s wet, steaming pantload was generally noticed that brings up the biggest truth, that the Clever Young Men of the Blogosphere simply can’t see because they are unable (and unwilling) to observe themselves as part of the phenomenon:

“I think Hillary Clinton’s going to win this thing. I think the college educated men who dominate punditland have spent a lot of time missing the fact that there actually are enthusiastic Clinton fans out there — they’re just mostly working class women and thus mostly not in the room when this CW gets hashed out. On the Record
Not in the room.

That really sums up the deep structural problem of the “netroots” as a source of political strength on the left. They have never left the graduate classroom while the rest of us have moved on.

I spent a long time in graduate classrooms before finally deciding that I needed to find a line of work where I could retain my dignity, and I know this type of person very well. He’s white (or codes as “white”), very articulate, often socially awkward, deferential to fawning towards the most senior male in the area, smart-as-a-whip in a bookworm kind of way, can throw together short, abstract, sophisticated arguments about their own esoteric subject at the drop of a hat, and has spent the last 8 to 10 years of his life being praised as the smartest guy in the room. They literally earn an “A” for their thinking and how it is received by the professors. It is a deeply incestuous and self-reinforcing environment.

In short, their entire sense of self-worth is tied up in winning verbal exchanges on subjects they are going to get tested on in the mid-term exams next month. Yak-yak between and amongst themselves (all under the approving eye of the senior male professor who will give them a recommendation on their job application to Podunk U.) is the fabric of their lives. They don’t waste time with anything that doesn’t mark them off as “clever” and “insightful” (as determined by the senior prof), and they get hostile when someone or something enters their carefully constructed cocoon and simply rips the foundations of their arguments out from underneath them.


To my thinking, this is why the leading lights of the netroots on the left are so dangerously out of step with the Democratic grassroots. They are flocking to candidates and causes without concrete foundations to their positions, and they speak mainly among themselves, which further exacerbates their distance from the run-of-the-mill citizen. They seize on the formal argument and overlook the practical application. Worse, they cling to sophistry and the good-old-white-boys praise and promote systems of academia and journamalism, and insist their justifications are right. If they didn’t, their entire raison d’etre would vanish and they might have to get a real job bagging groceries, fixing electrical lines, tending elders in nursing homes, or collecting garbage. Icky, dirty, hard things that they might not like and wouldn’t be very good at.

This is intellectual elitism, yes, but even more a rather childish and frightening inability to distinguish the worth or weight of an idea in the context of an ordinary life.

There’s more than a touch of sexism in it. I’ve seen it in the research industry. Women managers are always seen as less competent and token females. Am I right, Matt? Aren’t you a bit more likely to find fault with Hillary and make excuses for Obama? We Clintonistas called it the Penis Years phenomenon. She was vastly more experienced and prepared than he was but he had that certain thing that made him more qualified. Don’t think that didn’t come up in the analysis of the lefty blogosphere sites when the campaign operatives started to sift through the data. You were, and continue to be, an easy mark.

But now, you’re *almost* there, Matt. Susie is right. Hillary was a better candidate to address domestic issues. She was the right candidate for the times. But you wanted to hear an apology from her and that, plus her gender (come on, Matt, admit it to yourself at least) kept her out of the White House.

It wasn’t about Hillary. It was about our obligation to elect the person most likely to be a good president whether that person was black or white, male or female. At the very least, she should have gotten a floor fight and a legitimate roll call vote. It would have been the right thing to do for the voters who desperately wanted a Democrat in the White House. In light of everything that has happened since September 2008, we deserved better deliberation and seriousness from the male graduate student contingent.