Paul observed yesterday that “[t]elling people that voting for an openly racist and sexist candidate means they’re OK with voting for an openly racist and sexist candidate makes those people angry, and therefore less likely to vote for somebody else” is s”omewhat true but in a complex way that robs the claim of pragmatic value.” I think this is exactly right. One really obvious problem with the Democrats-Lose-Because-Liberals-Are-Smug-Coastal-Elitists-Hot-Take-Industrial Complex is that smug liberals are a constant while election outcomes are cyclical. A second obvious problems is that there are smug elitists of every political persuasion and this also explains nothing. In this excellent post, Paul Waldman adds another critical piece of the puzzle: the conservative media has a major vested interest in presenting liberals as smug elitists who look down on white working class people, and liberals have no meaningful access to these voters that would allow them to change this perception:
If you doubt this, I’d encourage you to tune in to Fox News or listen to conservative talk radio for a week. When you do, you’ll find that again and again you’re told stories of some excess of campus political correctness, some obscure liberal professor who said something offensive, some liberal celebrity who said something crude about rednecks or some Democratic politician who displayed a lack of knowledge of a conservative cultural marker. The message is pounded home over and over: They hate you and everything you stand for.
The same is true of Hillary Clinton. At a town-hall meeting in March 2016, she was talking about how to revitalize communities that had been dependent on coal but had been devastated by a loss of jobs driven mostly by automation and the fracking boom that made natural gas cheaper than coal. Here’s what she said:
And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories. Now we’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce energy that we relied on.
Wow, that’s pretty respectful! It acknowledges the people’s hard work, their sacrifices, their contribution to the rest of the country. And yet because she also acknowledged that all those millions of coal jobs aren’t coming back, but said it in a way she would surely have liked to rephrase — “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” — the only thing anyone remembers is that one half-sentence, which was immediately turned into “Hillary hates coal miners! She wants to destroy their lives!” All the respect-offering she tried to do was meaningless once it was chewed through the gears of the conservative outrage machine.
In the world Republicans have constructed, a Democrat who wants to give you health care and a higher wage is disrespectful, while a Republican who opposes those things but engages in a vigorous round of campaign race-baiting is respectful. The person who’s holding you back isn’t the politician who just voted to give a trillion-dollar tax break to the wealthy and corporations, it’s an East Coast college professor who said something condescending on Twitter.
So what are Democrats to do? The answer is simple: This is a game they cannot win, so they have to stop playing. Know at the outset that no matter what you say or do, Republicans will cry that you’re disrespecting good heartland voters. There is no bit of PR razzle-dazzle that will stop them. Remember that white Republicans are not going to vote for you anyway, and their votes are no more valuable or virtuous than the votes of any other American. Don’t try to come up with photo ops showing you genuflecting before the totems of the white working class, because that won’t work. Advocate for what you believe in, and explain why it actually helps people.
And, as David Roberts notes in this thread, the mainstream media is also strongly committed to the narrative that liberals are coffee-drinking, mustard-using urban elitists. It’s baked in.
Johnny Unbeatable fantasies aside, there is no Democratic presidential nominee who will be able to go through an entire campaign without saying something that can be yanked out of context or ordering a salad with anything in it but iceberg lettuce or something else that can be used repeatedly to show that he or she despises white working class voters. Emperor Perez cannot impose message discipline that prevents any college sophomore from heckling a professional conservative race-baiter or calling the poke special at the cafeteria cultural appropriation. The only winning move is not to play.