Sunday, March 18, 2018

Think Before Speaking, Senator

Democratic senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is a nice man who said something very stupid in response to a speech made on March 10 in Mumbai, India by Hillary Clinton. The latter stated in part

If you look at the map of the United States, there’s all that red in the middle where Trump won. I win the coasts, I win Illinois and Minnesota, places like that. But what the map doesn’t show you, is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s gross domestic product.

So, I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving-forward, and his whole campaign, "Make America Great Again," was looking backwards. You know, you didn’t like black people getting rights, you don’t like women getting jobs, you don’t want to see that Indian-American succeeding more than you are. "Whatever your problem is, I’m going to solve it."

This is not good. It is not good because it blames not only people who voted for Donald J. Trump but states, such as Ohio, Wisconsin, Idaho, South Dakota, and 26 others. In those states, sensible individuals were surrounded by friends, neighbors, co-workers and others who opted for Trump. They should be celebrated, not denigrated.

(It would have been easy for Clinton to have made a similar but less offensive and more salient point, stressing that the states which have adopted her perspective have soared while those which have adopted the right-wing perspective are reeling. Think California and Kansas, respectively.)

But that wasn't the gist of the Durbin's response to Clinton. Instead, he commented 

My friend Hillary Clinton is wrong. Thirty percent of the people that voted for Donald Trump had voted for President Obama. Why? The same people who looked for change with President Obama thought there wasn't enough, as far as their personal lives were concerned, and they supported Donald Trump. That is a reality the Democrats acknowledge.

One can only speculate what part of Durbin's body the Senator pulled the 30% figure from, because the "reality" is there were far, far fewer. (On a closely-related issue, very few voters went from Obama to Trump.)

Additionally, a great many of the Trump to Clinton voters did not switch sides because they believed that Trump would give them more of the change which Obama had begun.  In his autopsy of Clinton's defeat, Democratic pollster and strategist Stanley R. Greenberg wrote

Hillary Clinton fully identified with President Obama’s vision on identity, opportunity, honest government, inequality, the economy, and America’s upward direction, viewing his campaign and governance as successful. She stocked her campaign with his consultants and those who had worked in his White House.

She believed, and still believes, that America is dynamic, growing, and progressing, and now needs an economy that truly leaves no one behind. Inequality has worsened, but the answer is “building ladders of opportunity,” as Obama described in his State of the Union before his re-election, in his campaign speeches for Clinton, and in his private handwritten letter to President Trump.

Obama’s America was not a country in pain, but one where those left behind were looking for a seasoned leader to make progress. And Clinton only reluctantly decided to pull off this narrative. Obama and Clinton lived in a cosmopolitan and professional America that wasn’t very angry about the state of the country, even if many of the groups in the Clinton coalition were struggling and angry. 

Obama’s refrain was severely out of touch with what was happening to most Americans and the working class more broadly. In our research, “ladders of opportunity” fell far short of what real people were looking for. Incomes sagged after the financial crisis, pensions lost value, and many lost their housing wealth, while people faced dramatically rising costs for things that mattered—health care, education, housing, and child care. People faced vanishing geographic, economic, and social mobility, as Edward Luce writes so forcefully. At the same time, billionaires spent massively to influence politicians and parked their money in the big cities whose dynamism drew in the best talent from the smaller towns and rural areas.

Clinton’s default position was Obama’s refrain about America, but she did invite real discussion of these issues and got close to embracing a change posture during some economic speeches and her convention address, and in the debates. But when the campaign got rocked, she reverted to the Obama narrative.

The Obama narrative. After eight years of the Obama presidency, many of the goods and services enjoyed by people in the cosmopolitan and professional America that Obama and Clinton inhabit had improved while elsewhere incomes lagged, pensions declined, some housing values declined dramatically, and the cost of necessities kept increasing. With most families outside of the Obama/Clinton bubble understanding this, the Democratic nominee pled for a  third Obama term.

Hillary Clinton should not have painted with such a broad stroke.  She should not roundly and generally criticized Americans, but instead noted that most rejected voters Donald Trump's message, and she was the preferred candidate of the two.

Nonetheless, Senator Durbin should realize that Clinton's criticism could have been more direct and biting. The music and lyrics, tone and substance could have been more in keeping with that of Charlie Pierce, who (even before Durbin spoke) remarked

Anybody who attended a Trump rally knows how right HRC was in saying what she did. I’m not entirely a fan; I voted the other way in the Massachusetts primary for all the reasons that anyone did. But there is no question that what she said in India was an accurate summary of the forces that propelled our current president* to the job he now holds. Racism and belligerent, weaponized nostalgia were the accelerants that fueled the fire. It might have been economic insecurity that made people Trump-curious, but it was the xenophobia that got them into the halls....

It really is time to stop buying every voter in certain states a cookie. You people saddled the nation with a corrupt, incompetent oligarch who turns everything and everyone he touches into hazardous waste. You did it because he stroked your cultural and social yearnings until you trilled like a chorus of locusts. You are done no good service by politicians who keep telling you that you’re the salt of the earth, or by reporters on expedition who demand that the rest of us be careful of your tender fee-fees. If you want the country to stop being moronic, stop voting for morons.

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