Remember that fun couple of months when we were all saving the Affordable Care Act? Something jumped out at me then and I still think it is incredibly salient today. At the very beginning when we started phoning Representatives, their staffs reacted like it was a breath of air to a drowning person. This really puzzled me. This blog has a lot of readers, but not that many. At any given time I don’t think we had more than a couple hundred actively burning up the phone lines. At the beginning when I started hearing this stuff it could not have been more than a couple dozen people. These politicians represent the whole country. If you count just the Democrats at that time they represent a bit over half of it. That’s a bit under two hundred million people. Say around a hundred million old enough to pick up the phone. I know that not everyone does, but enough people still do that often enough that we never should have had the impact we did.
A piece fell into the puzzle when I listened to Keith and Rachel on MSNBC. I have to confess that I don’t enjoy loud partisan entertainment all that much, even when it’s on my side. I think I watched either of them for the first time a few months after the ACA. When Maddow went to credits, what I felt more than anything was kind of smug. I felt great about being on the right side of objective reality but I did not feel like doing much of anything.
Watch an hour of O’Reilly some time, and then check your feelings. Odds are pretty good you will be mad. If you are a liberal you will be mad at all the stupid and misleading things he said about you. If you are a conservative you will feel pretty steamed about the terrible liberals, laughing at you while they wreck everything. Either way you will want to do something. Maybe call FOX and complain about their accuracy, maybe bottle that rage up and save it for Sunday dinner when you can really stick it to that smug liberal nephew. You know what a metric shitload of conservatives do when FOX or some jackass on Clear Channel pisses them off? They call their Congressperson. I know this because Congressional phone volunteers receive what amounts to a nonstop stream of angry invective from FOX viewers and Glenn Beck fans and people who followed the very easy instructions on the all-caps mailer they just got from Tea Party Freedom Fighters Inc., a subsidiary of Koch Industries. It never ends. That is why I think the firebaggers accomplished nothing, despite outpunching this blog by a couple weight classes. A few more anti-ACA phone calls would barely register among a sea of frothy wingnuts, whereas your positive calls were literally the first supportive pro-ACA message some Reps received from the outside world. Their districts were full of liberals who really wanted to see Americans get health care, but none of them picked up the phone.
To me this disparity is one of the most crucial, underappreciated factors in Washington, DC sausagemaking. It helps explain the aggravating headwind that liberal policies always face, where progressive proposals that somehow make it to a bill inevitably get chipped down and lose support over time, whereas conservatives bills if anything pick up steam and constantly get peppered with amendments that make them worse. No matter what the polling says about how popular a policy is, elected Democrats often act like they are fighting a rear guard action against a hostile press and public because in their office it really feels that way. Every one of them gets a daily tally of where that day’s calls and (especially) letters fall on various issues.
So Kevin Drum just weighed in on the old question about whether liberals have a bigger problem with being smug being condescending. Personally, I say why not both. They’re two sides of the same thing anyway. Kevin more or less noodles at the end but that is the part that interests me.
[L]iberals and conservatives have different styles. No surprise there. The question is, do these styles work? Here, I think the answer is the same on both sides: they work on their own side, but not on the other. Outrage doesn’t persuade liberals and mockery doesn’t persuade conservatives. If you’re writing something for your own side, as I am here, most of the time, there’s no harm done. The problem is that mass media—and the internet in particular—makes it very hard to tailor our messages. Conservative outrage and liberal snark are heard by everyone, including the persuadable centrist types that we might actually want to persuade.
I certainly do not want to dismiss the persuadable moderate thing. A dumb person who is outraged at least radiates sincerity, whereas a smug smart person is practically begging for a wedgie, even when you suspect they are probably right. But at the same time the conservative outrage reflex has a much more basic kind of practical advantage. It gets you yelling at some volunteer phone intern, who dutifully makes yet another little check next to Agenda-21-golf-ban-against. Smug doesn’t really compel you to do anything. You are awesome already, even if the world does not appreciate it. I think we could all afford to meditate on that once in a while.
Nom de Plume
Okay, I just have to ask: how difficult is it for front-pagers to communicate with each other? Just set up a bloody schedule already.
I think this is a super insightful post. (In fact, I sometimes find many of the comments here more smug than I’d like, and wonder what they amount to other than self-satisfaction.)
@Nom de Plume: I don’t really see what the big deal is about bigfooting. Can you explain why it’s so terrible? I tend to read all the way back to whatever I haven’t read, but is the issue that’s not how others do it?
@Nom de Plume: Writers usually check to see if there’s a post in the late stages of editing. Some writers don’t always do that, but it’s his blog.
@Nom de Plume:
Oh, Jesus H. Christ on a stick, who fucking cares? Is it really that hard for you to keep track of what’s being posted on the front page? Fer fuck’s sake, you got doggie pix and this post in the last 45 minutes. I feel badly for you if that’s overload.
@efgoldman: This. Snark is lovely for rallying the liberal troops, but that probably wasn’t the problem.
Adam L Silverman
Tim F.: One of the most overlooked portions of how policy is made, as well as the strategies that support them, is often simplified by what we call the FAS test. Is it F(easible), A(cceptable), and S(uitable)? Acceptable doesn’t just mean “will it actually do what it says it does?” Rather, it is short hand for “will it play in Peoria?” or “can I sell it to demographic X or group Y?”
What you all were able to do with the phone calls was provide feedback on the acceptable portion of the shorthand. With most likely a bit of spillover to the suitable portion as well. Well done!
The difference is the dark side is easier and more seductive, not more powerful.
I think there’s also a very big distinction between what the two sides are up against. We’re facing a constant avalanche of bullshit, and mockery of one of the few things that is at all effective against bullshit.
It’s all well and good to say that we need worry about not turning off “centrists” rho might support us, but do you think conservatives would consider that for a minute before venting their outrage on them? Any so-called centrist who hears mockery for not dismissing bullshit and outrage for not accepting it, and decides “you know, I think I’ll go with these guys who are screaming at me,”… I can’t even finish that sentence; can anyone believe such a person exists? At best, they’ve been intimidated into going along, and that’s an argument that we should be screaming, too, not that we should worry about their feelings.
James E Powell
Smug doesn’t really compel you to do anything. You are awesome already, even if the world does not appreciate it. I think we could all afford to meditate on that once in a while.
A variant of narcotizing dysfunction. The message makes us feel good about ourselves, so we don’t need to do anything to make ourselves feel better.
Adam L Silverman
@efgoldman: Its been a busy, and quite rough, week. And It ended with me cooking all day yesterday and today. And since this was my first week back in the gym after the sinus infection – I’m just a wee bit sore.
As for gefilte fish: I had some decent stuff tonight. My Mom did the prep on that (I did the 19 lbs brisket, the 16 lbs turkey, the roasted potatoes, the asparagus, the flourless chocolate tortes with fresh raspberry coulis, and the flourless pecan/brown sugar cookies). She gets this high end gefilte fish, boils it with carrots and onions for about 40 minutes or so, then she coats it in duck sauce and bakes it. Then cools it before slicing. Its excellent. Not sure where she got the recipe.
I’m heading to bed in a few before I fall down. I’ve already passed out once this week from working too many hours and sleeping too few.
My disagreement there was with Drum, and the idiot at Vox writing about “smug liberals”, not with Tim. We definitely need to call and write our reps more often, and more forcefully.
Also, Jamelle Bouie had a good takedown of that Vox piece yesterday.
@Adam L Silverman: How many people?
@Redshift: Those people seem pretty upset, so maybe there’s something to what they’re saying.
@Adam L Silverman: Wow, that all sounds awesome, but a lot of work. After my dad died when I was 11,and before my mom landed a real job, we supported ourselves by, among other things, catering wedding receptions. I don’t think I’ve ever been that exhausted since.
Adam L Silverman
@Omnes Omnibus: We had ten adults and three kids.
There are 2 quite distinct ideas conflated here.
Yes, voting is the bar; the next step to being a grownup is calling your Congresscritter when indicated. Calling to express support for a policy outcome that is actually good for the Republic is not done enough, and a majority of the calls they get are from FOX viewers. So call. It can’t hoit.
That is another issue entirely from how to presuade persuadables.
That depends on who & where the centrist/extremist is. In my experience getting a voter who started in the middle to vote for a Dem who I think is too conservative for my taste is a slog. I’m trying to pull against the push from the self styled reasonable Republican. And that is uphill due to see above: the cascade of nonsense is 24/7 and loud.
But getting the dudes my BIL’s band sits in with to actually get registered & vote because they’re never gonna legalize weed until we elect more Democrats is a relatively easy lift.
Also I attended a vegan Seder not on purpose and whoops. I mean this sincerely.
Adam L Silverman
@efgoldman: Ten adults and three kids. I ate very little. By about 2 this afternoon, when I was finishing working with the turkey, I had zero appetite left and was actually nauseated.
I’m not sure I agree with that. I would argue the real problem is complacency. If you’re smugly superior and you’re not likely to suffer much if the idiots get their way, you’re not going to do anything. If you’re smugly certain you’re right, but the idiots are going to burn your house (or your bank account) down, then smugness is no obstacle to action.
Adam L Silverman
@Mary G: I did some catering work in grad school. Its not easy.
I also want to thank Tim for turning me on to calling my rep, the horrendous Daryl Issa. I didn’t think it was worth while because he’s never going to listen to me, but it is so much fun I do it occasionally to this day. On the 15th I called to ask where the promised budget was. The interns are remarkably surly, because I make them read my comments back to me.
It should be kept in mind that Drum is an idiot whose standard MO is talking out of his ass without doing any actual study whatsoever of his topic.
@Adam L Silverman: There were, i hope, leftovers?
I used to carry the phone number for the Congressional switchboard in my wallet and every time I pull it out to recommend a friend call Congress, they look at me like I have three heads.
Adam L Silverman
@Omnes Omnibus: Nope, I ate all ten adults and the three children.
I’m going to go into hibernation and will see you all sometime in the Fall after I molt.
Yes, there are a lot of leftovers and I have pictures of everything and will do an appropriate recipe post, most likely later today, after I get some rest.
Prince on SNL is just amazing.
Smug and condescending are completely different. Smug is arrogant and self-satisfied. Condescending is arrogant and overly self-assured.
It is different.
@Omnes Omnibus: Take it from Omnes, he’s an authority on the subject.
I’m personally not too fond of this idea that citizens have some responsibility to call their representatives to regularly bolster and/or harangue them over their position on some issue. They’re supposed to be leaders, not weathervanes. Why do the people even have telephone access to them? What, they need their hands held by a few hundred of their crankiest constituents to know what the right thing to do is?
@Omnes Omnibus: Yes, I am quite capable of being one, but I am not the other. I can be condescending as hell.
@MikeJake: Might they not want to know how their constituents think about various issues?
@MikeJake: I really don’t like the idea of Congressfolk bowing to public pressure, particularly whipped up up public furor. That said, people calling may want some info on their leaders take on a given issue or even may, just may, have an insightful point of view to share. I’d much rather have them listening to people’s arguments than checking polls.
@eemom: Bullshit. Drum is willing to actually think about something rather than simply accept the liberal easy way out. Just because he is willing to call bullshit on some liberal knee-jerk reactions isn’t a reason to dismiss him entirely. That said, he spends most of his time showing how the conservative blogosphere is full of shit. He is neither smug nor condescending. Unlike some liberals.
@Kropadope: What would you like?
@Mary G: I have never called my current congressman, who is also the execrable Issa, but that sounds like a fun activity.
In the run up to the ACA, I called my Orange county congresswoman who really was on the fence. One time I went to the office personally to encourage her vote. I saw the record that they were keeping for the day. My visit accounted for a double digit percentage of the ACA contacts that day. In my experience, not that many people bother to contact them.
@eemom: this. I don’t find any of the liberals I know too smug to call their reps. Our reps are mostly very good and pretty much do the right thing in the first place.
Again, the problem seems to be those damn centrists, who are just mindless dopes standing between angry conservatives and smart but powerless lefties.
And is the Internets really just a subset of mass media?
Somewhere here, as other posters have noted, the idea that our elected representatives are supposed to have brains and will has been omitted from this analysis.
@MikeJake: @Omnes Omnibus: But why is calling privileged as one of the only reliable ways to affect a representative? (Only surpassed by the gold standard, written letters!) It’s 2016; we have all these other forms of communication. Why not tweets or texts? Why are the forms favored by old right-wing cranks the most important measures of popular will?
@Citizen_X: Because the people who are in Congress now respond to certain prompts. It will change as time goes on.
@Omnes Omnibus: Didn’t read through to the last sentence, huh? Is my writing THAT bad? I’d like our elected leaders to weight the arguments, do what they think is right, and I’ll add deal with the outcomes at election time.
uh, what do you even mean by “the liberal easy way out”? Seems to me that showing how the conservative blogosphere is full of shit is about as easy as it gets.
Knowing your OWN shit — i.e., doing actual work to develop factual bases for your points — requires exactly that: work. I’ve never seen Drum do it. I have, on the other hand, occasionally read his bloviations on a topic I knew something about; and on those occasions, his ignorance has been embarrassingly transparent.
Thanks for the reminder, Tom. I used to be really good about calling my congresscritters regularly, then when I fell into Doug Lamborn’s district I gave up. Tipton isn’t much better, but he’s just enough *less* of a corporate tool that at least I don’t feel like, “well, that was a complete waste of everybody’s time” when I hang up.
I did participate in the ACA calls, tho’, even tho’ I lived in Lamborn’s district at the time.
@Kropadope: What do you think they do now?
@Omnes Omnibus: Most of them I actually believe do that for the major part; though all are, I assume, at least somewhat amenable to public opinion. Some more than others. The level of public engagement and media environment matter too. I refuse to believe, for example, that 80+% of the Democrats who voted for the AUMF for the Iraq War did so solely based on the evidence presented, which was paper thin. This was a rather extreme case where pervasive jingoism and overblown fear of terrorism moved a lot of people to do a lot of dumb things, the Iraq War merely being the worst.
Note also that I raised this line of argumentation not to say that most leaders are doing otherwise, but rather to assert that I believe phoning politicians can serve a higher purpose than simply informing them of the current mood of the public.
Let’s face it, Democratic legislators are under constant pressure vote for shitty rightwing fuckery, because shitty rightwing fuckery seems to be only thing getting passed these days. It’s up to the people to be a countervailing force against such pressure.
@efgoldman: I call pols. And speak to a human. That’s it I am issue advocating. If I need something, email is best.
@Omnes Omnibus: Now you’ve got me curious…”needing something” as opposed to “issues advocating”?
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, has built his campaign on a message of combating income inequality, but that message doesn’t seem to be resonating in many of the states with the highest levels of income inequality in the country. In fact, of the 25 states with the highest levels of income inequality, 17 have held primaries so far, and Clinton has won 16 of those contests.
When asked why he thinks he’s losing in those states, Sanders responded, “Well, because poor people don’t vote. I mean, that’s just a fact.”
In an interview airing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” this Sunday, Sanders described the voter turnout among low-income Americans as “a sad reality of American society, and that’s what we have to transform.”
Isn’t Mississippi one of the poorest states? Was their turnout measurably lower than every other state?
@Omnes Omnibus: Smug is inward. Condescending is outward. Smug is how you feel about yourself. Condescending is how you act towards others.
Maybe the problem is that most people assume those brains have already made up their minds about things. They already told us what they thought and what they planned to do when they ran for election, and a little thing like how we feel about stuff doesn’t matter to them. And they’re all bought and paid for anyway — a line of thinking both liberals and conservatives share.
Sincerity is vastly overrated.
Wait… I just did it, didn’t I?
Sign outside a Taco Shop in Bergen, Norway: Mexican food so authentic Donald Trump would build a wall around it.
ETA: I’m skeptical. I ate at a Mexican restaurant in Copenhagen once.
@Citizen_X: Representatives don’t take issue emails seriously because people can generate those automatically with zero effort. By 2005 major activist groups (mostly on the right) had tools that let people check a box in an ad and it would automatically generate an email to a Rep in their name. Reps get vast piles of automatic emails written by interns trying to come up with new ways to sound homey and sincere. If they took it seriously this country would be even deeper red than it is now.
You don’t have to like reality but you do have to acknowledge it. Communication will always get weighed by how much effort it took you. A hand-written letter is the gold standard, a phone call will at least get noticed, but an email is practically zero.
I don’t think a lack of outrage is the problem in this scenario, Tim.
“Smug liberalism” seems to be a trending topic in the thinkpiece world.
Maybe millennials are right to embrace video over text after all.
I actually take issue with the whole concept of liberal “smugness”. It is the cheap cop out word used by conservatives that we know what is best for everyone and dictate how they should live.
Yet, exactly where do we dictate this? We don’t force them to go to church. We don’t ask for loyalty oaths. We don’t attempt to gain benefits that are given solely to a small group of people.
No, what we do is not allow them to use their own smug self-righteous certainties to dictate to everyone else access to healthcare, whom we marry, or how we worship.
Smug and condescending? Pure right-wing projection bullshit, as usual.
Here’s how it is for me:
If there’s an issue I’m concerned about, what’s the point of calling my Congresscritter if I’m the only person calling my Congresscritter, and quite possibly the only person who’s calling any of them, about that issue? (And a lot of the things I’d call or write my Congresscritters about, are things that people aren’t blogging about, at least not anywhere I can see. So that doesn’t help.)
The great thing about the ACA back in early 2010 was that not only did this matter to me, but for once I wouldn’t be the only person calling about this issue that mattered to me. That made all the difference in the world. So I called. And called. And called some more.
But that’s a rarity. I’m willing to put my shoulder to the wheel if I’m not going to be the only one, but there are few times when I know I won’t be the only one. If I had a platform where I could rally support and get other people, even just a few, to call their Congresscritters about the same thing I was calling my Congresscritters about, I’d do that on a regular basis. But I don’t have such a platform, and the people I read who have an audience already aren’t using it that way very often.
Why not? If you’re in a position to lead, and don’t, don’t bitch that nobody’s following.
Because they’re too easy. It’s like all those useless online petitions; it takes no effort to sign/send them, so they give no indication of how much a voter cares about the issue or how likely that issue will motivate their vote. (Also, I’d imagine a good portion of online communications originate from outside the district, and hold absolutely no value for legislators.)
Letters are the gold standard because they show the voter cared enough and got organized enough to write a letter.
Fuck “meditate on that.”
I have mild attention deficit disorder. A smartphone with repeating reminders has been a godsend – there’s a $2 To-Do addon for androids that lets you mark a todo item to repeat forever, every N days or weeks or months. It stays on the list until I mark it off and then gets a new due date. It’s how I remember to buy food for next week’s sack lunches, it’s how I remember to change the air filters and clean the pool filters every three months, it’s how I remember when to file for FAFSA each year and pay bills each month, it’s how I remember to rotate the tires and get the oil changed and balance the checkbook and call my accountant for taxes.
I am right now putting a monthly reminder on my to-do list. Call my representative and my senators. First of every month I’m going to call them, with whatever the current issue is, and be respectful and pleasant and explain why the liberal position is right and the conservative position is wrong. It will encourage Boxer, it will cheer Feinstein’s successor, and it will utterly baffle McClintock.
You do this too. Fuck meditating. Do something.
Unknown known (formerly known as Ecks, former formerly completely unknown)
There was a psych study a while back about the effect The (Stewart era) Daily Show had on liberals – it turned out, it wasn’t to motivate them into action, it was to make them even more cynical and disengaged… and so less likely to vote, let alone write letters.
No One You Know
@Citizen_X: because they require effort, are not ephemeral, and actually have formal courteous structures that are commonly missing from meet media.
Paul in KY
@Adam L Silverman: Glad you had a fine Passover!
Paul in KY
@efgoldman: My rep is Andy Barr & he’s a complete craptard.