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Our Lewinskys?

So, I know that it was a week ago and that the note fell in the forest without anyone paying any attention to it, but I was intrigued by Paul Waldman’s declaration of The Death of Dog-Whistle Politics. In it, he asserts that because there exists, on the internet, an army of bloggers and twitterers and reporters and pundits and hacks watching everything the other party does, it’s impossible to get away with the dog-whistles that were so frequent in the past. Or, rather, he’s not actually talking about dog-whistles at all, as he admits, because dog-whistles are things that everybody outside your base can’t hear at all, while the stuff he’s talking about is the stuff that the base loves but that drives everyone else away. His example is Rand Paul’s apparently random mention of l’affaire Lewinsky, which (as Karl Rove pointed out) is something up about which they should all just shut.

But then Mr. Waldman asks:

Which leads me to a final question: Why don’t Democrats have any Lewinskys? By which I mean, issues that they talk about amongst themselves, and that Democratic presidential candidates might feel moved to echo in order to reassure them of their ideological bona fides, but which are absolutely disastrous when put before the broader public. Sure, there are positions that many liberals take that might be too extreme for a general electorate. But I can’t think of anything that a liberal might stand up and say at a town meeting, whereupon a smart Democratic operative would say in an urgent whisper, “For god’s sake, don’t bring that up! Do you want to ruin everything?”

So. Without claiming that the two parties are symmetrical in how they treat their crazies, I myself have not only policy preferences but hobby-horses that qualify as Lewinskys by his definition. Let’s see… a National Health Service (or at the very least single-payer), war crimes trials for Our Previous President’s administration, nationalization of the telecomm and energy industries, the continuing baleful influence of Ronald Reagan’s terrible terrible terrible policies (particularly his unforgivable AIDS policies), the right to collective bargaining and the importance of federal government action to protect that, affirmative action to try to counterbalance systemic racism and sexism, confiscatory supertaxes on high incomes, restoring the Pledge of Allegiance to its original text without mention of the Divine, free condoms for high school students, and a huge jobs-works program to fix bridges and retrofit public buildings paid for by bigger deficits.

If I got up at a town meeting with a potential Presidential Candidate to talk about any of those things, would a smart Democratic operative cringe? Sure! At some of those meetings and rallies, I could probably get a good round of applause for at least some of those things (depending on how I phrased them) and make the Dem Op cringe even more. Does everyone in my Party support all ten of those? No! Are they in the mainstream of discourse? Eh, some of them.

But the interesting thing about this is that I could totally come up with a ten item list of things that would have made a smart Democratic operative cringe in 2004—starting with same-sex marriage—that are now considered part of the mainstream of discourse, and another list for the Other Party—I don’t know how I would start it, but maybe some sort of Federal Stand Your Ground law? Or maybe one of the Gilded Age “protections” against labor? Or some rant against LBJ? Anyway, the point is that the main stream doesn’t always flow straight, and that part of the reason same-sex marriage is legal across a good deal of the country right now is because people kept bringing up stuff that made smart Democratic operatives cringe. So if you want to ask Hillary Clinton or Martin O’Malley or Mark Warner about condoms at high school? Go right ahead and ask.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Hmph. Paul Waldman is back with another note on the topic of Republicans are like this but Democrats are like this. This time he claims that Conservatives Have All the Best Talismans, where by talisman he means a prop to use in a speech or ad. Specifically, a gun—a Republican can show his tribal affiliation by holding a musket or assault rifle. He extends this to other cultural markers such as “the Bible or Ayn Rand or country music”.

I just want to say that if the hard hat is no longer a Democratic totem of that kind, it's a damned shame.


We have our starbucks and our volvos and our subarus and our hybrids and our whole foods bags and our whatever that leafy green thing is that I don't actually like all that much but feel compelled to eat because I'm a liberal. Our farm share CSA box and our organic everything and our homeopathic cold remedies and our interwhatever families. And our long hair and our spiked hair and our nonconformist clothes and our indicators of youth.

But yeah, hard hats and union membership cards and piles of homework to grade.

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