Moore Context

Tod’s piece on Roy Moore is good, and I mostly agree with it. The phenomenon that gave us Trump exists without Trump, and would exist if he had never run. For many supporters, the extreme rhetoric on minorities, women, and so on is a “because of” rather than “in spite of” when it comes to securing Republican votes. Roy Moore’s defining characteristic is his offensiveness, and that he won is significant.

What I do believe is missing from Tod’s post, however, is some important context. From the post alone, one might get the impression that Roy Moore just strode into the race and destroyed all comers. Perhaps with an air of inevitability. A popular bigot in a bigoted state, embraced by the bigoted party. None of these is entirely wrong, but the story gets more complicated as you peer in to the state’s politics and the rise, fall, and return of Roy Moore.

The first important thing about the 2017 senate race is that it’s misleading not to talk about the unique vulnerabilities Strange had apart from being the “establishment” candidate. As Tod mentions, he was appointed by former Governor Dr Robert Bentley (he legally changed his name to include “Dr”). Shortly after making the appointment, Bentley resigned in disgrace with sordid tales of wrecking his marriage and spending state money propping up an affair with an aide. Further complicating things, the guy whose job it was to investigate Bentley was… Luther Strange.

This was, almost to the letter, a plotline in the TV show Law & Order. On the show, the Governor Donald Shalvoy (played by Thomas Everett Scott) was being investigated by Jack McCoy for corruption. In order to complicate the investigation, Shalvoy floated McCoy’s name for an open senate seat. On the show, he was trying to discredit McCoy and his investigation. In Alabama, Strange was discredited by accepting an appointment from the governor he was supposed to be investigating. It probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that in the course of the campaign, it came up. It will further surprise you to hear that it did not help Strange’s campaign.

As Troy University political science professor Steven Taylor put it:

Strange’s problems are not so much because of a clear ideological fight within the GOP that has national implications, it is because he was appointed by Governor Bentley, whom many think Strange should have been more zealously investigating as the then Attorney General of Alabama. There was more than a whiff of quid pro quo at the time of appointment, including an initial decision to not have a special election, but to let the term play out. Bentley later plead to some minor crimes and resigned to avoid more serious prosecution. These are the things that damaged Strange within Alabama politics.

That brings us to the other factor. The person who hammered Strange most during the campaign wasn’t Roy Moore but Mo Brooks, the third Republican in the race. Remember during the presidential campaign when all of the Republicans were pummeling one another in order to create a one-on-one race with Trump? That show went on syndication in the Yellowhammer State. Brooks and Strange spent most of the primary running against one another and running negative. The watchers of the race in Alabama who were confident that Moore would lose in the end started losing their faith as they watched that unfold. It eventually became obvious that Strange would beat Brooks, Brooks would endorse Moore, and it was likely Strange would not be able to get the consolidation that he needed to win.

None of this matters if Moore was popular enough with Republicans to beat all-comers. Counterfactuals are hard, and there are arguments in both directions. First, any time someone wins it opens up a bunch of coulda-woulda-shouldas and they’re often bunk. Further, given the margin of victory here, it would have taken more than a bit of a course change for the outcome to be different. My own sense is that Strange had enough liabilities that it would have been a hard race for him to win even without the bruising battle with Brooks. Further, my sense is that Brooks may not have been a strong enough candidate to win without Strange in the race. As Trump did during the Republican primary, Moore benefited from a divided field with two candidates that were unacceptable to the other factions of the party. That’s not just a matter of luck, though.

Moore himself, though, has a pretty checkered history in Alabama, electorally. One might have the impression that he is well-regarded by the electorate (or at least the Republicans electorate). He has mostly persevered in part through familiarity and persistence. After getting tossed from the bench the first time on the Ten Commandments issue, it looked to all the world (including me) that he had it made. He announced his run for governor and I thought he would win. The incumbent, Bob Riley, was unpopular generally and with Republicans in particular. He had tried and failed to revamp the tax code to make it less regressive. Democrats supported him, conservatives blasted him, and voters ultimately rejected it by a wide margin. He was bleeding, and Moore looked poised to take him out. Riley won by a 2-to-1 margin. Four years later, in 2010, he ran for governor again and got fourth place in the Republican primary. It was only in 2012 when he ran for his old job and narrowly won again that he got his second act in politics.

A lot changed between 2012 and 2016, however. While I don’t personally believe his election was inevitable, he was certainly better positioned in 2016 than he would have been at an earlier time. Not the least of which was the ascent of Donald Trump, which demolished what remained of the party’s guardrails. Perhaps the biggest aspect for me, personally, is to drive home just how much the party has lost control of itself. Moore ran against McConnell. And won. Even the anti-establishment rabble-rousers lost, having largely lined up behind Brooks.

None of this places us anywhere but where we are. However Moore won, he won. He will likely win in November. Most of the Republicans and conservatives who didn’t support him will support him going forward, if they haven’t already. Democrats will be able to hang him around their neck, for whatever that’s worth. I’m not terribly sure it will be worth all that much. They can give him the Akin Treatment, but the sad fact is that Akin would probably have won in 2016. Politically, it’s not at all clear that there will be a price to be paid.

Norms, it turns out, matter.

And once you’ve lost a gag reflex, it’s hard to get back.


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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107 thoughts on “Moore Context

  1. One thing that didn’t quite make it into this piece was that, if all I cared about was how they would vote, Moore would probably be preferable to Strange. Strange will go-along-and-get-along, for the most part. He’ll vote for Graham-Cassidy and the like. He’ll support Trump’s agenda.

    Moore will probably grandstand. He will more often than not be grandstanding on the same side as Trump, but periodically not when it suits him. Graham-Cassidy is the existing example, and I suspect it won’t be the last.

    But that’s all really quite beside the point. In the longer term, having a senator who says Muslims shouldn’t be able to take their seat in congress is a worse thing than 1 in 100 votes.

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    • One thing that didn’t quite make it into this piece was that, if all I cared about was how they would vote, Moore would probably be preferable to Strange. Strange will go-along-and-get-along, for the most part. He’ll vote for Graham-Cassidy and the like. He’ll support Trump’s agenda.

      Yeah, that’s how I was looking at this election from the start. Strange is just a generic pro-Trump Republican. Moore is…not. Moore is completely erratic and an utter idiot with no understanding of anything.

      I mean, it would be insane if we voted someone like that president because the entire country would have to deal with him (Ha!…and now I made myself sad.) but as someone just the Senate Republicans will constantly have to deal with, well, it’s exactly the person they deserve.

      Moore will probably grandstand. He will more often than not be grandstanding on the same side as Trump, but periodically not when it suits him. Graham-Cassidy is the existing example, and I suspect it won’t be the last.

      I’m hoping that Moore becomes another Ted Cruz, hated by everyone and randomly doing obstructionist things. Cruz did them as political gambits to get his name out there, but Moore will be doing them because he is completely batshit insane.

      In the longer term, having a senator who says Muslims shouldn’t be able to take their seat in congress is a worse thing than 1 in 100 votes.

      Considering how Moore seems to feel that only he can determine what the law is and if he doesn’t like it he can ignore it, I’m kinda hoping that Moore has some sort of freakout on the Senate floor and refuse to cede the floor because the Senate is not doing what he wants. Maybe even start demanding everyone swear Christian loyalty oaths or something.

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  2. I’m glad Will stepped up to provide an article about the AL Senate race with a horrible pun for a title, and am still somewhat dismayed that Tod didn’t so the same with his piece.

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  3. I remember when Illinois governor Blagojevich was indicted for trying to sell Obama’s Senate seat. Durbin tried to get the ball rolling to impeach him or somehow take away his power to appoint the replacement because any appointment would be tainted. The effort failed or was too late and Blago made the appointment and then we had all of the hand-ringing from Republicans about how Democrats need to do something, but it wasn’t clear what they could do. The A.G. talked about going to court to undo the nomination, but didn’t. The Sec. of State talked about refusing to officially certify the nomination. The Senate talked about refusing to seat him, but didn’t. Republicans tried to hang Blago around the D label, but I don’t think it worked at all.

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  4. PD Shaw: but I don’t think it worked at all.

    Well, Mark Kirk became the junior US Senator from Illinois for a few years.

    (Eta – Toomey and Johnson came in on the same wave, but only Kirk was swept out. Which is evidence (but not proof) that Blago’s legacy right then in 2010 was important)

    (Eta2 – otoh a Dem still won the gov election that year)

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    • I don’t think Blago had any impact on any of those elections. I think the basic dynamic is that the more extreme a politician’s behavior, the less likely people will attribute it to party as opposed to the individual, though the other party will try.

      Illinois has supported the Democratic Presidential nominee since the Clinton realignment, but the Democratic Party has often had problems in statewide races. When Blagojevich won two elections in a row and his successor through impeachment won an election on his own, it was the first time since before the Civil War that Democrats had won three gubernatorial elections in a row.

      Mark Kirk was also the type of RINO, fiscal-conservative/social liberal suburban candidate that can win in Illinois, particularly in an off-year election. He faced a candidate in 2010 whose bank failed shortly after winning the Democratic primaries, followed by a slow drip of stories of felons and politically connected individuals like Tony Rezko that had defaulted on loans.

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  5. I should probably respond to this, especially since at least one reader is “somewhat dismayed that [I] didn’t so the same with his piece.”

    For the record, I do not contest any the context Will gives here. There is likely additional context not given, in fact. And for what it’s worth, I actually did consider including much of what Will points out here in my own post. But clearly, I chose differently.

    There are two reasons reasons for this .

    The first, and likely the one where Will and I truly separate paths, is the my opinion regarding the degree to which any of this context matters — save looking for a reason to excuse inexcusable behavior merely for the sake of politeness.

    If Alabamans had rejected Strange after voting for, say, Ted Cruz or Rick Perry, I think this race’s effect on my assessment of today’s GOP would be much different. If Strange represented ties to someone corrupt, or if he was linked directly or indirectly to someone with an extra-marital sex scandal, it makes sense on the surface that GOP voters might well have been voting against these very things. The same with this notion of voting for an outsider against a career politician.

    The problem for me with this read is that none of these things stand up to the tiniest amount of non-surface scrutiny.

    For one thing, Moore is a career politician, and in Alabama he is anything but an outsider. He was the state Supreme Court Justice, for Pete’s sake; before and after he was a mainstay of the political scene in Alabama and the regional arm of the GOP. His career over the past several decades has been a succession of positions where he either won running for office or was appointed by a GOP elected official. It is true that Moore has run for various offices in the past and come up short, but as Will himself notes, that was then and this is now. After all, it’s not like he rescinded or even softened any of his bigoted views to win in the Senate seat in 2017. If anything, he was happy to double down.

    I have a similar problem with explaining Moore’s victory via anger at Strange’s ties with a corrupt governor with a sex tape in his history. As I have noted in my own post’s threads, this theory only stands scrutiny if you take Trump out of the equation.

    Donald Trump won Alabama decisively in the GOP primary last year. In a field of five realistic candidates (and half a dozen others on the ballot who were dark horses), Trump had more than twice the number of votes than the candidate who came in second (Cruz). It is silly to think these same voters chose Trump for his ethics or lack of scandal. Trump, remember, was a candidate who admitted in a debate to his history of bribing public officials. He had a trail of sex scandals and infidelities in his wake, including more than one charge of rape — one of those a matter or public record by his ex-wife. And of course, later in the year after the Access Hollywood tapes were released, the GOP who would eventually reject Strange would go all in for Trump by almost 2 to 1 against his Democratic challenger. All of this, as with Moore, “despite” Trump’s continued wallowing in racial slurs and bigotry.

    And although I think Will’s documenting the jockeying and strategizing of the horserace aspect of the 2017 primary is accurate, I disagree with him about its significance to the larger picture. At the end of the day the GOP faithful of Alabama chose one candidate, and one candidate only. And that one candidate was someone whose main differentiating feature was his willingness to voice to bigotry (and un-COnstituional thinking) that I find vile and repressible to the point of being disqualifying for the position of US Senator, but which the GOP — both in Alabama and nationally — clearly do not.

    Which brings me to my second and larger reason for choosing not to put all of this context (and counter argument to said context) in my original OP.

    One of the great strengths of OT — when the world is relatively safe from burning to a cinder, that is — is the way it gives equal weight to all sides of the political spectrum, and assumes good faith regardless of circumstance. This formula, however, works less well when the world is in danger of actually burning. It also works less well when a sizable chunk of the electorate (or at least its online contingent) looks to succeed or circumvent by trolling.

    There is literally nothing that can happen to a minority or oppressed person, especially in the United States, that someone on this site will not turn into a challenge to see if they can “win” by pissing on the corpse of said minority. That might be a deaf black kid being shot, a person being choked to death by police on camera, a kid being shot while in a car for listening to rap music at a gas station, or literally any other time something bad happens to somebody who isn’t white, male, and/or straight. Because here at OT we debate theses things, regardless of the merits of the position at hand. We do this because debating for the sake of debating is what we do. Shit, some of you here defended Derbyshire’s ugly racist screed that got his kicked off of NRO, as some defended in favor of the scientific merits of Todd Akin’s ass-holery, while still others defended the propping up of various sexual rapists and sexual assaulters on these very pages in the name of being pro-women.

    My OP on Roy Moore and the GOP was not meant to be a voice in such a debate. Nor was not made to start one. It was not meant to give everyone all the ammunition they might need to defend the election as US Senator of a man who has said and done… well, what Moore has said and done. Ditto, of that matter, a POTUS who has done the same (and worse). It was meant to be an explanation for why I, R Tod Kelly, no longer accepted the story I have clung to for years: that the GOP’s constant — CONSTANT — reliance one racist and sexist messaging was easily explainable for any reason other than actual racism and sexism.

    You can agree or disagree, obviously. But that’s the whatfors and whys of all that.

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    • I feel for ya Tod. It’s a harsh realization to make. Sounds like you’re even further down that path than I am, and my one and only post here at the OT argued that conservatism is comprised (not entirely!) of inherently racist elements, a post for which I received lots of pushback and even a few converts. But yeah, it’s bleak.

      That said, following Chris Rock I believe there are types of racism, some more benign than others, and the racism Trump is not only exposing as a rot in the electorate but politically leveraging against and therefore normalizing is pretty insidious.

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                • Is that where you see your premises necessarily leading you?

                  I’m 100% down with the idea that there are some people that you just can’t be expected to live with and they should be allowed to go their own way and you yours without either having input into the lives of the other.

                  And forcing them to be together when they don’t want to be will lead to, at best, unhealthy friction and, at worst, violence.

                  But that’s why I believe that this situation will lead to, that’s right, divorce or war and I am pretty sure that I don’t see a third option (well, maybe waiting until the bad people die and importing people to replace them).

                  If there’s another way, I’m not seeing it.

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                    • (Speaking as wife, not moderator, here, of course.) Jaybird genuinely does believe those are the two options and would be really happy if someone could convince him otherwise. If he sounds hectoring, it’s probably b/c he’s been in Doha working night-shift 14s for most of the last two weeks and his communications skills are suffering thereby (as anyone’s would).

                      That said, I haven’t managed to talk him out of this belief without getting frustrated enough to stop before getting much of anywhere, so I can understand if you don’t want to have the conversation either.

                      But he really isn’t playing a game.

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                      • Oh, I don’t take it as hectoring. More like, a friendly invitation to play a debating game I don’t happen to enjoy, but I feel like I’ve gotten sucked into playing a lot over the years.

                        Botton line, I don’t think the world exists on slippery slopes, and I don’t think helping feed the poor/start a school/stand against bigotry/something else is rebutted by a theoretical cascade where the next Stalin rises. I think people have had disagreements about a number of things since, well, forever, and they don’t always end in mass murder/re-education camps.

                        The “you have to choose to kill them or exile them if you’re going to voice your disagree with them” rebuttal is one I just don’t find very useful for my own little self.

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                      • To me it’s obvious where he’s coming from — looking at polling results like these (and that’s from last year — surely it’s even worse now), one can’t help but wonder how much longer the two(-ish) sides are going to continue to share the country.

                        The question to folks who have completely written off the other side is, given the reality that you’re not going to change their minds, are you still going to be able to live in the same neighborhood, send your kids to the same schools, work in the same companies? If you’re serious about having not a shred of respect or care for them, how can you even be neighbors or co-workers with them, much less friends?

                        OTOH if you’d never actually let these opinions affect your real-world relationships, and these posts and comments are more just about ranting in a safe political liberal space to blow off some steam, then Jaybird’s concerns are unfounded, and we should just try not to take the rants too seriously.

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                        • Personally, I think divorce is off the table and we’re already at war. This is basically it. Things will get a bit worse as the political coalitions complete their dissolution, then become more stable beyond that. I don’t even think we’ll see levels of violence similar to the 60s since there just isn’t very much at stake in anyone’s positions*. The current anger strikes as emanating more from boredom than substantive grievances.

                          That’s not to say our politics and policy won’t change, of course. I just wouldn’t characterize what’s happening and going to happen as worse than what the country went thru in the 60s.

                          * Here’s an example of what I mean: 80 some odd percent of Americans believe that the currently proposed tax reform should not cut taxes for the wealthy. If so, then the “war” doesn’t cut across red/blue lines as much as across class/establshment party lines with most of the bases of both parties agreeing on that issue.

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                        • “if you’d never actually let these opinions affect your real-world relationships, and these posts and comments are more just about ranting in a safe political liberal space to blow off some steam, then Jaybird’s concerns are unfounded, and we should just try not to take the rants too seriously.”

                          Exactly, but when the switch over comes, it’ll come quickly. So you want to be prepared. Weapons, ammo, food, water, a way out, and the will to use it all if necessary. Because frankly, it doesn’t matter the political position of the person point a gun at you, it’s the fact that they are pointing a gun at you that really matters.

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          • Yeah, I mean, Alabama putting on a show of defiance in the face of increased civil rights protections for members of a marginalized group is entirely unprecedented in recent American history.

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  6. FTR, I meant what I said in the opening. This piece was not meant as a criticism of Tod’s. I think the context is more important than he does, but I have a hard time disagreeing with the thrust of his piece. Mine is just more moderated by the aforementioned context. On a moral level, I don’t even care what the reason was. The decision was the decision, and it was a damning one (that cannot be separated from a lot of the implications that Tod discussed).

    The Trump vs Strange double standard is a double standard, but it’s actually a pretty good example of the Hank & Susie thing. People who aim low get to be low, as a matter of course, if they’re offering something else. In Strange’s case, the cloud of suspicion negated an advantage he should have had: And that, in my view, belongs in any assessment of comparing and contrasting the candidates. One was accused of a sort of bad behavior the other wasn’t.

    I’m not sure the extent to which it changes the overall assessment. In my mind, while it might help explain what happened, it doesn’t really change the verdict. Moore did 100,000 things that made any decision between him and Strange an easy one. The failure to see that – whether you are a Republican trying to excuse the Alabama voters or a Democrat saying they’re all as bad as Moore – is a pretty significant blind spot, to say the least.

    I was mostly wanting to avoid talking about that, however, to focus more on the surrounding issues that others might not be aware of. When I thought I was going to be writing more of a “what it means” piece, I was going to tie in Josh Barro”s piece, which I consider pretty on-point.

    Ravens (NeverMoore) in the state party, and NeverTrumpers nationally, still have failed to come up with a competing vision. Or any vision. Or anything. In the absence of such things, having a Brand is more likely to carry the day. I can point to reasons Trump won, and I can point to reasons Moore did. Or Akin. But that it keeps happening shows an underlying problem. More than just incendiary talk radio (who, if the voters listened to, would have nominated Ted Cruz and Mo Brooks). As someone with Dave Cameronian tendencies, I think ideological cohesion is actually overrated generally. But in the here and now its absence has created an atmosphere of nihilism and succumbing to bigoted impulse.

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    • Good comment and (OP).

      I’m curious to have you dig a bit more into what you say here:

      Ravens (NeverMoore) in the state party, and NeverTrumpers nationally, still have failed to come up with a competing vision. Or any vision. Or anything.

      As you likely know, I agree with this, and it at least echoes a lot of the concerns I’ve written about over the past several years. But there is this other part of me that thinks, “well, I don’t see that Moore or Trump have a compelling vision either.” Or at least, I don’t see that they have a compelling vision other than one that is both truly ugly an undemocratic.

      Since you’re more dialed in on that side of the fence, I am curious for your take here: why, at least for the moment, is the rejection of ugliness and and undemocratic vision itself enough of a vision to be more winning in the GOP right now?

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      • other than one that is both truly ugly an undemocratic.

        Yep. That’s the one. At least, on its worst days. But even on its best days, it’s hard to escape the undertones. Though their visions are not the same, they have in common what can only be described as “Barbarians at the Gate.” That’s more literal for Trump’s than for Moore’s, but you get the idea. Who we are is under assault by dangerous people and their powerful enablers. This is war, and nothing else matters but that I will defend you and I will fight for you and our way of life.

        We associate political “vision” with being positive, but apocalyptic visions are visions of a sort, but maybe I should say “narrative” instead.

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        • It’s the Flight 93 Election all over again. At least some of the blame has to go to a conservative infotainment industry that elevates tiny local spats to the level of dire, existential threats to good American values and culture, if it doesn’t just fabricate them outright. Guys like Moore and Trump, who are willing to just straight make shit up [1] are really well attuned to this, and the induced state of panic is helpful for getting people to overlook the fact that the stuff they’re saying actually doesn’t make a lick of sense.

          [1] Or credulously repeat the ravings of the least hinged or most commercially savvy of the Breitbart set.

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    • I think ideological cohesion is actually overrated generally. But in the here and now its absence has created an atmosphere of nihilism and succumbing to bigoted impulse.

      This is an excellent point. Seems to me that the ideological cohesion we’re missing exists at a lower level than political ideology (which is also fractured), and that the nihilism encompasses institutions which used to be viewed as non-political as well as traditionally political ones. In other words, I agree with what you said but more so.

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  7. I don’t pay attention to these things nearly as much as Tod or Will (it’s embarrassing how little I’ve been following these things….I hardly watch or read the news anymore), so this is wild speculation:

    One thing I fear and that I feared when I heard Moore won, is that we might be entering an age akin to the “redemption” era after Reconstruction. Maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as ca. 1900, but it could possibly be an, in essence, walking back of major civil rights gains…and in my view it wouldn’t be more of a “national” movement than a sectional one (redemption, though, did have a national component…the broader pattern in which it fit was not limited to the South). Of course, the pattern started well before 2016, but maybe Mr. Trump’s victory was/will be the enabling catalyst?

    Again, a mostly uninformed speculation. . But with those fears, Will’s context lends a little encouragement. It’s a reminder that politics can be in some meaningful way local enough and contingent enough so that we’re not seeing something that can’t be stopped. That’s my hope at least.

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    • It can be walked back but its not going to be until the #opposition takes a lesson from Will and drops the hysteria like Tod’s post which might as well be a Keith Olbermann rant from 10 or 12 years ago, and is about equally as compelling.

      We’re hardly the only Western country thats had an incompetent populist leader. There are a million reasons we’ve gotten one that can’t be undone but the first step to moving on is accepting that mainstream actors created this void with their own corruption and incompetence. The second they start admitting they have a problem and holding themselves to a higher standard is the second we start standing a chance of getting out of this mess.

      The longer we spend blaming Donald Trump and boobs like him for racial and other problems long predating their terms in office the longer they’ll be in the forefront instead of the margins where they belong.

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      • Please refrain from dissing our authors’ posts, even if you go into another author’s post to do it.

        (I more or less agree with the rest of your comment. The middle paragraph in particular is spot-on. But the next time you waste pixels on complaining about the writing quality rather than the substance of someone’s post, I’mma redact it.)

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      • Maybe we should actually start holding the boobs who vote for the likes of Trump and Moore responsible for their boobery, instead of looking to blame literally anybody else for their shitty choices.

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        • Mike Schilling has made this point before (as you probably know), and I agree with him (and you) about 90% of the way, especially if we’re talking about blame and not going beyond blame.

          The other 10% has to do with two things. First, I know myself too much to believe that I am so free from the id-like motivations and the racism, etc., that animates the electoral victories of Trump and Moore. I doubt anyone is so free of such faults. For me, it’s partially a question of who has the right to cast stones.

          Second, I think of those who make it easy or who goad the ones who make poor choices, to make those choices. I’m thinking of the discussion that Oscar and Maribou had over in Tod’s thread, about PC culture and the way it might have contributed to hardening some minds. Or to analogize to something else, this reminds me of the people in (I think) Pakistan who rioted when some nutjob in Florida burned a Koran. He had, in my opinion, every first amendment right to burn it without state sanction and he had whatever claim anybody has to protection against violence. But in my opinion, he wasn’t wholly blameless. I realize the disanalogy is that people who support PC culture are in no way like a Koran burner and their goal is ostensibly tolerance and creating a more civil society. But sometimes blame can be spread around.

          Again, that’s a 10% disagreement. I’m still 90% in agreement with you.

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          • Second, I think of those who make it easy or who goad the ones who make poor choices, to make those choices. I’m thinking of the discussion that Oscar and Maribou had over in Tod’s thread, about PC culture and the way it might have contributed to hardening some minds.

            This is a legitimate point, but one thing that struck me about that discussion is the extent to which it cuts both ways. A lot of the advice along these lines sounds a lot like basic “political correctness”: one should hold back on stating one’s opinions, engage in various circumlocutions and euphemisms, and generally take pains to avoid offending people with one’s political message. I’m not saying this as some sort of clever gotcha against or , because I don’t think it’s a gotcha at all, just a reflection of a balance that can be extremely hard to strike.

            Nonetheless, the costs are similar, and opening up space to persuade people that honestly don’t seem terribly persuadable can sow a lot of distrust in one’s own coalition if it comes off as silencing, or worse, a prelude to a coming betrayal. For all that calls out the perfidy of the Clintons in his posts, one of the things that burned a lot of good will towards them on the left was the sense that they were all to eager to do this, with welfare reform, the crime bill, DOMA, et c.

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          • I think some of the frustratuon that spills out from non-RWers is that we DO see the racism in ourselves and we have gone through Dark Nights of the Soul ™ and hate that part of our selves.

            But we still try to do our best. Imperfectly, inevitably. But then we look at the people who don’t even seem to be trying and go “Why do you get a pass for going over to the dark side? For taking the easy way out?”

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            • This.

              There are plenty of times I’d like to hit someone. But I don’t. So why is it that I’m an evil scold driving others to greater violence if I tell them they should control their tempers and not just hit people?

              Or to use another imperfect analogy, there was a guy on the Oprah 60 Minutes panel who said Trump voters (like himself) just wanted to throw tables and so were happy he was basically doing that in government.

              I was really surprised no one pushed back about how, sure throwing the table might have felt good, but there are folks who needed what was on the table and that indulgence in rage is causing them real harm.

              I mean, if you’re sitting in a hospital waiting for treatment that you or your spouse or child need and see a guy storming out of the billing office mad as heck, you probably have some sympathy for him – in fact you’ve probably felt the same way more than once. But if he takes his rage out by throwing a table against a wall, and the stuff that gets smashed is what you need to preserve life/health/ability to function, your opinion of that guy is going to change to something other than sympathy.

              And if his response to “Hey! Stop that!” is “STFU or I’ll smash more stuff!” Well…

              The truly good souls might be able to calmly talk him down. It’s probably the most sane rational way to handle it. BUT, esp if it’s my kid he’s just harmed… I’m not going to pretend that I’m that kind of saint. And I do feel it’s deeply unfair that I’m expected to be, especially when he gets a pass on throwing a huge temper tantrum.

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              • there was a guy on the Oprah 60 Minutes panel who said Trump voters (like himself) just wanted to throw tables and so were happy he was basically doing that in government.

                I was really surprised no one pushed back about how, sure throwing the table might have felt good, but…

                Look, nobody questioned Jesus about throwing tables, right? Trump’s on solid ground here.

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            • If I disagree at all with your comment, it’s what I read as its implicit assumption that right wingers as a rule don’t ever hate that part of themselves and the implicit assumption that those people who don’t seem to be trying are actually not trying. If I’m misreading your assumptions here, please let me know.

              All that said, I overall agree with your comment and with bookdragon’s that we shouldn’t give people a pass for bad behavior.

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              • Thanks for being understanding. I try to #NotAllConservatives in my heart, but as I said on another thread, the aftermath of the election – not the concrete results but the attitudes and sentiments proudly displayed by so many of the people who pulled that lever – broke something inside me. I despair. I drink too much. I have sleep issues. My better nature hides for longer and longer periods.

                It’s not that I don’t mean to lash out – I do mean to lash out. But I should be better than that. I used to be better than that. I want to be better than that.

                Tarring everyone to the right of me with the same brush as 45, the rest of his clown car, and the worst specimens who wanted someone like them in power – is tame compared to some of the gas bubbles that floated to the top after the swamp was disturbed.

                What I hate them for is making me realize that I’m capable of this.

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                  • I should add something else: Thanks for sharing the context in which you’re seeing this all. Sometimes, I get defensive/indignant/whatever without realizing that others are facing similar problems, though perhaps in a different way.

                    Also, and while I don’t know your circumstances, I personally need to keep in mind (and be grateful to those who remind me when I forget) that I’m not among the people who have most to fear from the way things seem to be going.

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                • What I hate them for is making me realize that I’m capable of this.

                  What I hate them for is making me realize the sheer amount of ‘politics’ that is just tribalism. That all this discussion and debate and policies and everything, it’s almost all completely pointless, and people just pick a side and vote for it, and will continue to do that long after it has become clear they should stop because their party is insane. I knew there was some level of that, but, wow.

                  And I rather suspect that’s not just the right. I rather suspect that the Democrats could also go insane (Not exactly like the Republicans, because there are some structural differences between the left and right, but something like that.), and something like 60% of their voters would follow them into insanity also.

                  I.e., I now basically believe that politics is essentially football teams. I don’t want it to be like that, and I’m supporting my team because of their actual policy (In that I like to believe I would change team if what ‘my team’ thought changed, although admittedly I have few plausible alternatives.), but apparently a majority of Americans are not.

                  And, on top of that, as you said, a good section of the ‘other team’ appear to have picked that team because they simply cannot abide by minorities not ‘staying in their place’, and the other team, for decades, pandered to those people. Until Trump said ‘Why are we pandering? Why don’t we just say that bluntly?’

                  And the completely horrific thing is, based on my first realization, is that those people would probably not be racist if their team had decided to not pander to racists.

                  Unlike what everyone seems to assumes, the problem is not that a bunch of racists still exist and the Republicans pander to them. If people don’t really care about policies or results or, well, anything, and just go along with their team…than the problem is actually that, for 50 years, the Republicans have been winking and nodding in the direction of racism and, because ‘their team’ was doing that, that’s how the Republican voters went also, winking and nodding right along.

                  It’s Overton all the way down. Not just in what is acceptable to discuss politically, but even what exists politically at all. The parties are not reflecting beliefs of Americans and staking out positions in them, the parties are creating beliefs, which makes what the Republicans have done so much worse.(1)

                  The really weird thing is, we supposedly understand this on the left, considering we talk about changing hearts and minds, but for some reason we’ve all officially decided to ignore that a major driver of racist in this country is the Republican party itself, who had set up a nice little feedback loop where the fringes of the party make sure everyone understands racism is acceptable, creating mildly racist voters, and then the center dogwhistles and gets those voters.

                  1) It might be reasonable to argue that already racist voters should be able to have racist representation, or at least representation that promises to do racist things, in an ‘ideal democracy’. In the same way racists also get freedom of speech and other things and that’s a good thing, it is also a good thing that racists are able to pick who represents them, even if we disagree with them in the particulars. (And thus we should instead legally protect minorities from having their rights harmed even if racist people hold office.)

                  But this argument mostly falls apart when you realize it’s the racist representation that is basically creating the new racist voters in the first place.

                  I am not suggesting we do anything about this in the legal sense, I’m just pointing out that if political beliefs are almost entirely tribal and the voters would follow along with what the tribe says, that completely undermines the principle that ‘People have a right to representatives that represent their beliefs’. Because, it turns out, the representatives, or whoever is understood to be in control of their tribe(2), are pretty much in control of ‘their voters’ beliefs from beginning to end.

                  2) Which, in the case of Republicans, slowly became talk radio and then Fox News and then conspiracy peddlers on the internet instead of elected officials, and the Republican party allowed that because, at every point, someone challenging that posed some amount of electoral risk and, apparently, most of them are all cowards.

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        • The best way to do that is to win an election, something the only plausible alternative party has been sucking at for 6 years. There’s this whole false reality where the superiority of Democrats and the handful of establishment Republicans that still exist is utterly obvious and self-evident. The Clintons and the Stranges of the world (you know, the types who have actually been governing since just after the Berlin Wall fell) get a pass and its an uprising of racists and crazies to blame.

          Its a very comforting but very wrong narrative. This is happening because our establishment has lost credibility and they aren’t going to win it back until they take their own shortcomings seriously and run candidates who don’t epitomize them. If you want to learn how to defeat Trump, look to how Italy finally got rid of Berlusconi. If you want more of him, keep doubling down on the culture war, guilt by association, and (ineffectice) shaming.

          .

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          • The Clintons and the Stranges of the world (you know, the types who have actually been governing since just after the Berlin Wall fell) get a pass and its an uprising of racists and crazies to blame.

            It seems that “types” is doing a whole lot of work there, what with lumping Strange and Clinton together, and sort of eliding the fact that the Senate seat in question was held by racist crazy Jeff Sessions less than a year ago.

            Also, it seems a little odd to argue that Dems and Republicans are similarly responsible for the candidates that Republicans nominate.

            Its a very comforting but very wrong narrative.

            I see this routinely asserted, and rarely supported in any convincing way. Usually it involves suggesting, for example, that we not use the most effective electoral strategies, i.e., that we not

            …keep doubling down on the culture war…

            despite the fact that the last election the Dems really did well in (2012) was one where they practiced a pretty ruthless form of culture war.

            There’s also what appears to be a rather strange suggestion that it’s unfair to associate parties with the candidates they nominate, and voters with the candidates they vote for, but perhaps I’m misunderstanding you there.

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            • It seems that “types” is doing a whole lot of work there, what with lumping Strange and Clinton together, and sort of eliding the fact that the Senate seat in question was held by racist crazy Jeff Sessions less than a year ago.

              Also, it seems a little odd to argue that Dems and Republicans are similarly responsible for the candidates that Republicans nominate.

              All that ‘type’ is intended to do is describe the candidate supported by establishment interests. The Republican party has become a rump grouping of imbeciles and fanatics precisely because the establishment failed to police itself until it lost all the people who credibly could. Nowhere have I said Democrats are responsible for Republican candidates. I do think they’re starting to embrace a similar failure to scrutinize themselves that has turned the Republican party into what it is. I think each of these failures is far more responsible for the current political situation than the theory that racism is suddenly much more of a motivating factor among the electorate than it was 5 years ago.

              I see this routinely asserted, and rarely supported in any convincing way. Usually it involves suggesting, for example, that we not use the most effective electoral strategies, i.e., that we not

              Not to be harsh about it but exactly what ‘successful’ strategies have the Dems been pursuing? I mean, this implies they’ve had some success lately.

              was one where they practiced a pretty ruthless form of culture war.

              All I can say is I disagree. He wouldnt have been able to win in some of the places he did if that were the case and his defeat of Clinton in the primary shows that the Dems were in a much healthier place when it comes to setting themselves up for success.

              There’s also what appears to be a rather strange suggestion that it’s unfair to associate parties with the candidates they nominate, and voters with the candidates they vote for, but perhaps I’m misunderstanding you there

              I haven’t commented on the fairness of anything. My entire point is that insisting on giving establishment backed candidates a pass is one of the many factors thats caused large portions of the voting public to think there really is no difference between them and the Trumps of the world. Strange’s scandals feed mass cynicism about the process which opens the door for people like Moore. I think Clinton’s baggage played a similar role in the presidential election. I’m confident these people can be defeated (maybe not in Alabama, but generally) but they won’t be taken down by accusations of scandal leveled by people who aren’t qualified to cast the first stone. The OP addresses this type of context which is why I found it to be the more astute piece.

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              • Edit to revise my response, a bit, I now see you meant the 2012 election. That said i still don’t see the Obama administration as having engaged in culture war tactics against Romney. I saw his strategy as focusing on economic issues more than anything else.

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                • The “War on Women” narrative played a huge role in the Democratic campaign in 2012. It was less important against Romney, who was somewhat inoculated because everybody knew he was a squish on culture war issues, but did some severe damage in down-ticket races. It got them two Senate seats where they should have been drawing dead, and they also made gains in the House.

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              • I think each of these failures is far more responsible for the current political situation than the theory that racism is suddenly much more of a motivating factor among the electorate than it was 5 years ago.

                I genuinely think it is. I think TNC’s pieces about Obama and Trump overstate the case somewhat, but I think the election of Obama really did set a number of things in motion that ramped up the salience of racial issues, as did a number of changes that were largely independent of Obama’s election.

                Various conservative anti-thought leaders (Rush, Fox, Breitbart, et c.) started pushing racist lines in immediate reaction to his election, and ambivalence from establishment Republicans about that created a lot of openings for the crazies to hijack the party and draw attention to themselves. Trump was the biggest beneficiary of this.

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                • Again, we may have to agree to disagree. My take is that the Republican establishment never successfully put the pieces back together after its own internal contradictions were exposed in the Bush years. With no one in charge a bunch of right wing media personalities and charlatans who were already allowed to be way more influential than they should have been saw their chance and took it. Out of the rogue’s gallery of Palins and Carsons came the Donald.

                  That said the vast majority of the people who voted for Trump pulled the lever for R not because of him but because theyve always pulled the lever for R and always will. A quirk of our electoral system along with an unpopular opponent who allowed a small but crucial part of the Obama coalition to switch sides or stay home got Trump the White House. Despite some truly grimy people in the his coalition the vast majority of his voters I dont think are motivated by anything they weren’t motivated by in the past, including but hardly limited to a wide range of racial anxieties and resentments, but many other factors as well. Thats kind of a sad statement about the American electorate and Republican voters in particular but its something we’ve been dealing with for a long time. Its also why I dont think things are as apocalyptic as they may seem.

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                  • To be clear, I think by the time most people were pulling the lever for Trump, it was already too late. The failures that counted happened before and during the primaries, and once Trump was the nominee, it was too late.

                    With that said, I am content to agree to disagree on the rest.

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              • I think each of these failures is far more responsible for the current political situation than the theory that racism is suddenly much more of a motivating factor among the electorate than it was 5 years ago.

                In Tod’s defense, I don’t think he was saying that racist beliefs in the electorate are more prevalent than they were 5 years ago but that, given the candidates, the choices made reveal that racism was a more prominent component in their decision-making. That view doesn’t seem inconsistent with the accounts you provide upthread. The rejection of the Republican Party by conservative voters, in part the result of its policy vacuity, allowed already existing racist beliefs to play a more prominent role in voting behavior. Trump opportunistically tapped into those beliefs but did not create them.

                On your broader point I largely agree: the current political “crisis” is the result of establishment failures, primarily within the GOP. For the 8 years Obama was President the GOP actively and willingly defined itself as a party based solely on pure signaling: whatever the Dems were for the GOP was against, regardless of policy content or long term political effect. That collective cynicism at the institutional level has come home to roost with DJT sitting in the Oval Office. The one comment I’d add to all this is that regaining the voter’s respect as an institution will require the GOP to go thru the rabbit hole they’ve dug for themselves rather than climbing back out.

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                • What I’m about to say may seem crazy but I actually think the best thing that could happen as a result of the Trump presidency is a healthier skepticism of the office itself. Its become too powerful and too intertwined with celebrity and the country’s self image.

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                  • They tried to make Washington the king…. it’s disheartening to see people going back in that direction, for sure, and has been for quite some time.

                    I do think there’s been a sharp uptick in said efforts in the last year or so though.

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        • pillsy: Maybe we should actually start holding the boobs who vote for the likes of Trump and Moore responsible for their boobery, instead of looking to blame literally anybody else for their shitty choices.

          But you also want them to stop making those choices, don’t you?

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          • I don’t know that these are contradictory. If there are no consequences for bad decisions, and someone is always excused and let off the hook for making the same ones over and over, what incentive is there to change?

            I mean, if a teen keeps wrecking the car because he’s texting while driving but someone always steps in to intervene with the police/courts, and pick up the extra insurance cost, and just generally excuse it (“He couldn’t help it. He had to look at that because…”), there’s not much reason to expect him to change that behavior, is there? Someone constantly given a pass on dumb or bad behavior, is very likely to just keep repeating it …until they get into wreck they can’t walk away from.

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            • Parents have authority over their kids. We don’t have any authority over them. They have no reason to accept our judgment. Further, it’s not clear to the extent that they agree they did something wrong (whereas in your car example, there is consensus on that matter). It is the burden of the people who are dissatisfied with the outcome to change the outcome.

              That’s why I don’t believe “blaming the people who voted for them” is especially helpful. After declaring it to be their fault, what is supposed to happen next?

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              • You polarize your chunk of the electorate against their chunk of the electorate, using condemnatory terms about the shortcomings of their ideology, and with a layer of indirection or two, their characters, and use that to turn out votes, get volunteers to knock on doors, and reap the benefits. Ramp up the general negativity of the political environment, and trust that it will discourage their team more than it will discourage your team, on the grounds that your team is super-angry and their team is bummed because they just elected a guy who was supposed to fix shit but actually keeps bumbling around looking for new wood chippers to dive into.

                Similar approaches worked in 1994, 2002, 2006, and 2010.

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              • An imperfect analogy, I’ll grant you, but I went to pains to not say ‘parents’ wrt the someone bailing them out and excusing their behavior.

                I’m not necessarily saying ‘blame’, but I am saying let’s stop trying to find every possible way to excuse them. “Oh you poor baby, you couldn’t help voting for that ignorant horrible person.” strikes me as not being particularly helpful in changing outcomes either. In fact, it’s almost the worst stereotype of how conservatives characterize liberals: always making bleeding-heart excuses for people who make bad and/or stupid choices.

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              • it’s not clear to the extent that they agree they did something wrong

                Yes, exactly this. From their pov, they’re accountable for a vote they’re quite likely pleased with. Overtly demanding they apologize will probably galvanize their commitment to Trump even more.

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            • It’s like the old military saying (attributed to Mattis, though I’m almost certain that others have said it):

              “The enemy gets a vote on your battle plan’s implementation”

              In this case, that’s nearly literal. Maybe pillsy is right, maybe the boobs are a lost cause (so to speak).

              But even last year, some woman, trying to remember who it was, said that only half the boobs should be written off as hopeless cases, simply inherently evil. The other half, she thought, should be placed in a different basket, as they might actually be persuadable.

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              • I’m not interested in writing them off, but I do think that turning around has to involve recognition that you’re going down the wrong path. Excusing bad behavior is generally not a great way to get people to see it is bad.

                There’s a difference between saying “you are a horrible irredeemable person” and saying “what you are supporting is bad and does {this} real harm”. I honestly think the latter approach can work, but I think it is less likely to if the next sentence is “But that’s okay.”

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            • Right. My mental model is basically that there is X% of the population who will, if present, pull the lever for a democrat. There is Y% who, if present, will pull the lever for a republican. There is Z% who are actually persuadable, but Z is both less than the number of people who say they are persuadable, and overall small.

              In a true swing state, for example, my mental model is that we are talking about 48/48/4.

              So if I’m a democratic politician, my choices are either to (1) get more of the X voters to the lever, (2) get fewer of the Y voters to the lever, or (3) get the Z voters to pick me. Given that ordinary turnout is about 50%, there are a LOT of X votes available if I can motivate my base. Given that Americans are some combination of busy and lazy, there are a LOT of Y votes who might prefer to do something else on election day. One way to chase both of those votes is to talk about how terrible my opponent is (even though everyone says they hate hearing that message). Another way is to talk about how truly X I am (even though that probably does turn off the Zs).

              I could, instead, chase Z votes, since if I lose a close election there will almost certainly be enough Zs voting for the other guy that getting them would have swung the election. The problem is that to do that I need to either (1) explain why X is right for them (which isn’t going to work) or (2) explain why I’m not as X as everyone says (which is flatly contrary to the strategy above). The other problem is that if I actually believe in X (say, that minorities/LGBT/etc. should have equal rights and protections) I’m now subverting my own goals and alienating X votes to chase Z votes. And if X votes stay home I’m effed.

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  8. I was actually aware of most of this context when I read @rtod’s piece. I don’t disagree with his feelings or conclusions, well, not completely.

    I will say that hyperbolic statements have a meaning and a force in some circles that they don’t in mine. I’ve been observing, for instance, threats of violence, and how they are held quite differently by different subcultures of the US. I have testimony of some that if someone isn’t making a violent threat, their objection to whatever the issue is isn’t taken seriously.

    This is so different from how I was raised. Just to make sure, I checked in with my sister and some of my cousins. The concurred that my father and his brothers never made idle, hyperbolic threats. They were understated. As my sister said, “If they said they were gonna shoot you, it was because they were gonna shoot you.”

    But it works differently for many.

    The temperature of the hyperbole is taken to be a metric of reliability. Oddly, this is a game where inflation is rampant. Yesterdays threats have little traction today, and the rhetoric must be constantly escalated. And the size of the emotion is taken as a measure of loyalty. So of course, the extreme over the top statement is regarded at least by enough people to tip a challenging three-way election as the most desirable.

    This is, to my mind, a terrible epistemology.

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  9. The other context here, which hasn’t been mentioned in either thread, is Moore’s Democratic opponent Doug Jones. Jones spent his life in Alabama, getting his JD there and eventually serving as US Attorney. During his tenure as US A he prosecuted the Klan for a 39 year old bombing that no one in the state wanted to touch. He has advocated consistently for re-litigation and prosecution of segregation era civil right’s crimes. He is by all accounts an accomplished prosecutor and a decent man. He also happens to be a fairly typical Democrat.

    If Alabama voters want to tell Washington that they’re sick of corruption and need someone to shake things up, sending an accomplished Democrat to serve as the senator from Alabama would be a powerful way to do that. It would mean more Democrat policies, yes, but it would also mean a wake-up call for the ALGOP that eventually leads to a stronger and more conservative party. But if the message Alabama voters want to send is “You Will Not Replace Us”, well then …

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