Saturday, April 23, 2016

Saturday & Sundries

A long essay at Vox this week: The smug style in American liberalism, by Emmett Rensin puts forward a point of view with which I agree, but have never been able to clearly put into words - or maybe I've never truly understood the uncomfortable feeling I've had about US politics, ever since arriving on these fair shores in 2004.

I've never called myself "a liberal". This likely stems from the term in Britain relating to a type of politics that didn't match my own, more left-ish brand, known in Britain as Labour. The Labour Party is the party opposing the Conservative Party. The Liberal Party in the UK used to stand somewhere between, and has eventually morphed into something else. I realise, now, that what UK Liberals were was something akin to most modern US Democrats.

Emmett Rensin's essay puts into context my own uncomfortable feelings about "blaming" US voters (and non-voters) for being "dumb", "stupid" etc for their voting preferences. I've said in commentary here, in the past, that I prefer to think of those people who appear to be voting against their own best interests as being misguided, politically manipulated by mainstream media and sometimes even by their churches. I suspect Emmett Rensin would say that mine is still an attitude as smug as calling those people dumb or whatever.

In online commentary there's ample evidence that the chasm between the people "liberal" politics was supposed to be helping, and the people who ought to be being helped, is wider and deeper than the Grand Canyon. There has been little, if any, genuine attempt to cross it, and as long as "liberals" retain the attitude the essay writer defines as "smug" there never will be.

Anyway, for understanding it's essential to read the full, long essay. A couple of brief clips (my highlight):

Finding comfort in the notion that their former allies were disdainful hapless rubes, smug liberals created a culture animated by that contempt. The rubes noticed and replied in kind. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy.........

....Abandoned and without any party willing to champion their interests, people cling to candidates who, at the very least, are willing to represent their moral convictions. The smug style resents them for it, and they resent the smug in turn.
The rubes noticed that liberal Democrats, distressed by the notion that Indiana would allow bakeries to practice open discrimination against LGBTQ couples, threatened boycotts against the state, mobilizing the considerable economic power that comes with an alliance of New York and Hollywood and Silicon Valley to punish retrograde Gov. Mike Pence, but had no such passion when the same governor of the same state joined 21 others in refusing the Medicaid expansion. No doubt good liberals objected to that move too. But I've yet to see a boycott threat about it.

It's good to see that my favourite biscuit (known in the USA as cookie) the chocolate digestive, retains its allure in England. It's the most charismatic biscuit ever created - the best, and original version is by McVities. Happily Walmart stocks them here, so I can still indulge (yes, I know Walmart is bad, but these biscuits are good enough for me to breach the bad barrier).

For an antidote to the tensions, tears or tantrums of the USA election season, take a look at THIS - it'll lift the mood at once:

This looks like a "must see" movie, later this year:

Blast from the past & the late lamented George Carlin. It's still relevant, though maybe will not hold good for the future!


mike said...

Yawn...long Rensin-Vox editorial! Or did it just seem too long, because of his over-indulged chastising of the liberals with cited factoids, but omitting so much intentionally to support his essay? Maybe it was using conservative, false-flag-examples of liberal disdain gone rogue, while at the same time providing the rationale for such lefty-disdain.

Too many examples from his essay that I could use against him. Take GW Bush, the unelected, but elected prez. I didn't vote for him. He founded two wars on misinformation (lies), against the UN vote (Iraqi war), has been convicted of war crimes in several countries, shredded the American constitution in several places, racked-up amazing sums of debt, provided a socialist bailout to the financial and auto industry in order to salvage capitalism...oh how I could go on and on! I unabashedly put his supporters in the same inane boat.

Regarding your highlighted excerpt about Medicaid expansion, in those states not choosing the expansion, the effected individuals still had the ability to obtain healthcare through the Federal Marketplace Exchange. I live in Texas and qualified for Medicaid expansion. TX did not participate in the expansion and did not provide residents a state-run health exchange. I was provided health insurance through the FEDERAL Marketplace and my federal tax credits offset my insurance premium...I paid nothing. Another way of examining this horror-of-horrors is to view it from the conservative side: what the ef is up with the conservative Republicans that denied state residents of a FEDERALLY-funded Medicaid expansion???? I pay personal property taxes here in TX and they are some of the highest in the nation, as we don't have state income tax. My property taxes help provide health care to the indigent poor. Had TX accepted the Medicaid expansion, portion of my taxes allocated to health services for the poor would have slightly decreased my taxes. Ignoramus Republicans around the country were appalled by SOCIALIST health care...har har...not socialist at all...the private insurance industry is raking-in major cash as middle-men. I'm surprised the Republicans aren't rejoicing instead of trying to repeal Obamacare for the 60th time in congress. What rats...ditto for the American population supporting this philosophy.

I have no problem viewing many of the American population as misguided idiots! I told you that a friend of mine voted for li'l Bush in 2000 solely because he offered tax cuts to the middle class. Wow! Good reason! Same friend voted for Bush again in 2004, because we were in two wars and didn't want to change horses. Wow! Who cares how we got into the mess, due to fear-mongering Bush administration. Same friend that plans to vote for Trump this season. STUPID! I try my best to overlook religion and politics when it comes to relatives, friends and neighbors.

I can think of few, if any, conservative-right, Dem or Repub, in America's past, that are recognized for contributing anything of worth. Liberals are the individuals that are remembered fondly for progressively moving America forward. It takes individuals with fresh, humanitarian ideals that digress from conservatism to make a difference. If we seem like a bunch of separatist cry-babies, then so be it...I don't mind pointing fingers.

Too long to post in one comment...part two follows:

mike (again) said...


My local HEB grocery store sells their generic version of oat-flour, digestive biscuits and they are very good. I used to purchase them on occasion a number of years ago, but they've gone from $1 to $1.50, and are now $2 per package, so I quit buying them. They are not nearly as sickeningly sweet as most American cookies. I like them with a cold glass of milk. I never purchase anything at Walmart and I make no exceptions...period. Should you be willing to shop HEB online to boycott Walmart, they offer your McVitie's and their generic brand:
HEB is a private company, American owned:

I like Benedict Cumberbatch...he was superb in "Sherlock". I'm sure "Dr Strange" will be wonderful when it's released in six months. I saw Cumberbatch on Jimmy Kimmel last week and the trailer for this movie. I like the metaphysical aspect. I'll have to wait until it comes to whatever streaming is available to me, so I'll probably view it sometime toward 2020...LOL.

mike (again) said...

One more comment here...Rensin's essay pisses me off! His statement that liberal smugness is because lefties perceive one half of the country not knowing what's good for them politically and-or morally. Speaking for myself, I'm "smug" because I'm sick and tired of the conservative right constantly changing imperatives to their benefit. War on terrorism that greatly constricts my constitutional rights in the name of safety. Pro-lifers legislating "helpful" tactics making it so much harder to receive a legal abortion and shutting-down clinics. Eliminating birth-control for employees if it offends corporate or organizational policy. Gerrymandering to dilute the liberals. Obfuscating gay marriage equality with legislation protecting religious freedom. Passing legislation protecting bathroom users from transsexuals. Legislation requiring stricter voter registration and identification rules to eliminate peripheral, liberal voters. Denying and legislating ecological referendums allowing disastrous fracking, pollution, pipelines, global warming initiatives, etc. Legislating creationist beliefs be taught in public schools with a strong slant on veiled religion. Insisting our country was founded on Christianity and should be ruled as such. Allowing corporations input on the TPP trade agreement, but not citizen and limited congressional oversight. Economic stimulus packages for the already grossly over-fed financial sector. Tax breaks and trust-funds for the wealthy and corporations. Failure to pass a single-payer health care system by eliminating private insurers. ETC, ETC, ETC...I could go on and on.

The problem with so many liberal-minded like me is the expectation of a fair game that benefits everyone. No sooner is something made fair, then the offended devise a work-around that diminishes the accomplishment. The conservative right isn't just a concept, it's a hefty stream of citizens that organize and vote. Never know what they'll come-up with next to display and accuse. They remind me of the character "Beetlejuice". Rensin is painting this as a liberal take-over of America and shame on the liberals for complaining and being whiny...go wipe our noses and dry our tears, he infers.

There is a conservative take-over of America and I call it foul.

mike (again) said...


Rebuttal to rebuttal:

I think both writers have lost their way, as do many of the individuals leaving comments. Ironically, both authors employ a liberal smugness toward the other...LOL.

mike (again) said...

Oooops - Rebuttal to rebuttal should be:

Twilight said...

mike ~ Oh wow! You've been busy. We've been out most of the day, so I have just read your comments. :-)

I haven't yet read the rebuttal and rebuttal of rebuttal.

Before we went out I saw that some commenters at Lawyers Guns and Money were sniggering at the Rensin article - but my immediate reaction was, "well, they would, wouldn't they?" ('Nuf said)

I dunno mike....I understand your point of view, I do - but I also think that I understand what Rensin was getting at - in that overly long-winded essay. That piece would benefit from a good strong edit!

In a way there's a teeny tiny similarity to USA/European/UK attacks in Middle East somewhere, being retaliated by terrorism in the US or UK/ Europe. If those on the left (though actually those smug liberals, subject of the article, are not left they are...something else) think it's alright to denigrate others for their political choices, then they can't expect respect in return. This all started long ago,I suppose, and the advent of social media has brought it all more to the surface, and doubled and re-doubled it times thousands.

I think Emmett Rensin was really saying "Can't we all get along?" (Do as we would be done to - speak as we would be spoken to, try to understand others as we would hope others try understand us.) That was my take, peeling away the detail in the essay.
I think even that isn't exactly right, feels also like a form of snobbery - something I detest. Snobbery isn't the right word, smug isn't the right word either.

I'll look at the 2 rebuttal pieces now.

Maybe I shouldn't have started this! I added the bit about the "smug" essay at the last minute!

Re Digestives - thanks for the suggestion to have them delivered by mail - Walmart has to be breached by us for two or three reasons, so we go there for certain items - and infrequently.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Hmmm - Interesting. I agree with this para of the rebuttal:

All of this gets to the central irony of the essay: Rensin wants to condemn “elite liberalism” and the Democratic Party as an institution. But he misses the huge degree to which his vantage point on American liberalism isn’t the vantage point. Depending on where and who you are, liberalism looks different, both as politics and culture.

Liberalism does look different for each of us from our own personal vantage point, so allowances must be made for that.

And from the rebuttal of the! I like these paras, at the end of the piece, after he had been accused of being smug himself:

So no. Inasmuch as I do not believe the problem with my political opponents is that they’re just ignorant and not very bright, I am not actually the one being smug. I believe my political opponents — be they reactionaries or meritocratic liberals — are on the other side of a moral battle, one that can’t be won by way of ridicule.

As it happens, the actual meaning of the smug style and what it has done to liberalism (which is to say the actual thrust of my argument) gets no mention by Bouie. That’s fine. He doesn’t have to engage with it. Why bother, if elite culture doesn’t really amount to much to begin with? If the rubes started it and asked for it and continue to be vile about it? Well, maybe they did. So what?

Twilight said...

mike ~ Just had another thought - there have been least three times this year when I've responded to some insulting comment about Bernie supporters -on a couple of different websites, by saying something like "well, I guess calling us THAT is marginally better than Rahm Emmanuel calling we lefties "fucking retards" back in 2008 or 2009 -ish." The culture of insult spread has gradually within the Dem aka liberal side of politics. Now, not only do some liberals ridicule and insult conservative/Repubs, they also ridicule and insult some of what were formerly "their own".

This is partly why I'm apt to agree, on the whole, with Emmett Rensin. I don't enjoy being insulted because of my political choice, so I do not expect others to feel differently when they are insulted/ridiculed.

mike (again) said...

Rensin's opening paragraph stated, "There is a smug style in American liberalism. It has been growing these past decades. It is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really — but by the failure of half the country to know what's good for them."

Rensin's rebuttal, penultimate final paragraph, "I believe my political opponents — be they reactionaries or meritocratic liberals — are on the other side of a moral battle, one that can’t be won by way of ridicule."

Isn't this a case of the pot calling the kettle black? His essay, while polite, ridicules the liberal, intellectual elitist. Rensin claims liberals have gone from moral-ethical assessments to intellectual separatism. Call it morals or call it intellectualism, but both share and suffer the same basis of concept and possible condescension.

Ridicule has been a mainstay of activism. The reaction to discrimination by way of religious freedom initiatives hasn't been pleasant and is laden with ridicule toward the states passing religious freedom legislation. Most activism has been in the form of boycotting, but with polite verbiage of scorn and ridicule to accompany the action. Jimmy Kimmel, et al, is constantly poking sticks at the religious freedom movement in the form of polite, but funny jokes and monologues.

As you indicate, there are many individuals that go to the extremes, with expletives and foul expressions, found primarily in comment sections. I suspect that has more to do with being anonymous on the internet and is an indication of the unfettered tendencies of humans when no physical recourse or incrimination can be administered. It's been my observation that the most outrageously offensive comments were provided by the Republican, religious conservatives, which I find weird, but as you said, can also be liberal-on-liberal.

Rensin asserts "The Daily Show" is by and for smug liberals. Following Rensin's logic, do we ban political cartoons and Mark Twain quotations? Satire is smug intellectualized elitism by his definition and should be discouraged. I completely disagree. I will concede your point that there's no need to go overboard with nasty comments, but sometimes a person or group goes to such an abysmal, antagonistic extreme that I can understand a liberal's desire to severely chastise that group.

I guess I'm a judgemental bastard, whether considering morals-ethics, or intellectual elitism...I'd say that most individuals are, like it or not.

Twilight said...

mike ~ I don't know the answer. We didn't watch much of The Daily Show, it wasn't in our cable package until a couple or so years ago, even then we hardly ever saw it.
I kind of went off Stewart and Colbert after they did some sort of political "event", a few years ago - but I don't recall exactly what it was about -possibly in support of President Obama when people were complaining about him? I was complaining too. I don't much like Stephen Colbert's late show, I get that "smug" (as Rensin describes it) feeling from him.

For me it's simply that US liberals are just not left enough !

My own vantage point is from somewhere quite a bit far left of where most "liberals" in the USA start from. Something of the same went on in the UK, I admit. It got worse when the neo-con neo-liberal thing arrived with Tony Blair, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, David Cameron et al. My main niggle is with the attitudes of the average Democrat, not the average Republican, to be absolutely honest. They don't fight hard enough for what they are supposed to stand for - if they did Bernie Sanders would be winning in a landslide by now !!!

mike (again) said...

Not trying to make trouble here, but your comment, "They don't fight hard enough for what they are supposed to stand for - if they did Bernie Sanders would be winning in a landslide by now !!!", is exactly the "intellectual elite" that Rensin is are claiming that these people have a failure to know what's good for them. I've mentioned previously that I have contempt for Hillary, but I have to concede that those Hillary-voters have their reasons, and their rationale ain't my rationale. Should Hillary win the DNC nomination, I may be voting for Hillary as a lesser-of-the-evils voter, simply because I would not want any of the Republican possibilities to win, particular if the Democrats-Independents have a low voter turn-out, as they always do, compared to the Republicans.

Don't get me wrong, I agree with SOME of your logic. I've been saying all along that Bernie suffers when there is shallow voter turn-out. Bernie, in an interview airing this morning, is making the claim that poor people don't vote, which is hurting his numbers. Here are some interesting statistics:
Total number of Americans eligible to vote 218,959,000
Total number of Americans registered to vote 146,311,000
Total number of Americans who voted in the 2012 Presidential election 126,144,000
Percent of Americans who voted in the 2012 Presidential election 57.5 %

67% of of the American population is eligible to vote, but does not register to vote. 86% of the registered voters cast ballots in 2012!

When you say that US liberals are not left-enough, part of the issue is our two party system. Variants on each side have to fit into one of the two parties...some are more extreme to the right or left than other members of the same party. There are other fringe parties, but without clout. Bernie has suffered within the Democratic party, because the nomination has been predetermined to be Hillary. There are plenty of far-to-the-left liberals, but one doesn't typically hear about them...too "out there in left field" for most Americans...but they certainly exist.

mike (again) said...

Oooops - did the calculation wrong. Should be: "33% of of the American population is eligible to vote, but does not register to vote."

Twilight said...

mike ~ I don't agree that my comment is "exactly the intellectual elite that Rensin is are claiming that these people have a failure to know what's good for them." No! I'm not claiming that. I'm claiming that they don't care what happens to anyone else - they themselves are mostly okay with the status quo...they do know what's good FOR THEM (and only for them).

My opinion is that US Democrats, as a party are not left enough. "Liberal" is a wishy-washy term that covers all manner of political ideas. I'm not keen on the term, as I mentioned earlier, due to what it once meant in UK politics. I've said from I first weeks arrived here that "there is no proper left in the USA". My opinion has not changed over the 12 years I've lived here.

Bernie has aroused interest in what a proper left-wing party ought to be supporting. Dennis Kucinich tried in 2007/8 - he was ridiculed. Bernie has done better. The next one up, or the one after that, will likely shake up the whole caboodle, but sadly I'll probably not still be around to see it.

I agree that the 2-party system is to blame, and more importantly the fact that both the DNC and RNC have been bought and sold.

"Too "out there in left-field" for most Americans" ? Why is that then?

Twilight said...

mike ~ There are a few reasonable comments about the Emmett Rensin essay and "smug" issue at "Quora" - I liked a comment by Bob Jones there. He says that Rensin is an avowed Marxist (even further left than I am....maybe....maybe not.) ;-)

R J Adams said...

I happen to think smugness - or, is it simply that we all like to think we're better than everyone else (the exception being I don't think I'm better than you, Twilight!) - is a natural human trait. A part of that brain area left over from the reptilian 'survive or die' function converted via consciousness into smugness, swagger, egotism (call it what you will).
Actually, I found Rensin's essay oozing with smugness: "Amygdala", come on! You can't use that word, other than in a neurological research paper, without feeling totally smug. Thanks, Emmett, I learned a new word, though I'll never use it a) because I'm not a neurosurgeon, and b) because none of my readers would know what it meant, think I was a pretentiously smug bastard, and never read me again.
Yes, I accept the point that he was labouring for 7,000 words. I just wish he'd lost 6,000 of them in the editing (or, maybe there wasn't any).
I believe he's finally matured to the point where he recognises that trait known as 'human nature'. Let's be kind, after all he's only twenty-six years old and still believes he can change the world for the better, if he can only get everyone else to think the way he does. Smug bastard!

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ Oh dear - lol! Thanks for your take on smug-gate. So it's the author's youth to blame? Well...I can give him more than 50 years and I still think it's possible to change the world for the better, by supporting an aim to find a way for inequalities and injustices to be reduced, minimised, then obliterated. So age has nothing to do with it. Human nature "is what it is", we can't change it but we can, or should be able to, manage it better.

Whenever someone hits a sore spot in our psyche we immediately hit back don't we? Which is why I'm thinking there's so much stuff on the net about the smugness thing today - it has been brought up many times in the past - which I didn't know until now. I didn't realise it was "a thing" at all when I posted yesterday, I thought Rensin's piece was just a stray essay bringing up something interesting - if in a long-winded way. Three good paragraphs would have been more effective I'd bet, and probably would've reached more people who would've found themselves able to agree with his points.

I've been having a giggle at some commentary (not if!!!) but around the net where goody-goody liberals are stroking their egos and arguing manfully with Rensin's points. ;-D

R J Adams said...

He must feel somewhat smug at all the responses he's generated. I note even the New York Post's weighed in on it. I wish I could manage such readership! No, come to think of it, at seventy I couldn't handle the angst of it all anymore. Sometimes the comments from my TWO readers are hard enough to take! ;-)

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ Yes, he'll be patting himself on the back. Smug - strange word, not one I've ever used before now, as far as I recall - though I knew what it meant:

Dictionary says contentedly confident of one's ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent. German origin. Hmmmm. They often have an apt word for things and situations don't they? Schadenfreude, verklempt etc.

LOL! We'll be gentle with you RJ. :-D

mike (again) said...

Rensin's essay is the sharknado of the internet, with most reviews being critical of his topic and writing style, and the inherent smugness in his discourse. I was surprised to see the diversity of websites responding to and critiquing his essay. My favorite is a conservative, Christian site whose comments were mostly of the overly smug comment was a succinct, "Those libtards!"...LOL. Kudos to Rensin for providing the itch that needed scratching and managing to exponentially expand his readership.

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Rensin provided plenty of weekend "clickbait". :-) I was looking forward to what Charles Pierce and his happy band of witty commenters would have to say about smug-gate, but comments there have been "down" for a couple of days, under repair I guess, and no mention of Rensin so far. Maybe Mr Pierce is saving it for a future post when comments are back up.