Tuesday, July 18, 2017


When David Brooks claimed that elitist sandwiches cause economic inequality, Josh Barro weighed his options: On the one hand, everyone thinks Brooks is an idiot; on the other hand -- hundreds of thousands of clicks! The choice was obvious: Barro would also tell upmarket liberals that their attitude toward sandwiches is killing America.

Okay, fine -- I don't know for sure that that's what really happened. But here's Barro with an interminable think piece titled "Liberals Can Win Again If They Stop Being So Annoying and Fix Their 'Hamburger Problem.'" His thesis: Americans are now cool with gay marriage and universal health care, but Republicans win elections because ... liberals tell people not to eat burgers. I'm not making this up. That's Barro's argument:
... liberals have staked out a wide variety of fundamentally non-policy positions on the culture that annoy the crap out of people, to their electoral detriment.

Let's discuss the hamburger example.

Suppose you're a middle-income man with a full-time job, a wife who also works outside the home, and some children. Suppose it's a Sunday in the early fall, and your plan for today is to relax, have a burger, and watch a football game.

Conservatives will say, "Go ahead, that sounds like a nice Sunday." (In the Trump era, they're not going to bother you about not going to church.) But you may find that liberals have a few points of concern they want to raise about what you mistakenly thought was your fundamentally nonpolitical plan for the day.

Liberals want you to know that you should eat less meat so as to contribute less to global warming. They're concerned that your diet is too high in sodium and saturated fat. They're upset that the beef in your hamburger was factory-farmed.
Since the only Americans whose opinions are considered valid these days are Trump voters, let me ask: Do you think the #MAGA crowd considers hamburger-shaming to be one of America's top issues? We know these voters despise liberals, but is this why?

I'll point out here that Barro's burger-shaming link goes to a New York Times story about Barack Obama's appearance a couple of months ago at a conference on food policy called Seeds & Chips. Remember that? No? Neither did I until I clicked Barro's link.

In fact, when Barro begins to list ways that liberals "annoy" Joe Sixpack, he does so from a perspective that's rather ... elitist.
Beyond what you're doing this weekend, this movement has a long list of moral judgments about your ongoing personal behavior....

The gender-reveal party you held for your most recent child inaccurately conflated gender with biological sex. ("Cutting into a pink or blue cake seems innocent enough — but honestly, it's not," Marie Claire warned earlier this month.)
Yes, I'm sure a lot of guys settling down to Sunday football with a burger in hand are regular readers of Marie Claire.
You don't ride the subway because you have that gas-guzzling car, but if you did, the way you would sit on it would be sexist.
Does Barro not realize that most Americans in the labor force drive to work? And don't even live in places where "manspreading" on the subway is an issue? Who's the elitist now?
No item in your life is too big or too small for this variety of liberal busybodying. On the one hand, the viral video you found amusing was actually a manifestation of the patriarchy. On the other hand, you actually have an irresponsibly large number of carbon-emitting children.

All this scolding — this messaging that you should feel guilty about aspects of your life that you didn't think were anyone else's business — leads to a weird outcome when you go to vote in November.
How much of this truly penetrates the mass culture? It's mostly upper-income people talking among themselves. That patriarchy link, for example, is from the freaking New Statesman Really? Retired steelworkers in Pennsylvania are reading The New Statesman now?

Of course, some of this talk does reach the masses -- thanks to the right-wing media. But when it passes through that puke funnel, it comes out smelling worse than it should. Example: A proposal was floated at Davos in 2015 to take the $90 trillion dollars likely to be spent globally on urban development in the next few years and use it to make cities denser and more public transit friendly, so cities would no longer need cars. Al Gore endorsed the idea. Once right-wingers got a hold of it, the headline was "Oligarch Al Gore: Spend $90 Trillion To Ban All Cars." Implication: all cars, everywhere, and at an extra cost, which was not the idea.

Consumers of right-wing media don't think liberals want people to eat less meat -- they think we all belong to PETA and oppose meat altogether. (Ask Ted Nugent.) They think our tolerance of Muslims equals support for imposition of sharia law on America. They think our support for tougher gun background checks means support for confiscation of all firearms. They think our praise for single payer means we want a North Korea-style command-and-control economy. They think our outrage at the deaths of unarmed blacks at the hands of the police means we want cops killed.

Barro apparently doesn't want us having any discussions, in any forum, of ideas that might offend blue-collar America, however accurately those discussions are reported. And when some tempest in a teapot is cynically sold to blue-collar America as a threat to bedrock values, we're supposed to bow and scrape and apologize.
... usually the leading voices of the new liberal moralism are not politicians. Less-smug liberal commentators will usually protest that these voices are marginal, especially the college students who get so much attention on Fox News for protesting culturally insensitive sushi in the dining hall. If these voices are so marginal, it should be easy enough for Democratic politicians to distance themselves by saying, for example, that some college students have gotten a little nuts and should focus on their studies instead of the latest politically correct cause. Showing that you also think liberal cultural politics has gotten a little exhausting is a good way to relate to a lot of voters.
Yes, I'm sure constantly being on the defensive will win back the Senate and flip a lot of state legislatures for the Democrats in 2018.

In short, what Barro is saying is: Real or imagined lifestyle policing is bad -- but it's fine when it's done to liberals. Thanks a lot for that, Josh.

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