Thursday, December 07, 2017


Watching the fall of Al Franken, Charlie Pierce and Dahlia Lithwick conclude that there's no good reason for Democrats to try to attain the moral high ground. Pierce writes:
I was going to let Dahlia Lithwick’s angry, lucid account in Slate of the end of Al Franken’s senatorial career speak for me, since Lithwick said everything I felt about this tawdry episode, and probably better than I could. Especially this part:
Is this the principled solution? By every metric I can think of, it’s correct. But it’s also wrong. It’s wrong because we no longer inhabit a closed ethical system, in which morality and norm preservation are their own rewards. We live in a broken and corroded system in which unilateral disarmament is going to destroy the very things we want to preserve.
... Lithwick is dead right. There is no commonly accepted Moral High Ground left to occupy anymore, and to pretend one exists is to live in a masturbatory fantasyland.
Pierce is right: There isn't a "commonly accepted" moral high ground, because "commonly accepted" would have to include Republicans, whose only morality is "Just win, baby." I'll grant that. But if we look at the results of the 2016 presidential election and conclude that morality doesn't matter anymore because a con man and confessed sexual predator won the presidency, remember that voters did make a moral judgment in that election -- it's just that many of them concluded that Hillary Clinton was the less moral candidate.

Remember polls like this?

By late October, voters thought Trump was more honest than Clinton by 8 points. That perception didn't win Trump the popular vote, but it probably won him the White House.

And why did they believe this? The Columbia Journalism Review can tell us:
[Our] research team ... count[ed] sentences that appeared in mainstream media sources and classif[ied] each as detailing one of several Clinton- or Trump-related issues.... They found roughly four times as many Clinton-related sentences that described scandals as opposed to policies, whereas Trump-related sentences were one-and-a-half times as likely to be about policy as scandal. Given the sheer number of scandals in which Trump was implicated—sexual assault; the Trump Foundation; Trump University; redlining in his real-estate developments; insulting a Gold Star family; numerous instances of racist, misogynist, and otherwise offensive speech—it is striking that the media devoted more attention to his policies than to his personal failings. Even more striking, the various Clinton-related email scandals—her use of a private email server while secretary of state, as well as the DNC and John Podesta hacks—accounted for more sentences than all of Trump’s scandals combined (65,000 vs. 40,000) and more than twice as many as were devoted to all of her policy positions.

... in just six days, The New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.
Democrats have to do the right thing -- and they have to fight like hell to demand fair treatment in the press, as well as adequate treatment of Republican misdeeds. You want to imitate Republican tactics? Then work the refs the way Republicans do. Don't abandon common decency the way they do.

In his resignation speech today, Franken spoke of Paul Wellstone. Pierce writes:
It seemed fitting that Franken invoked the name of his mentor, the late Senator Paul Wellstone, in his valedictory address on Thursday, because it was his account of the indecent political hijacking of Wellstone’s memorial service by the flying monkeys of the right that first made me think that Franken was more than simply a gifted satirist. Very important people in American politics, and in the elite American political media, most of whom still have their jobs today, lied about what went on at that service. They did so deliberately, and for cheap political advantage.

(This was the funeral after which conservative commentators told America that the crowd was being prompted to applaud because the closed-captioning on the big screen in the hall said, “Applause” when there was applause.)

I know they lied about it because my wife and I watched the whole thing on CSPAN and the conservative accounts of it did not match the reality of the service in any way. In his first book, Franken ran all these lying liars to ground and left them there. That was an early example of the broken and corroded system of which Dahlia Lithwick wrote....
But I'm not sure the right could lie about the Wellstone memorial service now the way it did then. Liberals understand social media and know how to use it. Notice that our side got Sam Seder his job back. Liberals quickly made the case that the child-rape tweet for which Seder was fired was a bitter joke about those who excuse pedophilia by the famous. Seder's defenders also recounted the slimy career of his accuser, Mike Cernovich, and reproduced Cernovich's own grotesque defenses of rape. No one said this was easy. Sometimes you need to fight back.

When Lithwick writes about the high ground and its apparent uselessness, she's thinking about more than just matters of personal morality:
Remember “when they go low, we go high?” Yep. So do I.

I remembered it in the fall of 2016, when Senate Republicans and then-candidate Donald Trump first made it irrevocably clear there would be no hearing for anyone Barack Obama nominated to the Supreme Court, ever, even though Obama had put up a moderate, centrist nominee who was once acceptable to Senate Republicans. I remembered it when Trump won, and we realized that that seat would stay stolen.

I remembered it this week when the Senate passed a tax bill at 2 a.m. that apparently contains a $289 billion error, thanks to the fact that it was drafted in the margins rather than adjudicated through normal congressional standards, as, say, Obamacare was....

This isn’t a call to become tolerant of awful behavior. It is a call for understanding that Democrats honored the blue slip, and Republicans didn’t. Democrats had hearings over the Affordable Care Act; Republicans had none over the tax bill. Democrats decry predators in the media; Republicans give them their own networks. And what do Democrats have to show for it?
But again, our side has to fight. I know, I know -- it's exhausting. But Shannon Watts is right:

Beyond that, we have to focus on the pattern Lithwick describes and communicate the clear message that the Republican Party is the problem. The GOP's legislation is extreme, its contempt for democratic norms is dangerous, and it lacks all morals. We need to make that point, persistently. There is a high ground -- but voters need to be reminded again and again that Republicans individually and collectively occupy the lowest possible ground.

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