Oh, grow up!

Some Democrats need to recall the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Given all the real scandals in the world – especially scandals about the unspeakable conduct of Republicans, and especially about their use of inflammatory language about the President – there’s simply no excuse for making up stuff to be upset about.

For instance:

Terry McAuliffe invested in a scheme that made money stealing the identities of dying people and cheating insurance companies. (Yes, this is the business where the AP falsely accused McAuliffe of having lied to a federal official; once that lie got cleared away no one paid much attention to the underlying scandal. And of course McAuliffe had no idea what use was being made of his money. He just always just happens to be in the way when something sleazy is going down.)

So Pat Mullins, the Chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, addressing his demoralized troops, wanted to cheer them up by saying something nasty about Democrats. (Surprise!) He referred to the political difficulties the President is experiencing, and added:

Obama is so close to death that Terry McAuliffe is about to buy a life insurance policy on him.

And now a bunch of Democrats are complaining about “offensive, violent rhetoric against President Obama” and screaming for Mullins’s scalp.

Srsly? It’s clear that “close to death” refers to the President’s political standing, not his health. “Violent”? Not hardly. And the attack is directed at McAuliffe. Actually, though I hate to say it about anything said by a Republican, it’s pretty damned funny.

Remember The Boy Who Cried Wolf? The more Democrats try to spin scandals out of nothing, the harder it is to make the real scandals stick.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

35 thoughts on “Oh, grow up!”

  1. This looks like the dumb urge to “win the day” that has preoccupied campaigns and partisans in the age of cable news. I think it actively weakens the side that engages in it, because it diffuses their messaging and keeps them from focusing on longer-term stuff. But it feels good when you succeed in getting your outrage broadcast on cable news, so people keep doing it.

    My impression is that this is more of a problem for Republicans (particularly during the last two presidential campaigns, where they substituted “win the day” for actual strategy) but it’s equally stupid when Democrats do it.

    1. Democrats do it too. The documentary “The War Room” was really all about that sort of politics.

      Political consultants couldn’t get jobs if politicians were to realize this stuff isn’t important. So they keep up the illusion that it is.

  2. The Virginia GOP should be reflecting that their candidate couldn’t win even against Terry McAuliffe.

    1. Sadly, Virginia GOP leadership seems to lack a sense of humor when looking in the mirror. Occasionally, the national party leadership does better.

      Or perhaps they hire better writers.

  3. Contrary to J above, I think this sort of accusation can be politically useful in an unfortunate way. I think it works this way:

    1. People have legitimate grievances. (African Americans, women, Jews, Native Americans, etc.)
    2. Such grievance gives them a legitimate claim on sympathy and assistance.
    3. Republicans viscerally understand the legitimacy of those grievances, but oppose meaningful sympathy and assistance. So the only really interesting part of these claims isn’t the justice behind them, but the pressure they exert.
    4. Republicans are jealous of that moral legitimacy, and resent its power, which they want to claim for themselves.
    5. Thus, they start to saying things like: meaningful discrimination only exists against white people; the rich are the victims of moochers; Democrats are routinely stealing elections; Christians are the victims of discrimination – there’s even a War on Christmas. The list goes on.
    6. Democrats resent this, and adopt this tactic themselves, and end up saying stupid things.

    If the context were different – if Obama had just survived an assassination attempt, or if he were battling cancer or something – Mullins’ statement would be pretty awful. But that’s not the context.

  4. “3. Republicans viscerally understand the legitimacy of those grievances, but oppose meaningful sympathy and assistance. So the only really interesting part of these claims isn’t the justice behind them, but the pressure they exert.”

    An old politial delusion: “My opponents agree with the justice of my views, but disagree with them anyway out of sheer stuborness/evil.”

    Some people, individuals, have legitimate grievances. Groups, (African Americans, women, Jews, Native Americans, etc.) do not, because there is no group whose members all have the same life story, and legitimate grievances derive from stuff that happens to you, personally, not from the generic story about some group you’ve been assigned to.

    So, there are African Americans who have legitimate grievances, and African Americans who do NOT have legitimate grievances. There are women who have legitimate grievances, and women who do NOT have legitimate grievances. Why, there are even some white men who have legitimate grievances, just as there are white men who don’t.

    And the way you tell them apart is not by looking at their skin color, or gender, but by paying individual attention to the basis they claim for that grievance.

    1. I used the word “visceral” because your logical view is very hard for the vast majority of people to grasp intuitively – even if they get it intellectually. Unless people reflect very carefully on it, they tend to instinctively think that groups are composed of individuals.

      So, for instance, if some individual is denied the vote or is lynched or their church is blown up because of their race, that’s obviously an individual issue with an impact solely on those directly involved, and not something that has an impact on some mythical group. Republicans are very logical this way, and they understand this. But even the most logical people have a hard time suppressing the visceral feeling that groups of people have been treated badly, and this will fill them with a certain sadness. And that sadness has political implications, especially since not everybody is prepared to adopt your logical view.

    2. Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, `even’ these least, ye did it unto me.
      Injustice in society is a legitimate grievance. Injustice to an individual is also legitimate. Systemic injustice in a system that affects many individuals, and naturally has the potential to affect other individuals, is also legitimate.
      An innocent person is killed by the police. Does only his immediate family have a grievance?

    3. Brett: I encourage you to spread the gospel of this message. After all, there’s little room for the Democratic party to get any more votes from people who identify as black. But women, Hispanics, and Asians are also perfectly capable of understanding that the only group in the Republican party that is allowed to have any grievances is White Americans (preferably subclass Southern and/or Gun-Owner), and moving more of their votes to Democrats.

    4. And the way you tell them apart is not by looking at their skin color, or gender, but by paying individual attention to the basis they claim for that grievance.

      And suppose when you do pay such attention it turns out that the basis is racial discrimination, say. And that when you pay attention to lots of instances you find that to be a fairly common basis. Do you not then conclude that racial discrimination is a problem in society? Do you not then conclude that it is reasonable for other members of the discriminated against group, even those who may not have suffered mistreatment, to feel aggrieved because they rightly perceive that they are at higher risk than normal?

      1. Well, and if they do have a legitimate grievance? Then the question arises, who do they have that grievance against?

        If my car is jacked by some black dude, I have a legitimate grievance. I do not, however, have a legitimate grievance against black dudes in general, only against the one who jacked my car.

        If some black guy gets passed over for a job or a promotion because he’s black, he’s got a legitimate grievance. But who does he have the grievance with? “Society”? No, society doesn’t hire and fire, specific people do.

        Now, maybe it’s pretty common that black guys get discriminated against, (And maybe it actually isn’t.) but that just means there are a lot of specific guilty people. It doesn’t make the innocent people who happen to look like them guilty.

        Anymore than it being pretty common for black guys to commit crimes does anything to make the black guys who didn’t commit crimes guilty.

        What I’m saying is, there isn’t any such thing as collective guilt, where you don’t need to examine the specific circumstances to say, “I’m giving this black guy a leg up over that white guy, because some other white guy discriminated against some other black guy.

        And a darned good thing, too, that most people reject this notion of collective guilt. Because, if I owe random black dudes a debt for somebody else’s discrimination, random black dudes owe me a debt for somebody else’s carjackings. And we’re back to riding out and lynching some random black guy whenever a crime is committed by some other black guy, and I really thing we don’t want that.

        No, the mass of Americans have rejected notions of collective guilt, and that’s a triumph of the civil rights movement. Don’t throw it away.

        1. How is it possible to be a black male in the USA and not be the object of discrimination in a given week? The discrimination may be mild – a stranger crossing the street to avoid passing you on the sidewalk, say – but it’s still there, and adds up. Similarly, women are constantly objects of mild and generally unconscious sexism – being interrupted more often in a meeting, say. Treating other people as equal individuals is difficult and few of us can manage it consistently.

          1. “How is it possible to be a black male in the USA and not be the object of discrimination in a given week?”

            Hypothetically, you could live in a black majority city, where the power structure is run by blacks, and, if anybody is routinely subject to racial discrimination, it’s whites.

            But how is this relevant to pointing out that the people who didn’t discriminate against you don’t owe you anything?

        2. Exactly, Brett! Say if I live in a society where homicide is legal, and I get killed. Who have I got a grievance with? Certainly not a society that tolerates homicide. My only gripe is with the guy who pulled the trigger.

        3. Against who?

          Maybe against those who tolerate or minimize the level of discrimination in our society. We are not, after all, talking about a legal cause of action, which has to proceed against an identifiable person or organization. Or maybe against those who perpetuate it in various ways.

    5. Someone had a useful parallel lately – saying that being a white male in our society is like playing a video game at the ‘Easiest’ setting. That does not mean that the person will come out ahead of everyone else, but that the problems will on average not be as difficult and the opportunities will on average be better. I think those who are not white males can complain about this even if they personally come out ahead of white males in many respects.

    6. Right, Brett. All of the African Americans whose ancestors weren’t kept as slaves or discriminated against in education or employment should STFU. That leaves only about 99.99% with any right to complain. Because of course the money your ancestors were cheated of they couldn’t leave to you down the generations as inheritance, to say nothing of the less tangible forms of inter-generational privilege.

      By the same token, no Jew who wasn’t personally gassed at Buchenwald has any beef coming. And those who were gassed are all dead, so they’re not complaining. Hey, presto! No real grievance.

      1. The 0.01% includes Barack Obama, son of a Luo father whose ancestors were never slaves, and a WASP mother. SFIK he does not complain about his personal lot, though he is aware that he is an exception.

          1. Of course he’s been subject to racism. Nobody with his lightweight record would have been taken seriously running for President, without the aura of “First Black President” to protect him from any realistic assessment or vetting.

      2. “Because of course the money your ancestors were cheated of”

        Would that be my ancestors out of Canada, my ancestors out of Germany, or my ancestors out of Ireland? All of whom entered the US well after slavery was legal, and met in Michigan, where slavery was never legal, to produce me, and my mixed race son. Who will, if you have your way, grow up to be discriminated against for things neither he nor any ancestor of his had anything to do with.

      3. Nobody with his lightweight record would have been taken seriously running for President, without the aura of “First Black President” to protect him from any realistic assessment or vetting.

        So your complaint is that Obama’s ancestry gave him an advantage, not justified by his “lightweight record,” in his path to the Presidency? Is that right?

        How does that advantage compare, in your mind, with the unearned advantage that Bush – a serial failure at business whose record can best be described as failed bantamweight – got from his ancestry? Or is that sort of thing no big deal to you?

        1. Which Bush, the one who was director of Central intelligence and had two terms as VP before being elected President, or the one who was Governor of a large state before being elected President? Eh, you’re right, put together they had less experience than a part term Senator who’d never worked in the private sector. [/sarcasm]

          No, I’m not precisely complaining that Obama’s race gave him an advantage, just noting that being black hardly hurt him.

          1. “Which Bush”

            It’s the second I had in mind, as you know. Though the first certainly had a substantial leg up on his career by virtue of ancestry as well.

            “Governor of a large state?”

            One of the weaker governorships around, and an office he certainly wouldn’t have been elected to, or even considered for, on his record had his name been George W. Smith. In other words, no, the governorship doesn’t count. What counts is that just about everything he did by himself was a flop, from which flops he was repeatedly rescued by Daddy’s pals. Of course he was a success at being a political front man for the Texas Rangers baseball team. Hardly a merit-based position.

            Regardless, apparently your insistence on pure meritocracy seems not to apply if the individual gaining an undeserved advantage is white. And BTW it certainly didn’t hurt Gore, McCain, or Romney that their fathers were who they were either. I suspect their careers benefitted more from ancestry than Obama’s did. Again, none of that troubles you, I suppose. But hey, it looks to you like a black guy may have gotten an edge and you freak.

            “just noting that being black hardly hurt [Obama].”

            Oh really? You can’t imagine that there were those who voted against him because of his race? Have you done an analysis of the votes he gained and lost for that reason? And do you honestly suppose that hardly any of the intense animosity he faces is racially based?

          2. I think there were people who voted against Obama because of his race, I’m certain there were people who voted FOR him because of his race, some of them were quite open about it. On net, I think it a benefit, because the part term Senator was a lightweight in terms of the experience you’d normally expect of somebody getting into the White House.

          3. […]
            Consider two media markets, Denver and Wheeling (which is a market evenly split between Ohio and West Virginia). Mr. Kerry received roughly 50 percent of the votes in both markets. Based on the large gains for Democrats in 2008, Mr. Obama should have received about 57 percent of votes in both Denver and Wheeling. Denver and Wheeling, though, exhibit different racial attitudes. Denver had the fourth lowest racially charged search rate in the country. Mr. Obama won 57 percent of the vote there, just as predicted. Wheeling had the seventh highest racially charged search rate in the country. Mr. Obama won less than 48 percent of the Wheeling vote.

            Add up the totals throughout the country, and racial animus cost Mr. Obama three to five percentage points of the popular vote. In other words, racial prejudice gave John McCain the equivalent of a home-state advantage nationally.

            How Racist Are We? Ask Google

          4. Yes, under the “racism hurt Obama” you expect Obama to have done better in less nominally racist areas, and under the “racism helped Obama” scenario, you also expect him to have done better in the less nominally racist areas, since racial discrimination in favor of blacks is not, nominally, regarded as “racism” for these purposes.

            You’d need to know what vote he’d have gotten without race being a factor, and neither he nor Kerry were generic Democrats with no differences. Kerry was a FOUR term nationally famous Senator, and Obama as about as obscure as a partial term Senator gets. So I don’t think all else actually was equal between them, you would normally expect Kerry to have done better than Obama, he was conspicuously better qualified for the office.

  5. Taking umbrage at political remarks is overdone. However, ridicule is not used enough.

    When Rick Santorum said last week that the struggle against Obamacare is just like the struggle against apartheid, what is the best response? Being offended is a bad choice. But the Republicans should be derided with hearty guffaws of laughter and this former frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination should be held up as typical of his party’s reality testing, so that others of his party should be pressured to agree or disagree.

    Exploitation of idiocy is appropriate and in this case has been underutilized.

    1. The loss of the fairness doctrine has sadly put a crimp in my “bitter, mirthless laughter” plan as a response to all GOP claims of discrimination.

  6. Just curious – where can I buy a life insurance policy on someones “political death”? Yes, the dems may have over-reacted, but that doesn’t mean that Mullins statement doesn’t require condemnation.

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