The Ethnocentrism of Messina Bashers

Lots of leftists are beating up on Jim Messina, a wizard of President Obama’s presidential campaigns, for taking a job advising the UK Tories of David Cameron. To some observers it looks like utter hypocrisy: In exchange for filthy lucre, a soulless political operative who advises Democrats is now also going to advise the equivalent of the Republicans in another country!

I too am shocked and appalled, not by Messina but by the gobsmacking ethnocentrism of his critics. They don’t seem to realize that other countries have their own politics, which differ from those of the United States.

The center of British politics is well to the left of the center of U.S. politics. The “right-winger” David Cameron whom Messina will be advising opposes the death penalty, supports a right to abortion, extols the virtues of a single payer government-operated healthcare system and just expended enormous political capital on legalizing same-sex marriage. If he walked into a CPAC meeting he’d be torn to shreds rather than greeted as a fellow traveler. Indeed, on the death penalty and universal health care, he is to the left of most of the Democratic Party.

I don’t know Messina or his politics, so I can’t speak to his personal motivations. But I do know that given how much space there is between the political center of the U.S. and that of the U.K., there is plenty of room to allow the existence of reasonable people whose policy preferences are to the left of the American center and to the right of the British center. There is therefore no inherent contradiction between advising the Democrats in the U.S. and the Tories in the U.K. Indeed, it’s easy to understand as soon as you let go of the idea that the U.S. is the template for the rest of the world’s political arrangements.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

17 thoughts on “The Ethnocentrism of Messina Bashers”

  1. This is crazy talk. I could maybe see the Liberal Democrats, but the Tories? Really?

    1. The UK is a fairly conservative country by European standards, but being to the left of the modern Republican party is not a terribly high bar. And David Cameron is one of the more moderate Tories.

  2. Ethnocentrism is one of those foibles that are easy to detect and castigate in others, but rather more difficult to recognize in ourselves. Notably, supporters of Israel are apt to condemn ethnocentrism among white Europeans and Americans, but are inclined to excuse Jewish ethnocentrism.

  3. One could make Keith’s argument in the opposite direction: Tony Blair as George Bush’s poodle. It’s hard to argue that today’s Labour is all that much to the left of the Democratic Party.

    The Tories, admittedly, are to the left of the Republican Party–a statement which is also true for any European conservative party that has been part of a ruling coalition (Hungary and Austria excepted.)

    I can’t see what the fuss is about. There are good reasons why political operatives are associated with only one party in domestic politics. An operative is entrusted with many secrets, and is supposed to be far more zealous than a lawyer. I don’t see why this rule should apply internationally.

  4. Keith, your last sentence is a good one to keep in mind no matter what the referent of the pronoun “it.”

  5. Messina is no different from a litigator. He’s a hired gun. He can work for anyone whose checks will clear. If you don’t like the candidate, fine. But the only criterion on which anyone can or should judge Messina is results.

  6. I suggest Keith is using the wrong word for a genuine phenomenon. It’s not ethnos that creates the perceptual bias here, but polis, in the original sense of “my city not yours”. However, “policentric” conveys nothing. So it’s back to “Beltway vision”. “Chauvinism” will also do – it originally had nothing to do with gender and everything with excessive patriotism.

  7. On social policy and health care the Tories are much to the “left” of the Republicans, true. They are more in line with conservative politicians in every developed democracy in the world, except the U.S.

    They are, however, still the party of austerity, the party of big business, the party of class and the party of money. Most of the troubles inflicting workers in Europe and the UK and the U.S. can be traced to conservative blind determination to ignore all the lessons of Keynesian economics and try to fix the economy by screwing ever harder on the working classes.

  8. Yea, that’s the thing. He’s not going to advise the equivalent of the Republicans in another country. He’s going to advise the equivalent of the Democrats.

    1. del2124 wrote:
      “Yea, that’s the thing. He’s not going to advise the equivalent of the Republicans in another country. He’s going to advise the equivalent of the Democrats.”

      Yep, I don’t see what all the fuss is about in terms of the British.

      On the other hand, Messina’s move highlights just how far to the right the Democratic Party is. “Liberal” hasn’t applied to it as a whole since the 1970s. It’s at best centrist and, at its worst, has simply tried to put a happy face on a number of extremist Republican positions that it otherwise embraced, starting with A for austerity.

      The only ideology I ascribe to the Democratic Party at this point is “careerist.”

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