STONE TABLETS

Posted in Rants on November 25th, 2017 by Ed

These are the salad days of political writing on the left. If nothing else, Trumpism has been a boon for criticism. As most of you are well aware, there's more good, relevant material out there than any person with a job and a life can possibly consume.

As this American Experiment progresses, though, the better an article is the sadder I end up feeling by the end. And this is not simply because good writing today observes a sad state of political and social affairs. It stems from the gnawing feeling that none of this really matters and we're doing it mostly for the historical record at this point. In post-factual politics the most any of us can hope for is that 200 years from now, if anyone is still around to appreciate it, someone will recognize that we were right.

Mike Konczal, as some long-time readers know, is one of my best friends in the world and offers some of the best takes on economic policy that you can find at any price. His latest piece up on Vox, "Republicans are Weaponizing the Tax Code," is of typical high quality. I recommend it unconditionally. But when I first read it, by the end I felt a deep sense of futility. We are past rational politics to the extent that I don't even know who might be persuaded by a piece like this. It serves mostly to reinforce to people on the left that we are indeed screwed. Deeply, most likely irrevocably, screwed.

The older I get the more it becomes clear that technocracy is the Achilles Heel of the left and the entirety of modern conservatism is set up to exploit it. Liberals and centrists see The Economy as data – facts and figures, evidence and causality. On the right, the economy isa feeling. And that's why no amount of data parsing and research makes a lick of difference when they are in control. Strengthening the economy is as simple as screaming "The economy is roaring!" and that is precisely why The President* does it so often. Jobs are "coming back" because they keep saying "The jobs are coming back." That's all there is to it.

I don't believe that everything is hopeless, but I do believe that this is not an argument the left is losing because it lacks sufficient data and supporting evidence. There is a strong emotional component to this and we have to figure out how to appeal to it more effectively. We keep giving the correct answer to the wrong question; even if what farther left candidates propose is not all practical or feasible, there are real benefits to running candidates who have passion and appear to stand for something. Focus less on what is being said – as hard as that is for us to do – and more on how it is being said and what the speaker can make an audience feel. We can sort out the details with time. One thing is for certain: wonkery, despite being important and having a crucial role, is not enough.

To expect anyone with a pen or a keyboard to "change things" is unfair and unrealistic, but I can't shake the feeling lately that all these "Look how bad this thing is" takes are not serving a purpose (Even as, yes, I add to that pile myself). When we realize how little reality, facts, and logic matter to the current implementation of policy, maybe we should all stop cranking out material highlighting the flaws and consider what we might do that is more productive.

If I had the answer, I'd be out there peddling it. If I knew what would help, I would do it. But if there were a chart or graph or white paper that could win this fight, it would be won by now.