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If you thought Hillary's Iowa youth vote was a disaster, look how hard she tried - 2/5/16
Hillary Clinton's abysmal 14% showing among Iowans under 30 has been rightly regarded as a disaster for her campaign. For all her talk about preserving Obama's legacy, Clinton's inability to win young people represents a direct rollback of one of his central achievements: the Obama coalition, organized to win the future for Democrats with a central focus on young voters. Her failure to protect Obama's progress on this front doesn't just put the immediate election at risk (although it does that, too) - it threatens the party's prospects for generations to come.

One underappreciated aspect of Clinton's Iowa failure, however, is that it was an active failure. It is not something that just happened to her; it was a direct and predictable outcome that she deliberately set out to avoid. This is of course not the first time Clinton has catastrophically bungled a major political objective that she set out to achieve - just the opposite - but it's one of her more easily demonstrable failures, so it's worth reflecting on at length.

Patrick Caldwell, writing for Mother Jones, spelled out the problem in an article with a title that, in retrospect, Democrats should find unsettling:


Caldwell notes that in 2008, Clinton simply gave up on young voters, particularly in the run-up to Iowa:
Instead of appealing to twentysomething voters, the Clintonites went on the offensive, trying to peel away older voters and depress Obama turnout by inciting generational warfare. "This is a process for Iowans," Clinton said about a month before the caucuses, a pointed comment aimed at college students after the Obama campaign distributed pamphlets encouraging them to vote.
The strategy was an epic failure: Clinton only won 11% of Iowans under 30 in 2008 and placed third in the primary behind Obama and John Edwards. In the wake of Obama's victory, Caldwell writes that she recognized her mistake and decided to hone in on the
one key voting bloc that derailed her presidential bid: college students and young adults...[and Clinton] is already hard at work to make sure history doesn't repeat itself should she decide to enter the race. 
From there, Caldwell describes the careful planning and extraordinary investments that went into her latest abject failure. Clinton's SuperPAC, Ready for Hillary, worked with former Obama staff, studied his 2008 youth campaign, and coordinated with a consulting firm to build an elaborate "snowflake model" campus organizing strategy. Despite their best efforts, however, it seems that Clinton's campaign remained both deluded and baffled by the politics of young Americans:
Ready for Hillary doesn't have much in the way of an explanation for why the current crop of college Democrats are more welcoming to Clinton than the last generation. Schneider couldn't offer more than a shrug of her shoulders when I posed that question to her.
Ultimately, it seems clear that her campaign has settled on a condescending approach to young voters that humors them with stylistic nods while remaining essentially unchanged from 2008:
Hillary's newfound appeal among young voters seems less about substance and more about a shift in style...she's embraced a more modern image, tweeting and sporting chic sunglasses in her profile picture. And current students never lived through the Clinton battles of yore. For the kids Ready for Hillary aims to organize, blue dresses, selling out welfare, and Black Hawks down are mere pop-culture relics rather than vivid representations of the politics of the past... 
"She's been doing things over the last few years that are designed to have a bigger youth appeal," [Tobin] Van Ostern says of Clinton. "...even the simple things like being willing to poke fun at herself on Twitter and that whole meme. Those things, while they're pretty light, they humanize a candidate. What young people really look for universally is authenticity."
The results speak for themselves: for all of her financial investments, consultants, and pandering brand recalibration, Clinton won a meager 3% more than she could pull together in 2008.

This should certainly be disheartening to younger voters, and to anyone who values the achievements of the Obama coalition. Instead of waging open generational warfare as she did eight years ago, Clinton has clearly decided to take the fight underground, veiling the same old boomer politics with cheap pop culture cameos and embarrassing emoji gimmicks. Young voters see through all of this, and if they spend the next eight years voting against her the Democratic Party may have a tough time ever winning them back.

But even older voters who aren't overly invested in the plight of millennials should be concerned about the sheer incompetence of Clinton's attempt to win them. This is particularly true since Clinton is promoting herself as a pragmatic dealmaker and savvy centrist who can win the cooperation of her Republican opponents. If she can't even peel off 3% of a demographic historically inclined to support her, what hope does she have with the GOP?
Amanda Taub accidentally reveals how the "Bernie Bro" smear works -
...Sanders supporters perceived the complaints about Bernie Bros as a threat to the Vermont democratic socialist’s candidacy, and decided that they needed to set the record straight... And so, predictably, the "Not All Men" portion of the debate followed... [but] the kerfuffle over harassment by Sanders supporters isn’t about Bernie. - Amanda Taub
This comparison to the "not all men" rhetoric doesn't actually work, but it's quite revealing that Taub tries to draw on that line of criticism.

Feminism often speaks in generalizations about men. It's justified in doing so because there are things intrinsic to the identity "man" that we can speak about generally. For example, if you are a man, you are positioned to earn more money than women simply by virtue of being a man. If you are a woman, you will understandably want to talk about this problem, and you should not have to go out of your way to hedge and qualify that conversation to account for every man who, through sheer accident, is not earning more than every woman.

Obviously it is not always fair to make generalizations about identity groups, or to criticize people who take exception this. To give a relatively innocuous example, consider the old stereotype that people with red hair are prone to lose their tempers. It may very well be the case that some people with red hair do have short tempers - but this clearly isn't intrinsically true, and it's certainly reasonable for a red-haired person to point that out. Similarly, some short people may be unusually aggressive, but this clearly isn't something intrinsic to being short, and a short person would have every right to speak out if "Napoleon" became a popular slur for people who are short and aggressive.

This is just liberalism 101: if you're making generalizations about some group that aren't actually intrinsic to that group's identity, you're just dealing in negative stereotypes. This is a completely different universe from discourse that addresses the privileges and oppressions that are intrinsic to identity.

Taub wants to pretend that "Bernie Bro" implies nothing about Sanders and his supporters (despite the name), but the feminist critique of men does imply something about all men, even if there happen to be incidental or superficial "not all men" exceptions. That she compares the two reveals the smear at the heart of the Bernie Bro rhetoric: the suggestion that there is something reactionary intrinsic to supporting Sanders, even if not all Sanders supporters happen to share this affliction.
Of course journalists can be shills - 2/4/16
Finally, there's the tendency of online Sanders supporters to call Clinton fans corporate-shilling “Hillary bots” and to argue that journalists are “auditioning for jobs with the Clinton White House.” Put it all together, and you have a perfectly reasonable (though not unimpeachable, and certainly not universal) argument that Bernie has a little bit of a Bro problem. - Amanda Hess
It's easy to get caught up in the broader political controversy and electoral implications of this article, but the premise Hess slips in here is absolutely extraordinary. She is not rejecting specific allegations of corruption against journalists. She's not even making the more modest claim that such allegations tend to be unfounded. She neither argues against them nor registers any skepticism of their merits whatsoever.

In the absence of any stated disagreement with these critics, Hess's point can only be understood as ridicule of their accusations as such. She presents the mere allegation of corruption against journalists as some kind self-evident proof that Sanders supporters are a "a Bro problem", as if this line of critique steps necessarily steps past the bounds of decency and plausibility and can be summarily dismissed without any scrutiny whatsoever.

If the facts matter when it comes to allegations like this, it turns out that there are all kinds of well-documented and uncontroversial instances of pro-Clinton corruption in the media. We know that Clinton's SuperPACs openly claims the right to coordinate online communications with her official campaign in defiance of the FEC. We know that the same SuperPACs are actively trying to influence media messaging - to the point of attempting "off-the-record" story pitches to local newspapers. We know that these same people are straight-up buying media outlets and appointing former campaign flacks to run them.

And while they generally keep quiet about it, most DC journalists can name at least one or two conflicts of interest they're aware of among their colleagues. Usually these problems hover in the familiar grey zones having to do with access and career politics: journalists can feel pressured into biased coverage so that they can continue to report on Clinton in the future, or they worry about what their pro-Clinton bosses might think. But all too often the problems are a lot more serious: journalists take "outside" work with various formal and informal campaign arms, or they conveniently fail to disclose past work with Clinton operations, or they quietly subscribe to mailing lists that feed them "story ideas", "topics worth exploring", and so on.

None of this is speculative - I'm personally aware of specific instances of all of this happening. Nor is it even particularly unlikely; the most surprising thing would be if there were not journalists actively shilling for Clinton. She has a historically massive campaign budget, she clearly invests an incredible amount of thought, energy and resources into media messaging, she has a massive network of professional, high-placed media contacts that she has built for decades and decades, and she stands atop an enormous apparatus of SuperPACs, organizational allies, and activists over whom she only has extremely limited control. She isn't unique in this regard; the same situation holds for most of her opponents, and even the sainted Bernie Sanders probably has a few media figures in his back pocket.

Regardless, Hess isn't wrong in regarding suspicion of the media as a "problem" for the Sanders campaign. He may have an army of Reddit trolls and Twitter eggs, but if Clinton's base of media power is anywhere, it's among the professional journalists and career columnists with giant corporate platforms, huge advertising budgets and massive promotional engines at their backs. These are of course precisely the people who are most likely to defensively circle the wagons as soon as the integrity (and competence) of the media is called into question. From there, of course, the temptation will be to fold that defense -- to "put it all together" -- into a broader indictment of the campaign itself, precisely as Hess does here.
David Roberts' read on Democratic vulnerabilities is exactly backwards -
David Roberts argues in Vox that Bernie Sanders "has some pretty glaring vulnerabilities" to political attacks, while Clinton "has survived them, again and again," and proven "resilient in the face of attack."

There are a lot of interesting two-steps in this article. For instance, Roberts makes an argument with direct and obvious implications about electability - but he's careful to insist that this "is not an argument against supporting Sanders." Instead, he's merely suggesting that Sanders supporters should "get a thicker skin," an innocuous point sure to divert "the social media bile surely headed" his way.

In another two-step, he concedes that Republican attacks on Clinton have "already driven her unfavorables pretty high" - but then he insists that she "has survived them" and proven "resiliient in the face of attack". Which is it? Acknowleding the impact of attacks on Clinton over the years means acknowledging that she has been damaged to the point of endangered electability. No other candidate for president in modern American history has seen leads as insurmountable as Clinton's collapse so catastrophically, and repeatedly, as soon as she is challenged.

The most egregious two-step, however, has to be his attack on Sanders himself:
Meanwhile, the left insurgent candidate, Bernie Sanders, has also had a mostly free ride...If you say something like this on social media, you'll be beset by furious Sanders supporters. (If there's one thing it's easy to do on social media, it's get yourself beset by furious Sanders supporters.) But it remains true that Sanders has faced very few serious attacks.
Roberts then lists the serious attacks Sanders has faced: critiques on gun control, health care reform, his identification as a socialist, and his theory of political change.

What deserves some direct and personal explanation here from Roberts are his glaring omissions of what have clearly been the most serious attacks on Sanders: the constant, hyperbolic accusations of sexism and racism that have beset his campaign since day one. These are obviously the attacks that have most inflamed Sanders supporters, and that have provoked the most passionate and adamant responses; they are the attacks that are always at stake whenever anyone starts hand-wringing about "Berniebros", rude teens, and belligerent Twitter eggs. They are at the very least - one should hope that we can all agree - attacks that are serious.

So we get the third and most inexplicable two-step: Roberts accuses Sanders supporters of reacting to criticism "in tones of barely contained outraged, as though it is simply disgusting what they have to put up with" - but then, he completely omits the attacks they are specifically reacting to, and pretends this is all about dry innocuous policy disputes about things like single payer.

Ultimately, the problem Roberts faces is that that campaign Clinton has waged against Sanders has not been all that different from what you would expect from a Republican. She has even hit Sanders on all three points that Roberts sees as "vulnerabilities" against the GOP - his age, his socialism, and his tax policy - but her campaign has gone much further than that with extraordinarily negative and cynical attacks accusing Sanders of sexism and racism. This is what makes the argument that Sanders has "had it easy" so self-defeating: it points us to the fact that Sanders is easily withstanding the very worst that Clinton, the self-styled partisan warrior and political knife-fighter, has been able to dish out.
Clinton's war against the young finally getting real - 2/3/16
The demographic so often maligned as Generation Selfie is rallying behind the candidate who has far and away the most shambolic presentation of anyone on either side of this crazy race? ...That’s the guy with the youth vote? - Alexandra Schwartz, New Yorker
Say what you will about this, but Schwartz at least recognizes what most of her colleagues have missed: Hillary Clinton is the candidate of the olds.

Clinton does not have a monopoly on women; young women support Sanders. She does not have a monopoly on voters of color; when you adjust for name recognition, they tend to support Sanders, too. Her media surrogates have diligently ignored all of this, of course, swarming on the largely fabricated bogeyman of the racist, sexist BernieBro while running a stilted, painful campaign to paint Clinton as the youth candidate of Katy Perry and Broad City.

But as has been evident for months, Clinton's struggling to win a simple majority of Democrats born after the sixties. And as her campaign begins to crash against the rocks of demographic reality, like it did Monday night in Iowa, the generational war is moving to the fore. Recall Matt Bruenig's comments just a week ago in response to another anti-youth attack by Joan Walsh:
For as long as the age demographic divide persists, I expect this kind of get-off-my-lawnism to intensify. “Shut up them rude kids,” old pundits who are simply reflecting the candidate preferences of their age demographic will say. It will always come obscured in other hand-waving because the last thing you want to do is come off so lame. But it’ll be there.
This, I think, is a little off-base: Clintonites don't need to rely on hand-waving to obscure their war against the young. Schwartz can get away with more brazen attacks because she's one of the demographic outlier Clinton supporters who happens to be young herself. Since she makes a point of noting that she's "north of twenty-five, south of thirty" she can get away with directly attacking her peers with lines like "the voters least likely to see it are young ones" and "[it] might be a delusion for most voters, but it's a privilege of youth".

Of course, this kind of thing gets a little less plausible the older you are; so for example, by the time you get to Annie Zaleski's age, you have to move back to the sort of hand-waving that decries meme attacks [the preferred vehicle of critique for young people] as somehow intrinsically sexist:
Constantly reducing Clinton to a robotic caricature or a reductive meme underscores the pervasive, persistent sense that women are second-class citizens whose opinions simply don’t matter.
This is the exact argument I made as a ridiculous joke several months ago, but it's all that aging Clintonites have left against their younger critics. The PR challenge Clinton 2016 faces now is that their most powerful and influential voices in the media are the ones who have been climbing for years and years: the Walshes, the Brocks, and the Traisters. Younger writers just don't have the same kind of media presence, not many of them support Clinton, and for those hoping to make a career out of it, Hillary has nothing to offer but empty promises. That's why her media coalition is what it is.


A brief note on victim deference and demands for evidence - 1/31/16
Yesterday's post on the media trend of smearing Bernie Sanders supporters has earned some significant attention - but not all of it is welcome. Evidently, a prominent Men's Rights Activist named Mike Cernovich is enjoying the spectacle of seeing leftists smeared as bigoted men.

I guess this is supposed to be ironic since it is, of course, usually the MRAs who are attacked as bigoted men - but there's a subtler and more interesting point at stake here. Cernovich draws particular attention to the fact that Sanders supporters are being refused their requests for evidence of wrongdoing; this, he's suggesting, is an instance of leftists who say things like "believe the victim" being hoisted by their own petard.

Cernovich is actually confused about the point he's criticizing - but it's a point of confusion that he shares with many liberal identitarians.

At stake, as I argued (briefly) elsewhere, is the leftist argument for victim deference. Ordinarily, particular in court, liberalism adheres to a presumption of innocence (PoI) for people who are accused of wrongdoing. Victim deference does not completely overthrow this, but it adds that there can be cases where the risks and costs associated with proving guilt outweigh the risk of punishing the innocent - so that in those limited cases, we should instead defer to the claims of the accuser.

This argument usually becomes most relevant in cases of rape, abuse, and harassment, which is of course why MRAs so vehemently reject it. To justify that rejection, their standard move is to insist that the PoI is an absolute right that must always be respected. For that reason, Sanders supporters are now just reaping the inevitable consequences of their own inconsistent defense of the rights of the accused.

The leftist response, and the liberal identitarian response

There are two ways to respond to this. The sound response, I would argue, is to point out that MRAs are simply begging the question: they are insisting that we extend a PoI by asserting that people have a right to it. This completely finesses the problem of justification. Victim deference proposes that we extend the PoI for a reason, and that if this reason does not apply then there is no PoI.

On these grounds, Sanders supporters have a simple defense: nothing about calling out or prosecuting any particular wrongdoer requires us to identify them as a supporter of Bernie Sanders. That is an extra and completely unnecessary step, and as soon as you do that you have raised the stakes considerably because you have put at risk the reputation of an entire political movement. No argument for victim deference has ever insisted that the risks to an accuser can outweigh the risks associated with derailing an entire national campaign, with all of the attendant implications for the future of our country. That logic seems entirely out of proportion by any sane notion of justice.

What I find interesting is not that Cernovich rejects this logic, but that liberal identitarians seemingly reject it, too. In order to conflate Sanders supporters with MRAs and Gamergate partisans, liberal identitarians have their own response, but it also finesses the problem of justification - they insist that accusers always deserve victim deference. Evidently, this even holds when the accuser, on top of making the basic claim of harassment, also makes all kinds of additional political claims: like "this person happens to support Bernie Sanders" and "his behavior reflects something about the Sanders political movement".

Ultimately, the role of victim deference in these debates points towards a remarkable similarity between liberal identitarians and MRAs. Both actually think about the rights of the accuser and the accused in the same way, and only arrive at different outcomes based on whether they absolutely accept or absolutely reject a presumption of innocence. Leftists, meanwhile, evaluate the competing claims and risks to the accuser and the accused to decide where the burden of proof lies; they extend the PoI not as an absolute right, but rather as a provisional privilege that can be rescinded under certain conditions.
How many smears on Sanders supporters can we debunk in one week? - 1/30/16
Look for the BernieBro, and at the most you'll find a few examples that are easily explained as statistically insignificant.

Or you will find the flat refusal to provide any examples at all.

Or you will find the repeated and demonstrable misrepresentation of quotes, as in the case of Rebecca Traister's article. Or as in a Jezebel article posted yesterday, where the "Berniebro" quoted turns out to be a woman.

Sometimes you'll get a variation on this when another journalist cites the misrepresented quote, as Jessica Valenti does for the article above. Or more recently, when BBC and Mashable both quote uncritically another journalist, Emily Nussbaum, claiming that "the Feel the Bern crew" called her "psycho" - when it was, in fact, a Tea Party Republican Congressman from Georgia.

But for the most part, you'll get what I've been railing against since September: an endless chain of writers citing other writers, as when Jamil Smith cites the Mashable article. And as when Kaili Joy Gray cites...Jamil Smith.


These are not trivial or isolated instances. Traister, Valenti, Smith, and Gray are all prominent media figures. New York Magazine, Jezebel, BBC, Mashable, and The New Republic are influential, mainstream outlets with giant, corporate-sponsored platforms. These people (and their boosters) have been aggressively promoting this smear for months on end, all while refusing to respond to sustained, serious and direct criticism.

Criticism from the usual Sanders supporter suspects is not going to stop this. What could curb it is if journalists realize that they're ruining their professional reputations by peddling this nonsense. Editors should ask their writers if they really want to be the next Jerome Corsi. Colleagues should tell them to stop embarrassing their publications. Political allies should remind themselves that Clinton has done this before, and ask themselves if they really want to be a part of it.

UPDATE: Turns out one the Republican Congressman who called Emily Nussbaum a "psycho" doesn't even exist. So just to clarify: this Berniebro story exists because

1) Wonkette's Kaili Joy Gray is citing
2) The New Republic's Jamil Smith, who cited
3) Mashable's Emily Cohn, who cited
4) New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum, who credited to a Berniebro a quote from
5) A Republican Congressman's Twitter account, who turns out to not even be a Congressman, but rather
6) A random troll who created a character "based on J.D. 'Boss' Hogg from the classic TV show, 'The Dukes of Hazzard'".