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3/12/16

Why Clinton made that AIDS comment

"Because of both President and Mrs. Reagan...we started a national conversation [about AIDS], when before, nobody would talk about it, nobody would do anything about it...I really appreciate her very effective, low-key advocacy..." - Hillary Clinton
Clinton's grotesque whitewashing of the Reagan record on AIDS is rightly coming under fire, even by some of her allies - but there have also been some equally grotesque attempts to run cover for her. The most egregious example came from tech nerd John Gruber, who suggested that "the strategy behind" her comment was to get "news coverage today to focus on the Reagans' deplorable AIDS response." Another came from (surprise) Amanda Marcotte, who insists there is no way "that Clinton actually thinks something so stupid."

Of course, if we aren't constrained by any actual evidence and just want to write some Hillary Clinton fanfiction, one can dream up any number of possible explanations for what she said. For instance, a less flattering (though frankly more plausible) theory is that Clinton is pivoting to win Republican votes by flattering the Reagans at a highly publicized state funeral - and then narrowcasting a token apology to her base. Another less flattering (and again, more plausible) explanation is that Clinton is cleverly hyping the political relevance and efficacy of former First Ladies, for obvious reasons, and without much concern for what they were actually doing. A third (and again, more plausible) explanation is that contra Marcotte, Clinton actually did think something this stupid, because she is a privileged woman who never had to worry about AIDS or take it seriously, and whose conservative sensibilities make her instinctively unsympathetic to the issue.

But consider this: if we're playing "Dumb or Evil?" now, we're going to be playing it for the next eight years. This is the game these people always ask you to play. They do something objectively awful; they ask you to believe that it was an innocent mistake, or that it was Actually some kind of counterintuitive eleven-dimensional chess move; and while apologists and skeptics debate all of the ultimately unknowable questions about intentionality, yet another awful thing happens.

If you're okay with eight years of Clinton rehabilitating the Reagans and throwing their victims under the bus, but maybe doing this for reasons, or just accidentally, then you'll be fine with these insufferable debates about what's going on in Hillary's head. But if you have a problem with the Reagans, and if you care about their victims, then eventually it stops mattering why Clinton does what she does - and your only concern is to put an end to it.

3/11/16

Conason and Pollitt discovers the Naderbros

One is tempted to at least credit the Clinton campaign with blazing new, innovative trails in cynicism with its endless "Bernie Bro" smear on Sanders and his supporters - but it turns out that Hillary can't even take credit for that.

Joe Conanson has written a ridiculous article about supporters of Ralph Nader's 2000 campaign. And in attempting to defend it, he pointed me to this familiar-sounding piece by 2016 Clintonite Katha Pollitt:
It's perfectly fair to attack Nader. It's even fair to attack him in nasty, personal ways, the way Naderites attack Gore--by, for example, spreading the right-wing disinformation that Gore said he invented the Internet and was the model for Love Story. 
Who are these sinister Naderbros spreading "nasty, personal" attacks about the Democratic frontrunner? Pollitt doesn't say.

This omission is particularly odd in light of history. Fifteen years later, Nader's 2000 campaign is remembered for (among other things) its strident critique of the media's fixation on those frivolous narratives - which it argued came at the expense of a more substantive debate. "Their weakness, they said, was the fault of corporate media," Micah Sifry writes in his history of third party politics, Spoiling for a Fight. In particular, Nader advocates such as Noam Chomsky condemned the "intense media/advertising concentration on style, personality, and other irrelevancies." This was even a major theme in election 2000's iconic music video, Testify, by Nader supporters Rage Against the Machine.

In Crashing the Party, Nader's book on the 2000 election, he devoted an entire chapter to the "Ongoing Non-Debate" in the media:
Since the media controls access to 99 percent-plus of your audience, it is not shocking that 99 percent of most candidates' strategies is born and bred for media play...When Al Gore stands near some national park in his L.L. Bean attire, his handlers know they succeed only if the image and a few choice words are played throughout the country.
Today, the popular stereotype of the Nader voter is of the disaffected, hyper-cynical late nineties radical who had just seen The Matrix and was telling sheeple to take the red pill and look past the spectacle of corporate media and petty partisan tribalism. Nader voters weren't arguing over whether Gore invented the internet - they were too busy insisting that the internet was a product of military-industrial corporate welfare. Nader voters weren't arguing over whether Gore stood to close to Bush at the debates - they were too busy complaining about being excluded from the debates. The last thing one would expect to find any kind of evidence of is Katha Pollitt's Naderites, because he is at complete odds with popular memory and with all of the records that we do have.

Of course, it should be easy enough for Conanson to prove me wrong about all of this. He insists of "Nader and his supporters" that
their defamatory descriptions of the Democratic nominee were echoed across the media by reporters, columnists, and commentators who knew better - from the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post to the cable networks.
This is awfully specific, so one would think that he could, say, point to a particular NYT or WP article at the time and show they "echoed" attacks specifically attributable to Naderites about "Gore's earth tones suits and the preppy character he did or didn't inspire in a romance novel". If Conanson's only evidence for this is the Pollitt quote, is he really just using her vague claim about them spreading "spreading the right-wing disinformation" to incriminate Nader supporters for any appearance those narratives made in any major publication? Is there even one through-line of specific evidence for any of this, anywhere?

Because if not, the Naderbro starts to sound a lot like the Berniebro: a line of flimsy, unsubstantiated innuendo that elite media centrists use to smear left-flank challenges to establishment Democrats. It is indeed "no accident", as they say - and as Conason puts it - that this line of attack has appeared once again.

3/9/16

Michigan: a crack in the firewall

Bernie Sanders' historic victory in Michigan appears to have been far more complicated than most of the reporting on it would suggest - for instance, as only a few people have noted in passing, the Arab-American vote appears to have played a fairly significant role. But given the significant role black voters have played throughout the primaries, a point I made a few weeks ago is worth revisiting:
If these trends...continue, it appears likely that Clinton's numbers would continue to deteriorate to her pre-Biden surge levels in the mid fifties, while Sanders' numbers would continue to climb into the mid-thirties. Crucially, while this still marks a significant preference among black voters for Clinton, it would not be enough to provide the so-called "firewall" she's relying on to win the nomination.
And that's exactly what happened in Michigan, where Sanders broke the 30% barrier and won enough support from black voters to deny Clinton a victory. Here, the simple point I'll make is that if black voices matter, the media needs to acknowledge what they said in Michigan and revise their analysis of this election.

[BEGIN VICTORY LAP]

For months on end, pundits like Jeet Heer have insisted that black voters are rejecting Sanders' focus on economic inequality. This has always been sheer conjecture, with zero basis in polling about either the candidates (as pointed out in the above article, and here) or the issues (as Seth Ackerman pointedly explained long ago); it was largely rooted in the old red-baiting characterization of socialists as economic determinists, and had little basis in their actual platforms, which, as I noted back in July,
are virtually identical: both have called for body cameras, training initiatives, and end to police militarization, and so on. Long-term, both see it, in the words of Clinton, as "a symptom, not a cause, of what ails us today": inequality. Both propose different tactics to tackle the issue -- Sanders focusing on modest welfare expansions and taxing the rich, Clinton on economic growth -- but their basic conception of the problem is precisely the same.
In summary: black voters prefer Sanders' economic agenda, his non-economic agenda is virtually identical to Clinton's, his deficits in the polls can be easily explained through name recognition, and the "too socialist" critique of Sanders has its roots in an old anti-communist smear. This alternative account of the role of black voters in the Democratic primaries is intuitive, entirely plausible, has been substantiated and defended at length, and also has the advantage of corresponding with what black voters are actually saying as reflected in Michigan.

[END VICTORY LAP]

That said, whether or not one accepts this (obviously correct) alternative explanation, it is clear that the "black voters have rejected Sanders" hypothesis has failed. Unless writers like Heer and Jamil Smith want to argue that 31% of black voters in Michigan are white supremacist communists, they need to provide an alternative explanation for what just happened. To go on repeating their current line would be precisely the sort of erasure of black voices that corporate media has always been complicit in - a problem that progressives presumably have an interest in fighting, even if it just so happens to benefit Hillary Clinton.




3/8/16

How journalists sell out

Multiple journalists over the past several months have publicly denied shilling for Hillary Clinton. And they aren't lying: one of the main design principles of a good sell-out is to arrange it in such a way that no one thinks they're doing anything wrong.

Unfortunately, it's pretty easy to put together the sort of "ethical" shilling operation that people are able to rationalize to themselves (and to their bosses and attorneys, as necessary). This is particularly true since even educated people often have fairly cartoonish and conspiratorial ideas about how media corruption works - which means that they're often extremely inept critics. When a random skeptic accuses Peter Daou of taking money under the table for giving sympathetic coverage to Hillary Clinton, he has no problem with denying it (since that specific transaction didn't actually happen).

But none of this is to say that anyone's hands are clean. Of course journalists are shilling for Clinton - and of course they're doing it in a way that gives them plausible denial. I know this is true of particular journalists, but I also know this because I've built political messaging operations myself. A few basic points:


1. There is almost never a formal quid-pro-quo. That is the sort of thing that gets journalists fired and campaigns fined. Messaging campaigns are less concerned about this than they used to be - the FEC can't enforce anything, and the public is so numb to corruption that it simply isn't as scandalous as it once was - but most are still built around the imperative of avoiding formal agreements. Instead, the transaction is generally implied, taught, or simply understood.

2. There is almost never an actual monetary bribe, for all the same reasons given above. Instead, journalists are usually given perks, access, and potential opportunities. Perks range from the relatively trivial (free drinks) to the extravagant (free travel and accomodations). Access includes dedicated and responsive points-of-contact, exclusive interviews and scoops, event invitations, and so on. Opportunities usually involve future job openings or unspecified favors that may or may not actually materialize.

3. Individual journalists are usually in the dark about most of the messaging operation. Strategic objectives are usually determined by campaign officials at a fairly high level; those are almost always kept internal. Media liasons usually only convey particular messages, but they don't brief journalists on the goals those messages are meant to accomplish - and journalists, who prefer to maintain a pretense of blissful ignorance, usually don't ask.

4. Messaging is rarely dictated. Often, campaigns will present their angles or talking points as "scoops", "tips" or "interesting topics" that journalists can voluntarily report on in their own way. When tighter control is needed, they'll often provide carefully phrased statements or quotes. Message discipline is cultivated by selecting sympathetic journalists and enforced, as needed, through flak - a notorious Clinton tactic.

5. Often, instead of disseminating their messaging directly, campaigns will launder their efforts through some nominally unaffiliated third-party - which allows both the media and the campaign to deny any coordination with each other. The Clinton campaign and Correct the Record, for example, have openly defended their right to coordinate messaging, and it's not difficult to imagine how those efforts might be reflected in, say, coverage in David Brock's Blue Nation Review.


This is just a sample of the approaches that modern political messaging operations use to get around public scrutiny, campaign finance laws, and guilty consciences - but the M.O. should be clear. By keeping transactions informal or implicit and communications indirect, campaigns can exercise an extraordinary amount of control over the press. Journalists, meanwhile, are constantly presented with new, innovative and pathetically unethical ways to sell out. And they do.

3/7/16

The "mental illness" smear of Sanders is nonsense

Less than a week after rolling out an extended (and ill-informed) piece on the pathological psychology of Republicans, Vox has decided to condemn pathologizing the psychology of Republicans. The difference, of course, is that it was Bernie Sanders who did it this time, which means that talking about mental illness in this way is now Outrageously Ableist and Wrong.

But bias isn't the whole story: part of the problem, as I've discussed at length in the past, is that liberalism still has no idea how to talk about mental illness. It remains torn between, on one hand, the rational-scientific tendency to accept medical orthodoxy, which generally recognizes certain conditions as pathological and requiring treatment - and on the other hand, the postmodern tendency to understand the role that social construction and oppression plays in determining that some mental conditions are aberrant and unacceptable.

Here, I'll just point out that this (dare I say) cognitive dissonance has even emerged in the attempts to criticize Sanders. Vox, for example, can't even condemn the supposedly "ugly, ableist language" he used without invoking their own - characterizing the differently-abled as "people with mental illness". If we're going to take up this critique of Sanders with any consistency and rigor, we have to reject any pathologizing of people who simply have different ways of thinking than we do. Otherwise, one can only wonder: if Lopez insists that (say) paranoia is a kind of sickness, in what sense does he actually believe that "stigma is bad"?

This is not, it has to be stressed, some kind of arcane or irrelevant ad absurdum point I am making about logical consistency: the debate over whether or not we should pathologize certain psychologies has been historically and politically central to the critique Vox is trying to wield. That they uncritically accept the healthy/ill dichotomy indicates that they are operating well outside of the intellectual tradition at hand, and with no understanding of the real concerns that real people with different mental conditions actually express. At best, they're committing precisely the sort of artless gaffe that Sanders (arguably) made; at worst, it's evidence of cynicism from critics who aren't coming from a place of genuine concern over how we talk about mental conditions.

3/7/16

Hillary Clinton's intersectionality



A few thoughts on Clinton's "intersectional" tweet:

1. The immediate response to this was ridicule, but it's worth noting how much more substantive this is than the "intersectionality" of popular liberalism. In that discourse, the concept generally plays one of two roles. Broadly, it's just an empty superlative that means something like "sophisticated" or "good": to say that one's "analysis of oppression is intersectional, groundbreaking, and cutting-edge" is just to pat her on the back. Often, the word is also used in a more specific sense to mean "thorough and correct in a way that Marxist discourse is not". So when one says that "Clinton's understanding of race is intersectional" one often just means that Clinton is right in some unspecified way that, while ostensibly accounting for a class analysis, just-so-happens to contradict it. In popular liberalism, this is what intersectionality has devolved to: vague praise, and/or vague dismissal of class-analysis. You will almost never see liberals articulate or defend it any further.

2. Clinton's tweet, meanwhile, is at least talking about something. She's just listing out a grab bag of problems and saying that they're all related, which is true enough, I guess. There are some basic conceptual problems here if you try to extend the analysis any further - for instance, every node on this network is a symptom of systematic racism, so it's odd to include "systematic racism" as its own node - but if you don't think too hard about it, the chart isn't meaningless or nonsensical so much as it's utterly banal.

3. That said, none of this corresponds with the intellectual tradition it's laying claim to: intersectionalism as a school of analysis developed and articulated by generations of iconic leftist scholars and activists. The entire point of that analysis is to think about various and diverse issues of power and oppression systematically. You are not making the economic determinist move of reducing all such issues to matters of class, but you are still trying to build a simplified framework for understanding the dizzying complexity of the world. So here, for example, instead of just dropping a laundry list of problems afflicting communities of color, an intersectional analysis could involve a chart that looks something like this:


The point here is that an intersectional analysis looks at the way underlying factors like class and race intersect to create problems. There is no real systematic way to talk about the way that problems in general interact, except, as Clinton's chart (helpfully?) points out, to note that they do.

4. In practice, of course, the point of Clinton's tweet was not to lay out some rigorous or defensible analysis of power and oppression; it was meant to win the approval of Twitter users who have a trivial understanding of intersectionality resembling what's laid out in point one. This is a hilarious indictment of her supporters - not only that they would be impressed by this, but that the Clinton campaign knows they would be impressed by this, and is willing to build its PR efforts around such vapid signaling.

3/4/16

Whose motives can we impugn?

What I cannot appreciate is the imputing of foul and malevolent motives to those of us who don't feel passionately about [Sanders]...I agree with him, not [Clinton], on Iraq, and think she cast a cowardly vote on Iraq, which I've written about many times. - Michael Tomasky
What would really clarify these political controversies, for me, is if the critics of Sanders would spell out their etiquette on when it is and is not acceptable to bring up an opponent's motives. If you read the rest of his article, Tomasky seems to be rejecting this absolutely, as a matter of principle: "This is just a disagreement," he concludes - "Raising it to anything greater than that is childish." And indeed, Clinton has tried to make the same case:
I know this game. I'm going to stop this game...I'm not impugning your motive because you voted to deregulate swaps and derivatives. People make mistakes and I'm certainly not saying you did it for any kind of financial advantage. What we've got to do as Democrats -- what we've got to do as Democrats is to be united to actually solve these problems.
Listening to some of this rhetoric, it would seem like talking about motives is simply off the table. I suspect most Sanders supporters would be absolutely thrilled with this, and would love to have substantive debates over policy and records that don't get instantly derailed by all the familiar accusations of unconscious bias.

But of course, that's not what actually happens. And here we see that not only do Clintonites reserve the right to impugn the motives of Sanders supporters - they will even impugn Clinton's own motives, if it can boost their credibility. Of course, if Michael Tomasky told Clinton that her vote was motivated by cowardice, she would be saying to him precisely what he's saying to Sanders supporters, rationalizing her decisions and piously decrying the "politics of personal destruction" etcetera. And in fact, if the Clintonites who have defended her Iraq vote as a mere mistake, or as forced upon her by the oppression of sexism - if they are consistent in their rhetoric, they'll start calling Tomasky a Bernie Bro too for his outrageous character assassination.

What is obviously going on here is that Clinton supporters are fine with talking about motives when they think this is justified, and only object to it as uncivil or bad faith when they think that it isn't justified. In other words, they're using discourse etiquette as an empty rhetorical bludgeon for policing truth claims, which is of course how discourse etiquette always works.

But contrary to what Tomasky suggests, there is every reason for the public to be suspicious of the motives of the press - it would be an abdication of the basic demands of skepticism if we weren't. This is certainly inconvenient if you're a journalist who wants all of your reporting to be taken at face value, but there's nothing unfair about it, or even uncivil.

3/3/16

Clinton's Democratic opposition twice as hard as Sanders'

General election polls have for quite some time suggested that Hillary Clinton would be an extraordinarily weak candidate in the general election, if nominated. A few observations:
  • She can only beat Trump by an average of 3.4%, and lost to him just two weeks ago.
  • She has not been able to beat any other Republican in over a month.
  • She underperforms compared to Sanders (who beats all Republicans) by an average 8%.
To the extent that we take this data seriously, a common reading of the numbers is that Sanders would win more Republican votes than Clinton can. This has some support in the polls, where Sanders wins on average about 3.5% more support among the GOP than Clinton. But the polls also suggest that it's not just about how many votes Sanders would win - it's also about how many votes Clinton would lose.

Interestingly enough, CNN didn't mention this finding in its summary of its latest poll - but buried in the crosstabs, I found some significant numbers:


Of the Democrats who say that they wouldn't support Clinton, 60% say that they definitely wouldn't, versus about 40% who only say that they probably wouldn't. The opposition to Sanders is much softer: only a quarter of those voters say that they definitely wouldn't vote for him. So while crossover appeal may account for some fraction of Sanders' advantage in the general election, it also appears that Clinton suffers from a significant amount of hardened opposition among Democrats who will never vote for her.


NOTE: This post has been updated to account for an initial error in calculting overall opposition. Thanks to @DavidAParker9 for pointing it out, and thanks to sleep deprivation for the mistake.

3/2/16

The abyss gazes into you

Salon's Scott Timber thinks that liberal comedians are "taking on the madness of Donald Trump." This is technically true, in much the same way that Oklahoma City's Russel Westbrook tried to take on Stephen Curry last week - but given Trump's wins on Super Tuesday and the fact that his general election numbers actually increased in the past month, there is no reason to conclude that this is actually doing a damn thing.

The actual polls, of course, are not what people who read Timber have in mind. As Mark Ames wrote in a prescient article covering the so-called "Rally to Restore Sanity" more than five years ago, liberalism,
once devoted to impossible causes like ending racism and inequality, empowering the powerless, fighting against militarism, and all that silly hippie shit - now it's been reduced to besting the other side at one-liners...and to the Liberals' credit, they're clearly on top.
The only thing that's changed since then is that it's not so clear that liberals are even winning the zinger race anymore. Donald Trump's effortless domination of both Twitter and the Republican debates with sheer belligerence has already become the stuff of political legend, whereas the best shot liberals have managed has been the embarrassingly flimsy Donald Drumpf schtick. Even other liberal comedians have noticed how weak liberal comedy is right now, which makes one wonder: why would Timber - or anyone - think that this could possibly work?

This, of course, is exactly the same question that we've been asking about right-wing comedy for years. And whether it's the Half Hour News Hour or Newsbusted, the answer has always seemed fairly clear: the right thinks this is effective satire because the right hates the left. There is rarely anything "funny" about right-wing comedy in the sense of being unexpected or absurd or clever, but seeing the left mocked and insulted mobilizes such schadenfreude in the right that they might as well be laughing.

Political philosophy has long had a name for this tendency, this organization of one's entire psychology around hatred of an enemy: Nietzsche called it ressentiment. And I do not think that one can look at modern American liberalism - with its smoldering hatred for half the country, its haughty contempt for the undereducated, its weirdly violent vocabulary of political antagonism (opponents are "eviscerated", "destroyed","annihilated" and so on) - I do not think that one can look at any of this and miss the shadow of ressentiment extending over our rhetoric, our activism, and our aspirations. It may speak the language of liberalism, and share many of liberalism's allies; but it is a sick, stupid and dangerous liberalism, echoing the proud spite of Zarathustra's ape, who is worth quoting at length:

Thus slowly wandering through many peoples and divers cities, did Zarathustra [come] ...to the gate of the great city. Here, however, a foaming fool, with extended hands, sprang forward to him and stood in his way. It was the same fool whom the people called "the ape of Zarathustra:" for he had learned from him something of the expression and modulation of language, and perhaps liked also to borrow from the store of his wisdom. And the fool talked thus to Zarathustra... 
"By all that is luminous and strong and good in thee, O Zarathustra! Spit on this city of shopmen and return back! Here floweth all blood putridly and tepidly and frothily through all veins: spit on the great city, which is the great slum where all the scum frotheth together! Spit on the city of compressed souls and slender breasts, of pointed eyes and sticky fingers; on the city of the obtrusive, the brazen-faced, the pen-demagogues and tongue-demagogues, the overheated ambitious; where everything maimed, ill-famed, lustful, untrustful, over-mellow, sickly-yellow and seditious, festereth perniciously: spit on the great city and turn back!" 
Here, however, did Zarathustra interrupt the foaming fool, and shut his mouth. 
"Stop this at once!" called out Zarathustra, "long have thy speech and thy species disgusted me! Why didst thou live so long by the swamp, that thou thyself hadst to become a frog and a toad? Floweth there not a tainted, frothy, swamp-blood in thine own veins, when thou hast thus learned to croak and revile? Why wentest thou not into the forest? Or why didst thou not till the ground? Is the sea not full of green islands? I despise thy contempt; and when thou warnedst me—why didst thou not warn thyself?" 
"Out of love alone shall my contempt and my warning bird take wing; but not out of the swamp! They call thee mine ape, thou foaming fool: but I call thee my grunting-pig — by thy grunting, thou spoilest even my praise of folly. What was it that first made thee grunt? Because no one sufficiently flattered thee; therefore didst thou seat thyself beside this filth, that thou mightest have cause for much grunting, that thou mightest have cause for much vengeance! For vengeance, thou vain fool, is all thy foaming; I have divined thee well!" 
"But thy fools'-word injureth me, even when thou art right! And even if Zarathustra's word were a hundred times justified, thou wouldst ever—do wrong with my word!"  
Thus spake Zarathustra. Then did he look on the great city and sighed, and was long silent.

3/1/16

The science of the Frankfurt School

Amanda Taub has some harsh words for the Frankfurt School:
How do people come to adopt, in such large numbers and so rapidly, extreme political views that seem to coincide with fear of minorities and with the desire for a strongman leader? ...After an early period of junk science in the mid-20th century, a more serious group of scholars has addressed this question...
I'll be blunt: this article does not strike me as informed by a particularly rigorous understanding of the Frankfurt School, or of the historical scientific debates over the authoritarian personality. Her only specific criticism, where she takes on the F-Scale, is just a point-by-point reiteration of the first Wikipedia paragraph on the subject. And her comparison to later work seems to misunderstand the Frankfurt School's project entirely:
For a long time...the field of study languished. Then in the early 1990s, a political scientist named Stanley Feldman changed everything. Feldman...realized that if authoritarianism were a personality profile rather than just a political preference, he could get respondents to reveal these tendencies by asking questions about a topic that seemed much less controversial. He settled on something so banal it seems almost laughable: parenting goals.
But the Frankfurt School already understood authoritarianism as a personality rather than a political preference! That was the entire point of their effort: to understand what sort of personality dynamics create authoritarian outcomes. That is why they wrote books like "The Authoritarian Personality". Even Feldman's interest in parenting wasn't an innovation. Consider some of the statements respondants are asked to agree or disagree with on the much-maligned F-Scale:

  • Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn. 
  • What the youth needs most is strict discipline, rugged determination, and the will to work and fight for family and country. 
  • There is hardly anything lower than a person who does not feel a great love, gratitude, and respect for his parents.
Parenting was in fact a particularly central point of interest for the Frankfurt School, since their understanding of psychology was firmly grounded in Freud. I really have no idea how one sees anything that Feldman does as an innovation, given any minimal familiarity with the work of his predecessors. Similarly, all of the "insights" that Taub lays out are more or less entirely trivial elaborations on points that the Frankfrut School made long ago. For instance, compare Stenner's revelation that "authoritarians might be latent - that they might not necessarily support authoritarian leaders or policies until their authoritarian had been 'activated'" with Adorno's observation of
destructive character traits which remained latent in broad sections of the population even during "quiet" periods. It is generally overlooked that present-day National Socialism contains potentialities which have been dormant not only in Germany but also in many other parts of the world... (The Stars Down to Earth, 186)
This was written in 1941 - 75 years ago.

What has changed since then? Less than Taub's article suggests. The conceptual framework, which understands authoritarianism through a psychodynamic lens with a significant emphasis on parenting relationships, is essentially identical; this is an impressive testament to the Frankfurt School, and an indictment of Taub's characterization of their work as "junk science". The developments her article refers to are largely adjustments in experimental methodology - precisely the sort of refinements to a scientific theory that you would expect, and that have characterized all of psychological investigation over the past century. There have also been some significant advances in the related field of neuroscience, many of which have confirmed the psychodynamic basis of the Frankfurt School's theories. But in general, as Chomsky notes, all political science remains scientifically suspect:
Look, as science progresses, there will be attempts to draw political conclusions from it...But in terms of actual scientific knowledge, we aren't even within super-telescope distance of touching any of these questions - the knowledge just isn't there right now, and may never be, either. (Understanding Power, 218)
Modern readers with aspirations for political science that exceed its actual scope may take this as a criticism of the Frankfurt School, but that misses the point. Writers like Adorno, Barthes, Fromm and so on set out to understand the authoritarian personality because they experienced its dangers firsthand - an their ideas about it were so insightful that they have guided our thoughts on the topic ever since. We would do well not to simply dismiss as "junk science" a body of literature that has given us so much analytical traction - particularly given the criticism mobilized against it, which remains empirically suspect, and which has an ideological agenda of its own.