Don’t Be Pauline Kael
Who are these voters?
Catching up before the weekend:
World’s richest man begins mass layoffs at Twitter, which may be illegal.
Nearly 9 in 10 Americans (88 percent) are concerned that political divisions have intensified to the point that there’s an increased risk of politically motivated violence in the United States, including over 6 in 10 who are “very concerned.”
“Employers added 261,000 jobs in October, a sign that the economy is resilient.”
Probe-palooza: House GOP to release 1,000-page road map for Biden FBI probe.
“Oprah Snubs Her Old Pal Dr. Oz and Endorses John Fetterman for U.S. Senate.”
Another ominous indication of what might be coming: “Republican Opposition to Helping Ukraine Grows, WSJ Poll Finds.” The trendlines are pretty clear:
And, a reminder that we should believe people when they tell us who they are:
But surely, surely, Kevin McCarthy will stand firm against the pro-Putin wing of his party, right?
Make sure you read Giselle Donnelly’s piece in today’s Bulwark. She argues that “the administration’s attenuated approach to the war is in for a series of challenges that will raise the degree of difficulty, forcing the president and his team to make commitments and take risks they have thus far been reluctant to take. And each will demand a level of sustained presidential attention and bully-pulpit effort for which President Biden has, till now, shown no inclination or aptitude.”
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“I live in a rather special world.”
If the prognosticators of electoral doom (including some on this site) are right, then next week we’ll see a GOP sweep in both the House and Senate. Five days from now we may be looking at a Governor Kari Lake and Senators Herschel Walker, Dr. Oz, and Blake Masters.
And you may be tempted to ask: Who could possibly have voted for this menagerie of crackpots, charlatans, and deplorables? (Go ahead, get it out of your system now: idiotsmoronsracistsexistcrazysemi-fascistbigotsdisinformationrubesFoxNewsgerrymanderingCitizensUnited.)
But here’s the thing to grapple with: unless you want to descend into election denialism, all of them will have been elected democratically (except, of course, for the voter intimidation thing). The winners will be the choice of the demos. And unless we figure out what the hell happened to vox populi, that same demos will do even worse in 2024.
So it’s worth spending a few minutes talking about Pauline Kael.
The storied and immensely talented Kael became something of a counter-legend in 1972 after the movie critic allegedly said “that Nixon couldn’t have won because she didn’t know anybody who voted for him.” For years, Kael’s quip was cited in conservative circles as a shining example of the “bizarrely naïve quality of hermetic liberal provincialism.”
Her defenders indignantly — and quite angrily — insisted that this was a “fraudulent factoid” and that she had said no such thing. What she did say, in a speech at the Modern Language Association, on December. 28, 1972, was this:
“I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”
As John Podhoretz noted, this was actually even worse because “it indicates that Kael was actually acknowledging her provincialism (‘I live in a rather special world’) and from its perch expressing her distaste for the unwashed masses with whom she sometimes had to share a movie theater. What this indicates is that, even then, liberal provincialism was as proud of its provincialism as any Babbitt.”
To be clear here, I am not suggesting that any of you live in a Pauline Kael-like bubble. If you were, you would not be reading this newsletter. But in the heat of a campaign, it’s easy to lose track of what may be driving voters to make choices that seem incomprehensible.
Let’s start with crime.
Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg shared this chart yesterday: “Fear of crime, homeless, police attacks, & border overshadow our fears of GOP.”
Voters were asked what two things they most feared if Democrats/Republicans won the election. As it turned out, they were far more worried about “crime and homelessness out of control in cities and police coming under attack” than they were about a GOP Congress passing a national abortion ban. (They were also more worried about the “southern border being open” than they were about “the pro-Trump, white nationalist wing of the Republican Party gaining power.”)
What is happening here?