Every time some recount widens Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in the popular vote, the Democratic Party looks stupider. It’s one thing to lose to a game show host. Losing to a game show host even though more people voted for you really plants the flag atop Mount Fuckup. Now is the time for Democrats to turn on one another in recrimination and gnashing of teeth, but wait: Jonathan Chait says they have nothing to learn from their loss. The 2016 Election Is a Disaster Without a Moral, he writes in New York Magazine. The only lesson to be taken is “don’t run Hillary Clinton again.” Other than the thrilling moment when you realize the DNC might do that, this lesson sucks. Plenty of mistakes were made in the process of losing by getting 2.5 million more votes. But Chait blames the voters themselves:
If you listened to the political scientists, Hillary Clinton’s defeat was relatively predictable — winning a third term for a party is pretty difficult. Most of us believed that dynamic wouldn’t matter in 2016 because the Republican Party nominated a singularly unfit candidate for office. But it turned out this factor was cancelled out by Hillary Clinton’s almost equal level of unpopularity. To many people who follow politics closely, it was hard to believe that the voters might see the ordinary flaws of a consummate establishmentarian pol as equivalent to those of a raving ignorant sociopathic sexual predator. And yet.
Let me get this straight: “This factor,” by which you mean one candidate’s unfitness for office, was cancelled out by the other candidate’s unpopularity? Sounds like an election, dude. I agree it’s awful and surprising that Trump won, but to say it only happened because people hated the Democratic candidate more than him is to jam the snake’s tail into its mouth. Chait spends the next several paragraphs convincing the reader there’s nothing to be learned from the last election by limiting himself to describing it. When he dismisses Sanders as a “message candidate,” he draws attention to the lacuna haunting his whole nihilist project: maybe the lesson is that your candidate should have a clear message. Today is Friday, and the Democratic Party is free to spend the next 3.75 years deciding what its message might be. Won’t you fill the silence with me?
Chait must have some charm that wards off editors, because his essay starts with a long chunk of dialogue from The Simpsons. Bro, take it from a guy who has learned not to do that on dates, much less in New York Magazine. Or rewatch season five, because the relevant allusion here is not to the “Blood Feud” episode, which ends with Homer insisting there is no moral to what happened, but rather to this moment in “The Boy Who Knew Too Much”:
In a democracy, the losing candidates are always wrong. That’s the whole point. To say that voters blew it by failing to see your candidate was better is to claim the right to govern without their consent. Of course, we all love democracy and think whoever disagrees with us is an idiot, no matter how many of them there are. But we should be honest about whom we failed to convince to choose ongling mediocrity over sphincter-lipped disaster. They weren’t all racist white men. Hillary performed worse than Barack Obama with virtually all working-class voters. Many of them were vicious peckerwoods, but a lot were black, or women, or black women. In Detroit, Northwest St. Louis, and East Flatbush this year, those voters didn’t turn out the way they did in 2012 or 2008—a fact this well-sourced postmortem in Jacobin points out. She blew it with poor people. I guess I’m a socialist now, you guys, insofar as I think the it was a mistake for Democrats to abandon their traditional base among working people to court Wall Street and a shrinking professional class.
I do not blame “identity politics” for this problem. I blame the Democrats’ refusal to pitch any plan explicitly to help people without money or jobs. Maybe they’re afraid of spooking donors. Or maybe it’s that the educated young professionals who overwhelmingly vote Democrat work with other professionals, then go out with friends from college to meet people of roughly the same age and income to discuss current events. That’s how a party mistakes itself for the overwhelming favorite. It’s also what makes this from the Onion, DNC Aiming to Reconnect With Working-Class Americans With New “Hamilton”-inspired Lena Dunham Web Series, so bitterly funny.
Never forget that Hillary Clinton’s plan to reach millennials, the first generation in American history to face a lower standard of living than their parents, was to win the endorsement of a woman who got her own HBO series at age 2016. There’s got to be a lesson around here somewhere.