Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Sunday, July 01, 2018

FAQ on Nancy Pelosi

Q: Isn't Nancy Pelosi Bad? For instance:

A: That quotation is taken out of context. Here's the full video:

And here's the specific question and answer referred to in the tweet:

If you can't hear the question, it appears to be, "Republicans say that one of the things this [inaudible] shows is that democratic socialism is ascendant in your party. Are they right about that?"

Q: So why doesn't she just admit that democratic socialism is what the party stands for now?

A: First of all, that's not true. Democratic socialism is commonly understood to involve a much larger public sector than many Democrats support. Also, the term has been adopted by a faction of the left wing, and that faction is by no means representative of the Democratic caucus generally.

Q: I'm suspicious. Why would Republicans say it if it isn't true?

A: Republicans believe that if they frame the November elections as a referendum on socialism, it will improve their expected outcome. They do not feel beholden to the truth and haven't for a long time.

Q: What if they're wrong? What if the only thing preventing the Democrats from taking a huge majority is its refusal to embrace socialism?

A: That's certainly a theory put forward by the far left of the party. But it seems likely that left-wing policies (such as expanded access to health care and education) are more popular than the label "socialist," at least in the swing districts Pelosi is trying to win. Bear in mind also that "socialism" is a classic wedge issue, in the sense that the Republicans are united in opposition to it while Democrats are divided. And in general, it doesn't make a lot of sense to frame your ideas in the most provocative way possible, unless your goal is to win intra-party debates. But Pelosi is trying to beat the Republicans, and to that end she is wisely fending off maximalist rhetoric.

Actually, though, based on where things stand today, it appears it is to the Republicans' benefit to force high-stakes gambles. When you're behind, you want to increase randomness as much as possible. So for instance, imagine you are behind in a football game by 20 points. That's a large margin. If the rules permitted, you might propose a coin flip to the other team, with the winner getting 50 points. At that point your odds would go from very long to about 50/50. Of course there is no reason for the team that is up by 20 points to agree to such a proposal, and that is exactly what Pelosi is doing here—shooting down a proposed coin flip.

Q: Shouldn't Pelosi push socialism to shift the Overton window?

A: You're referring to the theory that by proposing an extreme policy, a political actor can reframe the discussion in a way that makes his original position seem moderate. Again, this is a theory that some would certainly embrace. But even if you accept that viewpoint (and it is far from obvious that it works that way in this context), Pelosi is ill-positioned to be the one saying these things, because her words can be pinned to Democrats in swing districts in a way that Ocasio-Cortez's words cannot. (Unless, that is, Pelosi takes the bait and admits that Ocasio-Cortez represents the party. Of course her refusal to do this is exactly why Ashley Feinberg called her "bad.")

Q: All right. But isn't it Bad to shit all over Ocasio-Cortez?

A: Pelosi didn't do that.

Q: Well, she said nice things about Joe Crowley. What the fuck?

A: Sure. She and Crowley are friendly. So what?

Q: You shouldn't say nice things about Republicans, even after they lose special elections.

A: Crowley is a Democrat. This was a primary, not a special election. And once the results were in he promptly endorsed Ocasio-Cortez and promised to campaign for her. He even sang "Born to Run" in her honor at what was supposed to be his victory party. He's served in Congress for nearly two decades, so it was quite a disappointing night for him, and yet he was very gracious in defeat.

Q: Okay, but he's still a conservative Democrat.

A: Try again.

Q: A moderate Democrat.

A: Try again.

Q: Well, maybe you shouldn't waste your interview time saying nice things about Democrats, no matter how liberal they are, when you could be praising Ocasio-Cortez.

A: Ocasio-Cortez doesn't need (or likely even want) Pelosi's praise. Actually it doesn't matter, since Ocasio-Cortez is guaranteed to win her election by dozens of points, but if anything Pelosi is doing her a favor by not praising her. Pelosi is unpopular with voters outside of her own district, and most Democrats would like the voters in their districts to forget all about her.

Ocasio-Cortez has been attacked by conservatives on Twitter for the reasons I outlined above. This raises people's ire and pushes them toward tribal, with-us-or-against-us feelings. Since Pelosi is not in a position where getting involved would be prudent, it can rub people the wrong way, but this is a function of her role within the party.

Q: Yeah, but also I just have really warm feelings about Ocasio-Cortez right now, and in her public statements Pelosi isn't making a big show of sharing those warm feelings. Out of context, her words would seem to indicate that she is trying to rain on my parade.

A: Yes, I suspect that is what is going on here.


Blogger Zed said...

For out of context read in context and you're probably fine.

7:15 PM  
Blogger James said...

As long as we agree that Pelosi is doing the right thing, I don't really care whether parades are being rained on. But I included the video so my readers can judge for themselves what game Pelosi is playing.

8:02 AM  
Blogger James said...

I mean I guess on some level it's a question of what counts as context. Imagine the following exchange:

Me: I had my hemoglobin measured and it came out to 14 grams per 100 milliliters of blood.

Interlocutor: Oh no, that's terrible!

Me: Oh, you seem to be missing some context. A healthy range is 12 to 16 grams per 100 milliliters.

Interlocutor: What are you talking about? The original statement was not missing any context.

Now of course the interlocutor could be right! The interlocutor could simply wish ill on me. Finding out that I have a healthy level of hemoglobin could be terrible news.

But you can understand why I might, at first, come to believe that my interlocutor is missing important context. My interlocutor's affect seems to indicate some confusion about whether my hemoglobin result is good news or bad news. But admittedly this is merely an assumption on my part, driven by my no doubt optimistic assumption that my interlocutors don't generally hope for my demise.

9:14 AM  

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