In politics, our journalists believe, it is better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It’s better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere, thoughtful or humane. Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.)
Savviness is that quality of being shrewd, practical, hyper-informed, perceptive, ironic, “with it,” and unsentimental in all things political. And what is the truest mark of savviness? Winning, of course! Or knowing who the winners are. – Jay Rosen
Lately it feels like whatever tenuous connection our political journalists and commentators had to real people has been severed completely.
People often think I instinctively hate political journalists and writers. This is not the case. I’m friendly with some, and a few I consider close friends. I dated a political writer and journalist for years. And I know many to be bright, committed, decent people. That’s why I find it so perplexing that the average professional political commentator is so deeply out of touch, and so unaware that they are. The only thing I can figure is that the professional necessity of being constantly plugged into the news cycle, particularly on Twitter, just gives people an extremely skewed vision of what politics means and is for most people.
What else to make of this piece by Jake Flanagin or this piece by Amanda Marcotte, both of which have the same absurd idea: that the biggest problem that Bernie Sanders faces, politically, is the online conduct of his biggest online fans. The biggest problem! A Jewish socialist from Brooklyn in the land of Reagan, and his biggest problem is a few dozen people on Twitter!
Let’s think about some likely Democrat primary voters. Like, say, a white woman who lives in the greater Cincinnati suburbs, who can’t get enough hours at her part-time job organizing records for a oral surgeon, and whose ex-husband can’t pay her child support because his only income is disability payments. Or a black bus driver in Maryland who’s worried about what’s going to happen to his pension in the next union contract negotiations. Or a Hispanic first grade teacher in Florida who doesn’t know if her school’s funding is going to get cut yet again. Or a retiree in Pennsylvania whose economic security is dependent entirely on Social Security and Medicare. Or a Laotian immigrant in the Bay Area who’s struggling to bring her mother into the country.
Now: which of these people, do you think, is going to vote based on the conduct of Bernie Sanders fans on Twitter?
People vote for many reasons. And I do believe that cultural and social associations play a role. But most people can’t afford to treat politics as some game waged by disaffected internet elites, and will vote for the candidates who they believe offers them the best potential leadership. They may get that decision wrong, but I assure you, they are not checking Twitter to find out what the Villager conventional wisdom is. Nobody is on Twitter. There is no demographic group in the United States where a majority of that group has a Twitter account. More importantly, even people who are on Twitter aren’t on Twitter. 80% of users have 10 or fewer followers. 10% of users generate 90% of tweets. Most accounts lay fallow. If you’re one of the small number of Twitter elites who dominate the service, I get thinking that Twitter is very important. But it’s a delusion. Self-obsessed journalists: no one is voting based on your weird social norms.
It’s not just that people are ascribing vast political importance to the meaningless social posturing of a solipsistic elite. It’s that they demonstrate complete contempt for the moral and practical consequences of politics.
For Robinson Meyer, politics is a joke because he’s sheltered from the consequences of politics. He’s economically and socially privileged. He’s in no danger from cuts to food stamps or public schools. He doesn’t have to worry about the future of Social Security or Medicare. He’s not a soldier and will never be sent to die in a war; he’s not poor so he doesn’t have to worry about the availability of affordable housing; he’s not a woman so he doesn’t have to worry about abortion rights; he doesn’t work in a factory so he doesn’t care about workplace safety standards; he’s not an impoverished undocumented immigrant so he doesn’t care about immigration policy. So of course he treats politics like a joke. And in doing so, he demonstrates the basic brokenness of our political media: that the people who are paid to take politics most seriously are most likely to treat it like some big joke, a lark for the connected and comfortable to make jokes about.
Meyer makes a joke of drones, of free college tuition, and of a $15/wage. Do you think that people who fear for their lives in the tribal borderlands of Afghanistan, or who are being crushed by student loan debt, or who labor to provide for their families at a fast food restaurant would ever make similar jokes?
If you think Hillary Clinton is the right person to lead the United States, make the affirmative case for her. If you think Bernie Sanders is the wrong person, make the negative case against. But this bizarre meta-conversation is nothing more than professional writers demonstrating their place within that tiny, elite social circle by making fun of people they see as socially undesirable. It’s turning life-and-death politics in high school, and it’s the cult of savviness at its worst.
The American people’s trust in our media is at a historical low. Never before have the people of this country had as little trust in our newsmedia as they do now. Polling results of this type are supported by ample anecdotal evidence; everyone who’s being honest knows that vast numbers of Americans resent our media, seeing it, correctly, as a bastion of elites who have no conception of what life is like for the average citizen of this country. If people in the political media actually have any interest at all in changing that condition — if they care about the public whose interests they are meant to serve — maybe they should turn off Twitter and look around at the world. They’ll see millions of people for whom politics is a bigger deal than who looks cool in a Brooklyn beer garden or a K Street wine bar. They’ll see that getting RTs and favorites is not a high priority for those who struggle to pay the rent. They’ll see people for whom this election is no joke at all.
Of course, that takes self-awareness and a desire to change. I’m not holding my breath.