Sore Winners

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It's one thing to invent all manner of conspiracy theories about how you lost an election (see 2000 and 2004). Thankfully, the Republicans don't seem to be doing anything on the same order as that in 2008. Pretty much the only questions being raised by mainstream Republicans involve an organization that's actually under investigation by the FBI on the issue in question, and hardly anyone is claiming that the election was stolen or that McCain would have won easily if not for illegal vote-stealing of some sort.

I think part of that might have been that McCain was doing so well in the polls until the financial meltdown, and then Obama clearly had that crisis to thank for his win and for McCain's inability to get back in the game. If it had been closer, maybe things would be different, and there might be more charges that voter fraud actually affected the outcome. Nevertheless, I think it's noteworthy that Republicans largely aren't pushing it to that point, and I'm glad for that. I can't honestly say that I'm sure Democrats would do the same thing were the tables reversed, and we have history to support my doubts on that.

What amazes me, though, is all the sore winners in the 2008 election. It isn't enough just for a Democrat to take the popular vote for the first time since Jimmy Carter and to win the electoral college handily [clarification: I meant winning a majority, not simply a plurality; Clinton obviously won a plurality twice]. People have to complain about the states that did go for McCain, claiming that all the white Southerners who voted for McCain were doing so merely because of racism rather than because they think Obama's policies would be awful. See Sam's post on that. Today we heard some caller on NPR's Talk of the Nation talking about how she's glad she doesn't have to listen to Palin's voice anymore, and I thought it was perhaps some preference against the pitch of her voice, but it turned out she really meant her regional accent. She was talking as if someone is ignorant for dropping the 'g' in words ending in '-ing' and several other colloquialisms.

After hearing this woman's snotty bigotry against the kind of accent you can hear not just in Alaska but across the Midwest, Sam wondered out loud why people like that caller think it's a good idea to alienate such a large swathe of voters. People did it with Bush, but he'd won, and they needed some outlet to express their frustration. So they tried to feel better than him by pretending his accent was equivalent with being an ignorant dolt. I'm not sure what people think they're accomplishing by complaining about those on the losing side, though, with these exaggerations of racism in all anti-Obama voters and by making fun of a quite common accent in a large stretch of this country. It certainly does feel like sore winning. What's the motivation for that?

Update: I was originally planning to link to this in the post, but I reworked it enough times that I forgot to put it in the final version somewhere. I did want to give Senator McCain credit for what is absolutely and indisputably the best and most honorable concession speech I have ever heard from a political candidate. He knows how to lose gracefully and respectfully.

14 Comments

Dialectal Prejudice and Linguistic Naiveté - that's all it is. Any socio-linguist would have a field day with that kind of NPR snob.

? Clinton won the popular vote both times.

I meant a majority of the popular vote. He won a plurality both times, but he never managed to get over 50%.

Somebody calling into a radio show, being snotty to those different from them politically????

Kinda funny complaint to be coming *from the right*, it would seem.

Come on Jeremy, there are lame people on both sides of the political divide. You get on people frequently about straw-manning republicans because of the idiots on the right side of the divide. I don't think that what is going on here is much different.

Just a reflection... We often hear the comment, "well God elects all and if we have a king, or a president, then God put them in place." Well, that might be true. But are these in fact the only options? What intrigues me is Hosea 8:4, which provides another perspective to the issue. Here's what it says, "They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew [it] not:"
Ok, maybe God did elect the current President elect (sorry for the pun there), and we may be waiting for judgement or joy (depending on your favor toward our new man) based on that election. Thus, God elected him to bless us, or God elected him as a judgment. However, its also possible that God has said, "They have set up a President, but not by me."
I'm not trying to argue for judgment or joy -hey, who am I. But it strikes me that God may well have not been a part of this...and that is very interesting.

I agree that the whole "sore winner" phenomenon is pretty sad.

At the same time, I'm not sure that it's unique. There are still nasty things being said about Gov. Palin, many of which seem pretty far out of line, (To say nothing of the hatred directed toward Trig.) but the same kind of thing could be said of how the Republicans treated Democrats after the GOP wins in 2000 and 2004.

In 2000, of course, I suppose it could be said to have been an outlet for frustration over the recount and lawsuit phenomena. But John Kerry is still mocked as "haughty" and "French-looking" routinely in the Wall Street Journal, for example.

I'm afraid that it's a larger cultural issue, not limited to either political party.

Keith, I wouldn't hold you to be hypocritical if I found you complaining about something that some people on the left sometimes do, merely on the ground that you're on the left. I'm not sure what you're insinuating unless you're making a similar sort of claim.

Mark, this is no straw man. I'm talking about actual people who actually said these things, and I'm neither taking them out of context nor attributing these views to the general left-of-center populace. If you can be more specific about what the problem is given that I'm doing none of those things, maybe I'll have some sense of the problem. But short of that, it doesn't seem to me to be wrong to complain about some actual things that actual people said (and actually got through call screeners in the second case and even came from a noted journalist who once served as White House Press Secretary in the other case).

Clive, that Hosea quote seems just to indicate that God doesn't endorse the setting up of that leader. Other biblical statements very clearly indicate that God sets up leaders he doesn't endorse, and the most plausible way to put together both kinds of statements is that a leader who isn't endorsed by God is in that sense not set up or known by God even if in the other sense it's someone God had foreordained to be leader for purposes that have little to do with why it was wrong to select that leader.

Wickle, I guess the Kerry phenomenon is similar to the Palin one, although no one made fun of his accent or pretended he was stupid in a way contrary to all evidence (Palin was an honor student, so she's no idiot, and she managed to catch up well enough on national policy issues once the campaign's deliberate saboteurs were removed shortly before the VP debate, allowing her Alaska team to prepare her in a much more reasonable way than the idiots who just kept telling her to stall and change the subject without saying anything of substance). With Kerry it was just a cultural difference, and the same goes with the metrosexual thing from the Democratic primaries. With Palin it's still an election thing. It certainly was with the caller I'm talking about. But the Bill Moyers stuff was certainly nothing like the Kerry stuff. Moyers was really acting as if every Republican voter in the South were a racist and had voted only to prevent a black president. It was entirely about the election, so it's hard to see it as anything but sore winning because the vote total and electoral college total hadn't been even higher than it already was.

Was just remarking that it was funny for that complaint to be coming from the right. It's not just a matter of this being something that some people on the right sometimes do. There's been a TORRENT of such snottiness -- indeed, far worse than what you seem to be describing here. I'm thinking of callers especially to Rush L. - but others too. (I don't think I've ever listened to Air America: Maybe they get such calls coming from lefties. I don't know. & don't know whether anyone listens to that, anyway. Is it still in operation?) One would at least expect your complaint to be put in a -- "You know what happens all the time on conservative talk radio? Well, I actually heard a (relatively mild) example of it coming from a liberal, so it really does go both ways" -- vein. But to just read the complaint without that kind of context struck me as, well, as I said, funny.

I've listened to a total of maybe an hour of Rush Limbaugh since the George H.W. Bush administration, so I have no idea what kinds of callers he's putting on the air. The right-wing sources I've paid attention to haven't had anything like that even on their radar in recent months. I'm not sure why I would be putting something in a context that I'm totally unfamiliar with. I'm talking about NPR here, not partisan talk radio. What I do remember from the Limbaugh show, though, is that a fair portion of his callers were from the left.

But usually NPR screens their callers to avoid those who just seek to insult. At least that's the impression I get. They get some radical people in terms of views, but nothing like the rudeness of this woman. It's a rudeness I see all the time on some of the most prominent and respected lefty blogs (and maybe The View, which after all is just entertainment and not news, so it's actually in the same category as Limbaugh), but NPR usually doesn't give air time to people who have nothing to say but to make fun of someone. They'll say nasty and false things about people's views (especially Palin's, it seems), but this was a good deal worse than that.

Here's what I think the issue is: there are idiotic people out there who will say whatever comes to their mind. (Some of these people are even in places of impressive notoriety.) These people fall on all sides of the political divides and no matter what happens, some will make some idiotic statements.

What I think you've been really good about here is trying to either criticize the your opponents on substantive issues (and in ways that are substantive) or defending your own party against attacks (idiotic or otherwise). That's something that's worth doing no matter where you fall politically.

This post is an attack on some stupid people. The tone of the post doesn't do much to distinguish these stupid folks from the non-sore winners. (I know a lot of people, including myself, who will say that McCain's speech was mighty gracious indeed.) You know that I know that nothing you said entails that all democrats are sore winners. However, after reading this post a couple more times, it's really hard to not take something like: LOTS of democrats are sore winners. I know that you know that's not entailed either, but when it involves issues like this (where many democrats are very excited and are trying hard to not be to "in your face" about it), a suggestion of this sort is enough. It's not a strict straw-man just like it's not a strict entailment, but there are analogues in this case.

Stupid people abound and no one wants the stupid ones to be on their side; especially when the stupid ones are doing just the things that everyone else is trying to avoid doing. When those folks are (rightly) criticized in a way that suggests (but not entails) generalizability, it's hard to not take it as generalized.

What do we do? Well, this post is a departure from the type of political post that is most common here (mentioned above) but it seems that the extra few words needed to ensure the non-generalization on the part of the reader (the generalization is often not conscious, just as generalizations about race or gender aren't either).

Hopefully this doesn't sound too much like whining.

Well, I did try to make clear that I think things would be different if the election had been closer, which indicates that I don't think this is as much about party as about contingent facts about this particular election, and I did say that I'm glad about this contingent fact, indicating that I really was worried that it could have been a very different response from Republicans. As I'm looking over the post, I'm seeing that I must have cut out something when editing. I do remember at one point the post had something in the first few sentences that qualified it more than it is now, but I don't see it now. I wonder if I had that fresh in my memory when writing it, and since it wasn't in the final version it felt more comprehensive to you and Keith. I did several times remove things that frustrated me about the election campaign that on reflection turned out not to be relevant, and that must have disappeared in the process.

I do think the themes of the two incidents I refer to in this post are pretty frequent on my blog. I;ve complained a lot over the years I've had this blog about language police and those who see ignorance in mere regional accents, although I've done it less in the last year or two when it comes to such complaints about President Bush, because I've already said it enough to feel like I don't have anything else to add. Also, I often take issue with claims of racism that don't seem to me to be genuine claims of racism. Both examples cited here are things I complain about when it's not tied to any election or party line. Is it just the fact that this is connected with an election that draws objections?

I think the fact that it's connected with an election is a massive part of why it draws objections. That is, when you criticize some random idiotic democrat, it suggests the generalization that many democrats fall within the scope of this criticism. It's harder to distance one's self from stupid folks when you're part of the same group (or, at least it feels that way).

I don't think this is unique to politics or political affiliation though. This happens with religion too. Many Muslims and many Christians become very dismayed when they hear about the idiotic things that some people who take the label 'Christian' or 'Muslim' say. Criticisms of these extremists are often taken as criticisms of many folks in the group. So, we need to be more explicit about not intending the generalization. I think that's the point of Keith's suggested qualification.

Mark Liberman at Language Log (a linguistics blog for those unfamiliar with it), no conservative by any means, has a very nice response to those among the elite who have been making fun of Palin's speech. He focuses on the left, even though elites on the right have taken some part in this too, and that's every bit as reprehensible, but the right doesn't seem anywhere near as saturated with this as the left, and his own justification seems to be that the left is betraying their traditional claim to be the tolerant, compassionate side, a claim I've always found deeply insulting and about as intolerant as political claims come. Still, I particularly liked the examples he gave of Thomas Friedman and Bill Clinton, but this Camille Paglia quote especially stood out:

Liberal Democrats are going to wake up from their sadomasochistic, anti-Palin orgy with a very big hangover. The evil genie released during this sorry episode will not so easily go back into its bottle. A shocking level of irrational emotionalism and at times infantile rage was exposed at the heart of current Democratic ideology — contradicting Democratic core principles of compassion, tolerance and independent thought. One would have to look back to the Eisenhower 1950s for parallels to this grotesque lock-step parade of bourgeois provincialism, shallow groupthink and blind prejudice.

It's nice to see this from Paglia. I do prefer to see this kind of condemnation coming from those engaging in internal criticism on their own side of the political spectrum, which is why during the election I tried not to beat it to death on this blog, choosing instead to focus on the many policy issues on which Palin was rudely and cruelly misrepresented over and over again by the mainstream media and the most influential and respected liberal blogs. But I think this needs to be said. Not enough prominent voices on the left are confronting this, partly because too many are participating in it. Paglia is right that a noticeable portion of the most prominent leftward voices have shown significant hypocrisy in any claim that their motivation in political engagement stems from compassion, independent thought, and tolerance. Too many are still partaking in the kinds of attacks on Palin that involve cultural prejudice, artificial elitist language standards, sexist double-standards, or political double-standards (see the examples of Bill Clinton and Tom Friedman doing the same thing, although I won't assume which of the possible double-standards is the correct explanation for why Palin is treated differently). It's hard for me to see anyone who does that as deserving of being seen as having even a semblance of tolerance, compassion, or independent rational thought.

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