What Democrats should learn from 2016

What Democrats should learn from 2016
By Larry Lessig
Jan 14 2017

Shortly after the election, David Roberts of Vox published an analysis of the words most commonly appearing in Hillary Clinton’s speeches. Rebutting the then-common argument that her loss (despite her victory) was linked to the Left’s so-called obsession with “identity politics,” Roberts found that “identity politics” was almost nowhere in the words that Clinton actually uttered. Instead, the focus of Clintons language was economics. Here’s Roberts’ graph:

Despite her best efforts, however, her actual words were not what the public heard. Instead, citing Gallup, Roberts demonstrates quite effectively that the message received was quite different. As he summarizes the data:

Virtually everything the media said about Clinton was about corruption, one way or another. None of it was about policy. None of it was about her actual priorities, as reflected in her speeches and her agenda.

There are two ways to read this certainly-factually-correct statement. One is as a criticism of “the media.” (As if their job is simply to parrot what the candidates say and they did a bad job of that with Clinton.) The other is as a criticism of the Clinton campaign. And because I fear that we on the Left (like they on the Right) are so obsessed with blaming our problems on “the media,” let me offer yet another pitch for why, regardless of what you think of “the media,” we should understand this statement as a criticism of Clinton — or more precisely, of her campaign.

The context for this yet-another-pitch is an extraordinary report published just after the election by the Voice of the People project: Voter Anger With Government and the 2016 Election (pdf). Drawing on an extensive survey of close to 2,500 voters, the study shows that the single, central issue that united Democrats and Republicans in this election was the one issue that had nothing to do with Clinton’s “actual priorities, as reflected in her speeches and her agenda” — the corruption of our government. As VOP summarized the study, the survey conducted in the midst of the election finds that Trump’s victory was buoyed by a broad-based, nearly universal crisis of confidence in how the federal government makes decisions.

The central critique voters express is not about policy or ideology: it is that government ignores the people — both their interests and their views — in favor of special interests, campaign donors, and their parties. Among Trump supporters, these views are especially intense.

VOP found that 9 in 10 voters agree with the statement “Elected officials think more about the interests of their campaign donors than the common good of the people.” That is, VOP concludes, a “profound dissatisfaction with government” that has “reached new heights” in America.



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