Secret Agendas

One of the more maddening things you regularly encounter in politics and other elements of civic life is the powerful conviction of a remarkable number of people that they know the inner-most thoughts of total strangers who happen to be in the public eye. I’m not talking about, say, the Kardashians, who relentlessly expose their shiny surfaces on television and certainly don’t give the impression of hiding a rich inner life. No, it’s the garden-variety pols and pundits and other minor characters who most often inspire adamant claims of shrewd secret knowledge. Anyone who’s ever participated in talk radio knows what I’m talking about: the callers who are on to you when you innocently utter some opinion without admitting your secret agenda of wanting to take away their guns or sell them down the river to your Corporate Overlords (if you are a “centrist” like me, your transparent secret agenda varies according to the point of view of the specific caller).

This occurs to me today having read another in an interminable line of conservative assertions that progressives secretly want Republicans to nominate Mitt Romney. Now I know a few progressive analysts who really do welcome a Romney nomination, but they generally say so. And the un-silent majority who would love nothing more than an extended GOP cage match crowned with a Gingrich victory tends to be influenced by objective factors like polls and Newt’s rich history of political self-destruction. They are not privately conspiring to encourage a walk down the primrose path for the GOP. Even if they felt that way, progressives are far too undisciplined and chatty to deny the public their unfiltered thoughts.

Conservatives are entitled to their counter-intuitive theories (shared by quite a few folk on the Left) that “moderates” are general-election losers while ideologues have the power to both mobilize the ideological base and persuade swing voters by the sheer coherence of their weltanschauung. But if the validity of your theory depends on asserting superior knowledge of my “true” thoughts, you are lost in the fever swamps, buddy, where omniscience is a common delusion.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.