Spin and Objective Reality

While he chose a uniquely infelicitous label for the habit he endorsed (“In Defense of the Bed-Wetting Liberal”), TNR’s Noam Scheiber makes a good and essential point about the relative willingness of liberals and conservatives to accept troubling empirical information about their policy initiatives and political prospects. The liberal freakout over healthcare.gov’s problems last fall spurred the Obama administration to exert heroic efforts to fix the enrollment system, and now that the picture for Obamacare is much brighter, it’s conservatives who are stuck in their “FAIL!” posture because they can’t deal with contrary developments, reflecting the strange psychosis that led them to insist Mitt Romney was winning in 2012 when he wasn’t.

Scheiber also usefully distinguishes expressions of alarm from substantive concessions that can make pessimism self-fulfilling:

I’d argue that bed-wetting on the part of Democratic pols—as opposed to activists, pundits, and intellectuals—can be fantastically self-defeating. The suggestion by Bill Clinton and several Democratic senators that Obama let everyone keep their pre-Obamacare insurance threatened the program’s survival.

But that’s only true of the pols and their operatives. Those of us who kibitz from the sidelines have an obligation to pipe up when we see trouble ahead. When we don’t—when we’re as delusional as the politicians we support, or when we repress bad news for fear of weakening them—we invariably subject them to much bigger disasters later on.

Sure, there are largely symbolic controversies where the “team” that makes the most unambiguous, idiotic cheerleading noise can be said to “win.” But when it comes to real-life phenomena like a health care system or an election, spin will only get you so far, and being in touch with Objective Reality is almost always a good thing, even if it means you “lose the morning” at Politico a time or ten.

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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.