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Sunday, October 25, 2015

the era of splaining 'splained

The Upshot was supposed to be the NYT’s ‘splainer. Splaining is very popular among the center-liberal crowd who went from their twenties to their thirties in the Bush and Obama years. The center of the ‘splainer universe is Vox, which has decided the gimmick is to present opinion pieces as though they were explanations. It is as if you received a box containing, say, the parts for a tricycle, and were given an instruction sheet that told you why the person who wrote it prefers a red to a blue tricycle. This is why it is ‘splaining. Usually, there will be some grafs thrown in, as though we were big boys now, but grafs are only convincing in a convincing context. For decades, the climate change denialists would use a graf to show that the climate worldwide was actually getting cooler. Easy to do: just take the outlier peak of 1998 and graf everything from that.
And so it is with the Upshot. Every once in a while, the Upshot magisterially surveys the presidential race so far to tell us all what its about. And it always includes grafs like this one:
“The polls get most of the attention, but they’re not the most important part of the early stages of a presidential campaign. The better guide to who’s really winning is known as the “invisible primary,” in which candidates compete for support from their fellow politicians, from party leaders and from donors.”
This is a very press-centric view of how presidential campaigns function. And as it has crashed into the fact that the polls are actually driving, for instance, the invisible primary – why else is Jeb Bush now number 2 on their little chart – it has remained in place, just as a sort of sign that says: peons stay out. Serious ‘splaining going on.
In fact, to say what is and what is not important about a dynamic system is – as explained by even a brief acquaintance with any of the literature – requires not only being able to break it down into its “natural” parts, but the ability to build it up again into the way those parts function with each other. The Upshot people have, in their wisdom, divided one set of facts – the polling of the population of voters – from another set of facts – the inputs from funders and established political figures. And in their account, the latter drives the former.
However, this kind of dynamic has not been the story of the campaign so far. Now, to the ‘splainers, since this is the kind of dynamic that gives them the advantage, knowing the insiders and all, this is very disturbing. So, the way to paper over that disturbance is to pretend it isn’t happening.
An excellent example of ‘splaining in action occurred when Trump basically blasted the war record of John McCain. McCain is a hero to the press corps. Famously, a Times reporter in 2008 compared being around McCain like being able to hang around a football hero in high school. So the attack on McCain, they naturally assumed, would create a great wave of horror that would topple the Trump clown.
Not only did this not happen, but the Trump clown has grown in the popular polls. This has led to the ‘splaining meme of the leak. The leak will sink the Trump “balloon”. This metaphor has been independently discovered by Politico, Vox, the Upshot, and other fine outlets of ‘splaining, and they are all watching for their prediction to come true. Meanwhile, the invisible primary’s number one, Jeb Bush, has been having a campaign much like Humpty Dumpty’s after the unfortunate wall incident. And his response has had that entitled touch which crosses Mitt Romney at his country club worst and Neil Bush explaining Silverado:

“If this election is about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, then I don’t want anything, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t want to be elected president to sit around and see gridlock just become so dominant that people literally are in decline in their lives. That is not my motivation. I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, be miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”
This is the kind of talk that endears Jeb to the ‘splainer heart, since gridlock is a terrible thing. It has prevented, for instance, that Social Security reform that could have tracked us onto privatizing that thing, and lowered social security benefits as well! There’s a graf somewhere that ‘splains how great that would be. Plus, of course, the idea of cool is something you don’t have to analyze among the thirties group: they all love cool unthinkingly, with all their invisible polling heart!
I am wondering, though, whether the cool kids aren’t about to turn on ‘splaining. After a while, it seems a bit, oh, patronizing…

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