You can usually tell when something is a sore point on the left: It becomes the topic that shall not be named. Or discussed. And if someone on the left was carefully following a story and things go south for the liberal side, the topic is dropped. Immediately. (This rule of thumb really does not hold on the right, which spends endless time wallowing in its misery, gaffes, missteps, controversies and policy goofs.)
They’ve been awfully quiet about Chen Guangcheng (with some notable exceptions). Lots to say about Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden, but foreign policy interest ran almost entirely dry on the left when it came to the administration's stumbling performance in China. You would expect that at least some who have fawned over China’s economic progress would take the chance to chime in. Nope.
As the Wall Street Journal editorial board put it, “Now more than Mr. Chen’s best interests are at stake. The case will reverberate within China and in U.S.-China relations for years.” The incident is important, and the personal story is tremendously compelling, but the left is uninterested. Is it that realpolitik has overtaken the left (so dissidents no longer hold much attraction), or is it that rooting for the home team requires one to avert his or her eyes when things go wrong?
Warren, who has polled closely with incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown, has spent the week responding to questions and criticism about her listing herself as a minority based on tenuous Native-American ancestry in faculty directories at the University of Texas, University of Pennsylvania and Harvard in the 1980s and 1990s.
Genealogists have traced Warren’s Native-American heritage, but the results didn’t put the story to bed. It turned out that Warren’s great-great-great-grandmother was Cherokee, making Warren 1/32nd Cherokee.
Although several of Warren’s past employers have stated that Warren’s minority status played no role in their hiring process, Warren’s explanations for her self-identification haven’t helped her case.
Warren, 62, said Wednesday she listed herself as Native American in the hopes that she would meet what she described as other people like her.
That same day, when speaking to a local reporter, the Oklahoma City native recounted a story of how her Aunt Bee used to envy her grandfather’s “high cheekbones” — which Aunt Bee described as a physical characteristic of many Native Americans.
Larry Sabato, hardly a rightwinger, told the Boston Herald: “This takes her biography into a bizarre dimension. It has derailed the effort to define Warren in a voter-friendly way. . . . This is what happens when candidates don’t tell the truth. It’s pretty obvious she was using (the minority listing) for career advancement.”
So where is the left-leaning punditocracy? The defense of Warren from her fans on the left, who rushed to defend her against charges she was anti-capitalist (even for Massachusetts), was sparse. Even gentle chiding was hard to spot. The deeper Warren dug her hole, the less the left discussed her. Ignore. Move on. Oh, look, Obama is ahead in a new Virginia poll!
And then there is Julia. She’s the composite character (oops, wrong story, instead call her the “Obama campaign stereotype”) in “Life of Julia,” an online campaign attraction meant to illustrate all the cradle-to-grave things the liberal welfare state can do for her. This is an unintentionally vivid description of the “government-centric”country that Mitt Romney accuses Obama of wanting to impose.
Yuval Levin nails this hysterical misstep:
From the overarching narrative of drab dependency to the comically blunt and clumsy contrasts with Romney, the utterly unironic pseudo-edginess (“Julia starts her own web business”), the self-caricaturing lifestyle liberalism (“this allows her to volunteer at a community garden”), the un-self-conscious intermixing of the vocabularies of liberty and entitlement (“thanks to Obamacare, her health insurance is required to cover birth control”), the imagery of studied nonchalance, and the whole look and feel of the enterprise, it appears to have been created by people deeply immersed in the culture of overeducated twenty-something hipster self-effacement but unaware that it is all intended sarcastically. It’s like Portlandia earnestly offered up as a drama.
It’s not just that each of its elements can be easily parodied, it’s that every single one of them is a perfectly common feature of contemporary satire, and the whole thing — right down to the fact that it is a web slideshow that can be very easily aped by countless clever and tech-savvy smart-alecks sitting underemployed in front of computers right now — feels like a joke and yet isn’t.
But to read about Julia or even know she/it was a sign that the once pitch-perfect Obama campaign had gone a bit tone deaf, you had to go to the right-leaning or mainstream media. Twitter was flooded with Julia jokes and the Republican National Committee used Julia to illustrate the debt each of us has been saddled with. But on the left practically no one would touch it. (No defense that conservatives were insensitive to Julia’s plight, or that it was fine way to wage the war against the war on women?) That’s how you know it is a total and complete disaster for the Obama team. (So bad, in fact, no mention, positive or negative was uttered in most left-leaning quarters.)
Now, certainly no one pundit can cover it all. Not commenting on one or another story is usually a function of time allocation. But when the vast majority of opinion scribes and chatterers on the left studiously ignore certain topics, it's a good guess they are hoping the bad things go away. It’s a measure of, I would suggest, how less willing is the left than the right to sock it to its own side when things go awry.
In pulling its punches, the left-leaning voices likely give liberal pols a false sense of comfort that nothing is amiss. (Yeah, the public will learn to love Obamacare!) After all, if you don’t hear it on MSNBC or read about it in lefty blogs it can’t be news, right?
UPDATE (10:20 a.m.): Joe Scarborough and his guests take a jack hammer to the “Life of Julia.” Will liberal blogs now be compelled to write about it?