The Good Kid vs. The Cool Kid

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

86 Responses

  1. Jim Heffman says:

    “Conservatives today want to be the ones who argue that criticizing America is in and of itself sinful and the ones that throws the tea in the harbor. ”

    I can see how this would be difficult to understand for people who think that “America” and “The American Federal Government” are the same thing.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      Good point. Because liberal criticisms about wars, slavery, tax codes, sexual harassment laws, OSHA compliance, foreign policy, pollution, gerrymandering, red-lining, freedom of speech, and school curriculum have zero to do with the government. They’re just about hating America.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        You’re being snarky, but Jim inadvertently referred to a good point, although he didn’t realize it.

        “I can see how this would be difficult to understand for Americans, because Americans typically confuse “America” and “The American Federal Government”.”

        See, this applies to everybody.

        What the government does that I agree with? That’s America.

        What the government does that I don’t agree with? That’s The Other Side twisting America using the power of the government, which they have (usually illegitimately in my eyes) seized.

        It’s not a confusion about “America” vs. “the American federal government” at all. It’s an understanding that “the American federal government” is only “America” when it’s doing what I think is “America”.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Tod Kelly says:



      • Patrick in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        This also explains why the “good kid” vs. “the cool kid” is a hard framework to use to express what Tod’s trying to get at (although I think he’s got something, I don’t think this is the right way to express it).

        The Good Kid can be The Cool Kid when The Cool Kid is rebelling against those stupid rules that the other side implemented when they illegitimately seized the power of the government.

        They’re the lone wolf, breaking the rules for justice, or the good hearted kid, fighting the system for the oppressed.

        When The Cool Kid is rebelling against the real America, which we tried to institute when we were implementing the laws, well, they’re young, stupid, ungrateful, dirty hippies. Or young, selfish, narcissistic, entitled, slick jagoffs.Report

      • Sam Levine in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Progressive elites largely are the establishment (culturally, economically and politically). It’s hard to be conservative when you’d be conserving something you disagree with, and why you get people like Gingrich and Cruz who just want the whole damn thing to burn to the ground.Report

      • j r in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        @patrick is right on.

        The other variant of that is:

        When the political process delivers my desired result, it’s democracy.

        When the political process delivers a result that I don’t like, it’s special interests.Report

      • @j-r When the political process delivers a result that I don’t like, it’s special interests.

        Quoted for truth. Because my interests are “public interests,” yours are “special.” The phrase “special interests” is far and away one of my biggest pet peeves in all of politics. Fact is that whenever you advocate for a particular political position on a particular issue, you are acting as an “interest.” When you do so in a coordinated fashion or through an organization of some sort, you are part of an “interest group.”

        And that’s a good thing, not something to be ashamed of. The problem isn’t that we have too many “special interests,” it’s that we’ve got way too few. Grumble grumble Federalist #10 grumble grumble.Report

      • greginak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Or another way to phrase what you guys are saying is democracy means nobody gets everything they want and the other side/sides will get something they want. That a policy is enacted you don’t’ like doesn’t mean you are being trod upon. So maybe those Gadsden flags and Don’t Tread On Me t-shirts are a bit overwrought.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I need to +1 Patrick, too.

        Heffman, here’s where your cleverness took you. You’re aligning yourself on the side of a Fox News reporter who’s whining about people who don’t want to support basic freedoms, and he’s targeting the kids who are exercising those freedoms in support of learning about exercising those freedoms, and not the folks who are trying to prevent teaching kids about those freedoms.

        And if we’re posing the dichotomy as America vs. the American Government, which camp does civil disobedience fall under? Can you work that one out?

        Really good job, man. Aces.Report

      • KatherineMW in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Quoted for truth. Because my interests are “public interests,” yours are “special.” The phrase “special interests” is far and away one of my biggest pet peeves in all of politics. Fact is that whenever you advocate for a particular political position on a particular issue, you are acting as an “interest.” When you do so in a coordinated fashion or through an organization of some sort, you are part of an “interest group.”

        Mark – I don’t agree, although the terms are often used that way.

        In my view, the distinction should be between interest groups that influence the government by having a lot of people in favour of some policy or another, and ones that influence the government solely or primarily by having a lot of money and the ability to hire talented lobbyists who understand the system. When you look at websites for campaign donations, it’s easy to see which groups – e.g., hedge funds and oil companies – are using wealth to get the policies they want.

        Using the force of public opinion to push for the policies you want is inherent to democracy. Using money to get the policies you want even though they don’t have public support (or, often, because the public doesn’t know enough about them to have an opinion one way or another) is inimical to democracy. When I read stuff written by the founding fathers and their contemporaries, there’s a prominent theme that concentration of wealth and its use for political influence is a threat to democratic government.

        While large corporations certainly make up a large portion of the special interests that purchase influence, it’s not a pure left vs. right issues; there’s plenty of populist advocacy groups on the right, as well, whether or not I agree with them.Report

      • Jim Heffman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        “You’re aligning yourself”

        I’m not “aligning” anything, I’m replying to a statement that Tod made in his post about an apparent intellectual inconsistency.

        I guess that could be seen as “defending Fox News” if you insist on ideological-purity-test thinking, but I’m a little surprised to see *you* doing that.Report

    • Kim in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      Except as documented here and other places…
      The most intrusive government is generally the locallest.
      See Dover, See Ferguson, See NYC.

    • Burt Likko in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      Like @patrick , I think @jim-heffman is on to something here. Now, I think that in the best tradition of BSDI, BSDI, but it’s true that the nation of America — an identity shared amongst a large number of people — is different than the government of America, and one can conflate or segregate the two at will for one’s political sloganeering. When Bush is President, liberals criticize him and conservatives demand that they at least “respect the office;” when Obama is President, conservatives criticize him and liberals ask where the respect for the office went so suddenly. Never went anywhere; no one ever disrespected the office although there has been quite a bit of criticism with what the occupant of that office has been doing.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

        @patrick @j-r @burt-likko

        I’m going to push back on y’all here.

        If what you’re saying is true — if this is just classic BSDI human nature, always has been, always will be — then when you went back in time over the past 30-40 years you’d see a pattern of conservatives and Republicans rallying around the idea of burning it all to the ground every time they lost an election. But unless you grew up in a parallel universe, I don’t think you saw that. This isn’t same old-same old, it’s pretty damn new.

        In my life time, the only side of the fence that ever — ever — talked about staging revolutions and cheered the armed outlaws taking up against the government was the Left. That was their thang, not the Right’s.

        Having major conservative candidates and journalists say on a national level that the country is fundamentally broken and needs to be razed and rebuilt from scratch — with the praising of raising arms against law enforcement no less — would have had any conservative 20 years ago call you a commie pinko hippie who needed to leave if you didn’t like it, even if a Carter or a Clinton was in power.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Burt Likko says:

        But 150 years ago, not so much.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

        @kolohe Which is sort of my point. Republicans today have very little in common with Republicans 150 years ago.

        The parties always evolve, shift, and change, and sometimes they do it at a much faster rate — even if we don’t tend to notice that it’s happening.

        Conservatives are changing at a fundamental, foundational level right now. What they will be in 30 years is far more up in the air than people are willing to admit, I think.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Burt Likko says:

        That’s a fair enough pushback.

        Ruby Ridge and Waco got some support from the far right, but the establishment GOP used them as a cudgel to blame the government for their response, not for supporting the folks in their underlying rebellion.

        Nowadays, you saw a lot more popular support for Cliven Bundy on the right than you saw for the Branch Dividians.

        So there’s that, yes.

        But I still don’t think this falls well into The Good Kid/The Cool Kid dichotomy, because I don’t think those things are actually dichotomous to the groups in question.

        Like I said, you’re onto something, I just don’t think this is the right way to look at it.

        Since I’m not sure what *is* the right way to look at it, I’m not sure this is very helpful criticism.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Burt Likko says:

        FWIW, I don’t think conservatives are really changing so much as they are disintegrating into constituent pieces while trying desperately not to do so… because they know they need their three legs or they don’t have the numbers.

        This leads to some incoherency.

        Taking fairly normal election patterns as evidence of success is confusing them even more. If they win the Senate they’re going to think that their incoherency resonated with voters. Then things will really get weird.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Burt Likko says:

        The thing I find interesting in the right-o-sphere social media world is the memes that are frankly utterly confusing.

        “This thing that isn’t in danger and is wildly done everywhere by everybody including almost everyone who is a Democrat”


        Christmas trees in the public sphere, the pledge of allegiance before school. Saying “Merry Christmas”. Church.

        The fact that these things show up on my wall means that somehow, somebody has convinced a large chunk of the right that these things actually are under attack despite the fact that the world is trucking along quite merrily not exhibiting any actual outside evidence that this is the case.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Jim Heffman says:

      I’d argue that without the American federal government, America like pre-Unification Italy or Germany would be a geographic expression only and not exist as any meaningful cultural identity. It was the creation of the American federal government that really led to the solidification of a national American identity and culture by tying all the states together in one unit and allowing a single rather than multiple American identity to emerge.Report

  2. j r says:

    That asbestos line is awesome on so many different levels.Report

  3. Saul Degraw says:

    I agree with you. Though I also suspect that everyone (myself included) has multiple biographical strands that we try to please and it is impossible to please or be consistent with all those strands.

    I can think of plenty examples in myself. There is the part of me that wants to be an academic, there is the part of me that wanted to be a theatre director and not a director of Broadway musicals but downtownish theatre in small venues, and there is the part of me that grew up comfortably in the upper-middle professional class and does not know how to rebel against the values that were instilled in me from my environment and upbringing. The values from the third part are liberal and Democratic but they are also very bourgeoisie establishment. My liberalism is not about radically tearing down the system but ensuring more access to the system.

    I want universal health care, marriage equality, and dignity and decency for all people regardless of their background. Plus I like nice things and just want to assuage my guilt about wanting to live in Marin County or Westchester or Brownstone Brooklyn but I am not going to give up my NPR-SWPL like stuff.

    I am arguably also very establishment in terms of my cultural preferences and generally react against stuff that I consider unprofessional*. Yes Rothko and Cornell and Flavin and Judd andother mid-20th century modern artists still shock but they also very much part of the respected art establishment. I kind of reject the new burlesque which seems to be popular because I associate burlesque as a semi-raunchy entertainment that my great-grandparents liked, not as part of some new feminist performance art.

    I also am more or less traditional in my definition of a family being by blood, marriage, childbirth, and adoption. I have friends who go for more communal and radical definitions of family that are not appealing to me. They also seem to think they will always have roommates and I am more or less traditional in my preference for single-family or solo living. Poly is still a bridge too far for me and I am not a skeptic on the institution of marriage.

    In my ideal world I would be an upper-middle class resident of Brownstone Brooklyn and a theatre director but that is largely impossible. So I decided on being a lawyer (possibly wrongly).

    *I am against the fact that everyone is seemingly describing themselves as a geek these days. People are beer geeks, theatre geeks, fashion geeks, history geeks, math geeks, film geeks, art geeks, etc. I take my education way too seriously to reduce it to geekery and I still like the terms scholar and intellectual even though I am told they are off-putting.

    I have no idea whether this comment makes sense in response to your post.Report

    • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      A geek is an Enthusiastic Scholar. Yes, there’s nothing wrong with studying something just to do so… but, really, what’s the point. Time for relaxation is time for having fun.Report

  4. Saul Degraw says:

    I also suspect that it depends on how you defend conservative.

    Corey Robin does not see conservatism as being the upholding of small-government to defend liberty but a way of maintaining privilege for small group of people. If you see some truth in this definition of conservatism, the destruction of the New Deal and other Welfare State measures make perfect sense because such measures level the playing field and remove power from the elite. They are constraints on business owners and impositions of morality and ethics.Report

    • Kim in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Conservative German businesses love big government. Big pool of money to raid, and relatively cheap to do.Report

    • j r in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      … the destruction of the New Deal and other Welfare State measures make perfect sense because such measures level the playing field and remove power from the elite.

      Perfect sense until you start examining the myriad of ways that New Deal and Great Society programs themselves helped empower specific groups of elites.

      There is some truth to the argument that Robin puts forth in The Reactionary Mind, but, like almost all critiques born of contempt for the thing being critiqued, there is a level of nuance and empathy missing. And it is all that is missing that makes Robin’s arguments not all that interesting or serious.Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movement was at least partially powered by greed. Most things are.

        got some sources on Great Society and New Deal? After all, there was almost a coup pulled on FDR…Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        The corollary to this: If someone is not being motivated by greed, question their motivations harshly. They’re probably not what either of you think.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to j r says:


        I think you are just bringing up Patrick’s point. The Left and the Right in the United States seem to have radically different notions about how they consider to be the elite and who they consider to be the little guy. There is nothing wrong with this per se but it does lead to radically different viewpoints of the world and policy preferences.

        And I’ve mentioned before that I think it is probably impossible to come up with a system that helps small business owners (which need a large lack of regulation) and helping preserve dignity and decency for workers and members of minority groups (which needs a large amount of law and regulation). So people might just be choosing their sides.

        The Left generally seems to think of the elite in purely monetary and economic terms. The Koch Brothers are elite, Bill Gates is elite, Mitt Romney is elite, Hedge Fund Managers are elite, Zuckerberg is elite, etc.

        The Right generally seems to see elite in purely social-cultural terms and ones that I find very odd. When I hear right-wing radio and other outlets ranting against the elite, it seems that they generally mean people who tend towards cities and inner-ring suburbs and tend to be upper-middle class professionals or creative types. In redstate land, a 32-year old freelance writer with a degree from Oberlin and some student loans and roommates is elite but the Koch Brothers are just so down home.

        “The aim of a lot of conservative rhetoric is to direct ordinary Americans’ class anger away from economic elites and toward cultural elites. And it doesn’t take much to be defined by the right as “elite.” If you don’t attend church regularly, if you don’t own a gun, if you live in an urban area or a college town (or anywhere that’s less than an hour’s drive from an ocean and that isn’t in the old Confederacy), if you dislike country music or NASCAR, if you ever eat organic food (or, heaven forfend, arugula or kale), if you attended a college that’s better known for academics than football or partying, if you’re gay or have gay friends … then you’re an elitist in the eyes of many Americans. In fact, you’re the embodiment of elitism — and Wall Street tycoons aren’t (because pursuit of profit trumps all the fancy foods their household staffs and favorite restaurateurs prepare for them). In fact, the only way you can be a billionaire capitalist and get caught in the net of what right-wing rhetoric defines as elitism is if you give money to Democratic candidates. (Just being a Democrat makes you an elitist, if you’re not a member of a racial minority.)”Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        Small time businessmen need lack of regulation SECOND. They need a level playing field FIRST. They do have priorities.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to j r says:

        “In redstate land, a 32-year old freelance writer with a degree from Oberlin and some student loans and roommates is elite but the Koch Brothers are just so down home.”

        Might it be because the former tend to hold themselves out as the cultural elite? If you look down on others because they prefer country to classical or Nascar to Lincoln Center, you open yourself up to “punching up”.Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        Great. Now I want a Country Opera.
        (well, aside from Grapes of Wrath, which seemed more Western than country)Report

      • greginak in reply to j r says:

        @kazzy Here in Redstate land Nascar/hunting/ Duck Dyn fans are more than happy to profess they have the Correct and Best culture. I don’t see any difference between some liking theater saying they think it is bestest and a nascar fan saying that is best. And also how many of those 32 year old CE’s actually are holding themselves out as CE’s?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to j r says:

        I just find it amusing that someone who went to school in Ohio might consider themselves “elite”.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        Explicitly, they do not hold themselves up as the elite. In terms of various denigrations against the cultural others.

        Which is, as you point out, bilateral. Except insofar as the spaces each side occupy in the cultural fabric are asymmetrical. One side has far more cultural power and influence than the other. As Saul and others point out, even the leaders of the right have very often gotten there through liberal institutions and locations.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to j r says:

        @kim OK, but I think someone moved in to that space a while ago. Didn’t turn out all that bad.Report

      • Patrick in reply to j r says:

        Holding yourself up as better because you think you’re elite and holding yourself up as better because you explicitly reject elitism is not really that interesting of a distinction.

        “Elitism” is one of those words that doesn’t mean what folks use it to mean.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to j r says:


        I don’t think my friends who work as artists but mainly pay rent through other things and have a varying amounts of student loans see themselves as elite.


        Oberlin just came to my head. You could put any small liberal arts college there. I generally think they are seen only as rich kid schools. Most people still think of Vassar as being filled with prep school kids even though most students attended public high school and our current President is getting serious credit for increasing economic diversity among the student body and actively recruiting vets and other non-traditional students.


        I have never been able to figure out the cultural conservative attitude towards the Ivies and other elite schools. On the one hand, I think I would be bashed as being out of touch for attending Vassar even though my law school degree was more work-a-day. On the other hand, I think it was very important for Tom Cotton to be Harvard-Havard for his upper-level education.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to j r says:

        rich kid schools

        New money.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        Tom Cotton had some advantages by virtue of the fact that he went to Harvard, so it’s important in that way. It also signals – to some extent – that he’s smart, so it may be important that way, if they’ve played that up (which I’ve not seen for Cotton, but have seen for others – mostly, though, as a defense against unintelligence).

        To me this is not much different than liberal politicians having advantages conferred to them because they’re wealthy, or citing their business success (and thus wealth) as a reason we should listen to them.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to j r says:


        Mark Pryor might have attended been the son of a former governor and Senator but he still attended the University of Arkansas.

        I think if you looked at both parties you would see an equal number of politicians who grew up in elite circumstances and had benefits because of those elite circumstances and those that did not. Elizabeth Warren grew up working class in Oklahoma and attended the University of Houston and Rutgers. Bill Clinton did not grow up elite. Al Gore did grow up elite. John Kerry was elite but of more modest economic circumstances than Bush II. McCain was more elite than Obama and Romney was a member of the elite.

        I think that the right-wing often woefully overestimates how many Democratic politicians are from elite circumstances and/or seriously underestimates how many Republican and siders politicians are from modest circumstances. The Koch Brothers grew up wealthy and I think more GOP politicians are like Romney than they are like Palin in terms of education and upbringing.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        All of that may be true, but I’m not sure what it demonstrates that “Look at all of these wealthy donors who give money to Democrats” doesn’t also demonstrate. The elite institutions of education, and the prestige locations in this country, veer to the left. The wealthy veer to the right (probably – depending on who counts as “wealthy”). Both sides’ elites involve people who went to good schools, and both sides’ elites are wealthy. That’s what being elite is good for: Having a reasonably good seat in whichever faction you belong to.

        We have an interesting dynamic in the US, where the wealthy and prosperous parts of the country lean to the left, even as the wealthy and prosperous individuals tend to lean to the right. And so the end result is that on some level everybody gets to smugly look down on the other, and everybody gets to be incensed about being looked down upon.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to j r says:


        True. I think it depends on how people make their money though.

        I think that well-educated, income wealthy people tend to vote Democratic. Also people in more artsy oriented professions like graphic designers, etc.

        Business owning wealthy people and also plumber/mechanic types tend to be Republican.

        I think paritsanship is industry to industry or even depending on specialty in the industry. Plaintiff and criminal defense lawyers are going to tend to be on the left. M&A lawyers are going to be on the right probably.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to j r says:

        @will-truman said what I intended to say but better. Thank you, sir.

        Of course, I will still elaborate!

        Obviously, people are going to argue that what they like is “best” because it would be irrational for them to say, “I prefer X even though Y is better.” But it is one thing to say, “Hey, this is what I like. It is my personal preference. I think that other crap is hooey,” and another to say, “This is objectively superior and if you think otherwise you lack the capacity to understand it.” We saw this play out on some of Mike Schilling’s “Heavenly” posts, particularly during his exchanges with Sam.

        @saul-degraw , these people may never self-identify themselves as culturally elite, but the believe is of being better-than-thou as a result of their cultural preferences is often present.

        I also think your objection begs the question: why should people be expected to shake their fists only at the economic elite? Your initial statement read as if the talk radio hosts of the world tricked people into kvetching about cultural elitism instead of economic elitism. But maybe people A) arrived at that preference entirely on their own and B) should be entitled to hold that preference as equally valid to its inverse.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to j r says:


        Of course people should be able to shake their fists at people beyond the economic elite. That is their liberty.

        However, I think a lot of that fist-shaking is done under the assumption that the so-called cultural elite are dangerous and rootless outsiders who are not “real Americans” and as someone who is probably part of that group, I resent having my status challenged. Why should I let the Palins of the world define what is a “real American?” Why should I give any credence to their view?Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to j r says:

        “Why should I let the Palins of the world define what is a “real American?” Why should I give any credence to their view?”

        Like most things that involve multiple people living together, that’s a river that flows strongly both ways.

        The answer to your question, of course, is for the exact same reason that those people should give credence to the views of someone who believes that said people are so intellectually and culturally inferior as to be judged incapable/minority-hating/sexist/illeterates before they open their mouths.

        Which is to say, if you start from that vantage point before you even begin a conversation, it probably doesn’t matter all that much what anyone is going to say, because no one’s really listening to one another anyway.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to j r says:

        Palin’s “Real America” line was wrong and offensive. But the folk populism you refer to can’t fairly be reduced to that line.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to j r says:


        Who do you believe is a “real American”?Report

      • Kim in reply to j r says:

        I wasn’t talking operetta or musical.Report

    • Corey Robin does not see conservatism as being the upholding of small-government to defend liberty but a way of maintaining privilege for small group of people. If you see some truth in this definition of conservatism, the destruction of the New Deal and other Welfare State measures make perfect sense because such measures level the playing field and remove power from the elite. They are constraints on business owners and impositions of morality and ethics.

      There are a massive number of problems with this characterization. First, if all conservatism is about is maintaining privilege for a small group of people, then the 40 percent of Americans who call themselves conservative are either not conservatives or are a “small group of people,” both of which are absurd claims.

      Second, to the extent that he’s just claiming conservatism is only about maintaining (or obtaining) privilege for conservatives, it’s a claim that’s neither interesting nor falsifiable, indistinguishable from the claims conservatives make about liberals that liberalism is only about giving “goodies” to liberal groups. Technically speaking, both claims are also, in fact, true. But only because they’re essentially tautologies – the simplest and broadest definition of politics is that it is how societies determine “who gets what, where, when, and how.”

      Third, it ignores that there are in fact numerous different strains of ideologies that fit under the broad umbrella of “conservatism” in the US, no one of which is particularly dominant – remember the whole three-legged stool analogy? While it was an over-simplification, it was (and largely still is) a pretty good description of the elements of the American Right for a very long time.

      Fourth, as @kim and @j-r both point out, many of the programs you reference in fact helped further entrench established economic elites, and I’m not just talking about “liberal” elites, but even more so about business elites, and particularly big business elites. I mean….it’s hard to come up with a policy that would more entrench existing economic elites than the not-short-lived-enough National Recovery Act, with its insistence that industries develop legally binding “codes” for “fair” competition. That is nothing if not a legal requirement that industries cartelize. It was also a particularly prominent part of the supposedly equalizing New Deal.

      Fifth, let us recall that it was died-in-the-wool conservatives (along with the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party) who most vehemently opposed the bank bailouts in 2008, to the point that the majority of Republicans in the House voted against the bailouts, even going so far as to successfully defeat them in their first iteration. Indeed, their rationale for opposing the bailouts was more or less exactly the same rationale as that of liberal Democrats who opposed the bailouts. While we can debate the merits of those bailouts, the point here is that given the choice between protecting the status of economic elites and undermining the power of economic elites, the conservative majority of Republicans chose the latter, even in the face of dire warnings that doing so would allow catastrophic damage to the economy in the short-term. Say what you will about that decision, but one thing it sure as hell wasn’t was “a way of maintaining privilege for a small group of people.”

      Sixth, Robin and really most liberals fail to recognize that conservative regard for so-called “economic elites” is really quite limited and disparate, and that the interests of, say, the Kochs, and multi-national corporations are very frequently at odds with each other. This, indeed, is one of the main reasons why the GOP’s coalition has become so fractured in recent years – surely, we haven’t forgotten how completely and utterly enfuriated the big-business dominated US Chamber of Commerce was with conservatives over the government shutdown last year.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        @mark-thompson @j-r

        What I don’t see is anyone addressing my idea that you can either have policies that are friendly to workers, minorities, and protect the environment or you can support small-business duck dynasty type upstarts.

        Do you think it is possible to support the civil rights act, the fair labor standards act, family leave, general sick leave, various anti-discrimination acts, environmental protection, etc while also supporting deregulations that allegedly help small-business owners? Do you think it is more important to support Duck Dynasty and Tea Party styled business owners over social and economic justice? If yes, why? In my mind, the Tea Party style policies are more of the “you can hope to be a millionaire” Or how would you go about promoting a welfare state and dealing with the badges and incidents of past discrimination (while realizing we still have a lot of people that want to legally discriminate)?

        I also don’t place much stock in how people self-describe themselves because the word conservative can mean different things to different people and people pick words that they think sound good. I knew a guy in SF who self-described himself as a moderate but thought we needed to get rid of the Fed. I don’t see that as a moderate stance. He also thought the Rothschilds/the Jews controlled the Banks. He did not think he was anti-Semitic for saying so even though he also told me that many friends told him he was being anti-Semitic for saying stuff like that. In his mind, he was just speaking facts.Report

      • What I don’t see is anyone addressing my idea that you can either have policies that are friendly to workers, minorities, and protect the environment or you can support small-business duck dynasty type upstarts.

        The problem with this is that it assumes that the groups that comprise the “liberal” base and the “conservative” base are static, rather than just a function of messy coalition politics. The fact is that each of the groups you’re worried about protecting have very limited areas of united interests and quite often have very divergent interests. Historically speaking, of course, many labor unions were especially and uniquely hostile to racial minority groups. For a very long time, environmentalists and labor are likewise often very hostile to each other – witness the decades-long battles between John Dingell and Henry Waxman over myriad pieces of legislation that eventually culminated -after, what, 30 plus years? – in Dingell’s ouster by Waxman as chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

        It was only 15-20 years ago that the GOP had no shortage of proud and outspoken environmentalists like Christine Todd Whitman, Tom Kean, Sr., and Sherwood Boehlert, amongst others. Boehlert (full disclosure – I worked on his campaigns in college) was also very close with the IAFF (firefighter’s union; I also once interned for them for a summer) and plenty of other unions. Kean was an ardent environmentalist who also happened to be a leading figure in the push for welfare reform and welfare program cuts. Ditto Whitman, to a lesser extent. Kean and Whitman (and, perhaps to a significantly lesser extent, Boehlert) were also backed to the hilt by both small and large business.

        Do you think it is possible to support the civil rights act, the fair labor standards act, family leave, general sick leave, various anti-discrimination acts, environmental protection, etc while also supporting deregulations that allegedly help small-business owners?

        Absolutely, or at least it’s no less possible to do so than it is to (1) defend Medicare; (2) view defense spending as sacred; (3) demand tax cuts; and (4) demand a balanced budget.

        I mean, why are you assuming that there is only one way to represent each of those groups’ interests? Fact is, representing small business owners’ interests doesn’t have to mean deregulation or even opposition to increased regulation. There are plenty of other ways to represent those interests, and indeed there are plenty of ways that regulations can be structured to actually advantage small business, just as there are plenty of ways that regulations can be structured to advantage big business at the expense of small business, etc.

        By that same token, there are plenty of ways to represent any one of the liberal interests you describe by using deregulation or opposition to new regulations as a tool. Ending the War on Drugs comes to mind as a way of helping minority groups; rolling back the regulations of Taft-Hartley comes to mind immediately as one of the most helpful possible things that could be done for unions. Environmentally beneficial deregulation is trickier off the top of my head, but there are deregulations that could help the environment, such as vehicle safety regulations that add weight to vehicles and thus decrease fuel efficiency.

        Now, maybe it’s no longer possible to simultaneously represent small business interests, environmental interests, minority group interests, and labor union interests, if it ever was. But there’s absolutely no reason why small business has to be on one side and the other three groups have to be on the other side on any given issue, nor even on the majority of issues.

        And even that is an oversimplification, because each of those four groups consists of people with their own interests that may be different from others in that group. And this is what I was trying to get at above with my sixth point. “Small business” and “big business” are not monoliths, and even if they were, they wouldn’t need to be. And it shouldn’t even bear mentioning that minority groups and union workers are not monoliths (or even environmentalists, for that matter). The question isn’t whether the interests of those groups are consistent with the interests of any given other group. What matters is what issues are most important to members of any given group at a given point in time and how those interests interact with the interests of any other given group at that point in time. And just as importantly, it matters which of those issues are being subjected to public debate at a given moment in time.

        I also don’t place much stock in how people self-describe themselves because the word conservative can mean different things to different people and people pick words that they think sound good.

        Ok, that’s all well and good, but then you’ve got to define who exactly it is that you’re referring to when you’re generalizing about conservatives. But I don’t think you can come up with a definition that encompasses the Red State cultural conservatives like Sarah Palin who you’ve referenced repeatedly in this thread, the economic elites that are the lifeblood of the GOP’s coffers and whose elite status conservatives purportedly want to preserve, and anti-regulation small business owners, but somehow avoids encompassing the overwhelming majority of that 40 percent who self-identify as conservative.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        I agree with you on many of your points and history.

        We do need to end the War on Drugs and Taft-Hartley should be repealed. I still think that the Civil Rights Act, ADA, FEMA, and other worker friendly legislation is necessary and/or needs to be expanded. I am fully supportive of laws that guarantee vacation time, sick leave, protection for LGBT people, etc. And these are the types of laws that Tea Partiers generally say hurt small businesses.

        There are deregulations that I would support like allowing beer and wine to be shipped through the mail and allowing beer and alcohol makers to sell their product directly to stores or consumers instead of through middle-men and distributors. There are probably other deregulations I would support.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        the simplest and broadest definition of politics is that it is how societies determine “who gets what, where, when, and how.”

        God bless you, sir, for invoking the sainted Harold Lasswell, but if I may offer a friendly amendment, the definition holds at all levels, from interactions between you and your lovely spouse to international conflicts or collaborative UN programs.

        What I don’t see is anyone addressing my idea that you can either have policies that are friendly to …minorities… or you can support small-business duck dynasty type upstarts.

        Because minorities can’t start small businesses? Umm, OK?Report

      • @saul-degraw Part of the issue that Mark is touching upon, however, is that much of what you frame as “supporting group X” are things that don’t necessarily support Group X.

        I’m sure Portland is not alone in having an African American community that has really, really wanted either vouchers or charter schools on the basis that the schools they keep getting shuffled into are terrible and no one give a s**t about it. From their point of view, it’s not like they’re going to do any worse. But white liberal Portlanders still universally flag that being against those things as a “pro-minority” since, hey, that’s the DNC’s stance, and what’s good for the DNC is good for minorities.

        We don’t have any Duck Dynasty duck call manufacturers here, but we have a hell of a lot of businesses opened every year by women, blacks, latinos, etc. I think they would argue with your take that making it easier to survive the odds of staying in business and growing is against their own interests.

        Until the courts began taking over the issue, African Americans were a huge electoral barrier to leg ailed SSM. Much of the regulation that is demanded to be expanded in the areas of employee safety by Dems (in the PNW anyway) is in fact not only costly, but statistically increases the risk of employee injury, but it’s attempted as a way to help have extra chips for unions to negotiate with — which just goes to show that even unions’ interests aren’t always aligned with labor’s.

        I could go on and on, and I bet so could you.Report

      • @tod-kelly Exactly.
        @saul-degraw The thing is that my point has nothing to do with whether you agree with or support a particular policy. My point is a response to your insistence that the interests and desires of any one purportedly “conservative” group are inherently irreconcilable with the interests and needs of any given purportedly liberal group, and similarly that the interests and desires of any given purportedly conservative group are aligned with the interests and desires any other given purportedly conservative group (and, I assume liberal groups with liberal groups).

        My point is that neither of these are true, that any given conservative group may have any number of common interests with any given liberal group, and that any given conservative (or liberal) group can have any number of irreconcilable interests with any other given conservative (or liberal) group. The groups that comprise “conservatives” and “liberals” are not static, nor are the positions or concerns of the coalitions broadly termed “conservative” and “liberal.”Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        @tod-kelly @mark-thompson

        You are both right with your various points of course.

        That does not change my opposition to charter schools because it seems allowing charter schools is also allowing victories to the people who I generally blame for running the school system in the ground. I’d rather improve the public schools (which I think is possible) over allowing Michelle Rhee charter schools or vouchers (which tend to aid fundie schools). Helping many over helping a few. And I try not to get conspiracy minded

        Mark is right that coalitions change even if they seem iron-bound and there are probably ways of expanding the Democratic coalition.

        I’d still rather be Walter Reuther than Matt Ygelieas though. Much more romantic to be Walter Reuther.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Yup, I totally get why some people (and this is important to note – there was a heavy backlash to “education reform” in Camden, NJ, a place where you’d think it’d bear fruit) support charter schools or vouchers if they’re stuck in a horrible public school system.

        I don’t think they’re dumb people for believing that’s the only solution, but I do think the solution of destroying public education and selling it off to the Gates Foundation and various other institutions that are for-profit is a good thing in the long term, for society or children.

        The truth is, much of what’s done is charter schools could be done within the public school system. That’s why ya’ know, charter schools were first created by unionized teachers. Of course, the stuff you can’t do (ie. the lack of various protections for teachers and the fact you have to accept _every_ child) is the stuff that many in the upper reaches of the “education reform” movement seem to care about.

      • @saul-degraw @jesse-ewiak

        Do not misunderstand, I am not arguing for vouchers or charter schools. I’m simply saying that when you actively fight against what minorities are hoping to do at the ballot box because you have the belief that you know better than them what is good for them, it may not show up on other’s radar — especially minorities’ — as you “representing the interests of minorities.”

        I’m pretty sure most Republicans think they know getting rid of affirmative action and food stamps is good for minorities too. It doesn’t mean they represent their interests.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I’d also argue there’s not massive majorities among African-American’s for charter schools or the destruction of teacher unions. Of course parents try to get their kids into the “good” schools, but I’d say they don’t know the difference between charter and public schools, accept they’ve been told they’re “better.”

        Like I said, here’s an article ( about how education reform types weren’t greeted by liberators by the grateful people of Newark.Report

      • @saul-degraw I think I’m going to duck out at this point, because I have absolutely no idea what your position on charter schools, belief that steps can be taken to grow the Dem coalition or preference for Walter Reuther over Matt Yglesias has to do with anything we were discussing. I had thought we were discussing the utility of Corey Robins purported definition of conservatism and your claim (to which you demanded a response) that it is impossible to support small business while also supporting minorities, the environment, and/or labor.

        To be honest, I’m kind of starting to feel like I’m banging my head against the wall.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        There’s nothing wrong, conceptually, with charter schools, particularly when a neighborhood school has a chronic problem and the parents just don’t see an alternative in the district.

        Yes, it’s possible to fix the school, but typically that school having a chronic problem is related to decisions by the superintendent or the school board, so this is like saying, “yes, it’s possible that shark will stop eating me, but they’re currently chewing on my leg and I don’t really have grounds to assume they’re going to stop”.

        To the extent that the risk of a charter helps drive superintendents and school boards to address problems at chronically underperforming schools, that can be a good thing.

        Or, to steal another tag line, I want charters to be safe, legal, and rare.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        I don’t disagree with your larger point about minority interests, but when you say “Until the courts began taking over the issue, African Americans were a huge electoral barrier to [legalized] SSM”, you’re wrong.

        In fact, that whole idea that Black people uniquely oppose gay marriage or gay rights is an exact example of the sort of thing you’re talking about–White people deciding what minorities want without bothering to ask them.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I’d also argue there’s not massive majorities among African-American’s for charter schools or the destruction of teacher unions. Of course parents try to get their kids into the “good” schools, but I’d say they don’t know the difference between charter and public schools, accept they’ve been told they’re “better.”

        Good thing those dumb nigra parents have a smart white boy to tell them the difference.Report

      • @alan-scott Actually, I think you’re arguing mine.

        I’m not arguing that blacks and homosexuals are enemies. I’m arguing that you can’t take the interests of one group and declare those the interests of another just because it makes you feel more comfortable. In California, for example, African Americans voted 70% to make SSM illegal. Though the divide was not as stark, majorities of black voters opposed SSM when the issue was put up in Texas, Wisconsin, and even my own home state.

        Sure, Barney Frank had black friends, and sure, there are places where the majority of black voters did favor SSM — and that number of places is most likely growing, just like is is for every other demographic.

        But you can’t just waive a magic wand and say that black voters — when given the chance — didn’t vote to ban SSM in a lot of places in about as many places as whites did, just because it helps the liberal narrative to pretend that they didn’t.

        I’d tie all of this all in to the point I was trying to make, but since you said you agreed with that I’ll hold back giving my typing fingers more exercise.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Well @james-hanley, I don’t think many white, Asian, black, or Hispanic parents know much about education policy, beyond being told what schools are good and what schools aren’t, because they’re parents trying to raise kids.

        But, if you want to join the rest of libertarianism under the “liberals are the real racists” camp, well, it’s just another reason why I’m spending less time at this place.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        @tod-kelly ,
        I’m not saying that the majority of Black voters in California didn’t vote to ban gay marriage. They unquestionably did… only, so did the majority of non-Black voters. And I’d be surprised to find out that the same wasn’t true of Texas, Wisconsin, and a lot of other places to.

        But the 70% figure was a flawed measurement, and the more accurate 58% figure came after huge advertising campaign in which Black voters were only meaningfully targeted by the “Yes on 8” side. In fact, there are few enough Black voters in California that, even if we were to take the 70% figure as correct, if every single Black voter had stayed home instead of going to the polls, Prop 8 would still have passed.

        The CNN exit poll was bad data resulting from a low sample size, and the overall notion that Black voters were particularly strong in their opposition to SSM became a cudgel for the ideological opponents of both the Black and LGBT communities. I saw it foster a lot of racism among my own LGBT acquaintances. You’ll understand why I feel the need to call it out as a lie and ask that you and others stop spreading it.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Mark Thompson says:


        I don’t think liberals are the real racists, but I do appreciate your attempt to shift the focus to the evils of libertarianism.

        I don’t even think you’re a racist.

        But I do think your comment was thoughtlessly racist. I read it to my wife this morning, who had worked late the evening before at a forum on racism, and she gasped out loud, and looked at me with that wide-eyed “did he really say that?” look on her face.

        And frankly, I think it fits right in with what Tod was saying about folks like you thinking they know what’s best for minorities but not taking much time to listen to them. Do you really know that those parents don’t know the difference? Have you asked them? Have you studied the claims they make? Or because they want something you don’t want, are you just assuming that they can’t possibly know what they’re talking about?Report

  5. Burt Likko says:

    What frustrates me is the “You’re all in or you’re all out” attitude mentioned at the start of the post, which I think is legitimately identified as a factor in the cognitive dissonance at the heart of this dynamic.

    Q: If you don’t like the way America is going, why don’t you leave?

    A: Because I can vote. I get a voice in changing the way America is going, and my complaints are at least in part an attempt to persuade you to join me in steering the political dynamic to aim at a better destination.

    Ain’t that America? It’s something to see, baby.Report

  6. LeeEsq says:

    This conflict is as old as the United States. Even in the early days of the Republic, when the Ink on the Constitution was still fresh, Americans have struggled to live up to the full implications of liberty and freedom. Hence, the Alien and Sedition Acts or how who could not live what was seen as a conventional life by the majority of Americans were treated.Report

  7. aaron david says:

    “As with all Fox News talking points on any particular day, each of these sentiments mirror what I read online and hear on talk radio — often on the same day, and even (on the radio) in the same segments between commercial breaks.”

    Remember Journ-o-list? Sounds just as crazy coming from the left as the right.Report

    • Jesse Ewiak in reply to aaron david says:

      Speaking as a liberal, we can’t stay organized to say the same things to each other, let alone the same things on the radio, TV, and so on.

      The Journo-List was basically ya’ know, a bunch of people in the same industry having a Google e-mail list to talk each other. The #gamergaters are trying to say the same thing that it’s a terrible breach of ethics for people who review games to be on the same mailing list.Report

  8. zic says:

    I think the good kids are the cool kids. The ones who protest to protect the right to protest. The ones who question authority. The ones who want to take AP History classes that include stuff like Tea Parties, Thoreau, Civil Rights Marches, Sit Ins, and Occupy Wall Street.Report

  9. Kolohe says:

    (from above) @tod-kelly “Conservatives are changing at a fundamental, foundational level right now. What they will be in 30 years is far more up in the air than people are willing to admit, I think.”

    That’s sort of my point to, but in the opposite way, to pushback on your pushback.

    American conservatism has always been a tricky thing, because we (Americans) don’t have a king or state religion, nor a(n) (formal) ethno-cultural myth lost in the mists of antiquity. i.e. we have cherry trees rather than watery tarts slinging scimitars. So the institutions that must be conserved are a bit moving target for American conservatives.

    One can pull a thread that connects the Federalists with the Whigs with the Republicans of both the 1860s and today, and pull another, even stronger thread (a zip tie, really) that connects the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans with every elected Democrat from Andrew Jackson to Barrack Obama. However, while the first group are nominally the ‘conservatives’ and the second group the ‘liberals’, there are key points in history where this got all mixed up (and is normally associated between one ordinal number party system to the next one). The most famous, of course – and the one I was referencing above – being the late 1850s where half the country (by area, 1/3 by population, and an asterisk next to that, naturally) deemed the social and economic conservative project was the maintenance (and even expansion) of chattel slavery of African Americans. Which led to them (the small c conservatives of the time) to blow everything up in 1860.

    That led to an over 90 year era where the South voted for Democrats in lockstep (irrespective of conservative and liberal makeup of the party nationally) and slightly shorter period where social conservatism (everywhere in the country) was not even a thing, being perceived by the body politic as a fish perceives water. Everyone believed in God, that America kicked ass, and that white people were simply better. The only conservatism (that was distinguished from liberalism) was economic, set up along class lines (almost in a classically Marxist way). (Though “Rum,Romanism, and Rebellion” was the culture war of its day, as was the long fight for women’s suffrage – and Prohibition.)

    In the post World War 2 era, everything changed again. Conservatism was infused with new life due to another religious awakening, liberals that has completely shifted to pro-state from anti-state, and, not to put to fine a point on it, the abandonment of the Democratic party’s longstanding toleration (in the North & West) and active support (in the South) of Jim Crow.

    That’s why American conservatism is somewhat of an incoherent mess right now. A good chunk of the rank and file are composed of what would have been Jacksonian Democrats in any other era up to 1980, and on the flip side, the Democrats are the ones now more in tune with the needs of central bankers and big businesses. (Which gives the Dems their own incoherence, but everyone seems to be working together better. Probably because each faction is still pro-state, for their own reasons).

    (tldr: yes American conservatism is undergoing the most radical transformation in our lifetime, but not in American conservatism’s lifetime. Also, Southerners gonna Southern)Report

  10. George A. Chien says:

    …we have cherry trees rather than watery tarts slinging scimitars…

    Just unlurking to say this is one of the best lines I’ve read on this site, ever.Report

  11. For what it’s worth, and since I should have said this yesterday, I actually quite like the “good kid/cool kid” dichotomy to describe the two most significant and independent factions of the GOP. I don’t think it’s right to say that the “cool kid” types are emerging because of clickbait rhetoric, but that’s another story altogether and not really an important part of your argument.

    But one of the reasons I like the dichotomy is that you’ve put it in the context of a 1950s/60s-era understanding of “good” kids and “cool” kids. Today, I suspect that the terms have a bit of a different connotation in that the term “good kids” is probably viewed as synonymous with kinda nerdy and introverted types, while “cool kids” is probably more or less synonymous with “popular.”

    But in the popular imagination and stereotype, a “good kid” from the 50s/60s would probably be not only law-abiding and clean-cut, but also perceived as kinda heroic, an “Everybody’s All-American” type, and probably the most popular guy in school, the type of kid that big business can’t help but put in their commercials. The “cool kid” would be more aloof, disrespectful, disruptive unconcerned with popularity, reckless, and devil-may-care, often a real and present danger to himself and others. On the other hand, though, he’d also be quite fun-loving, self-reliant, and independent, willing to hang out with anyone willing to put up with his crap (and in fairness, he gives a lot of crap).

    But the “good kid” looks down on the “cool kid” and his lack of conformity and respect for authority. For all his outward claims to decency, he can often be indistinguishable from the Omegas from “Animal House,” gleefully willing to use his status and close ties to authority to crush any who he views as a threat to his status and institutions. Obviously, the “good” Omegas cannot long coexist with the “cool” Deltas.

    Allowed to reach the highest heights, it is this self-superior side of the “good kid” that takes over, as he loses any concept that he is distinct from the entities he values. That which he does is right because he is a good Patriot, and good Patriots do what he does. Whatever he does that will earn him more money or maintain his status becomes acceptable, even if that means cheating, or agreeing to become a walking, talking billboard for Uggs.

    He becomes, in a word, Tom Fishing Brady, He must, at that point, be stopped, taken down a few pegs, and ruthlessly defeated. He must lose his throne atop the AFC East and made to kneel down before those whose hopes and dreams he has most frequently and ruthlessly crushed – the nerds, the losers, the Buffalo Pegulaville Bills. And this must happen this Sunday.

    So let it be written, so let it be done.

    Wait, what were we talking about again?

    Oh, right, Fox News. Like you said, the good kids, the Omegas, who have been the faces of the GOP forever, cannot long coexist with the cool kids, the Deltas. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc.? They’re Babs, Mandy, and their sorority full of Southern belles – they’ve always been the Omegas’ sisters, and can’t imagine living without the prestige, power, and influence that comes from that relationship, but frankly they’re getting pretty bored and they’re a little intrigued that the Deltas are trying to court them. They haven’t decided to hop in the convertible with Bluto yet; in fact, they’re actually quite scared of the Deltas and the their potential for destruction. But in their hearts, they realize that they’d be the biggest loser in any war between the Omegas and the Deltas.

    Unlike the sorority girls in Animal House, though, Fox News & Co. are willing to do whatever it takes to keep that from happening for as long as possible, even if war is inevitable in the long run. They figure that the Deltas love the idea of revolting enough that they won’t care whether they’re actually revolting against authority or acting as counter-revolutionaries, and the Omegas have so defined themselves as indistinguishable from the institutions they purport to hold dear that they’ll view attacks on any non-Omega in charge of those institutions as an actual defense of those institutions.Report

  12. Ahunt says:

    “Much of the regulation that is demanded to be expanded in the areas of employee safety by Dems (in the PNW anyway) is in fact not only costly, but statistically increases the risk of employee injury,”

    Tod, if it is possible…could you point me in the direction of blue collar layman info on this point? (Hubby is a retired union man who was a grizzly about safety with his crew, and now is an independent contractor. With employees in the future, he will want to inform himself on regs that contradict safety concerns.)

    Googled, but not finding much.Report