Patterico's Pontifications


How I learned to stop worrying about “manufactured” outrage

Filed under: 2012 Election — Karl @ 7:03 am

[Posted by Karl]

Or perhaps it is how I learned to start being concerned about “manufactured” outrage.  It depends on how you look at it, I suppose.

After all, when I read generally conservative columnists like Matt K. Lewis or John Podhoretz disdaining “manufactured” outrages from different angles — even when the GOP may enjoy some temporary advantage from the kerfuffles of the current campaign —  I am not entirely unsympathetic.  Indeed, I am already on record arguing that institutionally, the GOP should not engage in these controversies, but note that Democrats have been generating them to distract from the anemic economy and the Obama administration’s record on the issues Americans care most about.  I think that’s pretty close to Podhoretz’s position, if I’m reading him correctly.

On the other hand, I recognize at least two problems inherent in the position of disdaining these distractions entirely.

First, there is at least a whiff of condescension involved.  I do not think those upset by the Obama administration’s plans to infringe on religious liberty as part of Obamacare are just pretending to be upset.  I doubt the progressives who seem so passionate about increasing access to abortion and birth control are playing make-believe (beyond the notion that such access is “free” in terms of money or overall liberty).  People who denounce a Democratic honcho who let her mask slip to suggest stay-at-home mothers don’t really work are not entirely engaged in hype.  I may think economic growth, exploding public debt and the entirety of Obamacare to be bigger issues, but it would be elitist to deny there are real issues at the heart of most of the supposed sideshows of the campaign so far.

This is even arguably true about this campaign’s dog tales.  Admittedly, whether Mitt Romney once transported his family dog atop his car or Obama ate dog as a child in Indonesia (with little apparent regret as an adult) has no direct policy consequences.  On the other hand, Podhoretz admits Democrats became interested in the Romney dog tale because of the effect it had on Mitt’s favorability in focus groups.  Moreover, the intersection of moral psychology and politics is a hot topic these past months.  And in this regard, it is notable that when asked whether it would be wrong for a family to eat the family dog after it was killed by a car, it turns out that the only group that thinks it alright is college-educated liberals.  The swingiest of swing voters are almost by definition not particularly moved by policy arguments, or they would be partisans.  America is still a free enough country that we get to tell this key bloc that dog tales are unimportant, but they don’t have to listen.

The second major problem with ignoring campaign sideshows is Utopianism.  As Podhoretz notes, opposition research is democratized in the Internet Age.  And Lewis concedes that ceding the field to Democrats on these issues may be necessary to win elections (and thereby address those “real” issues).  There is nothing in American history, let alone the history of the Internet Age, suggesting that a handful of pundits — or even concerted efforts by candidates and their teams — are going to stop these controversies.  To rhetorically shovel against this tide is in one sense noble, but also unconservative to the degree that it pretends human nature is so easily molded by the political realm.

In short, while I still think it helps the GOP to use these kerfuffles to say Democrats want to avoid discussing the economy and Obama’s record, there is probably a role for those who want neutralize or reverse their effect.


16 Responses to “How I learned to stop worrying about “manufactured” outrage”

  1. Ding!

    Karl (6f7ecd)

  2. Of course when Olbermann and Stewart were yucking it up for the last three weeks. meanwhile this passes for news;,0,5779862.story

    narciso (8d0f34)

  3. the streisand effect factor in pushing back on these sorts of things can be very high I think

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  4. Re: college educated liberals being the only subgroup in a poll where a majority agrees with the statement that there would be nothing wrong with eating the family dog after it was killed by car: (assuming that’s what this is – I didn’t listen to the recording)

    They don’t have any religious objections to that, and can’t figure out any other logical moral objections to it, so the answer becomes yes.

    they become detached from or override their feelings, and also don’t have a kind of Burkean conservatism.

    They don’t say that if it feels wrong, or people act like it is wrong, there is probably something wrong with that idea, even if they can’t yet quite put their finger on it.

    Sammy Finkelman (f913b2)

  5. these little side issues are used by the left to create themes that they then use to hit the GOP with on the serious issues …
    If the dog on the roof theme had been allowed to stand then in the not too distant future we would have heard the left snark something like “Romney wants poor/minority/women/seniors to ride on the roof” …
    They need to be met at every point of battle, the small, silly issues and the bigger issues as well … the fact is they don’t want to debate the bigger issues … you’ll notice that its the smaller issue that gives Romney or a surrogate a chance to smack the small issue aside and hit Obama on a big issue …
    Its all about sound bite management and by hitting back on these small issues the GOP gets a mic shoved in their face which they can use to pivot to the economy/gas/debt issues …

    JeffC (488234)

  6. Matt Lewis is on our side politically, but he can be a punk sometimes.

    I recall when he was one of the regular bloggers at, and he was obsessed with slamming Romney leading up to and during the 2008 GOP primaries.

    He was actually writing Townhall blog posts about Romney’s hair, Romney’s a Mormon, Romney’s too perfect looking, Romney and the dog crate on top of the car, et al.

    At the time, Lewis was doing that in an effort to do some blocking and tackling on behalf of Senator McCain.

    So it’s a little disingenous for ol’ Matty to be pontificating in 2012 as if he’s “above” the fray of petty politics and manufactured outrage.

    Elephant Stone (0ae97d)

  7. two words:

    Paul A'Barge (a1ea66)

  8. Well, at least when you’re “riding on the roof” you get fresh air;
    unlike what you get when “under the bus”, where so many inconvenient Obamiacs reside.

    AD-RtR-OS! (b8ab92)

  9. I think it is a legitimate way to highlight how the left relies not only on manufatured outrage, but on manufactured issues, candidates, and votes! We just need to make sure we make the point that this is what we are doing, and not insulting voters’ intelligence by just apeing the left.

    sherlock (387644)

  10. A little tweaking at Minitrue, now that the template
    has been set;

    narciso (8d0f34)

  11. “Its all about sound bite management and by hitting back on these small issues the GOP gets a mic shoved in their face which they can use to pivot to the economy/gas/debt issues …”

    JeffC – Take Obama demagoguing the scheduled expiration of the break on student loan interest implemented by the Democrat Congress in 2007.

    He goes into the whole not born with a silver spoon routine, how during his first eight years of marriage their student loan payments were greater than their mortgage payments, blah, blah, blah.

    I’ve got a different spin. Obama milked paying off his student loans for as long as possible, denying other students the possibility to borrow under federal loan guarantee programs. He got a $100,000 book advance. Did that got to repaying student loans? He and Michelle bought a very nice condo and then a very nice house, neither of which purchase were impeded by the existence of outstanding student loans. Obama had the capacity to pay off the student loans before their scheduled maturity, but he chose not to. It was a lifestyle choice on his part rather than something to brag about to voters.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  12. I hope that anytime Mitt Romney is asked a distracting question about a dog crate, about religion, about elevators, or especially one of those ridiculous “if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be” questions that were asked during a few of the earlier GOP primary debates, Mitt will respond along the lines of, “Look, there are millions of people who are hurting, who are out of work. The American people want to hear how I plan to get the economy moving—they don’t want to hear me talk about my favorite ice cream flavor, or what tunes I have on my ipod—because those things won’t help them pay their bills at the end of the month, or fund their kids’ college education.”

    And then he would talk about cutting taxes, reducing regulation, reeling in spending, drilling for oil, etc.

    Elephant Stone (0ae97d)

  13. I’ve got a different spin.

    …….(‘(…´…´…. ¯~/’…’)
    ………”…\………. _.•´


    peedoffamerican (ee1de0)

  14. There are important issues (in terms of actual consequences to life) and there are things that get peoples attention. The power hungry scoundrel emphasizes the latter to the degree that they are on the wrong side of the former. The responsible citizen-politician focuses on the first and tries to make it overshadow the second.

    Really clever people of conviction can address the second by putting it in its place while emphasizing the first. Jesus was the best person ever at this. He was fed a continual diet of “gotcha” questions and always managed to turn it around and make the point that He thought was important.

    The setting is all important. Some people want to hear the important stuff, but most don’t, including many who think they are smart. I think freedom of exercising one’s conscience in moral issues is vitally important. If the government can order you to do something that you think is fundamentally wrong, what can’t it do? Will a requirement to pay for insurance to cover “emergency contraception” today be followed with a requirement for a doctor to prescribe it against their conscience tomorrow and for a woman with two kids to take it against their conscience next week?

    I do not know all of the answers and how to do it, but I think “we”, i.e. our candidate, needs to be compelled by conviction and love of truth to be bold and not ignore the drivel, but make clear the ridiculousness of “it” on the way to something meaningful.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  15. the Universal Finger of Friendship®… P’dOA, you thief!

    Colonel Haiku (4e6a37)

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