Talking Points

The self-gratifying mood of American politics

Can calling people racist get them to support your agenda? President Biden will soon find out, at least where Democrats' voting legislation is concerned. Continuing the pattern of his Jan. 6 speech in his address in Georgia on Tuesday, Biden presented his political opponents as the successors to George Wallace and Bull Connor: outright enemies of democracy. 

That isn't to say that there aren't arguments for Biden's approach to voting access and against Georgia Republicans' stance, even if both parties exaggerate the impact and downplay the degree to which they're using this issue to seek naked partisan advantage. And Biden probably isn't trying to reach Republicans here, anyway; his real audience is likely a pair of Democratic senators, Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who remain wedded to the current filibuster rules, which impose a 60-vote threshold for most bills.

Even so, the president argued in an increasingly common mode in American politics: in-group signaling and expressions of outrage at the other side. It's understandable how one could be frustrated with people who think the 2020 presidential election was stolen or who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID. It's less clear that repeatedly beating them over the head with your disapproval or dancing on their graves accomplishes anything besides making the grave dancers and their allies feel better.

This pattern isn't confined to the left, of course. There are many conservatives who prioritize attitude and a willingness to "own the libs" over most other attributes in their political leaders. It's a big part of how former President Donald Trump, the man who has driven so many liberals stark raving mad, took over the Republican Party in the first place.

"Trump is a bell, and 90 percent of this site is Pavlov's dogs," Twitter wag David Burge quipped back in 2018. "They only differ in how they salivate."

Things haven't changed much since then, except that Pavlovian training has reached vast swathes of the country outside of Twitter (though hopefully less than we extremely online pundits assume). Persuasion is out. Salivation is in.