September 18th, 2017

Mark Lilla gives advice to fellow-progressives on how to get elected

Mark Lilla wrote a book called The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics that caused a bit of a stir among his fellow-liberals because it said that in order to win elections the Democrats should abandon identity politics.

As an example of some of the reaction from critics, we have this Politico piece:

Today, Democrats simply cannot win evangelical voters for whom LGBT rights is an absolute deal-breaker. Of course, individuals bear multiple identities. It’s therefore incumbent upon liberals to try to convince such voters to privilege their identity as workers, environmentalists, teachers, parents, health care professionals or what have you, above their religious identity. In effect, history suggests that Democrats shouldn’t discard interest-group politics. They should get better at it.

And they should do so with steely-eyed recognition that one of the oldest and most powerful variations of interest group politics—white nationalism—is both resurgent and mainstream once again…

But it’s not the topic of identity politics that I’m going to write about today, and it’s not why I brought up Lilla. Something else he said caught my eye when I was reading this essay by Richard Fernandez. Fernandez refers to an interview with Lilla that appeared in The New Yorker recently (mostly behind a paywall, so I’m using quotes from it that Fernandez offered). In that interview, Lilla—who is a political scientist and professor at Columbia—had this to say:

…when we go out on the stump, it makes no sense to call out to various groups, as Hillary Clinton did, and inevitably leave people out. …

I want to get this across: we cannot do anything for these groups we care about if we do not hold power. It is just talk. Therefore, our rhetoric in campaigning must be focussed on winning, so then we can help these people. An election is not about self-expression. It’s not a time to display everything we believe about everything. It’s a contest. And once you hold power, then you can do the things you want to do.

Even if it’s not what the people who voted for you wanted you to do or expected you to do. In other words: lie, misrepresent yourself, do whatever you need to do to get elected, and then change the world—for the better and for their own good, of course.

Well, at least he’s being honest about it.

One thing I noticed during the Obama campaign and then presidency was how blatant this deception had become. This wasn’t just a garden-variety case of a candidate lying or shading the truth, making promises he couldn’t keep and painting a rosy picture to appeal to the largest possible number of voters. This was more, and I wrote about it several times in several posts (beginning way back during the 2008 campaign). But the summary version can be found in this sentence:

Obama is the first president who didn’t merely disappoint and fail to follow through on certain issues, but who fundamentally lied about who he was in the most basic sense, and about what he had planned…

On a very specific issue, that of gay marriage, I traced his outright lies here. But there’s plenty more where that came from.

When I was a kid, politicians on the left were more up-front about their intentions. Although there were lots of leftists in ordinary life who kept their leftism under wraps, generally speaking if a politician was running for office and he was a leftist you pretty much knew exactly how far to the left he was. Some of the more extreme leftists ran for office as members of the Socialist Party, for example. And more mainstream leftists such as Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern ran their campaigns making it quite clear where they stood and what they planned to do if they were elected.

Obama broke with that tradition—and I’m not not talking about the question of where he was born or whether he was a closet Muslim or any of those fringe issues (and by the way, I think he was born in Hawaii and that he is not a Muslim or even much of a believer of any kind). The break with tradition that I’m talking about was the fact that Obama was purposely unclear or even deceptive about what some of his more basic political positions and where he thought the country should be going and would be going during his presidency. “Hope and change”—it’s awfully vague, isn’t it?

Obama was able to successfully accomplish this because his political track record wasn’t especially long, although anyone who actually studied that record ought to have noticed that he was further to the left than he presented himself as being during his campaign. But his relative lack of political record helped to hide the extent of his leftism, and he was helped along in that endeavor by the cooperation of the MSM. That sort of approach would be likely to work best for the politically inexperienced; relative political neophytes can get away with it more easily, but if a person has a long long political trail it would be quite difficult.

That brings us to Donald Trump (doesn’t just about everything these days?), an even more extreme political neophyte than Obama was because Trump had never even held office before being elected president. Did Trump do the same thing? Did he fundamentally misrepresent himself politically?

I’m not sure, but I think the answer is “no, for the most part.” That’s because—unlike Obama—Trump isn’t an ideologue of left or right. He supports bits and pieces of both sides. His overriding presentation during the campaign was that he would put America first, and I think that has continued. On specifics, he often promised one thing one day and changed it the next, but I haven’t seen any vast ideological reversals—yet. In fact, I’ve been surprised at how much he’s adhered to the basics of his plan for the most part. I expected far less of a match between his campaign statements and his presidential acts than we’ve gotten from him so far.

[NOTE: Of course, people who believe that Trump is really a Russian agent or a closet Nazi also believe that he has indeed misrepresented who he is in a fundamental way. I don’t happen to agree with them.]

27 Responses to “Mark Lilla gives advice to fellow-progressives on how to get elected”

  1. Griffin Says:

    This was a strategy only workable because of the pliability of the media. The Joe the plumber incident, the ‘bitter clinger’ comments and the ‘you didn’t build that’ speech were all slip ups that told the real story behind the façade but the media smothered them with a pillow until they were dead to the wider audience.

    There is no way for anybody to pull this off without the media’s full throated support.

  2. arfldgrs Says:

    All Warfare Is Based Upon Deception

    Including the deception that they and others are not fighting a war to control and take possession of the world and its peoples..


    but if you keep on this, you may catch up to the game in 100 years or so (given you have missed the right quotes and so on that would explain thsi to you from itch to scratch)

    Now maybe one might realize they been losing a war they arent fightint cause the opposition told them there was no war, just as the devil says there is no god, and so on… (that was /sarc)

    The kind of lies Obama and the left tells are legendary, and would top the man who kills his parents throwing himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan…

    THe soviet union and communism raised lying to an art of war, including whole departments devoted to that part of the game… what would be a good lie, what whould stick, when to use the truth…

    The KGB and Soviet Disinformation: An Insider’s View is a non-fiction book about disinformation and information warfare used by the KGB during the Soviet Union period. It was written by former intelligence officer specializing in disinformation for the Czech Intelligence Service and retired professor of disinformation at Boston University, Ladislav Bittman
    Under the direction of the Soviet secret police, Bittman was deputy chief of the disinformation division for Czech intelligence called the Department for Active Measures and Disinformation.

    given what they did to their own people and so on, you think they are nicer with you and their followers and peole on that side are not following these proceses?

    go read the hate hoax list making history to change minds

    He describes information warfare tactics used by the Soviet Union, which they internally referred to as disinformation, intended to fool and defraud others. The author defines disinformation as “a carefully constructed false message leaked to an opponent’s communication system in order to deceive the decision-making elite or the public”


    Bittman writes that for disinformation covert operation campaigns to succeed, “every disinformation message must at least partially correspond to reality or generally accepted views”

  3. arfldgrs Says:

    here is an example of how you and others been pulled apart

    from WAPO
    Before ‘fake news,’ there was Soviet ‘disinformation’

    you would be very surprised how much you KNOW is faked
    you would be very surprised that what you nost beleive, might be least real

    On July 17, 1983, a small pro-Soviet Indian newspaper called the Patriot published a front-page article titled “AIDS may invade India: Mystery disease caused by US experiments.” The story cited a letter from an anonymous but “well-known American scientist and anthropologist” that suggested AIDS, then still a mysterious and deadly new disease, had been created by the Pentagon in a bid to develop new biological weapons
    The Patriot’s article was subsequently used as a source for an October 1985 story in the Literaturnaya Gazeta, a Soviet weekly with considerable influence at the time. The next year, it ran on the front page of a British tabloid. After that, it was picked up by an international news wire. By April 1987, it was suggested that the story had appeared in the major newspapers of more than 50 countries

    the article covers it quite well, but look how useful it is
    The conspiracy theory even persisted in the United States: A 2005 study found almost half of African Americans believed that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was man-made.

    and thats cause they think the US did to them what they think the US did to them in the past, but it didnt. the syphilis studies were NOT funded by the government but the ROSENBERGS a communist couple running SEARS… and highlander, and others… when they pulled their money out, there was nothing to treat the people. it was them and another famous socilaist doctor that did that..

    now look where TIME takes it (despite gorbachev admitting to it!!!)
    Separating Fact from Fiction / The CIA and AIDS,28804,1860871_1860876_1861031,00.html

    Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first reported the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 1981, rumors have persisted that the deadly virus was created by the CIA to wipe out homosexuals and African Americans. Even today, the conspiracy theory has a number of high-profile believers. South African President Thabo Mbeki once touted the theory, disputing scientific claims that the virus originated in Africa and accusing the U.S. government of manufacturing the disease in military labs. When she won the Nobel Peace Prize, Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai used the international spotlight to support that theory as well. Others insist that the government deliberately injected gay men with the virus during 1978 hepatitis-B experiments in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Still others point to Richard Nixon, who combined the U.S. Army’s biowarfare department with the National Cancer Institute in 1971. Though the co-discoverers of HIV — Dr. Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute and Dr. Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute in Paris — don’t agree on its origins, most members of the scientific community believe the virus jumped from monkeys to humans some time during the 1930s.

    and that was the end of that… no mention of gorbachevs speech
    Operation INFEKTION
    Operation INFEKTION was a KGB disinformation campaign to spread information that the United States invented HIV/AIDS[2] as part of a biological weapons research project at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The Soviet Union used it to undermine the United States’ credibility, foster anti-Americanism, isolate America abroad, and create tensions between host countries and the U.S. over the presence of American military bases (which were often portrayed as the cause of AIDS outbreaks in local populations)

    i can show you thousands of things that you believe otherwise

    if i had the time i could show you the birth cert given was bad.. doesnt mean there isnt a real one, or another… but its bad, and on so many levels… but no one will believe that…

    just as they dont believe that the dems and the socialists worked together in the civil rights era…

    they are now so far along, thye are admitting to the lies!!!
    At the time, Parks was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. She had recently attended the Highlander Folk School, a Tennessee center for training activists for workers’ rights and racial equality. She acted as a private citizen “tired of giving in”. Although widely honored in later years, she also suffered for her act; she was fired from her job as a seamstress in a local department store, and received death threats for years afterwards.

    how nice.. they claim it was a civil rights thing
    but the FBI files say it was closed for other reasons.

    The Highlander Research and Education Center, formerly known as the Highlander Folk School, is a social justice leadership training school and cultural center located in New Market, Tennessee. Founded in 1932 by activist Myles Horton, educator Don West, and Methodist minister James A. Dombrowski, it was originally located in the community of Summerfield in Grundy County, Tennessee, between Monteagle and Tracy City.

    just like in hayes tilden you can read the ny times, and not find one mention of the weeks of cocerage of the dems and their mutilation of lbacks and torture and murder of a womans family named aliza pinkston

    and in the lies you can find this.
    Highlander Center – Training Generations of Change-Makers

    they do the we are innocent and the feds were mean
    but they leave out how their people were movig blacks into white homes then pretending to be the kkk and blowing htemup to create and make more of the souths hate of blacks than was real at the time…
    ph well
    you can read my posts going back 10 years for more deatils on this.

    but wait till you experience a whole society based on such lies like the soviet union and its worse off satelites like my famly died and escaped from

  4. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “But the summary version can be found in this sentence:

    “Obama is the first president who didn’t merely disappoint and fail to follow through on certain issues, but who fundamentally lied about who he was in the most basic sense, and about what he had planned…”” neo [my emphasis]

    If that isn’t an example of “high crimes and misdemeanors” then what is?

    As importantly, if not more importantly… doesn’t obstruction of justice result in the obstructor becoming complicity in a crime? In refusing to impeach and convict Obama were not Congressional democrats and RINOs also guilty of complicity in those crimes?

    In covering up for Obama, was not the MSM also complicit in his subterfuge?

    And in refusing to hold those Congressmen accountable, are not those who vote for those Congressional Representatives complicit as well?

    When does the statue of limitations expire on that complicity?

    Does not John Updike’s observation also apply here?

    “Under the banner of a peace Social Justice movement, rather, war was is being waged by a privileged few upon the administration and the American majority that had has elected it…

    The left is using the Constitution as cover to prevent consequence for their subversion. They are turning allegiance to that Constitution into a suicide pact.

    The Left’s Cultural Revolution intensifies.

  5. TommyJay Says:

    In 1992 Bill Clinton was adamant that he would implement a large middle class tax cut during his first year or years in office. He had been president about 5 minutes (exaggeration) when he made a media announcement to the effect, “I had no idea how bad the federal budget is!!” Then came the pivot to the Clinton tax increases.

  6. Montage Says:

    It had been pretty well established for a while [at least until Trump] that politicians leaned further right or left during the Primaries and then moved closer to the center for the General election. I think this is true at least since Bush the 1st. Because of that I would say politicians were not necessarily lying or misrepresenting themselves – they were hedging a bit to gain more voters. I do not think Obama did this any more than any other politician. I know this because I read his book ‘The Audacity of Hope’. At the time when I read it I knew pretty much exactly where he stood on most issues. More importantly, I liked his rhetorical tone. So even though he seems to be against gay marriage I KNEW he actually would eventually come around to support it. During the first election his views were a reasonable misrepresentation [or hedge] given the fact that the other choice was McCain / Palin who I was pretty sure were not at all for gay marriage. It was better to have someone who I knew the left could work with than someone we could not. [Plus, who votes on one issue anyway?]

    So therein lies a very important thing about politicians and political campaigns. If voters like the political rhetorical tone coming from a politician they will tolerate some lies. A good example is Trump. He took a pretty hard stance against DACA, illegal immigrants, a wall, refugee Muslims, The UN and the Paris Accords. But it seems he may soften on some of these. If he does he won’t lose his voters unless someone further to the right comes to challenge him in 3 years. That won’t happen. So the lies won’t really matter so long as he keeps up appearances. Just as Obama did. Is this a GOOD thing? Maybe not. But the opposite is getting a politician like Walter Mondale or George McGovern or Mike Huckabee or Ron Paul who do not hide their beliefs but who lose big elections.

  7. neo-neocon Says:


    Some people knew that he was lying (for example, about his point of view on gay marriage, or on income distribution). But a great many people who voted for him, and whose votes put him over the top, hadn’t a clue.

    I am pretty old. I have never before (in this country, anyway) seen that degree of purposeful deception in a campaign about what a politician is planning or his basic positions, either on left or right.

  8. Ann Says:

    Before your time, Neo, but what about FDR?

    For all his cynical willingness to manipulate everyone around him, FDR never wavered in his commitment to freedom, republican ideals, and his New Deal social programs. He would bend the truth, dissimulate his thinking behind a bright smile and personal charm, send subordinates to take actions and deny he did, and even risk impeachment to win reelection and provide “all aid short of war” to the Allies. For all his public denials that American boys would ever fight in foreign wars, he was certain that war with Hitler (and eventually Japan) was inevitable.

  9. neo-neocon Says:


    That’s not what I’m talking about.

    Presidents often lie about something specific: raising taxes, their attitude towards a war or a particular war, “you can keep your doctor”—all sorts of particular policies.

    I am talking about something very different, and I tried to make that clear: one’s basic political philosophy. No one thought, for example, that FDR was a pacifist. And no one thought he was a conservative. Obama held himself out to be far far more moderate than he ever was. He was a leftist through and through.

    And Lilla is advising future politicians to lie about who they are politically, as well.

  10. neo-neocon Says:


    By the way, please read this address where FDR, in October of 1940 (when he was running for re-election), said the following:

    Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.

    They are going into training to form a force so strong that, by its very existence, it will keep the threat of war far away from our shores.

    The purpose of our defense is defense.

    This was preceded in the speech by a big list of the different ways in which the American armed forces and weaponry had been built up greatly. His assurance about not being sent into foreign wars was in this context: that there was a big threat, that he wanted to keep the threat from our shores—and also, his listeners remembered WWI, when Americans really WERE sent to fight in a war far from their shores when they themselves were not threatened.

    This all changed with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and then the German declaration of war on the US. Even if he thought such a war had probably been inevitable, he never did break his word. He never sent American “boys” to fight “foreign wars.” The declarations of war against Japan and then against Germany were only made after the war had been brought to us.

  11. Montage Says:


    I have to say I do not view Obama as a ‘leftist’. He was fairly moderate. Even Obamacare is moderate if you compare it with what they have in England and Australia and countries that are not left. His environmental stance was not as aggressive [or radical] as Theodore Roosevelt – and no one would call TR a leftist. Obamacare may have added too entitlements but it was no where as ambitious as Social Security [FDR] or Medicare [LBJ]. Even Reagan signed a bill increasing Social Security tax.

    Where Obama appeared leftist was – again as noted – in his rhetorical tone. He seemed to give a voice to those who had felt left out of the conversation. That certainly counts for something because a voice in the White House has some effect. But did his accomplishments achieve a leftist goal? Gay marriage maybe, but I am not sure gay marriage was his so much as inevitable.

  12. huxley Says:

    I have to say I do not view Obama as a ‘leftist’.

    Montage: I know leftists say this and believe it. That don’t make it true.

    At every juncture Obama pushed the US as far to the left as he could and then some. It was not Obama’s moderation that prevented Obamacare from being single payer. Obama just ran into the hard fact that US voters aren’t Europeans (yet) and he couldn’t sell Bernie Sanders socialism in 2008.

    But you’d better understand, Obama woulda if he coulda.

    What do you say Obama would have done differently if he had been a real ‘leftist’?

  13. Ira Says:

    In Cheers Season 11, Episode 21 (originally aired Thursday April 22, 1993), Frazier Crane counsels bartender Woody, a new candidate for a Boston City Council seat, who is concerned about an upcoming debate:

    I don’t know if I can handle a debate, Dr. Crane. I’m not very good at rendering my opinions.

    Frasier Crane:
    Nothing to worry about, Woody.
    Just tell some more of those farm stories- people seem to love those.

    If that doesn’t work, just say the word “change” about a hundred times.

    Come on, let’s go to my place and work on it.
    Trust me, Woody, with my brains and your smile, who knows how high we can go. Congressman, senator. Who knows?

  14. neo-neocon Says:


    Obama was exactly as leftist as he felt he could afford to be without being impeached. He was indeed very leftist. That he wasn’t the most leftist person in the world, or as leftist as he might have been had he had his druthers and dictatorial powers, isn’t the point.

    I knew he as a leftist early on. See this, this, this, and this.

  15. Rick Ballard Says:


    “This piece” by John Judis, co-author of The Rising Democratic Majority should be read along with your cites for a better understanding of the current panic in progville. Judis acknowledges the demographic fantasy underlying the thesis of his own book and the minority-majority will remain a ship out of sight over the horizon for quite some time.

    I understand the progressives’ desire to lie themselves out of the box canyon they are in but I suspect budget woes due to over generous pensions in blue paradises are going to negate any advantages gained by even very skillful liars.

  16. Montage Says:


    You always make a good case. I won’t attempt to refute the links except to say I don’t agree on some of the points that are important to your political focus but it doesn’t ncessarily make them untrue.

    Here is an article by Bruce Bartlett who was in the Reagan and Bush administrations. He called Obama a Republican. A stretch perhaps but as a Washington insider he makes some points.

  17. Manju Says:

    Re : Obama fundamentally lied about who he was in the most basic sense

    I think everyone and their mother knew Sen. Obama’s fundamental agenda was:

    1. Getting us out of the Great Recession via a Keynesian Stimulus.
    2. Increased regulation to reign in Wall Street
    3. Universal Health Care
    4. The end of the Bush Doctrines in foreign policy. Withdraw from Iraq, Kill OBL.
    5. Energy Independence via CleanTech

    And he more or less did this. Where’s the hidden lefty agenda. Gay marriage?

  18. Terrence Condolini Says:

    agree 100% that obama’s true nature was easily discernible well before he ever ran for POTUS. i expect a certain percentage of the populace were fooled, but pace “montage” there were many many more people who voted for him in spite of his pathological mendacity. they voted for a fantasy and would do it again. and this in a nutshell is why the current system is crashing — the franchise has been diluted to the point that corrective voting is no longer possible.

  19. Frog Says:

    I do not know whence you get your history, but TR gave birth to the Progressive Party. That is was not as full-blown at birth as it is now should come as no surprise. Adults are no longer infants!

  20. Gringo Says:

    I have to say I do not view Obama as a ‘leftist’. He was fairly moderate.

    Which is why Obama kicked off his political career at a “meet the candidate” affair at the household of those well known “moderates,” Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn.
    I guess that five bombs are more moderate than a hundred bombs- but then Billy Boy on 9/11/2001 told us he regretted he didn’t do more- bomb more? “Moderates” like Bill and Bernadine considered Sirhan Sirhan a political prisoner, doncha’ know? I refer to Prairie Fire.

    Montage reminds me of long-gone commenter Mitsu.

    Moderate, schmoderate.

  21. neo-neocon Says:


    Montage does indeed resemble Mitsu. But he/she does not appear to be the same person.

    Also, Mitsu was a lot more long-winded.

  22. ConceptJunkie Says:

    People might be jumping on Montage for his or her comment about Obama being a moderate, but I saw that claim many, many times, particularly from Europeans, who also often described him as “center right”.

    I always felt that either these people weren’t paying close attention or Europe is far more gone that I believed. Or both.

  23. neo-neocon Says:


    Europe is very far gone.

  24. Ymar Sakar Says:

    To religious fanatics of the Leftist’s satanic abuse and child molestation cults, Hussein is not only a moderate to them, he is their Messiah, Savior, and Christ.

  25. huxley Says:

    Mitsu has a Harvard physics degree and was a serious math talent. He came from serious Japanese money. He has since worked as a CTO in minor dotcom undertakings.

    Montage is similar as a leftist with enough of an open mind to deal with this blog but he has nowhere near Mitsu’s horsepower.

    No way Mitsu would have mumbled something conciliatory to neo and feebly thrown back a stupid link from a disgruntled conservative.

    We would still be dealing multi-screen Mitsu rebuttals.

  26. Terrence Condolini Says:

    all that money and raw intelligence and this mitsu ended up no better than Triggly Puff or Pajama Boy — a mindless leftist zombie. might be a lesson in there. ahh, there is:

    The strongest lemming drowns the farthest out

  27. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Neo, which is why FDR was waiting for an attack strong enough to justify it as a pretext to go to war. FDR had already committed American resources to the war, he was just waiting for a pretext strong enough to justify going all in.

    Even the trade sanctions against Japan, was designed with this reason in mind.

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