‘Rightworld Provincial’

by Jonah Goldberg

I don’t know if Pete Spiliakos made up the term or not, but I think it’s great (so is “leftworld provincial”). I think it gets at a really interesting/serious phenomenon in political life: the inability of perfectly smart people — on the left or the right — to sound reasonable and serious to groups not already sympathetic to the speaker’s point of view. For the record, here’s how Spiliakos uses it:

Nevada – The line coming from the Weekly Standard and National Review is that Nevada shows that candidates matter.  That is true, but what does it mean?  One of Sharron Angle’s problems was that she had a way explaining conservative positions in a way that put them in a bad light, and she made at least one statement that was either obnoxious or a threat of sedition depending on how charitably you want to interpret it.  I think an even bigger problem than her more famous quotes is that she is a rightworld provincial. She seemed very uncomfortable talking to any audience that she wasn’t sure was friendly.  If you can find the videos, check out her appearance on FOX and Friends and then her thirty minute interview with one of the Nevada television stations.  She exuded anxiety in front of skeptical or indifferent audiences.  That is probably not uncommon among the general population (I don’t think that I would have done better) but such on-the-surface social anxiety is an unfortunate quality in a Senate candidate in a tough race who depends on winning over swing voters.  Her combination of social anxiety and inability to translate her worldview to people who don’t share her political assumptions is symbolized by her talk to a group of Latino students.  She pathetically tried to form a rapport by showing that she is so unbigoted that she thought some of them looked like Asians and that one time somebody thought she was Asian.

Putting Sharron Angle aside, I think ideological provincialism explains why some politicians — and commentators, especially bloggers — do so much better than others even though the actual ideological and intellectual content is largely the same. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were each in their own way brilliant at speaking to unsympathetic audiences. George W. Bush was not so great. And Barack Obama, who at first seemed like he was great at it, is proving himself to actually be pretty clumsy at it — once you familiarize yourself with his rhetorical tricks and gimmicks. For instance, when he says “As I’ve said before,” or “As I said at the time,” most students of Obama get ready to hear him say something he never really said before. In 2007-2008, a talk like the one he gave yesterday at his press conference would have seemed perfectly plausible and sincere to most non-liberals. Not anymore.

I don’t think ideological provincialism explains all such problems. Sometimes people are speaking to larger audiences than the one right in front of them. But I do think it’s a worthwhile dynamic to keep in mind.