Progressives have a problem: They ladle unto every decision, even the most mundane and trifling one, an unattractive glop of gooey political significance. They can’t resist warning the rest of us that we’re abetting the destruction of the planet every time we, say, tuck into a Quarter Pounder.
Josh Barro is a recovering ex-Republican who is now a member of a niche political group: the non-crazy Democrats. He coined a cute phrase — “the hamburger problem” — to describe the relentless politicization of everything by progressives and Democrats. He writes, “Democrats’ problem isn’t that they’re on the wrong side of policy issues. It’s that they’re too ready to bother too many ordinary people about too many of their personal choices, all the way down to the hamburgers they eat.” He cites nonstop Democratic hectoring on, inter alia, the team name of the Washington Redskins, the way men sit on subway trains, and even some Americans’ choice not to abide by China’s one-child standard as the reasons why the party is today as electorally wobbly as Rocky Balboa in the 15th round. Yet the GOP’s success puzzles him still, because so many core Democratic cultural ideals (notably, gay marriage and marijuana decriminalization) poll more and more strongly.
When John Stuart Mill called the British conservatives “the stupidest party,” it stuck. Today the Democrats are the Annoying Party. The Left thinks Americans are picturing Mary Poppins when they talk about the nanny state; in truth, they’re thinking of Nurse Ratched. The prospect of a new set of nuisances being dreamed up and lashingly enforced by Hillary Clinton is what led voters to roll the dice with an Atlantic City grifter.
It wasn’t that long ago — say, the early 1990s —when Republicans were perceived as intruding into people’s private lives by talking about family values, saying no to drugs, and framing issues in moral terms. Today there can be little doubt that the broad American wish to be left alone is more strongly identified with the GOP, and that the Democratic party is providing a lavishly welcoming political home for the busybodies.
Professional progressives will not eliminate their hamburger problem. They can’t. Their nonstop need to hector others is fundamental to who they are. They genuinely think they’re creating a better world, one tweet or argument or angry unsolicited suggestion to a total stranger at a time.
Jonah Goldberg has been saying for years that progressives are the aggressors in the culture war. The war will never end, because whenever the Left wins a new victory, it pushes forward to the next fight, often over a policy position that would have seemed ludicrously extreme even to Democrats just a few years earlier. Because of what Jonah astutely dubbed “Selma envy,” the virtue-signaling, the marches for this or that, and the insistence on bending the arc of history toward social justice are baked into the cake that the Left demands you provide for it, on pain of destroying your business.
Once you board the progressive choo-choo, it won’t stop until it reaches Crazy Town.
Each political party is these days centrally identified by its hatred of the other. Yet the Right concedes points made by the Left all the time; paleoconservatives, for instance, tend to agree with the Left’s framing of the Iraq War as an unnecessary and misguided adventure. Several National Review contributors have called for criminal-justice reform, with a particular focus on unduly harsh sentences for nonviolent offenders and the nightmare of civil-asset forfeiture without due process. This publication declared “The War on Drugs Is Lost” back in 1996.
By contrast, when you sign on to the progressive cause, you know that ostracization and obloquy from your own side will attach to you like a traveling chorus of hecklers should you ever concede conservatives are sometimes correct. Unless you set out with the full expectation of being damned as a contrarian and a party-pooper for adhering to principle, you will find it exhausting always to be pushing back, to be damned to eternity on the intellectual Nautilus. Much easier, and more natural, is to just relax and accept the constant pull to the left. To put it another way, once you board the progressive choo-choo, it won’t stop until it reaches Crazy Town.
To be on the left today is to look around and see nutty ideas accepted as perfectly reasonable, everywhere and at all times. Speech is violence, but violent acts are just a really neat form of expression. Gender is a social construct, so you can be a boy on Monday and a girl on Tuesday. If Paul Ryan calls for a spending increase that’s less than what Democrats want, in the progressive imagination this amounts to pushing Granny off a cliff. If the federal government considers ending its subsidy for the leading abortion provider in the country, or if a House dress code that didn’t bother Nancy Pelosi is discovered to have lingered on into Ryan’s term, we’re living in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Just this week, the Women’s March celebrated a cop-killer; a self-proclaimed member of the “resistance” said, in Cosmopolitan, “My seven-year-old asked if the president was going to hurt him”; Phil Donahue called the election of Trump “the darkest political moment in American history” and USA Today complained that Dunkirk didn’t feature enough minorities and women. After using the term “fake news” while talking to a dinner companion in a Beverly Hills restaurant, the writer and non-Trump voter Bret Easton Ellis was accosted and yelled at by a total stranger who accused the novelist of “colluding with Russia” at a West Hollywood hotel. Asked Ellis on Twitter, “Is the Left f—ing NUTS?” Why, yes, Bret. Yes they are. Declaring hamburgers to be problematic is just the symptom, not the disease.