Commentary Magazine


Contentions

American Liberalism’s Necessary Fictions

Wendy Davis is not handling her latest controversy very well, but she’s been nothing if not completely predictable. After it was revealed that she fudged details of her biography on her way to liberal stardom, she followed her party’s playbook to the letter. Anyone who followed other recent liberal campaigns knew exactly what was coming next. Rather than simply admit that she misled the public on her personal story, she was almost certain to follow Elizabeth Warren’s example.

When it was revealed that Warren had claimed dubious minority status to take advantage of affirmative action on her way to tenure at Harvard Law, she immediately did two things: she blamed the campaign of her opponent, Scott Brown, and she shamefully accused Brown of sexism, complaining that a female candidate such as herself could never get a fair shake from someone like Brown.

Davis was clearly paying attention. First she absurdly blamed her GOP opponent, Greg Abbott. Then she hit Abbott on identity politics: “I’m not surprised that the Abbott campaign would resort to attacking the story of a single mother who worked hard to get ahead.” Of course, the news was broken by the Dallas Morning News, not the Abbott campaign. And the only “story of a single mother” anyone was criticizing was the part that was made up. But if the facts mattered to Davis, we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.

Nonetheless, to a certain extent you can’t really blame Davis. After all, Elizabeth Warren is now a wealthy, powerful senator. Her biographical creativity helped her get ahead and never caught up to her. And it isn’t as if Warren wrote the playbook; she merely copied it. There’s no question Barack Obama’s back story is both inspiring and in its own way quintessentially American—a living case for American exceptionalism and social progress. But adoring biographer David Maraniss then revealed that Obama’s autobiography consisted of made-up personalities who inspired made-up epiphanies: Obama wrote not so much a memoir as a piece of historical fiction loosely based on the person Obama thought his fellow liberals wanted him to be. As Andrew Ferguson wrote in his review of Maraniss’s book:

Obama himself drops hints of this in Dreams. He writes in his introduction that the dialogue in the book is only an “approximation” of real conversations. Some of the characters, “for the sake of compression,” are “composites”; the names of others have been changed. All of this is offered to the reader as acceptable literary license, and it is, certainly by the standards of the early 1990s, back in the day when publishers flooded bookstores with memoirs of angst-ridden youth and there were still bookstores to flood. Yet the epiphany-per-page ratio in Obama’s memoir is very high. The book derives its power from the reader’s understanding that the events described were factual at least in the essentials. Maraniss demonstrates something else: The writer who would later use the power of his life story to become a plausible public man was making it up, to an alarming extent.

Ferguson reviewed the many such examples and noted: “Obama wasn’t just inventing himself; he was inventing himself inventing himself. It made for a story, anyway.” It certainly did. What it amounted to was that Obama basically took the measure of his fellow American liberals and judged them to be idiots. He was exactly who he said he was and honestly rendered his cultural and political outlook. But he also understood that to Democrats, your opinion is only valid if it matches a certain biography.

In part this is because modern liberalism is so intellectually conformist. Elizabeth Warren’s opinions are a dime a dozen, especially in a place like Harvard. But her opinions took on a sudden value when her employers could pretend she was a minority. So she did, and they did, and everybody won (except, of course, the actual minority whose opportunity she likely snagged).

Wendy Davis understands this all too well. Her pro-abortion extremism, so out of step with the country and especially her state of Texas, is the standard Democratic line. But—as with Warren—the party wants to be able to avoid talking about the issues and instead push a bogus narrative consisting of false accusations and character assassination. For that, Davis—or, rather, the person Davis has claimed to be—was perfect.

And it also explains the outrage these politicians display when being exposed. Like method acting, the necessary fictions are integrated into their everyday selves. “It’s not a lie if you believe it,” George Costanza said, presaging the future of American liberalism.


Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.