The Psychology of a Liberal Ass

Noam Scheiber, senior editor at The New Republic, has penned an astonishing article on what he calls “The Psychology of the Ryan Pick.”

A cursory inspection of Mr. Scheiber’s curriculum vitae reveals that the gentleman is a very smart fellow, indeed. He is a a Rhodes scholar with a Masters degree in economics from Oxford and a bachelors degree in mathematics from Tulane.


The fact that Mr. Scheiber lacks a degree in psychology or any specialized training in that field matters little. Being a liberal, he has magic powers of observation that allows him to peer into the minds of conservatives and glean meaning and intent where lesser lights see nothing. We see this extraordinary phenomenon every time there’s some kind of mass shooting. The immediate reaction of liberals is to examine the “psychology” or “motivation” of the shooter, which invariably leads them to some conclusion involving Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or, in a pinch, George W. Bush. And if they can work in all three, they hit the jackpot.

One would think that lacking specific knowledge of a subject would preclude the liberal from writing an article that purports to use that knowledge to analyze people or events. Ordinary modesty might stay the pen of the common writer. But Scheiber is not an ordinary writer, has no modesty, and doesn’t let his ignorance of psychology get in the way of his puerile “analysis” of why Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate.

My initial reaction to the Ryan VP selection was that there was only one possible explanation: Team Romney believed it was on track to lose, and Ryan allows them to shift blame for the loss onto the party’s conservative wing.


“[O]nly one possible explanation?” He may be right. That was the very first reason that came to my mind. But then, I remembered that since the first thing that comes to anyone’s mind is usually the most idiotic, I dismissed it. Mr. Scheiber would have done well to have acted similarly, except he then grabbed on with both hands and ran with it.

You don’t pick Paul Ryan as your running mate if you think you have a strong chance of winning. Whatever you think of Ryan, no one regards him as low-risk.

Now here’s where I add the special sauce: Given that Team Romney believed it was headed for defeat, there were one of two ways to respond. 1. With a genuinely bold pick that could have beefed up its margins among key demographic groups: women, independents, disgruntled Democrats, Latinos, etc. 2. With a pick whose only value was to excite conservatives (whom, I should reiterate, were already highly motivated).

Special sauce, indeed. As political analysis, this ranks right up there with thoughts offered by my barber, my bartender, and that sophomore in high school that everyone thinks is so smart. Of the three, my bartender sounds the wisest — probably because we don’t start discussing politics until I’m on my fourth scotch, and even Mr. Scheiber would sound fairly intelligent after a few Dewars on the rocks.


Why should there be only two reasons to choose a running mate? Which “key demographic group” did Biden help Obama with? Boring, gaffe-prone, plagiarizing white males? I doubt whether Biden excited liberals much either.

No matter. It should be noted that numerous observers and analysts have given other, far more plausible reasons why Romney chose Ryan as his running mate. Romney could have chosen a candidate who fit one or both of Mr. Scheiber’s criteria. But the idea that those were his only options is absurd.

Mr. Scheiber believes the only reason Romney tapped Ryan — the only reason he could have — was to excite the conservative base. That may be wrong, but don’t stop him now, he’s on a roll:

He went with option 2—a pick that does nothing to increase his chance of winning, but does increase the chance he loses by a large margin, because it hurts with the demographic groups we’re talking about.

Why would Team Romney do that? Here’s where we get into the realm of psychology. I’d guess—and I won’t pretend it’s anything other than speculation—they worried that if they went with option 1 and lost big, then the blame was on them. In the case of a Palin or Rubio-type figure, the conventional wisdom would be that they were reckless, a la McCain. If they went with a moderate woman or a moderate Latino or a Democrat, the base would insist they lost because they strayed too far from the Truth. I doubt they ever articulated these anxieties, much less discussed them at length. But I suspect they acted as powerful, if subconscious, constraints.


“Subconscious constraints” on what? Whatever Scheiber “suspects” is meaningless in this context for the simple reason he is proceeding from a false assumption — that the reason for the Ryan pick was so Romney could cast blame on the right when he lost — and drawing conclusions based on nothing more than a powerful bias. This is not only stupid, but rank dishonesty as well.

I’d guess — and I won’t pretend it’s anything other than speculation — Noam Scheiber really hasn’t a clue why Romney chose Ryan but dreamed up this “blame it on the right” theme because 1) it sounds kewl and lots of liberals will be impressed he is using “psychology” to analyze the right; and 2)attacking Mitt Romney for being such a dufus gives him almost as much pleasure as tearing the wings off of flies. That latter reason may or may not be true. I claim no special sight that would allow me to watch as Scheiber cackles gleefully while ripping the wings off a helpless insect. But the psychology fits. And if the psychology fits, you must convict — or something like that.

Meanwhile, the big finish:

Just knowing what we know about how humans work, that strikes me as a much more appealing proposition. But, of course, it’s also incredibly risk-averse.


The answer is, I don’t know if earth is Scheiber’s native planet. Or if he actually belongs to the genus homo sapiens. There very well could be another species of homo that works the way Mr. Scheiber describes. Perhaps we could refer to them as homo luninus.

The fact is, Mr. Scheiber knows as much about how humans “work,” as he knows about “psychology,” or the motivations of Mr. Romney in choosing Mr. Ryan as his running mate for that matter. Frankly, it isn’t too damn much.


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