The Rise Of Vibes Politics

This week, Cassandra wrote something very clear-eyed about the current moment that I would like to build on a bit, and talk about the rise of “Vibes Politics.”

“Vibes” has been having a moment over the last five years or so, referring to a distinct but hard-to-explain emotion a person, place, or thing gives off to the person experiencing it. The term is nothing new. It is used in situations like a friend describing a guy at a party giving off weird vibes, restaurants that go for a “certain vibe,” and so on. But the foray of vibes into politics is both old, and new.

Paul Simon, the politician not the singer, was a brilliant man who ran for president in 1988 and likely would have made a good Chief Executive but his glasses and bowtie gave off a kind of nerdy brainiac vibe that Americans sadly tend to reject. Opposition political strategies try to create vibes about their opponents, such as the GOP spreading Rich Fancy Boy vibes about war vet John Kerry based on a photo of him daintily eating a Philly cheesesteak. It literally hurt his campaign, and later, resulted in photo after photo after photo of Democrats eating like raging alpha predators to avoid Kerry’s fate.

This current version of “vibes” is different. Last year, Derek Thompson at the Often Disappointing Publication The Atlantic said that Democrats lost state and local elections over “vibes.”

Will Stancil followed that up with a piece calling on Democrats to ditch old ways of thinking and come to terms with the new Vibes World. I think he is right, in that while it is good to do things for people, you have to do a better job of communicating those good things.

That is difficult, because of the simple reason that often, Americans believe things that are just not true. For example, even when crime was down, the general perception among Americans was that crime was rising. Plus, the right-wing has built a media empire that has no real equivalent on the left, and is bolstered by a media that is often open to having right-wing nonsense injected into the mainstream discussion (see the current trans hysteria).

Nevertheless, Vibes Politics are here to stay for at least a little while, largely because *gestures around* all that is going on. Trust in institutions is at an all-time low, which is not surprising given we’ve had mass shootings, a Supreme Court that has turned into a six-person Council of High Priests bent on erasing rights, inflation, attacks on democracy, and so on. People have good reason to be freaked out and in despair.

I am a bit concerned that mainstream Democrats do not fully understand this. Cassandra is correct, what she refers to as Tantrum Mode coming from comfortable white Americans, meaning “I am not going to vote for Democrats and/or I will stay home” is definitely not the answer to our current ills. Having Republicans fully in charge will make things much, much worse. So it is deeply, deeply important Democratic leadership gets this right, and feels the same sense of urgency that we all do.

Cassandra also points out that Josh Marshall has the right idea on what Democrats can do differently. A big problem that the Democrats face is the mainstream absolutely cannot handwave all the bad vibes being felt by their base as nonsense coming from far-lefties threatening to vote Green. It is MUCH larger than that, and it is a feeling of malaise and fear that the current leadership is not up to the challenge we have. For example, people defending Biden’s gaffe deal with Mitch McConnell that would seat a far-right anti-abortion judge as a hypothetical for a seat that was not vacant have looked increasingly silly.

But all that said, Biden and the rest of the Democratic leadership can change the Vibes among decent Americans. Commitments and a well-structured plan that not only includes what we as Americans can do, but also what THEY are going to do. The current correct reply to “VOTE HARDER” from our leaders is “great, we plan on it, but what will YOU do?”

Democrats can certainly do that, and probably should throw any consultant into the airlock that gives them the usual “but how will we win over Republican voters?” paralyzing advice. There is enough polling evidence that people want them to act, and if they continue down this path, then the GOP can very easily seize the narrative (referencing Cassandra’s post again, she points out that Head Creep of Virginia Glenn Youngkin managed to package his horrible racist/bigoted ideas into a pretty enough package to get him some good media coverage and centrist support).

So, time to change the vibe, man.

The last word is obvious.


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