On the destructiveness of self-confidence and self-worth.
There is a man named Robby Mook whom everybody needs to hate.
There needs little reminder of the grim status of 2020 America. Ravaged by Covid, orders of magnitude worse than any other country. Rule of law increasingly replaced by rule of one man, as with former democracies like Turkey and Venezuela. The rich get richer, thepoor get poorer. Americans hating each other worse than at any moment since 1865. Increasingly vicious street battles between the far left and far right, bringing to mind 1932 Berlin. A new death cult named QAnon rapidly gaining momentum as people abandon science, logic, and common sense en masse, retreating to the dark comfort of magical thinking for answers as the world falls apart around them.
It is terrible that politics, and presidential politics in particular, have such grave consequence in this country, to an extent that would have seemed absurd generations ago. Whatever the drama of Congress and the White House, up to and including Watergate, it just didn’t have nearly as much direct impact on day-to-day life as a presidential tweet now does. Presidents of both parties used to be punchlines of apolitical jokes on the Johnny Carson show, and hardly anyone got mad. Some corny comic with his trademark star-studded piano made gentle bits about politics like someone giving a keynote at a 1960s trade convention — and enough people apparently loved it that he made a career out of it. Now… just look out the window.
It did not have to be this way. One man made it this way. One man and his unassailable, towering conviction in himself and all his terribly, devastatingly wrong beliefs. No, not that one. A different guy, one named Robby Mook, Hillary’s #2 in her campaign team.
Am I exaggerating? To be sure, and to be obvious, the top two blame-holders for 2020 are Hillary, and the great Mango Maduro himself at the pole position. Two awful political candidates who offset each other in their awfulness. Or they would have, at least, if one of them hadn’t been confidently led astray by the worst political operative in modern history, a man who makes Bob Shrum look like Karl Rove, outwitted and outclassed at every turn by a rogue’s gallery of hustlers and ne’er-do-wells such as Paul Manafort, Kellyanne Conway, and Brad Parscale.
While Hillary had all the charisma of your average trapdoor spider, things would have been far, far calmer today if she had pulled it off. Neither she nor her voters would have wanted her to become a literal dictator, and she would not have been laying groundwork in 2020 for overturning the upcoming democratic election as Trump is now doing. Hard to believe, but the New Right would have actually been *less* furious than they now are. Their hate would have been focused on Hillary and her top lieutenants instead of the country writ large — the New Right’s hatred of blue America and its big cities rivals that of al Qaeda. QAnon would not have existed. We would have had a third Obama term, the exact same thing that Joe Biden is now promising to return to. And we would have had a coherent federal Covid plan, instead of the “blue states can go fuck themselves” plan that led to NYC’s crisis that I personally witnessed, one that devastated not white, latte liberals of the Upper West Side but people of color of the outer boroughs. (Say what you will about postwar Democratic presidents, but “red states can go hang” has never been part of their disaster responses.)
But nooooooo. Robby Mook and his love of mommy’s beautiful perfect creation known as Robby Mook had other ideas.
You see, it was Mook and his utterly ridiculous and completely wrong political model that directly led to Hillary’s electoral collapse in swing states like Wisconsin, a model that he convinced everyone around him of because of his supreme self-confidence. It was Mook and his bullshit model that allowed his boss to ignore the advice of the greatest political mind of her generation — her own husband. And while Hillary, her other staffers, and James Comey are hardly blameless for our current catastrophe, well, here’s a quote from a DNC staffer after the disaster: “But it was all about analytics with them… They were too reliant on analytics and not enough on instinct and human intel from the ground.” And one man was the kingpriest of analytics in that operation.
Here’s a representative take that, while tearing into Hillary (and to be clear, she was a terrible politician, and it is her fault for hiring Mook), does too little to also tally her opponent’s negatives that would have outweighed her own if she had had competent help. And then we have this:
“One of the lessons Mook and his allies took from Michigan was that Hillary was better off not getting into an all-out war with her opponent in states where non-college-educated whites could be the decisive demographic… So Mook’s clique looked at the elevation of the Michigan primary — poking the sleeping bear of the white working class — as a mistake that shouldn’t be repeated. ‘That was a takeaway that we tried to use in the general,” said one high-ranking campaign official.’”
I realize we have the benefit of hindsight, but as far as electoral strategy goes, this was the equivalent of Stalingrad. And it was sold to Mook’s candidate because like so many other DC insiders (especially the male kind), he never, ever doubts himself. He takes the preschool cartoon’s message of always believing in yourself and drives it to its fatal conclusion.
Because a full year later after his self-engineered disaster, Robby Mook was still not doubting himself. (“Mook is not the kind of guy who allows himself time to wallow,” the reporter cautiously notes.) It was Russia’s fault, you see. Oh, and it was also Hillary’s fault since it’s all about the candidate and campaign staffers don’t matter much. It was Comey and his damn letter’s fault. In any event, Mook had moved on to a new project called “Defending Digital Democracy,” which he relished because now he was in full control.
I don’t know how influential mommy’s special boy’s new project is within DC insiders, but I do know it has just over 2k Twitter followers, and followed by just over 700 on Facebook. It is safe to assume that the Biden campaign does not view Robby Mook’s new thing as its frontline op against Russian interference.
If men like Mook could ever entertain the notion that they could be wrong about anything; that he may have needed to readjust his presumptions; that the old, popular saying of “no plan survives contact with the enemy” is a popular saying for a reason; that perhaps his campaign underperforming against Bernie in the primaries was reason enough to suspect his entire “analytical model” just might be horseshit — basically, if Robby Mook were less like Donald Trump, then Donald Trump most likely would not be president today, and American democracy might not be expected to fall apart like old cornbread in two months.
The self-help-isms we push these days still bug me. “Never give up!” Dora will forever instruct the pre-K crowd, on up to the daily affirmations women hang on the wall, to try and have even a tenth of the self-esteem of people like Robby Mook. Hell, sometimes I wish I did too. It sure would feel better. Goodbye, anxiety! But on the other hand, it is precisely our ability to judge our own wrongness, to know when we’re out of our expertise, to gauge the harm we are inflicting on others, that prevent us from callously destroying so many lives around us like the happy, special Robby Mooks of this planet.
There is a reason why we’ve evolved feelings including self-doubt, guilt, and humility. Of course too much of these will limit one’s life and career and leave one feeling small and miserable. But on the other hand, a complete absence can turn one into a fireball of self-confident destruction.
I don’t hate Donald Trump, because he’s too ridiculous to hate. It’d be like if tiger-blood-era Charlie Sheen were made dictator-for-life… proper emotions range from befuddlement to sorrowful shaking of one’s head. Also, I don’t hate Hillary because I know full well the problem of coming across badly to ordinary people (although perhaps she could have realized the resulting limitations of her own political ability). But Robby Mook… this Skip Bayless of political hacks, I hate him with the fire of a thousand suns and so should anyone without the last name Trump.