One thing that unites us, across the political spectrum, is our capacity for self-deception. Whether we are on the left or the right, we can find information and analysis that tells us that our side is just and true and all our setbacks and disappointments are the result of foul play by the other side.
So it must have been comforting for progressives to read this headline recently in the New York Times: “Majority of Latino Voters Out of G.O.P.’s Reach, New Poll Shows.” Republican dreams of “a major realignment of Latino voters drawn to G.O.P. stances on crime and social issues,” the story explains, “have failed to materialize.”
There were, the report concedes, “worrying signs for the future of the Democratic message,” as subgroups of Hispanics are drifting away from the party. What it does not give readers is any numerical comparison between the current poll result and the behavior of Latino voters in the past. The poll says they favor Democrats over Republicans 56%-32%. Those look like pretty strong numbers for the Democrats. Until you look at the ones for the last midterm election, in 2018, when Latinos went 69%-29% for Democrats. The margin has shrunk from 40 to 24 percentage points.
The poll suggests that Republicans are not doing better than they did in 2020, when Biden won Hispanic voters by 21 points. But the 2020 results were themselves widely heralded as a Republican breakthrough. If Republicans are holding on to those gains, it’s bad news for the Democrats, who for the last generation have expected the growth of the Hispanic population to cement a national majority for them. Republicans do not, of course, need a majority of Hispanics to win a comfortable majority nationally.
But spinning poll numbers is pretty standard practice; sometimes the stories we tell ourselves are even more fantastic. So it was with another front-page article, in the next day’s New York Times, about how Russian troll farms had conducted an operation to divide organizers of the 2017 Women’s March and discredit its leaders, in particular the activist Linda Sarsour. The trolls took her words out of context and outright lied, claiming she favored violent jihad and wanted to impose Islamic law on the U.S.
The piece includes a number of caveats. The divisions the Russians tried to widen already existed before their efforts. The influence of their campaign cannot easily be isolated. There’s even a passing reference to the number of tweets — a mere 2,642, as compared to the hundreds of millions of tweets that are sent per day — that can be traced to these trolls.
But there is nothing about Assata Shakur, who murdered a state trooper and fled the country for Cuba — or about the march organizers’ public birthday greeting to her. Nor is there a mention of Sarsour’s statement that the state of Israel is based on Jewish “supremacy.”
Instead there are scattered hints that perhaps Sarsour and her colleagues were responsible for some of the controversy surrounding them. One source says that on several occasions she denounced bigoted attacks on Sarsour, only to find that the activist had made new “indefensible” comments. There’s no way to judge how objectionable her comments were, and how much criticism she deserved, because nothing Sarsour said is mentioned.
Readers might have gotten a better sense of the debate if the story had noted that the Biden campaign denounced Sarsour’s views in 2020. Maybe the Russians got to the Democrats too?
Here’s an alternative theory: The leaders of the Women’s March, including Sarsour, made a decision to position themselves on the far left and to tolerate anti-Semitism. Vladimir Putin didn’t make them defend Louis Farrakhan, and many Americans needed no help from Russian bots to find it sickening. And that’s why the march had an epic meltdown that in the end saw even Alyssa Milano fleeing from it.
There are lessons in this story for progressives and Democrats: about the moral and political dangers of the no-enemies-to-the-left stance that has historically disfigured their movements; about the need to vet leaders before gushing about them; about the internal divisions that come easily to a movement with contemporary progressive assumptions about identity.
But learning these lessons would require self-reflection, as would any Democratic attempt to change their tactics or attitudes toward Hispanic voters. And for Democrats, as for most Americans, self-deception is the path of least resistance. The difference is that liberal self-deception is often enabled by liberal bias in the mainstream media — which serves liberals as poorly as it does readers.
Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is the editor of National Review and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.