Word of the Month: Index
After the election of Barak Obama in 2008, I introduced Dolchstoßlegende (blaming a defeat on backstabbing at the home front) as Word of the Month. My examples implied that this type of pseudo-explanation is used primarily by the political right as an excuse for a defeat. But the recent election, in which Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, shows that the right has no monopoly on Dolchstoßlegenden (that's the plural).
Two days after the election, Clinton claimed that her defeat was the result of interference by the FBI, whose director, James Comey, had sent a letter to Congress eleven days before the election stating that new e-mails had been discovered which might be pertinent to the Bureau's investigation of whether Clinton had mishandled classified information. The timing of the letter was indeed suspicious—early enough to have an impact on undecided voters, but too late for the Clinton Campaign to weather the storm.
However, we'll probably never know if and to what the degree the letter had an impact on the election—the polls have simply been too unreliable in the last days of the campaign. But even if it influenced some voters, it should not distract from the fact that Clinton simply ran a flawed campaign that failed to read the mood of a significant portion of the electorate correctly. In the words of Sen. Chuck Shumer, a Clinton supporter, “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in Western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin." This turned out to be a miscalculation and provides a much better explanation for why Clinton lost.
There is also a second form of the Dolchstoßlegende at work in the reaction of some Clinton supporters. This one blames Clinton's loss on the 1% of voters who voted for Jill Stein, the candidate of the Green Party. Yes, if these voters had voted for Clinton, she may have won. But why single them out? Why not blame the Democrats who voted for Trump (9%) or Hispanics (a whopping 29% in spite of Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric)? It makes no sense to arbitrarily blame a particular segment of the electorate when there are other segments Clinton did not reach either. Her campaign simply did not produce a majority in the swing states she needed to win, and this should be blamed on the campaign, first and foremost, and by implication, on its candidate.
But admitting mistakes is hard—I know this from my own experience. It's much easier to blame others and resort to a Dolchstoßlegende, i.e., an excuse disguised as an explanation.
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