The New York Times' Incredibly Obscure Twitter Citation

Amanda Hess’ New York Times essay series “How Fan Culture Is Swallowing Democracy” is a long and occasionally insightful exploration of how pop culture and politics interact with different presidential candidates.

But the Twitter screenshot in the section about Buttigieg’s use of an Everlast song is bizarre.

Hess includes a twitter exchange about Buttigieg and “What it’s Like” where one Twitter user gushes about the song choice and another counters that the song itself “suuuuuuucks.”

I wasn’t familiar with conversation before the story but I’m not on Twitter 24/7 and things pass me by sometimes. I assumed the two people were prominent political figures or Twitter personalities. But no. They’re low profile Twitter users. Even after being featured in the Times story they have less than 650 followers combined. Without Hess, they’re two tweets falling in a forest, uncertain if their impact produces a sound.

The obscure twitter exchange is an odd subject for a Times opinion essay. It feels like Hess was writing towards a conclusion and searched Twitter for evidence that supported the conclusion she hoped to make. Hess picked the exchange to illustrate how “What It’s Like” is “a musical transliteration of what [Buttigieg’s critics] see as Buttigieg’s centrist vibe.” Just as Everlast transformed rap music into “easy listening for white audiences,” Buttigieg’s critics think Buttigieg is “taking progressive ideas and rendering them into technocratic, focus-grouped policy tweaks.”

OK, fair enough. It’s clever. Hess is comparing watering down liberal policies with watering down rap music. That would be fine if she wasn’t presenting the comparison as a widely held opinion among Buttigieg’s critics. She seems to have mined far into the depths of social media to find someone expressing that idea.

Maybe the problem isn’t that Buttigieg is tweaking progressive ideas. After all, truly progressive ideas, like ending war, fighting global warming and redistributing wealth, aren’t compatible with technocratic tweaks. And not to belabor the comparison between Buttigieg and Everlast, as it’s a comparison few people were making, but “What it’s Like” hardly not the first easy-listening acoustic guitar-driven rap for white people. “What I Got” by Sublime came out a year before and it’s pretty much the exact same song as “What it’s Like,” only in a major key.

Everlast didn’t transform anything, he just rehashed a bad idea. And it’s the same with Buttigieg. Nobody’s objecting to the way Buttigieg handles progressive ideals. They just doubt he ever had any to begin with.