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This Is Very Serious
A new publication from Josh Barro
A lot of writers write about people they disagree with. I think part of what makes me different — and has made me different through my career — is that I try to write for people I disagree with.
Of course, when you write for people you disagree with, you can end up looking like a contrarian, or at least it can cause people to call you a contrarian. And certainly I have been contrary to something. But mainstream media outlets — especially prestige outlets like The New York Times and NPR, and national web outlets like Vox — are themselves contrarian, in that they reflect a subcultural set of political views and values well to the left of the median voter in the Democratic party, let alone the country as a whole.
I was for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential primary and so were most Democratic primary voters. Yet my normie position — an apparently “contrarian” one if you looked on Twitter in January 2020 — was weirdly absent from the commentariat. When the New York Times ran opinion columns advocating for each prominent Democratic candidate, they had to turn to conservative Ross Douthat to write the case for Biden.
The conversation that gets erroneously called a “national conversation” — conducted among select journalists, operatives, activists and academics — is essentially a conversation by and for people who supported Elizabeth Warren. It reflects the values and preferences and linguistic quirks of one minority part of one political party’s coalition. And sure, I am contrarian in relation to that subculture, but not to our overall politics or society, within which I sit closer to the median than most other people you will hear from in the press.1
Dissenting from and complaining about this subculture is not novel; it’s become a cliché to jump to Substack and complain about it. But my beef with this subculture isn’t quite the usual one, and that’s why this newsletter is going to be different. I don’t feel oppressed by the subculture. But I do think it has caused certain influential people to become badly misinformed in ways that have been damaging to the interests of both the press and the Democratic Party.
To follow this “national conversation” is to end up badly misled about what normal people want and believe and care about; which ideas are popular and which are merely fashionable; and in particular, what problems Democrats need to address and how if they wish to win elections. While this insularity problem is especially acute in politics, it also applies in cultural and even business coverage. Spend enough time in the media bubble and you might start saying that people have turned against Lin-Manuel Miranda, or that people hate Amazon.
My intention with this newsletter is to offer a corrective to that, with coverage that punctures conventional wisdom on politics, business, the economy, and mayonnaise. If you have read me elsewhere or have listened to me on the radio, I hope you expect my arguments to be rigorous and interesting, that I will be very serious without taking myself too seriously, and that I will be worth reading even when you disagree with me.
I especially hope you will read this newsletter if you disagree with me. If you want to inform or persuade people, you have to talk to people who don’t already think what you think. And you have to tell them something they disagree with. You have to be — in this specific sense — contrarian. And I will be.
If that interests you, I encourage you to subscribe, comment, email me, and join a community of readers that I think will be tremendously interesting to engage.
As part of a paid subscription, you’ll get 4-5 newsletter issues a week, including the following:
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, you’ll get my Very Serious takes on politics, business and the economy.
On Wednesdays, I’ll invite you to step into the Mayonnaise Clinic, a weekly dialogue with readers. Please write in to email@example.com with your questions, comments and complaints so I can respond to them. You can tell me why my last newsletter was stupid. You can ask me to rule on a dispute in your relationship. Or you can ask me what to make for a six-person dinner party that lets you do all the work before your guests arrive (probably this, but make 12 thighs instead of 8). I’m willing to opine on a wide variety of topics, and unlike Slate, I have a pretty good eye for fake questions. Ask me anything; I’m listening.
On Fridays we’ll release the Very Serious with Josh Barro podcast. (By “we,” I mean me and Sara Fay, the longtime producer of Left, Right & Center at KCRW who has joined me in this venture to edit this newsletter and produce the podcast.) If you were a fan of Left, Right & Center during my seven years as host, I think you’ll like this show, which will feature conversations across the political spectrum about the big questions that underlie major political and cultural debates. There will be a weekly email with a link to the show and some discussion about it, but you’ll probably want to follow and listen on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. In fact, you can add it to your podcast feed right now.
On some Saturdays, you’ll get my unsolicited opinions about cooking, shopping, traveling and entertaining, all of which you may be doing wrong.
No newsletter on Monday. You’re busy enough on Monday.
If that sounds appealing, I invite you to become a paying subscriber today.
Very Serious is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Sara and I have quit our jobs to bring you this venture, so we’re especially grateful to our founding supporters. But we also know what it’s like to be a consumer, and we understand wanting to try the product before you buy it.
For that reason, even free subscribers will get everything we release for the first four weeks. After that, some content will be free and some will go behind the paywall.
I sincerely hope that your judgment after reading for a month will be that this is a newsletter worth paying for. And if you don’t feel that way, please drop me a note about how I’m doing it wrong.