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July 26, 2006

Comments

We disagree sharply on many things, politics is where we fight those battles, and that's just fine. But just because we disagree doesn't make the other side bad people.

people are simply not reasonable, logical or empathic. they don't want to understand; nuance is annoyance; they lust for demonization and caricature. they are so easily-led it seems obvious they prefer demagogues over analysis. the dozen-or-so regulars here are about as reasonable as you're going to find, in political discourse.

Andrew, conservatives declared war on America a long time ago when they launched the cultural war, a direct attack on American values. Most of us just ignored them, thinking that they could not be really serious, that people who spoke like you certainly were more typical of conservatives than are the Rush Limbaugh's, Rick Santorum's, Oreillys, and Bush's.

We were wrong.

Andrew, you are a marginal figure in the conservative assault an America. Nothing you say is going to stop people like Cheney warning Americans to fall in line or be called traitors. Nothing you can do is going to stop the ruling conservatives from borrowing money, that my child will have to pay back, in order to fund their own tax cuts.

Your reasonableness is useful to the cultural warrier only to the extent you can convince Americans not to respond in kind to their attacks. In other words, now that the battle has been engaged your role is to convince America that the battle need not be waged.

I wonder if we were at a different stage in this battle, if liberals had the upper hand, would you still be counceling a cease fire?

Conservatives have a well deserved reputation for sacrifice principal for political gain. So somehow I don't think so. I would welcome it if you can prove yourself different however, that would be a welcome development

A liberal's (intended to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek) view of conservative political theory:

A federal government that governs best governs least.(fn1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)


fn1. not including abortion.
fn2. or gay marriage.
fn3. poor and retired people have to have some health care. The evidence that this country has the most inefficient health care system of any industrialized country is hotly disputed.
fn4. Soc.Sec. has been so successful that we need to privatize it.
fn.5. We're really sorry about using FEMA as a patronage warehouse.
fn.6. also not including agricultural subsidies.
fn.7 or the occasional steel or softwood tariff.
fn.8 We have a trust responsibility to Indian Tribes? who knew.
fn.9 Invading foreign countries not covered.
fn.10 but when it comes to rebuilding countries invaded by us, we're solid on our principles.

I know that when I see people of all political inclinations say or do freaking stupid things, my first inclination is to scratch my head over it for a year or two. I used to work with a guy who had an "Impeach Clinton" bumper sticker on his truck (the "C" in Clinton was a hammer-and-sickle. Cute, eh?) and I thought at the time that as much as I disliked Clinton, this was just about the dumbest thing I'd ever seen. Never said a word to him about it, though, because I didn't (still don't) discuss politics with co-workers. It tends to take over everything else.

Thing is, he was a brilliant guy in other respects, which is yet another head-scratcher.

I'm going to have to go along with Ken here. I was much more receptive to the notion that the opposition wasn't comprised of "bad people" several years ago, but I've been smacked upside the head with reality almost daily ever since.

Now, that said, I'm not implying that all conservatives, Republicans or even Bush supporters are bad people. Some are good people who also happen to be dupes of an absolutely villainous administration. But that's about all the slack I can cut them given the events of the past several years. Particularly those who were -- sorry, I must use the word -- stupid enough to vote for Bush twice.

You wrote: "I see so many claims that this election is more important than any other, and that we can't let the other side win because of the dire consequences it will have for the republic. And so the right savaged Clinton, and the left savages Bush, and the chances for reasonable discourse are greatly reduced."

To me, that makes it perfectly clear that you just don't get it.


Wait ... Andrew, you really do think the 16th Amendment should be repealed?

Actually, I'd rather kill the 17th. I was just looking for something that I felt pretty confident Hilzoy wouldn't go for as an example.

Yeah, I wonder sometimes whether the 17th was such a great idea.

We kind of need to keep the income tax going though. I understand we owe some money these days ... some unpleasantness in Mesopotamia ...

Rest assured that, were I to call for a repeal of the 16th, it would only be after determining a different method of funding. While the 'starve the beast' theory sounds great on paper, the last six years have made it pretty clear the beast is impossible to starve.

Andrew,

"While the 'starve the beast' theory sounds great on paper, the last six years have made it pretty clear the beast is impossible to starve."

First, starve the beast is more than calls to reduce the size of government. It is proposing to reduce taxes to intentionally create deficits (but not tell the voters at the time of the cuts, instead hiding behind nonsense such as the Laffer curve and dynamic scoring to pretend that no deficits will be created), and then once the deficits are here, expect the public to demand spending reductions rather than tax increases to meet the deficits. In other words, it is an intentionally duplicitous method of budgeting which should be condemned whenever it arises.

Second, reductions in government spending have occurred, at least by comparison to the size of the national economy. Unfortunately, they have not been tried during the Bush Administration (unlike the Reagan Adminsitration, where semi-serious attempts were made to reduce domestic government spending, but were counteracted by proposed increases to defense spending).

And so the right savaged Clinton, and the left savages Bush, and the chances for reasonable discourse are greatly reduced.

This is a variant on the "a pox on both your houses" theme and, I hate to say it, it's as dumb now as it has done for the past few years. I'm not sure where this notional civility fetish hails from -- I can't recall reading about it more than, say, 30 years ago, at least not as an avatar of mainstream discourse -- but it needs to die, or at least be put into serious perspective, ASAP.

Specifically, I note that you say that "the right savaged Clinton" and "the left savages Bush", both of which are claims that I agree with. What you utterly fail to address in this post -- indeed, what you more-or-less explicitly declare unaddressable and implicitly declare irrelevant -- is whether this savagery was in any way justified. Is this savagery based in reality; is it predicated upon fact; is it proportionate to the events at hand; and so forth.

That, to be blunt, is bullshit.

Worse, it's corrosive and, arguably, enabling. You're setting up a standard that will necessarily destroy meaningful discourse because you're declaring equivalent the volume of outrage between the two sides, not the substance of that outrage. As such, all questions about truth, fact, "objective reality" or whatever become irrelevant; everyone gets to bring their own facts to the table because what's important isn't what's true, it's what we choose to believe and how that makes us feel. The upshot is that the only way to win an argument is to pound The TABLE AS HARD AS YOU CAN!!! because you've decoupled the requirement that "savagery" or "outrage" be based on real (let alone meaningful) events. "Reasonable discourse" cannot survive in such a clime, or at least can't survive on a large enough scale to matter -- as, I would argue, we've seen over the past few years.

[The flip side to this error, incidentally, is the notion that because both sides have become foolishly outraged over various things, they are therefore both equally at fault and equally condemnable. Like most things these behaviors exist on a continuum, and the absence of perfection does not imply their equivalence in failure. Ditto for time-elapsed variations on this theme.]

In case it wasn't clear from the above, I'm fine with your general call to recognize that our political opponents are actually people, and often good people who simply differ with us in their approaches towards making the world a better place. That doesn't automatically legitimate their views, however -- nor mine, come to that -- and it categorically does not obviate the necessity of a continual assessment of those views relative to reality, neither of which key points are permitted within the paradigm of your post.

Must run now. Hopefully someone less tired than I can parse the above and make it intelligible, since I'm dubious whether I achieved coherency.

I'll echo what Slarti said above.

It seriously freaked me out when I discovered that one of my favorite Linux gurus was not only a hardcore, fundamentalist Christian, but a Young Earth Creationist to boot. Very intelligent and rational people can hold on to ideas that fail even the simplest test of logic. There's a willful blindness that prevents them from using their intellect to ferret out the truth.

This freaks me out because it really makes me wonder if there is some element of my belief system that is just whacked-out crazy nuts and I just can't see it. Do I have this same blindness? Why do I believe the things I do? Am I absolutely and completely wrong and I some day I'll wake up, realize it and register as a Republican?

I think about this kind of stuff quite a bit.

"This freaks me out because it really makes me wonder if there is some element of my belief system that is just whacked-out crazy nuts and I just can't see it. Do I have this same blindness?"

I'm absolutely certain I have some element of my belief system like that--everyone I know does so it would be ridiculous to believe that I'm the only one who has escaped.

I'm absolutely certain I have some element of my belief system like that--everyone I know does so it would be ridiculous to believe that I'm the only one who has escaped.

Tyler Cowan has a "What is your most absurd belief?" thread a while back. Worth a look.

I doubt it's possible for anyone to notice those ridiculous beliefs. a belief has to make some kind of sense to the person who believes it. you can't just do any inventory of what you believe and find something sitting there that makes no sense at all.

i'm sure a philosopher somewhere wrote a book on this.

I'm dubious whether I achieved coherency.

Quite coherent, I think.

We disagree sharply on many things, politics is where we fight those battles, and that's just fine. But just because we disagree doesn't make the other side bad people. Reasonable people disagree all the time.

Yes, but that doesn't make all disgreements reasonable. One of the reasons I react strongly to many right-wingers is that they advance positions that are simply wrong. We see this time and again. Endorsing creationism may not be a call for theocracy, but it's not the opposite either. The conservative position on climate change has been nothing but willful ignorance and denial. How many times have conservatives made the patently false claim that tax cuts pay for themselves? The arguments for estate tax elimination are total BS.

In other words, while of course reasonable people disagree, it is difficult to respect the arguments of people who have no respect for plain facts.

nor am I likely to convince her that we ought to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment.

things that make radishes go "hmm." I was with ya there, and I was about to ask your view of Santa Clara v Southern Pacific (which I would still be interested in hearing), but then...

Actually, I'd rather kill the 17th.

Now that (if you could repeal one of the two, which would it be and why) is a fascinating conversation waiting to be had. Too bad we're on the verge of WW++ and I find it painful to focus on such abstractions.

On topic, I have to agree somewhat with Anarch, with the following clarification. The "opposition" for people like myself is not rank-and-file Republicans, but the leadership. Of the GOP leadership, you can most certainly make a lot of inflammatory, stereotypical observations, and support them with cites and quotes. Or, if ad homs make you uncomfortable, you can point out that every single initiative that has been undertaken since the GOP gained control of both exec and lege has been either a quiet waste of public treasure or a staggering and historically significant disaster.

Bottom line, it's not that I disagree with any particular thing you've said here, but when I see stuff like this it actually diminishes my respect for folks like you, because you still think that this is about partisanship. It isn't. The party which is running this country over the cliff happens to be the Republican party, but the problem is not that they are Republicans. The problem is that they are running the country over a cliff.

You can ignore the partisanship aspect and do something about that problem, or not, however you see fit.

p.s. I didn't say this before because I wasn't quite sure yet, but kudos to the hive mind for choosing you. I still wish Sebastian would post more, but you are definitely cranking out a lot of really fine stuff, in a bar-set-high environment.

The conservative position on climate change has been nothing but willful ignorance and denial.

The Martian icecap has been melting for some years now. It was reported here, for instance back in 2001. Now I might conclude that the sun has something to do with it. You might read the article and think "Hey, George Bush was president back in 2001!"

The Martian icecap has been melting for some years now

if only we had as much data about the Earth's climate as we do Mars. we could come to some intelligent conclusions, then. alas.

David Duke?

Who needs to bring him up to demonstrate Republican extremism? Dick Cheney, as judged by his voting record in Congress, is one of the most racist guys around. And he's sitting in the White House with a cadre of advocates of an all-powerful executive and dozens of people throughout the federal government who report to him.

I'm all for not lumping vast groups of people together on the basis of stereotypes.
And I'm all for as much civility and factual argument on this blog as we can muster.

But this country is in a constitutional crisis, a creeping dictatorship brought on by extremists not at the outer fringes of the Republican Party but at its very center, and allowed to proceed unchecked in almost every detail by, again, the Congressional leadership of the Republican Party.

We're not in a normal period here. The people running the federal government are secretive, unaccountable, and reckless. They have put into practice a radical, extreme, and anti-Constitutional theory of governing.

It's not just an unfortunate occasional excess but a core practice of Republican campaigns to fan fear and exploit prejudices, and to accuse critics and opponents of being unpatriotic and even treasonous.

My party does a good bit of posturing and pandering (of which the recent Democratic letter objecting to al-Maliki's address to Congress is an example), but there's nothing in Democratic campaign themes remotely equivalent to the fear-, hate- and war-mongering central to campaigning on the other side.

WW++

I salute you.

"as judged by his voting record in Congress, is one of the most racist guys around."

You can say lots of supportable and bad things about Cheney, but where do you get (especially limiting yourself to his voting record in Congress) "one of the most racist guys around"?

My comment is no doubt just the kind of thing Andrew was hoping to avoid, but it embodies radish's point:

The "opposition" for people like myself is not rank-and-file Republicans, but the leadership. Of the GOP leadership, you can most certainly make a lot of inflammatory, stereotypical observations, and support them with cites and quotes.

I'd be happy to provide a set of links, citations, and quotes to support my comment, but much of that would be pointing to link-rich previous ObWi posts.

I only ask, by the way, because I believe the charge "racist" to be one of the most vicious accusations possible in the current political culture (with perhaps the exception of "child molestor") so it is interesting to see an unsupported attack of that nature in the context of this post.

Cheney's record on South Africa in the 80's is one possible reason to call him a racist. He was opposed to the release of Nelson Mandela, for instance. I'd just stick to calling him a creep, since he might have taken the same position about any great man imprisoned by a rightwing ally of the US, regardless of race.

"Creep" works very well, AFAIAC: Cheney was also one of two Senators to vote against "Meals on Wheels," apparently for no other reason than plain heartlessness.

I think that for some people it is the case that their affinity towards one side or another is at least partly influenced by how disgusted they are by the stereotypes associated with each side.

I obviously do not fit the left-winger stereotype Andrew produced (nor do I believe there are many who fit any of the items in the right-winger stereotype above).

Let me disclose my own self-exploratory exercise here, in which I compare the *stereotypes* (as I understand them).

Who do I have more of a problem with? Someone who hates America (a country, an abstraction to which, presumably, that someone belongs in the first place), or someone who hates gays? While I may find hatred for a country a bit silly, I've known enough people who have enormous beefs with particular nations to know that having them does not imply hating a group of people in particular, whereas hating gays is bigotry. Period. (Disclaimer: I am not suggesting right-wingers generically hate gays. In what follows, I will continue playing with stereotypes, but I will not endorse any of them.)

Someone who wishes to restrict personal economic freedom to advance egalitarian ideas does not threaten me quite as much as someone who wishes to restrict the personal freedom only of a particular group (say, women) in order to advance inegalitarian ideas.

Both atheists who wish to convert you and people who worship a bigoted God--and who wish to impose theocracy on America--feel very unsafe to me, though bigotry is such a disgusting thing in itself, that I must feel more threatened by the latter than by the former.

I think that no matter how much my own substantive agreements and disagreements with each party may dictate my voting preferences, this question of which-stereotype-disgusts-me-the-most plays a role (much like cultural traits like drinking latte or watching NASCAR may work for others--not so much for me, I think) in shaping my political identity. That is, even if I ended up agreeing with Republicans on a majority of substantive issues at one point in time, the disgust I feel for some of the stereotypes associated with the right-wing could easily prevent me from embracing that political affiliation, and I suspect that this works both ways.

And yes, I do see myself easily agreeing with Republicans on major substantive issues sometimes. (It is their rhetoric I don't have much of a stomach for.) In a sense, I guess I am a "values voter", much like my friends on the conservative Christian right.

Pedro: "That is, even if I ended up agreeing with Republicans on a majority of substantive issues at one point in time, the disgust I feel for some of the stereotypes associated with the right-wing could easily prevent me from embracing that political affiliation, and I suspect that this works both ways.

It not only does it work both ways, it's the lynchpin of Republican strategy since Nixon. It's why "liberal" is considered a dirty word in many circles, and it's the method by which working class folks are lured to vote against their own economic interests.

it's the lynchpin of Republican strategy since Nixon

it's common human behavior. there is nothing particularly Republican about demonization. it's ugly, but it's not new, it's not unusual and, well, it's not going away.

cleek, can you give an example of Democratic campaigns using demonization as a mobilizing tactic?

Kudos to the superb sense of irony on display here.

Democratic campaigns using demonization as a mobilizing tactic

how about "the most famous campaign commercial of all time", LBJ's 'Daisy' ad.

Well, I'm no big fan of false dichotomies and B.S. parallelisms. This post, while laudable in its good intentions, is full of them. Anarch pointed out the main flaw.

But even a minor point like David Duke vs. Al Sharpton? You're going to say that those two form equal, opposite radical extremes? That's so telling.

Repealing the 17th Amendment would have no effect without a second amendment banning states from even polling their citizens on the topic of who should be appointed Senator. Prior to the passage of the 17th, many states had moved to a non-binding Senatorial election, with the legislature appointing the winners. For more on this, see here and here and/or his book.

Hmm. I think that the main point of this post -- that stereotypes are bad -- is true, and one of the reasons I like ObWi is that we are implacably opposed to them.

On the other hand, this is making a different point entirely, and it's this point that I think people are objecting to:

"I see so many claims that this election is more important than any other, and that we can't let the other side win because of the dire consequences it will have for the republic. And so the right savaged Clinton, and the left savages Bush, and the chances for reasonable discourse are greatly reduced."

Here the problem is not that stereotypes. Bush and Clinton, after all, are individuals; and it's perfectly possible to savage Bush or Clinton on the basis of his actual record. In this case, the question has got to be: is this, in fact, true? It can't be "does this reflect some stereotype?", since sometimes stereotypes are true of individuals. (Speaking as a semi-Swede: the stereotype of Swedes, as I understand it, is of a sort of dour Lutheran who eats a lot of potatoes and drinks a lot of coffee. Surely at least one Swede, somewhere, is like that.)

Nor should we ask: is X very angry at Bush/Clinton, whoever?, since, again, sometimes anger can be justified.

But all of these points apply only to our treatment of individuals, and also to groups with defined memberships and clear stands. (E.g., that members of the KKK are opposed to integration.) Though even there, if the groups hold a number of positions, one can't infer that every member holds a particular one, unless that one position is so central that it's hard to see how someone could join the organization without accepting that view. (E.g., the KKK again: someone who supported integration would hardly join the KKK because they had, say, a great policy on municipal waste treatment facility siting.) Though in these last cases, I think one should be careful: I really do not think that all those who presently support Bush also support torture, for instance. One could argue that they are too ready to tolerate a President who does, etc., but not that they actually support it themselves.

@cleek: That's fear-mongering, not demonization, but it's one good example.

Any others in the last 42 years?

if you recognized both paragraphs as pure hogwash, more power to you.)

Huh? What's wrong with the second paragraph? Oh, I get it: not all conservatives watch NASCAR. So right you are to point out who silly those stereotypes can be...

As far as liberals hating America though...I don't know about anyone else, but if I really hated America, I wouldn't be running around giving money to the ACLU, writing letters to Congress, etc. I'd vote for George Bush, give money to Santorum's campaign, and lobby on behalf of the NRA. No, I don't believe that Bush voters, Santorum supporters or NRA members hate America. But I do believe that they are terribly wrong about what this country needs and, at worst, may destroy the very freedoms they (I assume) cherish. And if I, with my beliefs, acted like a conservative*, that would be America-hating. Not sure where that gets one, except to say that perhaps both sides need to argue at a more basic level than they are in order to reach the other side.

*Where conservative is taken to mean "religious fundamentalist conservative" not "fiscal conservative". In general, I don't care for what passes for fiscal conservatism, but I don't think it wrong in the same destructive manner that I think religious conservatism is.

how about "the most famous campaign commercial of all time", LBJ's 'Daisy' ad.

That might have been fear mongering or even demonizing, but Goldwater had "joked" about "nuking the Kremlin's bathroom" and spoken seriously about the possibility of using nukes in Viet Nam. So I don't think that it was entirely unjustified fear mongering.

Unearthing Godwin, Andrew's arguments could've also been made in 1934. That is to say, sometimes one thing is actually worse than another.
I'm slightly surprised at having to explain this to a conservative or a student of history.

"cleek, can you give an example of Democratic campaigns using demonization as a mobilizing tactic?"

Sure. Off the top of my head, the NAACP sponsored ad linking Bush and the dragging death of Byrd.

As it seems I was imprecise in my language, let me attempt to clarify. I have no objections to attacks on President Bush based on his actions. Those with a passing familiarity with my work may recall that I have made a few specific complaints in that area myself. When I used the verb 'savage' I was referring to wholly unproductive behaviors such as name-calling, etc. This piece has nothing to do with trying to call for people to not attempt to convince others of the rightness of their position nor with trying to call some kind of truce now that my side is winning. (Particularly since my side has been losing for the better part of a century, although I suspect most readers will misunderstand what I mean by that.)

Any others in the last 42 years?

well, there's the constant characterization of conservatives as Nazis and racists; there's the way people liken American evangelicals to the Taliban, etc.. and, in many circles, the words "conservative" and "Republican", are symbolic of all kinds of scary Nazi-like oppressors (a lot of comedians get laffs from those words).

now, those aren't specifically "campaign" things, but i wasn't talking about campaigns specifically in the comment you responded to. i merely asserted that demonization isn't a Republican tactic; it's a human one (which isn't to say Repbulicans aren't human).

cleek,

Surely racism and authoritarian tendencies do exist in the American body politic just as they exist the world over.

And clearly it is the Republican party that caters to these tendencies.

Bigots, if they are going to participate in any meaningful way in American politics need a major party to belong to. Whether a person is a racist, a xenophobe or a homophobe, the Republican party embraces and defends them while the Democratic party scorns them.

So calling Republicans racist or comparing them to Nazis, while not true of all Republicans, is surely true of enough of the party's membership to be substantially accurate.

"Bigots, if they are going to participate in any meaningful way in American politics need a major party to belong to. Whether a person is a racist, a xenophobe or a homophobe, the Republican party embraces and defends them while the Democratic party scorns them."

I know I live in California and travel in gay circles, so I have a skewed perception. But every single racist comment I have ever personally witnessed (and there have been numerous) has been uttered by a Democrat.

Actually that isn't quite fair, there was a homeless guy spouting racist comments and there was a waitress who said something nasty, I have no idea what party they belonged to.

So calling Republicans racist or comparing them to Nazis, while not true of all Republicans, is surely true of enough of the party's membership to be substantially accurate.

by that measure, most stereotypes of lefties as Communist America-Haters are "substantially accurate".

the "America-hating" label has a basis in reality. there are certainly people on the left who don't really like America and who can find an endless number of ways to find fault with it, while claiming that nearly every other country in the world is superior. it's no stretch at all to say that a person who endlessly complains about his job and tells everyone how much happier he'd be if he worked across the street hates his job.

and there are certainly actual communists, and a greater number of self-described socialists on the left. and, if they buy into American politics at all, well, then they have the same two choices everyone else has: R or D. and they don't vote R.

but, no. it is not even a little accurate to say that Republicans are Nazi/Taliban, or that Democrats are commie/America-haters. the stereotypes make for easy partisan flame wars, fear-mongering and demonization, but they don't make actual discussion any better - they subtract accuracy, they don't add anything.

Sulla was right: Andrew's post about the fallacy of stereotyping has ironically produced a chorus of stereotyping.

Sebastian: you need to travel more. Come to Rockbridge County and see who treats you as an equal.

I apologize for my state's homophobic laws and its Republican Party's effort during this year's election season to institutionalize discrimination in the state constitution. I also apologize for our junior U.S. senator, who displayed a noose and the Confederate flag in his office as governor. I also apologize in advance for the many white supremacist T-shirts you'll see on county youth; I can't say they're Republicans because thankfully many of them are not registered and don't vote, but I can tell you they're not Democrats.

I was talking about the campaigns of the two parties, in my original post. I didn't take cleek to be making the point that individuals' demonizing tendencies, which I agree are universal and human, aren't Republican, because that makes no sense as an assertion.

However, organizations such as political parties, can and do differ in the extent to which they use fear-mongering and scapegoating of minorities and out-groups as an electoral mobilizing tactic.

Republicans have used white racism against blacks as an electoral mobilizing tactic since the 1970s; I hope we can stipulate to the existence of the southern strategy without my digging up links.

In the last decade, systematic efforts at suppression of the African-American vote have become a regular part of Republican electoral operations in key states (via purges of the voter rolls against dubious lists, inadequate provision of voting equipment and supplies, last-minute changes of polling locations, and many other tactics).

Now, despite the prima facie racism of these strategies and tactics, I can see how an argument can always be made by many, even most individual Republicans that that stuff has nothing to do with them. And that the Republican party's advocacy of positions that cause African-Americans to vote nine to one against Republicans has nothing to do with hostility to African-Americans.

Voted against the MLK holiday? Well, that's just a vote against waste and inefficiency in government (another paid holiday for federal workers).

Voted consistently against sanctions on the apartheid South African government? Well, that has to do with objections to "unilateral sanctions" and support for a staunch anti-communist ally in the cold war.

Voted for an anti-busing law? Well, that's to stop federal intrusion on state's rights.

Which leads me to my retraction of my characterization of Dick Cheney as "one of the most racist guys around." I retract it fully: not only is he not one of the most racist guys around, I'm not even going to try to argue that he was a racist during his time in Congress.

Because there's always a faintly plausible reason for each vote that doesn't involve racism. Even when you take them all together, they somehow don't add up to sufficient evidence for such a "vicious" accusation for Sebastian. I doubt he would accept any evidence short of Cheney bein caught on tape making a racist 'joke' in the manner of Earl Butz.

Charges of racism are inflammatory and therefore tactically unwise. They can and have been used as "silencers" in the same way that reflexive charges of anti-Semitism are. But to be more outraged about charges of racism than its constant, pervasive practice -- that's another form of pre-emption.

To sum up: Dick Cheney: unaccountable extremist; right-wing warmonger; ruthless, cold, manipulative would-be dictator; serial liar. Not a racist. Not now or in 1979-89 (his House years, most of which were spent in leadership positions in the party).

cleek, no doubt you are right that any American hating socialist or communist would be put off by the Republican party, but that is not the same as saying that Democrats cater to them. Is it?

But it is true that Republicans make an effort, hypocritical perhaps at times, to woo the racist, zenophobic and homophobic voter.

but that is not the same as saying that Democrats cater to them. Is it?

i suppose that depends on who's making the observation. it's pretty clear that many conservatives think a lot of mainstream liberal ideas are tantamount to socialism. and, not all of the people who say that are ignorant, mislead, or simply name-calling.

homophobia... i don't see a lot of active support for

If what ken says is true, it was a major faux pas for them to have gotten rid of Pat Robertson. But I can see the "David Duke for President" bumper stickers for the next go-round, all right.

That's if ken is correct.

which I agree are universal and human, aren't Republican, because that makes no sense as an assertion.

it is, however, an assertion that gets made 100x a day across the lefty blogosphere. (i'm not saying that you're responsible for any of it, of course)

For what it's worth, Sebastian, with the exception of Stephanie Miller at Air(head) America, I've only heard bigoted statements by Republicans and Republican sympathizers. A cursory glance at the comments threads in Yahoo Forums will quickly disabuse you of the notion that bigotry is most prominent among Democrats. It is invariably people with handles like Bush_rocks who end up writing the vilest stuff imaginable, and who, in their delight at not being "PC", deploy racial slurs with frightening frequency.

Personally, I have been called racial slurs by Republican people, have lived on the same block as pro-Bush bumper-sticker holding, confederate flag waving neonazis (not kidding, they were neonazis), and have a very good relationship with my recently enlightened Republican in-laws, who ten or fifteen years ago would have shuddered at the thought of having a 'hispanic' in-law, and who once forbade their daughter to date an Italian dude, b/c of racial misgivings.

it's pretty clear that many conservatives think a lot of mainstream liberal ideas are tantamount to socialism.

Yes, but again: that doesn't make them right.

Yes, but again: that doesn't make them right

not necessarily, no.

just want to echo and expand on two points from above:

" The "opposition" for people like myself is not rank-and-file Republicans, but the leadership. Of the GOP leadership, you can most certainly make a lot of inflammatory, stereotypical observations, and support them with cites and quotes."
radish

"But this country is in a constitutional crisis, a creeping dictatorship brought on by extremists not at the outer fringes of the Republican Party but at its very center, and allowed to proceed unchecked in almost every detail by, again, the Congressional leadership of the Republican Party.

We're not in a normal period here. The people running the federal government are secretive, unaccountable, and reckless. They have put into practice a radical, extreme, and anti-Constitutional theory of governing."
nell

Here's what that reminds me of.

I have never been a staunch Democrat. I have tended to vote D, but I have no particular feeling of loyalty to or solidarity with the Democratic Party as an institution.

For the last six years, however, I have been getting increasingly shrill, here and elsewhere, about the abysmal thuggery, criminality, incompetence, and destructiveness of this particular crop of Republican leaders.

We really are coming close to a crisis-point, as Nell says. And the problem really is small-to-medium-size group of individuals at the top of the Republican party: I mean Rove, Norquist, DeLay, Frist, Mehlman, and the whole apparatus, as well as Cheney and Bush. These are people who have done more to damage and degrade the American Republic, to weaken its military, destroy its finances, traduce its values, and desecrate its Constitution, than anyone since the 1860's.

But it would be a huge mistake to think that my opposition to them has much to do with party affiliation. The party labels--Rep and Dem--just don't really punch any buttons for me.

In fact, I would say that for the last few decades, this has been a fairly consistent theme: there are staunch Republicans, and luke-warm Democrats. There are Republicans who swear oaths of loyalty, not to the Constitution, but to the Republican leadership. There is no comparable mind-set among Democrats. Or at any rate, I think the number of people for whom the party label has a huge amount of independent sentiment is much higher among the Republicans than among Democrats.

Yeah, it has its electoral downsides, but on the whole I think it is a healthy feature of folks who, like myself, tend to vote Democratic. We retain our intellectual independence.

And eventually, when the corruption, the sickness of the cult-of-personality, and the widespread criminality that have characterized the current crop of Republicans is brought to light and sinks in to the people at large, I think the strategy of demanding intense allegiance from Republicans will hurt that party.

...and then there are the folks that are utterly, batfecally, insane.

No one wants to claim them, which is just as well.

No one wants to claim them, which is just as well.

anyone who would write something like that... well it's just hard to take seriously their views on structural deficits and intra-cohort redistribution policy.

The Republican leadership has had the policy of demonizing Demcrats ever since Lee Atwater's day. He actually made a death bed apology for it. It has only been in the last couple of years that Democrats started shouting rude stuff back (like "Chickhenhawk") and then the retaliation has been from the grassroots up, not orchestrated from the top down.
Long ago some where I read about a study of self-indentified liberals and conservatives who were polled on their opinions about each other prior to meeting for discussions and polled again after the discussions. To the researchers surprise both sides liked each other less after meeting for discussions.

That's my experience. The stereotype of a conservative (or was it of a Republican?) presented by Andrew is recognizable to me but mostly as an extreme characture. I think the political right is more likely simply to be people who view the political process as a way of getting what they want for themselves right now as opposed to the left who see the process as being primarily a way of working toward longterm goals for the common good. That's why all the significant reform movememtns in our history have come from the left and been opposed by the right. That's why there isn't a single piece of legislation that the right can point to with pride: no Civil Rights act, no Wilderness act, no child labor laws, no formation of public schools, nothing. The current Republican party's "positive" goals are all negative: hate gays, return to the science of the Middle Ages, jingo up hysteria over flag burning. Their"positive " goals are to return to the economic policies of the days of the Robber Barons. Their foreign policy is just mindless belligerance and posturing.
One of the problems with this sort of discussion is that while "liberal" and "Democrat" are fairly interchangeable (at least in my mind)"conservative" and "Republican" are not. the situation is further complicated by all the people who call themsleves conservative without having any understanding at all of conservative ideas, only a vague belief ant conservatives are more patriotic, more moral , won't raise taxes. There are many self-identified conservastives who aren't the least bit in favor of the free market, for example, when it comes to themselves. The last thing Red State Republicans what is for free enterprise principles to be applied to them. If fact very very few Americans both understand and agree with conservative ideas as presented by people like Buckley or Goldwater. While I find that kind of philosophical conservativism to be sort of irrelevant to real life I don't see it as malignant like the relgious extremism, criminality or just meanspirited selfishness that is more typical of self-identified consrvatives, the kind of people who are instintively rightwing , perhaps out of a tendency to be authoritarian. Anyway the point is that when people of the left rail at "conservatives" the railing is probably directed at people who call themselves conservative but are really just instinctive rightwingers, not the much smaller group that actually has a philosophy.

So Andrew,

Whattaya think?

I support my President. You know, when the whole Kosovo/Serbia stuff was happening, I thought at the time that the whole "Wag the Dog" junk was, well junk.

How widespread was that? Compare the amount of hatred and venom against the guy who is supposed to, above all, ensure our national security - then, and now.

anyone who would write something like that... well it's just hard to take seriously their views on structural deficits and intra-cohort redistribution policy

Actually, the author is into decision science. Apparently she hasn't paid attention to her Kids for Character videos.

DaveC, it's not meaningful to compare the amount of "hatred and venom" then and now unless you also compare the number and importance of reasons for strongly opposing the administration then and now. It is simply not the case that all politicians are equally corrupt, have equal authoritarian tendencies, or are equal threats to American values.

Well, yeah. I mean that's what Obsidian Wings is all about. George Bush is not human, and caused Hurricane Katrina, enjoys torturing people, backs monsters like Sam Alito and John Bolton, etc. The intended audience has narrowed considerably, because Charles Bird has ruined ebverything.

Well...I confess that I am thoroughly convinced now of one thing: I should never have bothered with this post, because it appears to have accomplished nothing more but convincing everyone on both sides that their prejudices are justified, but the other side's just plain nuts. I suppose I should have predicted that, but call me a starry-eyed optimist.

In any case, to respond to a few of the complaints before I leave this topic far in the rear-view mirror; the reason I wrote this post was to express frustration with those on both sides who take the specific and generalize it to a rule. I see no reason to believe this is any more prevalent on one side of the aisle than the other (and the comments section here has done nothing to convince me otherwise), which is why I attempted to utilize examples from both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately, my examples were not perfect cognates because I was just grabbing examples and not trying to balance them perfectly atop some mythical scale, so I used the demonization of President Bush and President Clinton and David Duke/Al Sharpton not because I consider them to be precisely equivalent, but because they were convenient examples. Furthermore, my complaint was about generalizations, not specifics, therefore those who assumed that I was attempting to in some way shield President Bush from criticism were, to be kind, way off. I have no brief for President Bush or the Republican Party; you want to point out their numerous flaws, rest assured I will be at worst indifferent and frequently in agreement with your points.

Finally, I should note that readers might consider that, while I was asked to post here in part because I am on the right side of the political axis, the left-right scale is an unbelievably blunt instrument for measuring one's political beliefs, and therefore simply because I happen to occupy a point to the right of the center it is unlikely you actually know a great deal about where I stand on a particular issue. I point this out because I note that frequently commenters assume that when I say X, I actually mean Y because I'm a 'conservative' (which is debatable at best) and that's what conservatives believe. Hmmm...which gets me back to why I wrote this in the first place.

Oh, Andrew, it should be clear that I don't think liberals are nuts. Some liberals are, in fact, nuts, just as some conservatives and some that don't fit into either category.

And then there's nut-dom that defies categorization, like the 9-11 conspiracy nutballs (you can easily find several sites with Google; I'm not going to dignify them with a link). Sadly, it looks as if my mother is joining their ranks. Probably the trauma resulting from having six children in as many years has finally snapped her.

DaveC, I didn't say any of that, and I don't believe any of that (although I withhold judgment on whether Bush enjoys torture -- there is plenty of evidence that he has bullying and sadistic tendencies). My point was that it's possible for one president to receive more "hatred and venom" than another without its being somehow unfair.

I also don't concede that Bush has received more hatred and venom than Clinton. You may have thought the "Wag the Dog" junk was junk, but you're not representative of all Clinton opponents, and certainly not of Clinton opponents with a government position or a national platform to speak from. And "Wag the Dog" was just the tip of the iceberg in Clinton hatred.

like the 9-11 conspiracy nutballs

At risk of being a nutball, I did wonder initially whether Bush might have had a hand in the events of 9/11/01. The bin Ladens are reported to be friends of the Bushs, after all. (Though I believe that OBL has been disowned by the rest of the bin Laden family.) And Bush did clearly benefit from the events. He would never have gotten 90% approval any other way.

In the end, it wasn't Bush or any Republican denying or belittleing the idea that convinced me, though. It was Michael Moore. Specifically, the scene in "Farenheit 911" where Bush continues to listen to "The Pet Goat" for several minutes after being told of the WTC attacks. If Bush or his advisors had been in on it, they would have had a much better response prepared than that. Therefore, he was almost certainly innocent.

"Therefore, he was almost certainly innocent."

Wow.

uh, is Dianne the mother of slartibartfast?

I'm assuming 'no'. But, honestly, slart--this is an amazing turn of events. I'm assuming your mother has no other grassy-knoll inclinations? Where'd this come from? Is this indicative of any other, more general flight from reality among ordinary Americans?

I mean--the polls tell us that over half of ordinary Americans are completely deluded about pre-war Iraq's possession of WMD and ties to Bin Laden. But that sort of self-delusion is completely predictable: they bought a lie that is destroying their country, and it just hurts too much to face up to the truth.

But this 9/11 conspiracy stuff--I don't see how that can be explained via cognitive dissonance. That's just weird.

We are not going to agree on anything.

The only way that could be true is if you have no commonalities at all, of language, of experience, and (most important IMHO) of feeling. I think the true Right/Left divide in this country now is about feelings, emotions, more than anything else. And feelings can certainly be fruitfully be discussed, compared, and understood, once you take the first, existential step: admitting that the other person is just as human and her feelings are just as real as yours.

No matter how long Hilzoy and I talk about it, she's unlikely to convince me that universal health care is a great idea, nor am I likely to convince her that we ought to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment.

I won't discuss these specific examples, because you say above that you basically pulled them out of the air on the fly, but why not be open to being convinced? What makes you so certain that neither your mind nor your feelings can change? Not to mention your certainty that hilzoy's mind won't change, which is sort of insulting to a philosopher & teacher -- changing minds is what she *does*.

We are not going to agree on anything.

Oops. That should have been everything, not anything.

What makes you so certain that neither your mind nor your feelings can change?

I stated it was unlikely. I didn't say it was impossible. That suggests that I'm not certain it won't happen, only that's how I'd bet.

"Where'd this come from? Is this indicative of any other, more general flight from reality among ordinary Americans?"

Oh, I hate to generalize. No, strike that - I love to generalize; I just can't do it with a straight face anymore. No, I think it's just that my mother is so absolutely furious at not one but TWO Bush presidencies that she's lost her grip entirely.

Not saying it's impossible to be rationally furious, mind you.

"Not to mention your certainty that hilzoy's mind won't change, which is sort of insulting to a philosopher & teacher -- changing minds is what she *does*."

little active/passive problem there, don't you think?

She changes minds, so her mind is especially open to being changed?

This cutting-torch burns things, so it's especially likely to burn up?

I'm not saying hilzoy isn't open to new ideas, just that it doesn't follow from her job changing *other* people's minds.

There have been some very dynamic proselytizers, people who could change other minds left and right, who were themselves utterly stuck in inflexible dogmatism.

(good thing neither hilzoy nor andrew is anything like that!)

This talk about 9/11 conspiracies, and the certitude in our own prejudices, is a curious thing to put together. There's a lot of things which people sniff at for no particularly good reason. Some 9/11 "conspiracies" strike me as implausible; others strike me as not implausible enough to reject out of hand.

This is even more apparent in the dismissal of the voting fraud claims. My personal belief is that, because the consequences are so high of accepting that many of the voting systems in place around the US are flawed to the point that no a priori assessment of whether fraud took place is possible, people prefer to not have to judge the evidence. It's similar to the belief "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" but much less tenable: "even ordinary claims with extraordinary consequences require extraordinary proof."

I'm not interested in defending particular theories, but I do feel the need to speak up for the word "conspiracy" itself, particularly as applied to the 9/11 plot. The attacks of 9/11 were the result of a conspiracy. Four planes were hijacked at the same time on the same day by nineteen men based on the same secret, illegal plan, funded by an international terrorist organization. If that's not a conspiracy, what is?

Now I understand that when folks say "conspiracy theory" they usually mean "nutty conspiracy theory", but I've noticed over the years that this otherwise understandable shorthand has been used to brand any conspiracy theory "nutty", as if paranoia was an intrinsic property of conspiracy theories. I suppose this is the result of folks coming up with conspiracy theories for things that are generally accepted to be the work of individuals, such as the John F. Kennedy assassination, or folks coming up with grand, implausibly all-encompassing conspiracy theories, such as the idea that The Jews control everything, and human beings are very prone to seeing patterns where none exist, but the appelation is used far too often to discredit perfectly credible ideas, or at least ideas that deserve a rigorous debunking and not a pat dismissal. This is particularly true when it comes to things like terrorism and special-interest influence in politics. Actual, honest-to-god conspiracies happen all the time. Terrorism would not be a genuine threat were this not true, nor would so many politicians be sweating bullets over the Jack Abramoff and Brent Wilkes type scandals.

My above references to nutty conspiracy theories are all in the context of "our government did it". Adjust your sets accordingly.

My above references to nutty conspiracy theories are all in the context of "our government did it".

The problem is that it's not necessarily nutty to consider the possibility that one's government is involved in criminal conspiracies. Watergate, anyone? Or the Reichtstagbrand? Or the uranium from Niger?

I consider that, on the balance, the evidence that Bush or any of his government was involved in the 9/11 conspiracy is weak to non-existent. However, I don't consider the idea that, because Bush is an extremely successful politician who was elected president by a large minority of the population of the US, he can not a priori have been involved in any criminal conspiracy. Or even any treasonous criminal conspiracy.

I'd also claim that a straight denial of the possibility that Bush (or any other US president or politician) might ever be involved in a criminal conspiracy is just as much a denial of the facts as insistence that Bush MUST be to blame for the 9/11 attacks (or that Clinton MUST have killed Foster, etc) in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Emphasis on nutty, Dianne. The controlled-demolition crowd, as I mentioned upthread, for example. The folks who insist that we cruise-missiled the Pentagon, for another. I've noticed that the arguments of these people remind me of those of Holocaust deniers, and some of them actually are.

Brian: "even ordinary claims with extraordinary consequences require extraordinary proof."

You're right, this is exactly how people work. May I call this "Palmer's Law"? It explains a lot of the anti-global warming mindset, for instance: the evidence is, scientifically speaking, an "ordinary claim" (with a common or garden variety level of general scientific support), but it has extraordinary consequences so people insist it can't be true without extraordinary proof -- higher levels of proof than that particular scientific discipline provides.

Oh, sure, Doctor Science (if you really think it's worth tagging as somebody's law :-) I'm glad it strikes somebody else as ringing true.

uh--I think the Reverend Bayes may already have the copyright on that one.

I think the professional conservative pundits who continue to pull for Bush's policies are positively bad actors.

I think the amateurs are a mix of bad actors and ignorant actors.

The rest are mostly just ignorant.

I imagine the average, reasonable conservative's views about the other side mirror mine. But I don't hold that against them. Reasonable people are ignorant about a lot of things, not least because so much effort is put into influencing the public organs of knowledge and information in the service of partisan and (what's often the same thing) economic ends. So we shouldn't be surprised or frustrated when the *wrong* side doesn't regard itself as such. [Winking smiley.]

"the" --

Bayes only talked about logic, not about politics.*g* Seriously, I can't find Palmer's phraseology by googling, I think it's original. Do you have a citation?

I think that Hume should take original credit
(from appropriately enough, _On Miracles_)
"A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence."

And following the Hume spoor, the author of this page, Marcello Truzzi, claims to have come up with the phrase which he then says was popularized by Carl Sagan, which gets a whole raft of Google hits

How widespread was that? Compare the amount of hatred and venom against the guy who is supposed to, above all, ensure our national security - then, and now.

You're kidding, right? Surely you remember the Scaife-funded videos peddled about accusing the Clintons of selling cocaine and having several dozen people murdered, right? Right?

lj -- neither Hume, Sagan, nor Truzzi say anything (as far as I can tell) about *ordinary claims* with *extraordinary outcomes*, which is the point of "Palmer's Law".

act:

I meant both meanings, yes: "She changes minds, so her mind is especially open to being changed?"

Yes. It sure doesn't always work that way, but it's one of the most reliable ways to keep people learning as adults: having them teach. Which proves that human minds are not cutting-torches. And that proselytizing is not the same as teaching, especially teaching philosophy.

Sorry, I skipped over that 'ordinary claims with..' Though the notion of 'an ordinary claim with extraordinary consequences' is rather interesting, I think. Doesn't the fact that it has extraordinary consequences make it a non-ordinary claim?

oooo, timestamp weirdness

Wow.

Did I say, "Wow"?

Well let me say it again. Wow.

I can't believe these comments actually follow Andrew's nice piece.

Unbelievablea.

It sure doesn't always work that way, but it's one of the most reliable ways to keep people learning as adults: having them teach.

One of the things I drum into my students -- and, now that I'm teaching in a special program, one of the things I enforce in my classroom -- is that the true measure of having learned the material is whether you can teach it to someone else. It's astounding how true that is in math; I assume it's true in other disciplines as well, though I don't have as much direct experience there.

"Did I say, "Wow"?"

I don't know, Macallan, did you?

The thread above says that someone named "Sulla" said it.

Are you telling us that's you?

lj --

Though the notion of 'an ordinary claim with extraordinary consequences' is rather interesting, I think. Doesn't the fact that it has extraordinary consequences make it a non-ordinary claim?

Not in science. The fact that a given scientific claim has great practical effects doesn't mean that it has to be proved with more than ordinary scientific tools.

Example: when it was first introduced, quantum physics was an extraordinary claim, requiring extraordinary, paradigm-shifting proof. Decades later, development of the transistor depended on quantum principles, but at that point quantum physics counted as ordinary proof, "normal science" in Kuhnian terms. Yet the transistor was surely a world-transforming extraordinary consequence. Indeed, I would argue (and I may be quoting Kuhn here) that all extraordinary practical consequences of science occur during "normal science" phases rather than paradigm shifts, because paradigm shifts are so theoretical and hectic.

Dr. Science,
Sure, but isn't that because claims in science have a special status, in that claims that cannot be definitively proven are of no interest? It's this belief in the 'normality' of claims that permits (or demands?) a Kuhnian paradigm shift. Rather than looking at it as a scientific claim, I was trying (I think) to think of something that, for a layperson, would be an ordinary claim with extraordinary consequences. It seems that, in that world, as soon as one accepts it has extraordinary consequences, it becomes an extraordinary claim. We have to collocation of 'an ordinary person doing an extraordinary thing(s)', which often stands as a tribute to the sort of things ordinary people can do when supported/stressed/left alone/whatever, which I guess could be taken as some egalitarian myth/dream. I think we take ordinary as the opposite of extraordinary, which is why people in general are crap at statistical reasoning.

btw, enjoyed your blog, lot of interesting stuff there.

To respond to the piece, rather than the comments, I once interviewed for a job with a liberal politician who proceeded to show up an hour late for the interview, tell me about the important meeting he was missing rather than apologize, and then grill me on how I wasn't taking the interview seriously.

And I left thinking, "Damn. Just cause you're a Dem doesn't mean you're not an asshole."

Bit of an epiphanic moment, there.

liberal japonicus: an ordinary claim would be that you were speeding at 70 mph in a 55 mile per hour zone. An extraordinary claim would be that you were speeding along at 7/10 the speed of light. These claims are quite separate from their consequences (for example, an ordinary consequence might be that you were ticketed for speeding; an extraordinary consequence might be that you caused an accident because you were going too fast).

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