The ugly party

A brief follow up to yesterday's post on Michael Gerson.  He laments the harsh words used in private correspodence for (ugly) people.  If that wasn't dumb enough already (and hypocritical, as Aaron in comments points out–see here) what's funny is his vision of the alternative.  Here is how he describes it:

The alternative to the Ugly Party is the Grown-Up Party — less edgy and less hip. It is sometimes depicted on the left and on the right as an all-powerful media establishment, stifling creativity, freedom and dissent. The Grown-Up Party, in my experience, is more like a seminar at the Aspen Institute — presentation by David Broder, responses from E.J. Dionne Jr. and David Brooks — on the electoral implications of the energy debate. I am more comfortable in this party for a few reasons: because it is more responsible, more reliable and less likely to wish its opponents would die.

The grown up party isn't engaged in the same kind of discussion as the "ugly party."  For all its faults, the ugly party is at least doing what one ought to be doing in politics–i.e., arguing about stuff.  Some of them may be doing it badly, and I suppose that this is the point of our whole web empire here at TheNonSequitur, but at least they're doing it.  By contrast, by Gerson's description, the grown up party isn't really doing argument–they're doing analysis.  The electoral implications of the engery policy debate might be interesting, but they don't resolve what the policy ought to be.  As Gerson has it, that is a question for the Ugly party, and I say, therefore, I think I want to be a member of the Ugly party. 

Go do unto yourself*

If we had a category called "what substance has he or she been smoking or taking?" I would suggest that we put this column by Michael Gerson in it.  For in it he complains about the uglification of recent American political discourse–a worthy aim–but, where's he been at? one might wonder.  He writes:

My political friendships and sympathies are increasingly determined not by ideology but by methodology. One of the most significant divisions in American public life is not between the Democrats and the Republicans; it is between the Ugly Party and the Grown-Up Party.

This distinction came to mind in the case of Washington Post blogger David Weigel, who resigned last week after the leak of messages he wrote disparaging figures he covered. Weigel is, by most accounts, a bright, hardworking young man whose private communications should have been kept private. But the tone of the e-mails he posted on a liberal e-mail list is instructive. When Rush Limbaugh went to the hospital with chest pain, Weigel wrote, "I hope he fails." Matt Drudge is an "amoral shut-in" who should "set himself on fire." Opponents are referred to as "ratf — -ers" and "[expletive] moronic."

This type of discourse is an odd combination between the snideness of the cool, mean kids in high school and the pettiness of Richard Nixon rambling on his tapes. Weigel did not intend his words to be public. But they display the defining characteristic of ugly politics — the dehumanization of political opponents.

Gerson says twice that Weigel's private sentiments should not have been made public.  Why were they?  Well, I blame ugly politics, a politics that tries to make everything about people's character and private life and not about what they do or say publicly.  Anyway, he then bafflingly suggests that these private words "display the defining characteristics of ugly politics."  Well, not really, I would say the defining characteristic of ugly politics is saying those things in a public forum to achieve a political effect.  Venting to your alleged friends does not count.

A more foundational characteristic of ugly politics, I think, is twisting facts or distorting words for poltiical advantage.  Here is what Weigel is alleged to have said (via the Daily Caller):

“There’s also the fact that neither the pundits, nor possibly the Republicans, will be punished for their crazy outbursts of racism. Newt Gingrich is an amoral blowhard who resigned in disgrace, and Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite who was drummed out of the movement by William F. Buckley. Both are now polluting my inbox and TV with their bellowing and minority-bashing. They’re never going to go away or be deprived of their soapboxes,” Weigel wrote.

Of Matt Drudge, Weigel remarked,  “It’s really a disgrace that an amoral shut-in like Drudge maintains the influence he does on the news cycle while gay-baiting, lying, and flubbing facts to this degree.”

In April, Weigel wrote that the problem with the mainstream media is “this need to give equal/extra time to ‘real American’ views, no matter how fucking moronic, which just so happen to be the views of the conglomerates that run the media and/or buy up ads.”

When Obama’s “green jobs czar” Van Jones resigned after it was revealed he signed a 9/11 “truther” petition, alleging the government may have conspired to allow terrorists to kill 3,000 civilians, Weigel highlighted the alleged racism of Glenn Beck – Jones’s top critic.

Notice that Weigel is complaining primarily (and again privately) about the ugly crap that gets cast as serious political discourse.  This demonstrates again, however, that however ugly Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Pat Buchanan, etc., get, the rules of our discourse prohibit you from pointing that out.  For if you do, even in private, you're fired.

*The actual quote is "Go fuck yourself" and Dick Cheney said it (to Patrick Leahy on the floor of the Senate). 

New study shows: liberals don’t have conservative economic views

Ron Ross, at The American Spectator, reports that a Zogby International survey "confirms what (he's) long suspected — when it comes to economics, liberals are clueless."  The survey asks respondents to identify themselves on a spectrum from very liberal to very conservative, and then eight questions come.  Ross notes: 

On the basis of eight economic questions, wrong answers correlated consistently with ideology.  Progressive/very liberal respondents got four times more wrong answers than libertarians.

Ross concludes that the survey results "demonstrate a strong connection between economic ignorance and interventionist enthusiasm.  Those who are most determined to interfere with the economy know the least about it."

Well, golly, if there really is a connection between not knowing economics and being a liberal, that'd be a bad thing.  Especially for liberals and their views about economics.  So let's look at all the economics that liberals are so ignorant about.  Here are two of the most telling questions:

1. Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable.  (Unenlightened Answer: Disagree)

6. Third-world workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited. (Unenlightened Answer: Agree)

The rest of the questions are the usual libertarian talking points (minimum wage laws increase unemployment, licensing professional services causes the price for those services to be raised).  The crazy thing is that question 1 is so vaguely stated that anyone with any sense would ask for clarification: Are the restrictions with regard to where the houses will be built, what kind of houses, or whether they must meet safety codes, and so on? In some cases, those restrictions will drive prices up, and other times, down.  Of course, the survey has the right answer that they do.  Why? Because that's what libertarians believe.

With question 6, I don't see this as a matter of having knowledge of basic economics or any such thing, but more a question of having ethical judgment about what counts as exploitation.  Again, because the right answers are being determined by people who casually use the term "leftist," as a term for anyone who's not a member of the John Birch Society, the right answers will likely be different from, say, any morally developed adult.

None of this would be surprising or irritating if the survey and report did not use terms like "unenlightened" and "wrong" for the answers here.  Now, if the survey were about, say, basic economic knowledge, where there is no reasonable disagreement, then we'd have no problem.  But here we have the simple strategy of polling one's opponents in a disagreement, noting how they have views you reject, casting them as being wrong, and then reporting how often those with whom you disagree are wrong about things that matter.  But, even if liberals are in error, these are not the simple errors that Ross portrays them to be.  These are controversial matters in economics, ones about which intelligent people disagree.  To portray this as a matter of ignorance, as Ross does, is not just a distortion of the debate, it's simple lying.  But Ross is all too happy to run up the score when the deck is stacked:

What we're seeing all too often is "the arrogance of ignorance." Both arrogance and ignorance do enormous damage in the world, but together they are a toxic brew.

Ross's gerrymandered study really only shows that opinions about economics track political self-identification.  That's not news, and certainly not something to make the hay Ross does of it.  There's another toxic brew, in addition to Ross's arrogance and ignorance: it's willful deception and self-righteous indignation.

**Hello Everyone–Welcome Scott Aikin, our newest contributor

–Editors.


That’s icky, your argument is invalid

Deep Christian thinker Mike Huckabee on teh gay (from a New Yorker Interview via Crooks and Liars):

One afternoon in Jerusalem, while Huckabee was eating a chocolate croissant in the lounge of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, I asked him to explain his rationale for opposing gay rights. “I do believe that God created male and female and intended for marriage to be the relationship of the two opposite sexes,” he said. “Male and female are biologically compatible to have a relationship. We can get into the ick factor, but the fact is two men in a relationship, two women in a relationship, biologically, that doesn’t work the same.”

I asked him if he had any arguments that didn’t have to do with God or ickiness. “There are some pretty startling studies that show if you want to end poverty it’s not education and race, it’s monogamous marriage,” he said. “Many studies show that children who grow up in a healthy environment where they have both a mother and a father figure have both a healthier outlook and a different perspective from kids who don’t have the presence of both.”

In fact, a twenty-five-year study recently published by the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that children brought up by lesbians were better adjusted than their peers. And, of course, nobody has been able to study how kids fare with married gay parents. “You know why?” Huckabee said. “Because no culture in the history of mankind has ever tried to redefine marriage.”

But in the Old Testament polygamy was commonplace. The early Christians considered marriage an arrangement for those without the self-discipline to live in chastity, as Christ did. Marriage was not deemed a sacrament by the Church until the twelfth century. And, before 1967, marriage was defined in much of the United States as a relationship between a man and a woman of the same race.

Regardless of the past, wouldn’t Huckabee be curious to know whether allowing gay people to marry had a positive or negative effect on children and society?

“No, not really. Why would I be?” he said, and laughed.

Because saying that something ought to be a certain way simply because that’s the way it supposedly has always been is an awful lot like saying “because we said so.” And Huckabee is supposed to be the guy who questions everything.

I think it's reasonably fair to say that Huckabee is full of crap.  The "ick facktor" is not an argument–unless you're talking about putting parmesan cheese on seafood, in which case it is, and your argument is invalid. 

But really seriously. 

Here is an allegedly intelligent guy who claims evidence for his view that isn't evidence for his view.  The idea that monogamy decreases poverty doesn't exclude gay monogamy.  But worse than that, everyone ought to know from anthro 101 that marriage has been "defined" (I really wish we could stop using this sneaky Platonism) in myriad ways in different cultures (and even in the very Bible Huckabee allegedly believes in).  Finally, Huckabee ought at least to be open to the idea that the evidence does not support his prejudices–but no.  That would be asking too much. 

Now in case you think Huckabee has been misquoted or treated unfairly here by the New Yorker (a claim I expect to be forthcoming), consider the following:

As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee successfully championed laws that prevented gay people from becoming foster parents and banned gay adoptions. “Children are not puppies—this is not a time to see if we can experiment and find out how does this work,” Huckabee told a student journalist at the College of New Jersey in April. “You don’t go ahead and accommodate every behavioral pattern that is against the ideal. That would be like saying, ‘Well, there are a lot of people who like to use drugs, so let’s go ahead and accommodate those who want to use drugs. There are some people who believe in incest, so we should accommodate them.’ ” These comments proved unpopular. On his Web site, Huckabee accused his interviewer of trying to “grossly distort” and “sensationalize my well known and hardly unusual views” about homosexuality. The student publication then posted the audiotape of the interview online. Huckabee had not been misquoted.

Now one thing I'm certain the Bible says is "thou shall not bear false witness."

Send in the epistemologists

Chris Mooney has a worthwhile op-ed about the public's perception of science.  The problem, he argues, is not (only) ignorance of scientific stuff, but selective skepticism about particular scientific claims.  Ironically, information only exacerbates the scientific pseudo-skeptic's  ignorance.  He writes:

In other words, it appears that politics comes first on such a contested subject, and better information is no cure-all — people are likely to simply strain it through an ideological sieve. In fact, more education probably makes a global warming skeptic more persuasive, and more adept at collecting information and generating arguments sympathetic to his or her point of view.

In addition to global warming denialism, he mentions the alleged link between vaccines and autism and concern of nuclear waste in Nevada.  Mooney goes on to conclude that scientists must do a better job of understanding the motivations behind views such as these.  Fair enough.

But I think this is really a job for epistemologists. 

A worthwhile piece on media bias–

To be more specific, a piece that claims the usual discussions of media bias fail to capture the phenomenon.  Read it here.  Here is a representative sample:

5. He said, she said journalism, a formation I have been trying to bust up by pushing for more fact checking.

“He said, she said” journalism means…

– There’s a public dispute.
– The dispute makes news.
– No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)
– The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.
– The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter in the middle between polarized extremes.

When these five conditions are met, the genre is in gear.

via Daily Howler.

The undecided voter

I too am against partisan bickering, etc., but this guy just doesn't get it: 

It's striking that both liberals and conservatives are convinced nowadays of the imminent demise of the other side's governing philosophy. The left says the shocking toll of BP's recklessness and Wall Street's greed proves the folly of deregulation and unfettered markets. The right looks at Greece, Europe's welfare strains, and Britain's stunning new austerity budget and shouts with similar fervor that bloated government is on borrowed time.

The fascinating thing is that both groups are correct about the obsolescence of the other side's key premises, yet blind to the staleness of their own. What partisans on neither side seem to sense is that events are poised to consign many traditional priorities of both conservatives and liberals to the ash heap.

You'd never know this from the phony way public life is conducted. While independents are America's largest voting bloc, the left and right retain a stranglehold on the debate. Only the shrill prevail. On TV, talk radio or the campaign trail, it's almost impossible to hear the kind of common sense that takes us beyond the usual partisan tropes.

Think about it: How often do you hear the same pundit or politician say that (1) we need to reform Wall Street compensation so bankers can't get rich taking gambles whose losses get picked up by taxpayers ("liberal"), and that (2) Social Security's growth needs to be trimmed ("conservative")? Or that (1) we need to scale back gold-plated public employee pensions ("conservative") and (2) raise taxes in sensible ways to fix our fiscal woes ("liberal")?

These ideas aren't inconsistent or incoherent — they're pragmatic responses to the challenges we face. But our entire system conspires to ban the expression of a practical synthesis of the best of "liberal," "conservative" and more eclectic views.

Everyone claims–some correctly–that they have found "pragmatic responses to the challenges we face."  The question–one our public discourse fails to answer–is who has got the better response.  The problem isn't therefore (only) with the partisan people putting forward solutions, it's with our debate-style political culture, where the only measure is which of the two sides gains political advantage with regard to the (too often uninformed and speciously pragmatic) center.

So when the question arises, for example, What should be do about our mucking up the planet?  The best our best newspapers can do is have a debate over whether pollution is bad–because, you know, you have to hear both sides! 

Frankenquotations

Former George W.Bush speechwriter ("axis of evil….") and some kind of fervent Christian Michael Gerson alleges that Al Franken, former writer for Saturday NIght Live and current Senator from Minnesota, is not to be taken seriously.  He writes:

One problem with a political landslide of the kind that Republicans now contemplate in November is that it may also sweep into office various ideologues who become embarrassments — candidates such as J.D. Hayworth and Rand Paul. Democrats are familiar with this possibility, because they have Sen. Al Franken.

In the months since his election, the author of "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot," who has referred to opponents as "human filth" and who once accused Ronald Reagan of supporting the torture and rape of nuns, has tried to control his bile addiction, at least in public. Speaking last week to the American Constitution Society, he relapsed.

Most of the traditional elements of a Franken rant were employed against Chief Justice John Roberts and conservatives on the Supreme Court. The attack on motives: The "Roberts court has consistently and intentionally protected and promoted the interests of the powerful over those of individual Americans." The silly hyperbole: "What individual rights are so basic and so important that they should be protected above a corporation's right to profit? And their preferred answer is: None. Zero." The sloppy, malicious mixed metaphor: The Roberts court is putting not a "thumb" but "a fist with brass knuckles" on the "scale" of justice. Franken was clearly summoning all his remaining resources of senatorial dignity not to say something like Roberts is a "lying liar who lies along with his lying lackeys for his lying corporate lying masters."

You would never suspect from Franken's speech that the Roberts court, in key cases, has sided with employees who allege discrimination and against corporations. It is never enough for Franken's opponents to be misguided or mistaken; they must want women to be sexually harassed in underpaid jobs while their children die of lead poisoning.

In all fairness, which is a kind of Christian attitude by the way–or so the nuns taught me–"Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot" is ironic satire, about a fellow whose main mode of argument is the abusive ad hominem.  The same goes for the "human filth" remark about the vitriolic Karl Rove.  Now Reagan, in all honesty, did support regimes that raped and tortured nuns (I mean communists).  Now the point of bringing all of this up of course is to discredit Franken without considering Franken's particular argument (in this case).  It's the tactic of a big fat idiot, or human filth, to denigrate our discourse in this manner.  THAT LAST SENTENCE WAS SATIRE.  What's worse, however, is that Gerson has run out of misunderstandings to blame on Franken, so he resorts to making stuff up.  You can watch Franken's comments for yourself here
 
Franken doesn't say the "lying liars" quotation above.  That's pure invention.  If Franken had such a habit of bile, you'd think Gerson wouldn't need to resort to making crap up.  But he continues–and attributes more false intentions to Franken.  It is never enough for Gerson that his opponent is wrong or misguided, but apparently he must have some kind of warped personality and (as this dreary pieces goes on to fail more and more) and be a big fat idiot.  But maybe I'll talk about that tomorrow.

The most irresponsible piece

The other day during our massive blog fail outage, I read this piece from Colbert I. King in the Post.  King argued that certain leading conservative spokespeople for traditional values–such as Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh–are hypocrites, because they're serial adulterers or husbands.  Well, to be more precise, that's what it should have argued.  Instead, here's what it set to establish:

Family, marriage and the contribution of fathers come together as topics for reflection on Father's Day. So I'd like to know why Barack Obama, a husband and a father in a family structure that encompasses bonds deemed essential to our society, is constantly and savagely attacked by conservative leaders whose personal circumstances undermine the family values they espouse?

Had King been arguing that when it comes to family or traditional values, the likes of Gingrich and Limbaugh ought seriously to STFU.  His mistake, I think, is the overly general nature of his criticism–they ought to shut up in general.  And that's just silly–and such an obvious example of abusive ad hominem that I almost feel bad pointing that out. 

But, on come the letter writers.  It's weird how people react:

Colbert I. King's column on President Obama's critics was the most irresponsible piece of ad hominem commentary I have ever read. Mr. King went to ridiculous extremes to denigrate key conservative spokesmen Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. They have had some significant marital and family issues, to be sure, but what does that have to do with many (if not most) of the political stances they take in opposition to the president?

According to Mr. King, they have the audacity to "look down their noses at our president," as though his commendable family life makes him immune from other scrutiny. Mr. King seemed to be saying, "Obama has a solid marriage and two cute kids: How dare they criticize his health policy, his economic policies, his foreign policy?!" The writing is a masterpiece of non sequitur. If only Mr. King were trying to champion "family values" instead of just using them as a weapon.

To continue along the same vein, no one who thinks for a second that Limbaugh, Gingrich, or Palin has anything to add to our public discourse can accuse other people of "the most irresponsible piece of ad hominem ever."  Having said that, the letter writer has the right idea about this article, unfortunately.

 

 

 

 

   

Your argument is invalid

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