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November 13, 2008

That Unbridgeable Divide

I do think that America’s a country now, it is two Americas. There’s the progressive European nation that a lot of us live in or would like to live in and it’s being strangled by the Sarah Palins of the world. It can’t quite be born because this other stupid redneck nation won’t allow it.

- Bill Maher

On the Redrawing the Conservative Roadmap post, Elise cited the Bill Maher quote above during a temperate and distressingly coherent reply to 'socialist libtard'. By his lights, her insistence on civility brands her yet another apologist for lawlessness, if not outright stupidity:

What a curious perspective on the world. If I understand Greenwald correctly, I deserve condemnation for taking arguments seriously: in his words, I "reasonably debat[ed] these actions as though they were legitimate, as though support for those policies was worthy of serious and respectful consideration." In other words, I was an apologist for lawless and radical Bush policies even when writing posts that rejected them. By rejecting positions through reason rather than invective, I legitimated the positions I rejected.

I think Greenwald has it exactly backwards, though. If you actually want to persuade folks who haven't made up their mind already on ideological grounds — that is, the crowd that is open to persuasion --invective won't cut it. You need real arguments, and you need credibility, and you can get that only by taking arguments seriously and evaluating them on the merits free of insults and abuse. You don't need to express "outrage" to make the point; in fact, outrage only takes away from it. My approach doesn't sell a lot of books, I realize, but I think it does get to the bottom of things.

More and more these days, I find myself becoming dismayed at the harshness and smug, reflexive insularity of our political discourse. If it weren't so casually malicious, it might be easier to accept the New York Times' stunning bigotry:

Fear of the politician with the unusual name and look did not end with last Tuesday’s vote in this rural red swatch where buck heads and rifles hang on the wall. This corner of the Deep South still resonates with negative feelings about the race of President-elect Barack Obama.

Yessir, the tree of the Confederacy sure bears some strange fruit, doesn't it? It's a good thing those fear mongering fear mongers who vote the politics of fear, hate and racial division are about to be ensmartened by those who practice the politics of unity, healing, and hope!

And then there are the voices of sweet reason in my own party:

There are really only four things I have a strong aversion to: unloaded guns, dull knives, banjos, and Republicans in Name Only (RINOs).

...As the Republican Party begins to retool, rebuild and return to the "less government is best government" conservatism that makes America work, the first thing the GOP needs to do is to lock the RINOs out of the discussion. Heavily armed with an abundance of conservative attitude, my hunting buddies and I will provide security to ensure RINOs are kept downwind from the discussion. If allowed to participate, RINOs will continue to rot the Republican Party from within and diminish it in the eyes of the public. Enough is enough.

Impressive. In fact, that's first class leftist thinking there. If your ideas can't stand on their own two feet, simply eliminate the competition.

Somehow the Editorial Staff is reminded of an old song from our youth: clowns to the left, jokers to the right. And here we are, stuck in the middle. Perhaps it is some kind of mental illness, not to swerve so far to either side that one views any disagreement as a defect of character or intelligence.

If so, throw me into the abyss, because I'd rather jump off that cliff than stand on either side with people who are allowing themselves to forget that we all have to live together under the same system of laws and under a two party system in which both parties share power at the end of the day.

That whole democracy thing doesn't work too well when you go through life believing the other side are possessed by Satan. Or ignorant, backwoods racists.

Posted by Cassandra at November 13, 2008 07:23 AM

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"That whole democracy thing doesn't work too well when you go through life believing the other side are possessed by Satan. Or ignorant, backwoods racists."

Exactly right. And yet, that seems to be where we find ourselves -- no room for intelligent discussion to solve this country's very real problems when the other side is deranged (from either point of view the other side is hopelessly deranged) When I really start to worry is when I see people that think violence is the only answer left, and they ARE out there. Got any answers?

Posted by: Lynn at November 13, 2008 02:04 PM

There are people out there that profit (literally) from the process of arguing and incendiary speech.
From TV, you could call it the "Talking Head Syndrome". O'Reilly, Olbermann, Matthews, etc.

There is less tangible, less visible reward for actual compromise and resolution. As long as people visibly profit by "scorched earth", this will continue.
And actually, with respect to the Internet, it will get worse. People tend to group together with like-minded souls, so you get a re-inforcing echo; a re-inforcement of narrow thinking, left and right.
I sometimes read "Just One Minute", Tom Maguire's blog, and sometimes the comments are interesting and funny, but it is becoming something of a fevered swamp (on the right). Ditto for "The Belmont Club", Richard Fernandez/Wretchard's blog.

These two people (as examples) running these blogs aren't trying to egg people on, but the commenters get themselves wound up on their own.

I think it is interesting how far Maher has spun down from the '90's when "Politically Incorrect" was on the Comedy Network and it was sometimes fun to watch, to where it ended up (insulting and unwatchable by me), when he was booted off of ABC.

The same thing happened to Phil Donahue. He got his start on afternoon "Talk Radio" in Dayton (my hometown), and I used to hear him all the time when I was a kid. Then he started his TV show format, and he was pretty watchable and good at interviewing, although he loved to have Madelyn Murray O'Hare on to tweak the religious types, especially the Catholics (which Phil was). He was actually an intelligent and pleasant person to listen to because in those days he tried to be fair. Since then he has spun down into the fevered swamp where he lives now.

The adulation and praise (whether from left or right) of these people, doing what they do, is something that is a cancer eating away at the body politic.

Just my stupid opinion, though.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at November 13, 2008 02:27 PM

I think I've made it fairly clear that I'm not exactly one to be an advocate of ideological purity, yet at some point it is necessary to draw a line in the sand when it comes to membership and especially leadership.

The line isn't necessarily clear. As the political compass shows, it's not as simple as Left/Right. And there are many more axis than just the two it used. But just like you can't tell me which dollar makes someone rich, that doesn't mean there aren't rich people and poor people.

If Bill Clinton were to change his registered party, but still maintain the exact same philisophical stances, should we welcome him into the Republican fold and allow him input into reforming the Republican brand? Or should it recognize him for what he would be, a RINO? Can the Republican party really function if it's membership ranges from Pat Buchanon to Ralph Nader? At that point, your Brand becomes meaningless. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they get shot at by both sides.

Of course, on the other extreme having a party with only the membership of Buchanon would be well defined, but it would only have one person in it. And that doesn't work either.

But if you are going to make your brand distinguishable you have to have distinquishing features. That means, at some point, you have to draw a line somewhere. It means you are going to have to exclude someone. Excluding Dennis Kucinich is a pretty easy call. But what of Michael Bloomberg? He's got an 'R' behind his name, but he was a long time Democrat who changed his party so to avoid a tough primary challenge with a fellow Democrat. What about McCain? He certainly votes with Republicans more often than with Democrats, but his entire personea and notoriety is built around taking on "both sides", i.e. his willingness to stab his own party members in the back.

All this to say: You can't just take the rightmost 51% and say we're going form a platform around them. You may be able to come up with some policy positions where no one is really happy but at least they all get some of what they want. But it's going to be hard to create a clear and concise vision from it. As you wrote about earlier: this was McCain's problem. Sure, he had a six-pack of policy positions, but he lacked the plastic thingy to hold it all together. When Joe Six-Pack tried to pick it up all it did was spill out in a mess. There was no underpinning philosophy of government.

You simply can't lead that way.

The trick is finding a balance so that you can construct a narrowly focused vision with a broad appeal. To boil down the issues into highly concentrated core that we can all get behind even if we disagree on the particulars.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at November 13, 2008 05:33 PM

That whole democracy thing doesn't work too well when you go through life believing the other side are possessed by Satan. Or ignorant, backwoods racists.

It also doesn't work if you believed and did as McCain did, reached your hand across, and got stabbed in the back and brought your entire election down because of it.

Even if you believe as McCain did, you will get Obama. That is the truth because it happened.

And there is no way to reform the Left or the Democrats into a loyal opposition using what McCain thought was the solution. And so what do we do with people like them who continue to support such things, Cass? They are the ones that reject Sarah Palin. They are the ones that initiated attacks on conservatism through pro-active methods and what they call "compromises".

None of it did a damn thing to make America stronger. It only gave more power to those that wanted to loot America for their own greed and megalomania.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at November 13, 2008 08:47 PM

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at November 13, 2008 05:33 PM

I heard it said that the GOP prizes principle while Democrats work elections by creating grievance groups and acquiring the votes of specific demographics like the gay, black, women, and minority votes.

THis means that the Democrats don't care who it is part of their party (RObert KKK Byrd?) and what promises it makes, so long as they get that 51% or just a plurality (Clinton).

What this means for the GOP is that the GOP is kind of screwed if the GOP doesn't have a charismatic leader that can get those principles translated into action and momentum.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at November 13, 2008 08:50 PM

I personally like to stay away from either extreme, although I'm definitely to the right of center...which makes me an average American, from what I hear.

I shudder to think that I'm an average anything, but so it goes...

Posted by: camojack at November 14, 2008 03:37 AM

So I'm wondering if the State of NJ can fit "distressingly coherent" on my license plate.

Posted by: Elise at November 14, 2008 02:48 PM