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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Choosing One's Friends

I was over at the Daily Kos (thought I'd see how, what, or if the other side was thinking) and I found this delightful post, mentioning that "conservatives are only conservatives when they are in other conservatives good graces."
First, I think that's interesting that conservatives are singled out. Last time I checked people only claimed as intellectual comrades those who agree with us. Plus, especially in politics, people love to disown those who embarress them, even when they are in complete agreement. Although I think Kos's source is totally off base here. First, as I've mentioned, everyone does it (though of course that doesn't make it right). When Howie Dean started getting crazy, the Dems weren't in a huge rush to defend him. And libs won't waste much time claiming unpopular allies. Also, I'd argue that a lot of times conservatives are too quick to defend other conservatives when they are wrong. One's beliefs do not excuse bad behavior. However, this is a good opportunity to clear something up. There are massive polarities in the conservative movement. You haven't experienced intellectual tussling till you've been to a conservative conference similar to the one I've attended for the last few years in D.C. The social conservatives argue with the libertarians who argue with the tax cutters, deficit hawks, isolationists and "neo-cons". The conservative movement is ridiculously broad-based, from libertarians to the religious right. It's inconceivable that such a movement would not result in huge debates, schisms, etc. And therefore it's natural that all sides would be claiming the term conservative and arguing that those who don't agree with them aren't, because there are many different interpretations of the term "conservatism". I, for example, don't consider Pat Buchanan a conservative, but a lunatic. He's against almost everything in my defintion of conservative, such as free trade, freedom from government interference in markets, etc. But if your definition of conservative is only "pro-life" (although that's not a bad thing), then he's conservative. One of the comments on this Kos Article notes that there is no healthy conservative debate, only hysterical and emotional shouting. I almost chuckled out loud right here in civ pro. Because the liberal movement (as I see it) is nowhere near as broad based, and yet there is more nitpicking over tiny things than the conservative movement. Also, although I'll admit that many Republicans (who in large part don't deserve the title conservatives) have degenerated into emotional "you're not a patriot" demagogues, they're only doing so as they move more and more into traditionally liberal territory. I appreciate the many liberals who are reasonable and civil and base their arguments on more than "my son died, or grandma has socks on her hands, etc". But I'm going to have to stop, because civpro is calling my attention. I might come back to this later.


There you go. Make fun of Kos (and Atrios) all you want. I won't spend any time defending them. Kos' statement is especially galling considering his claim not long ago that "I try to ignore the Kaus/Jarvis axis of faux Dems as much as possible." I still don't see any basis for the claim that 'Howard Dean started getting crazy,' though. Come on, Fritz Feds, support the anti-Dean slurs or stop making them.
Okay, I'll back up my "crazy Howard Dean" statement. How about wanting to represent all those good 'ol boys with the confederate flags? What about all his claims that the Republican party is the party of racists? What about his "hide the salami" quote (which is hilarious. What about claiming to be a metro-sexual before admitting that he had no clue what that entailed. What about saying that Republicans hadn't made an honest living in their lives? What about his claims that Bush went to war because of a "complex psychological situation" he has with his father. How about this, "I hate Republicans and everything they stand for." And, my personal favorite, of course, this...
I think the post you cite to had more to do with self-reflection and adherence to principle than with the diversity of views within the Republican party--hence the Chalabi quote and the "Conservatism never fails; it is only failed" passage.

I don't think it's all that surprising that they single out conservatives. Yeah, the political left compromises their principles too, but they haven't really had a chance to do so for years, what with being the minority party and unable to accomplish much of anything. Moreover, the variety of recent set-backs for the Bush administration should be cause some re-evaluation on the political right.

Finally, "you're not a patriot" accusations? You mean like Mr. Martell implying Howard Dean is unpatriotic?
Oh come off it already V. Have a sense of humor. In case the concept is foreign to you:
sense of humor
n : the trait of appreciating (and being able to express) the humorous; "she didn't appreciate my humor"; "you can't survive in the army without a sense of humor" [syn: humor, humour, sense of humour]

Furthermore, you say:
"Yeah, the political left compromises their principles too, but they haven't really had a chance to do so for years, what with being the minority party and unable to accomplish much of anything."

Haven't had a chance? They've had lots of chances, they're called elections.
Have a sense of humor? About repeated and largely baseless demonization of both the individuals and the broad groups you disagree with? I'm not sure I find that funny. You (jmag and Martell) write as if certain things are tacitly understood (patriotism = jingoism, liberals only care about racism as a political tool, much liberal opposition to the war boils down to "mindless jingles" rather than the doubts you yourself have, etc). You appear to start from the position that conservatives are right and the left is wrong.

Like I said, I read the speech linked to above as (in part) a condemnation of unwillingness to re-evaluate one's positions in light of real-world developments. I think the tacit assumptions that appear throughout your writing prevent that sort of reflection. It's almost as if, in some quarters, politics/governance is a team sport in which only winning matters. It's about a side/team/party getting its way rather than whether or not that particular "way" is a good thing. Reading this blog, I feel you've picked your team and there's no way you'd ever leave it.
I'm sorry you feel that way. I can't speak for Jason, but I pride myself on having an open mind and listening to both sides of an issue. Of course I've settled on certain sides in most debates. I don't see how you can make the claim that "we've picked sides" and aren't open to other ideas, especially since you apparently are. You seem to know "where we're coming from" etc. I've got a question for you. Could it be that you simply find that conservatives "are unwilling to change their views to fit reality" because of your own view of reality? If you can point out any of my views that are baseless, please feel free. We can have a debate. But calling me jingoistic, etc, does nothing for your cause. I could do a post a day on why some facets of the conservative movement are wrong, and maybe that'd please you. But I'm sorry to let you know that in some sense I have "chosen sides" on issues, not as part of a team, but on the basis of where I believe the truth lies. If you can convince me otherwise, you're welcome to try. I enjoy vigorous debate. But just because I don't agree with you doesn't make me a close minded person. Just perhaps it means we've come to different conclusions.
It’s not that your views are baseless (they’re not), and it’s not even about whether I agree with you (I do more than you probably think). It’s not about belonging to a party or movement: it’s not bad for people with similar first principles to frequently line up on the same side. However it is about honest analysis. Despite your pride on the matter, I don’t think you (jmag and Martell) are being open-minded. You caricature arguments of the fringe left and then knock them down, or you unfairly demonize the left in general terms. In doing so, you dodge any sort of real debate or analysis. Most of the time, I don’t even think you’re trying.

And I have been periodically trying to point these things out to you:

Howard Dean is unpatriotic, no explanation needed.

Liberals are self-serving hypocrites on race issues.

Liberals but not conservatives are being hypocritical on the issue of torture.

When liberals mention war casualties, they are making emotional arguments not worthy of rebuttal.

These are not the arguments or statements of an intelligent person with an open mind. There are good and honest arguments against many liberal positions, so why don’t you try making them?
I can only defend the things I said. I actually do think that many liberals are self serving and hypocritical on race. See for example, what happened to the Lt. Gov. Steele? (I'm not sure what his name was, but the rhetoric used against him was absurd and disgusting). I never said all, but a significant subsection, which the movement refuses to acknowledge. (Speaking of, Howard Dean also had some racist comments on the Lt. Gov.)
And I do think that liberals are being hypocritical on the issue of torture, and I do think that much of the rhetoric against the war (and again I'm not saying there are no arguments to be made against it) is largely emotionally based. Feel free to debate these topics. Don't just automatically cover them all with the banner "thoughts from a closed mind". Sure I didn't give all the arguments for both sides. Of course I spend more time disagreeing with liberals than conservatives. I have a limited amount of time, and I'm going to spend more time on things I find interesting, and I find major disagreements interesting. And this isn't a philosophical blog (I don't have the time or patience right now), but a political one. Should I ignore the views that "aren't reasonable" on the other side? I pick out things that are wrong (or that I believe to be wrong), and debate them. And I usually convince myself. I don't see how criticizing those using emotional arguments on Iraq, racists on the left, or Howard Dean translate to broad overgeneralized arguments. I'm not making those arguments. I'm criticizing the people I'm talking about, and I don't see why that's a problem.
It’s not about having to give both sides of an argument or actually being right, it’s about HOW YOU MAKE YOUR POINTS. Even if I concede that you’re right on all of your points, I can still say your support, at least as presented on the blog, is inadequate. Let me give a couple of examples.

You give 2 examples (Steele and Malkin) of racist opposition to 2 Republicans. Empirically, that probably shows .001% of liberals are racist, yet you say “many.” You either need to give a lot more examples, or you need to argue about liberal policies, e.g., that affirmative action hurts minorities because it reinforces stereotypes of inferiority (I don’t want to argue on this point, I’m only offering it as an example of a better argument.) Until then, I can just say “I disagree” and my position carries as much weight as yours.

You say that “much of the rhetoric against the war” is emotionally based. First, as I mentioned, citing the number of deaths in Iraq isn’t necessarily emotional. Leaving that aside, you go on to say “a lot of conservatives are sick of . . . reflexive arguments without any coherent analysis” and “arguments against the war become mindless jingles.” While you don’t specifically say “all,” your statements are only compelling to the extent that people actually hold the beliefs you’re dismissing, so I can say “sure, but that’s not the position of most of the left.”

Your defenses are things like “but there are a racists on the left” and “some leftists are irrational about the war,” basically “I wasn’t talking about everyone.” If these are really your positions, all you’ve done is state banal and uncontroversial truisms that are inapplicable to the bulk of the left. Congratulations: you’re Captain Obvious. If you’re not doing that, you’re tarring the left generally via guilt by association with irrational people and bad arguments. Maybe you’re actually right about these positions—leftists are racists and are irrational about the war—but you haven’t demonstrated it.
We were just talking about the problem of tarring everyone with the same brush. You want more evidence on the racism? How about the treatment accorded almost every black conservative, such as wearing of Klan gear on campuses when black conservatives are speaking. Plus the implication of many liberal opinions seems to be "blacks think this way, and if you don't think this way, you 'don't count' as black". For a good example, remember that some liberals labeled Clinton the first "black president". One wonders, why? Becuase he played the sax, or for some other tenuous observation based on stereotypes?
Okay, now on to the next one. How is the number of deaths emotional? You rightly make the point that it certainly can be used in a cost benefit analysis. But it is not being used as such, rather as a "little Jimmy from next door is never coming home". If the number of deaths in this war was compared to almost any other war we've been engaged in, the cost would look ridiculously low (and save me the "every soldier is worth more than all the oil in the world"-charged rhetoric). The undertone of the arguments by many on the left is not "this many have died, and although justified to some extent, the benefits have not been worth it". Rather they've settled for the emotional "show the faces of the children" rhetoric, or else assumed away the possibility that the war had any justification. After all, "Bush lied, people died". And I wouldn't say that this is an uncontroversial truism. Sure, there are loonies on the left, as there are on the right. But liberals love to take the moral high ground. And that's my point. At the very least the Left is as bad at disowning or ignoring the crazies on their side while focusing on the crazies on the other.

OK, please clarify: are you opting for the straw man or the platitude? I can't tell.

I'm not (necessarily) disagreeing with you. I'm saying your debating tactics are flawed. Any time you find yourself talking about what "liberals love", stop: you're probably making a straw man argument that prevents you from reaching any serious arguments. It's intellectually dishonest and closed-minded.

Look, I don't think you understand me, and I don't know how to explain it any more clearly.
I do understand what you're saying. I don't know why you're applying this to me. I say the treatment of Steele by liberals was heinous. Obviously because this was rather widespread this is a problem. You call that a straw man. Except that all the examples I bring up to support all of my opinions are based on solid factual opinions from a large cross section of liberalism. Of course it does not apply to everyone in the movement. Few things could be identified that would. Can we just agree that some (and we can argue about how much) racism exists in the liberal movement, and it must be condemned? Can you agree that many arguments against the war are based on emotional rhetoric, not a reasoned critique of policy? Can you agree that these problems that I bring up exist to some extent and are problems? Because otherwise we run into the problem described in Kos. One side simply cherrypicks its friends to imply that its side is always above reproach. How is this controversial? How is this erecting straw men? Merriam Webster defines a straw man as 1 : a weak or imaginary opposition (as an argument or adversary) set up only to be easily confuted. But these are not imaginary arguments or opponents. They are not mainstream, but that does not make them straw men.
"Can we just agree that some (and we can argue about how much) racism exists in the liberal movement, and it must be condemned? Can you agree that many arguments against the war are based on emotional rhetoric, not a reasoned critique of policy? Can you agree that these problems that I bring up exist to some extent and are problems?"

So it's the the platitudes then. And yes, we can agree on the obvious.
Our discussion might as well end here. I'm glad you were able to fit my comments into a comfortable category: platitudes, thus leaving you free to ignore them. But whatever. I'm glad you visit the site occassionally, and I hope to continue to hear your feedback.
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