Politics

Talk politics and get into big political arguments here.

Dehumanizing your opponent

Conservative commentator Michael Gerson draws some lines that cut through both existing parties and potentially every ideology:

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.

Unlike Weigel, most members of the Ugly Party — liberal and conservative — have little interest in keeping their views private. “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh,” Ann Coulter once said, “is he did not go to the New York Times building.” Radio host Mike Malloy suggested that Glenn Beck “do the honorable thing and blow his brains out.” Conservatives carry signs at Obama rallies: “We Came Unarmed (This Time).” Liberals carried signs at Bush rallies: “Save Mother Earth, Kill Bush.” Says John Avlon, author of “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America,” “If you only take offense when the president of your party is compared to Hitler, then you’re part of the problem.”

The rhetoric of the Ugly Party shares some common themes: urging the death or sexual humiliation of opponents or comparing a political enemy to vermin or diseases. It is not merely an adolescent form of political discourse; it encourages a certain political philosophy — a belief that rivals are somehow less than human, which undermines the idea of equality and the possibility of common purposes.

via Michael Gerson – The Ugly Party vs. the Grown-Up Party.

Wanting your opponents dead or sexually humiliated and comparing them to vermin or diseases is, indeed, a long-standing trope of the vilest rhetoric.  It was a commonplace of Nazi propaganda, comparing the Jews, for example, to vermin, who thus need to be exterminated.  OK, maybe you can find examples of Luther talking this way about the pope, but that hardly excuses it.  The key point is that such rhetoric dehumanizes your opponents, and if you do not consider them human, then it is, in fact, easy to kill them, sexually humiliate them, exterminate them like vermin, or wipe them out like diseases.

I think you can be an extremely militant and argumentative conservative or liberal while still avoiding this fault.  Can we agree that it is wrong to dehumanize our opponents?

Christian right vs. tea partiers

E. J. Dionne sees conservatism reverting back to its old anti-government, extremism, and conspiracy theory days while abandoning its more recent Christian versions:

Barack Obama’s campaign promise of change did not include a pledge to transform American conservatism. But one of his presidency’s major legacies may be a revolution on the American right in which older, more secular forms of politics displace religious activism.

The reaction to Obama has also radicalized parts of the conservative movement, giving life to conspiracy theories long buried and strains of thinking similar to those espoused by the John Birch Society and other right-wing groups in the 1950s and ’60s. . . .

What’s remarkable is the extent to which the Tea Party movement has displaced the religious right as the dominant voice of conservative militancy. The religious conservatives have not disappeared, and Sarah Palin, a Tea Party hero, does share their views on abortion and gay marriage. But these issues have been overshadowed by the broader anti-government themes pushed by the New Old Right, and the “compassionate conservatism” that inspires parts of the Christian political movement has no place in the right’s current order of battle.

Thus has Obama brought back to life a venerable if disturbing style of conservative thinking. In the short run, the new movement’s energy threatens him. In the long run, its extremism may be his salvation.

via E.J. Dionne Jr. – How Obama changed the right.

I appreciate a prominent liberal commentator not lumping Christian activists in with all the others and not demonizing the Christians for a change.  But do you think his analysis holds up?

Mr. Greene goes to Washington?

Democrats always present themselves as champions of the poor, the disadvantaged, minorities, the little guy.  But they sure don’t like it when a poor, disadvantaged African-American guy with no political connections wins a Democratic election.   This piece about Alvin Greene, who won the Democratic primary for the Senate race, just oozes condescension and classism:

Alvin M. Greene never gave a speech during his campaign to become this state’s Democratic nominee for Senate. He didn’t start a Web site or hire consultants or plant lawn signs. There’s only $114 in his campaign bank account, he says, and the only check he ever wrote from it was to cover his filing fee.

Indeed, in a three-hour interview, the unemployed military veteran could not name a single specific thing he’d done to campaign. Yet more than 100,000 South Carolinians voted for him on Tuesday, handing him nearly 60 percent of the vote and a resounding victory over Vic Rawl, a former judge who has served four terms in the state legislature.

“I’m the Democratic Party nominee,” Greene says in the interview at his father’s home on a lonely stretch of rural highway in central South Carolina. “The people have spoken. The people of South Carolina have spoken. The people of South Carolina have spoken. We have to be pro-South Carolina. The people of South Carolina have spoken. We have to be pro-South Carolina.”

Things have gotten even stranger since Greene’s win. First, the Associated Press reported that he faces felony obscenity charges for allegedly showing pornography to a University of South Carolina student last November. Greene says he’s not guilty. Then the state’s Democratic Party chairman called on him to withdraw from the general election. House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) — who has questioned whether Republicans may have planted Greene in the race — is calling for federal and state investigations. A spokesman for Republican Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) called that notion “ridiculous,” and Greene dismisses suggestions that he is anyone’s pawn.

via In South Carolina, Greene is mystery man despite winning Democratic Senate nod.

Democrats are so embarrassed with Mr. Greene winning their election that they have succumbed to conspiracy theories.  Republicans put him up to it!  Republicans crossed over to vote in the primary!  Somebody paid his filing fee!

First, the South Carolina Republican primary was all taken up with the big, heated governor’s race with tea-party favorite Nikki Haley.  Republicans were all trying to either defeat her or get her elected.   They wouldn’t vote Democratic out of spite.  Second, however this guy got into the race and paid his filing fee, enough people had to vote for him.   Why shouldn’t he get that relatively low number of votes in a mostly Republican state?

Which raises a bigger issue.  In this day of bipartisan revulsion against incumbents and professional politicians, why shouldn’t an average American without political experience serve as a representative of the people?  In the ancient Athenian democracy, certain offices were filled by casting lots so as to ensure that an ordinary Athenian–not some aristocrat or demagogue–would hold the office.   If we are going to have a democratic republic, why shouldn’t the Mr. Greenes of the world run for office and why shouldn’t the other Mr. Greenes of the world vote for him?  Or is that kind of democracy not a good idea?

I agree that this particular citizen doesn’t strike me as making a good Senator, but do you think a person really needs to be a lawyer or rich guy to serve in elected office?  Some, of course, such as mayor or governor or president require administrative ability, but senators and congressmen don’t have to run anything, just represent their constituents.  Or is it good to have more creative lawmakers?

Presidents can’t stop the oil from flowing

Anne Applebaum, who is no conservative, points out that the notion that President Obama should “do something” about the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates this strange assumption held by both liberals and conservatives that our government should solve problems that are just impossible for it to solve:

In the Gulf of Mexico, plumes of black oil are gushing into the ocean, coating the wings of seabirds, poisoning shellfish, sending tar balls rolling onto white Florida beaches. It is an ecological disaster. It is a economic nightmare. And there is absolutely nothing that the American president can do about it. Nothing at all.

Here is the hard truth: The U.S. government does not possess a secret method for capping oil leaks. Even the combined wisdom of the Obama inner circle — all of those Harvard economists, silver-tongued spin doctors and hardened politicos — cannot prevent tens of thousands of tons of oil from pouring out of hole a mile beneath the ocean surface. Other than proximity to the Louisiana coast, this catastrophe has nothing in common with Hurricane Katrina: That was an unstoppable natural disaster that turned into a human tragedy because of an inadequate government response. This is just an unstoppable disaster, period. It will be a human tragedy precisely because no government response is possible.

Which leads me to a mystery: Given that he cannot stop the oil from flowing, why has President Obama decided to act as if he can? And given that he is totally reliant on BP to save the fish and the birds of the Gulf of Mexico, why has he started pretending otherwise — why is he, in his own words, looking for someone’s “ass to kick”? I suspect that there are many reasons for this recent change of rhetorical tone and that some of them are ideological. This is, of course, a president who believes that government can and should be able to solve all problems. Obama has never sounded particularly enthusiastic about the private sector either, and some of his congressional colleagues — the ones talking of retroactively raising the cap on BP’s liability, for example, or forcing BP to pay for the lost wages of other oil companies’ workers — are downright hostile.

A large part of the explanation, however, is cultural: Obama has been forced to take a commanding role in a crisis he cannot control because we expect him to — both “we” the media and “we” the bipartisan public. Whatever their politics, most Americans in recent years have come to expect a strong response — an invasion, massive legislation — from their politicians in times of crisis, and this one is no exception. We want the president to lead — somewhere, anywhere. A few days ago, the New York Times declared that “he and his administration need to do a lot more to show they are on top of this mess” and should have started “putting the heat” on BP much earlier — as if that would have made the remotest bit of difference.

via Anne Applebaum – The oil spill isn’t Obama’s Katrina.

This is not to say that the government shouldn’t police such things and try to keep them from happening.  But the point is that to talk about limited government goes beyond thinking government should be limited.  It is also to recognize that government has intrinsic limitations, that there are things that it just cannot do.

Big night for conservative women

Yesterday featured a primary election throughout the country.  Many incumbents, though not all, were voted down by their own party members.  The tea-party of conservative populists scored big.  The tea-party equivalent on the left seeking to defeat Democratic moderates didn’t do so well:  Arkansas incumbent senator Blanche Lincoln turned back an opponent heavily funded by labor unions.  Conservative women in general were the big winners of the night.

Nikki Haley has won more votes than the incumbent in a vicious race for governor in South Carolina, though she faces a run-off.  A woman will run against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, though it isn’t clear which of two that will be.  Ebay CEO Meg Whitman may be the Republican running for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office in California.

How do you account for the success of conservative women in today’s politics?  Aren’t liberals supposed to be the ones who are all feminist about everything?


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