Another proof of bad faith: The inconsistency of ‘blacktracking’

Another proof of bad faith: The inconsistency of ‘blacktracking’ September 30, 2013

Before President George W. Bush announced his support for legislation creating a federal Do Not Call list, liberal politicians and liberal bloggers were uniformly in favor of the idea. It was, they said, a matter of principle. Government regulation for consumer protection was consistent with their values, their ethics, their ideology and their philosophy of government.

But President Bush was their political nemesis. Liberals did not like him. Liberals did not trust him. And now, suddenly, here was their political opponent coming out in favor of their proposal.

So what happened when this man, their foe, suddenly made this proposal part of his agenda? Well, after Bush announced his support for the Do Not Call list, all those liberal politicians and liberal bloggers who had previously supported the idea … still supported the idea. They still insisted it was in accord with their principles and their values and they stuck with those principles and values. They applauded Bush for his support, welcomed his support, and worked with him to make the registry a reality.

That’s what one does when one actually has principles, or values, or convictions, or a coherent ideology, or a philosophy of government.

One could criticize those liberals for the substance of those principles, values and convictions, but one could not accuse them of not sticking to them — or of being willing or able to abandon them if it meant a chance to score points against their political nemesis.

The same dynamic can be seen in the liberal response to President George W. Bush’s support for increased humanitarian aid for Africa. When Bush declared himself to be on the side of increasing such aid, not a single liberal politician reversed their previous commitment to that same idea. Liberals didn’t respond to Bush’s endorsement of this idea by suddenly declaring that they were now opposed to humanitarian aid for Africa.

Or look at Bush’s expansion of Medicare coverage for prescription medicine. Before W. endorsed the idea, liberals were in favor of it. And after W. endorsed the idea, liberals were still in favor of it. Liberals were not, however, in favor of the way Bush decided to go about expanding this coverage — surrendering the government’s leverage to keep prices down, forbidding its use of such bulk-purchasing clout in a way that liberals viewed as a giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry. Liberals hated that part of Bush’s Medicare expansion and they fought to change it in Congress. But after they lost that fight and Bush signed the bill into law, liberal politicians didn’t set about trying to repeal it, or to sabotage it, or to defund it. They set about trying to make it work as best as possible on behalf of the constituents who needed that prescription coverage (including a years-long struggle to close the law’s “donut hole” coverage gap — something finally accomplished as part of the Afffordable Care Act).

For the past six years, President Barack Obama has repeatedly embraced Republican ideas — from the ACA itself, a Heritage Foundation plan first implemented by Mitt Romney, to his recent consultation with Congress over military action against Syria. Some consider this habit of Obama’s to be an act of shrewd political genius — “11 dimensional chess,” some call it. Others view it as evidence that he’s a lousy bargainer who concedes half the game with his opening offer. Still others say it shows he’s neither maneuvering nor bargaining, just a moderate who embraces some Republican ideas because he likes them.

But the response from some nominal conservatives has not been anything like the consistency liberals showed on the rare occasions President Bush supported Democratic ideas. Their response is to switch positions — to abandon their prior argument and allegiance and to being opposing ideas they had very recently advocated just because Obama had announced his support of them.

I referred to these folks as “nominal conservatives” because it is not possible to regard them as conservatives. Their actions do not allow that. A conservative is someone who supports conservative ideas and conservative policies based on conservative principles, values and convictions. Someone who is willing to abandon those principles, values and convictions based solely on the president’s position isn’t a “conservative” — they’re merely a reflexive opponent of the president. Conservatives know where they stand and what they stand for. These folks don’t know what to say about anything until they hear what Obama has to say about it, and then they take the other side because … just because.

Bill Maher calls this “black-tracking”:

“It should be in the dictionary: ‘Black-track,’” Maher explained, defining it as, “The act of changing one’s mind because President Obama has agreed with you. See also: ‘Pulling a one-hatey,’ or the ‘Kenyan boomerang.’”

Whatever you call it, it’s evidence — proof — of bad faith.


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  • Uh, “to the right of Nixon” has been a pretty common refrain around these here Slackticomments the last few years.

  • slacktistudent

    I am writing a paper about this!! I wonder if I am allowed to cite my own family member in a works cited. We were learning about political behavior today in class and my teacher who is supposed to remain unbiased was obviously struggling because of these “nominal conservatives”. Although class was interesting, I think the phrase doing a one-hatey is the best thing I learned today.

  • DavidCheatham

    Oh, but let’s not forget Paul Ryan tried, under the insane idea that Obama would drone Americans.

  • LL

    This. He is truly one of the dumbest well-known “pundits” in America today. And there is fierce competition for that title.

  • Lori

    Yes, but it’s generally used as basically an assessment of Overton Window movement, not as an assessment of quality. Ross made a statement about the quality of recent presidents.

  • Lori

    When implementing those policies Nixon had the huge advantage of not being opposed by Richard Nixon, the viscous political game player. See also: only Nixon could go to China*.

    Things have gotten so f’ed up that Dems in the White House now face a whole army of Nixon’s every time they try to pass legislation.

    *As an aside—the number of people who use that phrase who clearly don’t understand why “only Nixon could go to China” and therefore what the phrase actually means just bugs the crap out of me.

  • Lori

    That was Rand Paul. (It’s hard to tell Right Wing hacks apart.) His position was indeed incredibly stupid and clearly based on politics far more than some principled anti-drone position.

  • Lorehead
  • Lori

    Rand Paul was arguing about drone attacks on US soil, not about Americans abroad being killed by drones. Those are two separate arguments and the existence of the second doesn’t lend support to the first.

  • Lorehead
  • Lori

    Still not what Rand Paul was arguing against and still not tied to the issue of Americans killed by drones while on foreign soil in the way that you seem to be trying to tie them.

  • Lorehead

    I take the erosion of the principle that the President may not deprive any citizen of life, liberty or property without due process of law seriously. And saying, “I declared him a terrorist, and my reasons are a state secret,” is not due process.

    In this instance, there is a real concern that you can’t dismiss even if Rand Paul shares it.

  • Christyinlosangeles

    Oh, I believe you. I have a close friend who is, for reasons none of her friends understand, dating a Tea Party-ish dude. He honestly and truly and loudly believes that Obama is a socialist who wants to destroy American and that Obamacare is a truly sinister plot of some kind and that the government is going to come to his house and take his guns, etc., etc.

    I feel for the guy – he’s operating from a place of deep fear and unhappiness, and that makes him angry – but I hate that his particular brand of irrationality has a national platform – particularly since I embody much of what he hates. Whatever it is he wants America to be, there’s no room for me there.

  • Lori

    I take is seriously too. What does that have to do with Rand Paul? That wasn’t the argument that he was actually making.

  • Depending on the reference format, it would likely be Firstname Lastname, private communication. It’s commonly used in scientific journals to cite something not published but which is important to showing you’ve done your homework.

  • P J Evans

    And the Republicans refuse to see that they’re so far to the right now that Reagan would be a Democrat.

  • Lorehead

    The argument he was actually making was closer to what has already happened than what some people here have claimed. I applaud Rand Paul and Ron Wyden for demanding real answers about how the Administration is using drones so they can perform the Senate’s duty of oversight.

  • Lori

    And that’s where we part company because I don’t believe for a single second that Rand Paul was trying to perform the Senate’s duty of oversight.

  • Lorehead

    Honestly, I don’t think his motives were very important. Maybe we should talk about Ron Wyden instead; I don’t think you’d dismiss him as easily.

  • Lori

    We were discussing the argument that Rand Paul made, so I think the argument he actually made is relevant. The fact that some good could come from his bullshit doesn’t transform his bullshit into gold.

  • Matri

    I have to wonder. If and when they ever finally managed to win an election, do any of them have the faintest idea what they are going to do besides repealing income tax for the 1% and turning America into a theocracy to push education and technology back to the bronze age?

  • Matri

    Some did, but not all. Some liberals were totally against both
    Afghanistan and Iraq, but I think they remain so today. Lots of liberals
    considered Afghanistan acceptable and strongly opposed Iraq, and that’s
    still basically where they are.

    But you can’t say they didn’t stick to their values and principles.

  • Matri

    I do believe that Lori isn’t agree with Paul-whatever. Rather, just pointing out his hypocrisy.

  • Matri

    Hell, Lincoln would be a Democrat by their definition.

  • When they started jabbering about how pink slime wasn’t really that bad and they saw nothing wrong with feeding it to children, that was about the time I figured we should start campaigning against consuming rat poison.

  • I think they’d be willing to declare him an honorary RINO for that, but the significant point is that he needs to support something that we should all be in favor of anyway, making it clear that their opposition is purely because of who’s saying it.

  • Lori

    They saw nothing wrong with feeding pink slime to other people’s children. They’re already OK with other people’s kids being exposed to poison.

  • Ehhh, my first and last word on the subject is that Obama has done several things that make me deeply unhappy with his presidency, and the sad thing is that I still think the alternative would have been far worse. I simply cannot imagine how McCain or Romney being president would lead us into a better situation.

  • Ben English

    Or, had the stress killed President McCain, President Palin.

  • True, it’s not like their children attend public school. Hmm… Monsanto, think you can start hybridizing pink slime into the buns of their white truffle and gold flake burgers?

  • President Palin scares me only a little less than President Bachmann.