June 30, 2004


Mindles H. Dreck from Asymmetrical Information manages to say a bunch of things that I agree with 100%.

We have devoted a lot of space to defending the President/administration from over-the-top rhetoric. In some sense we've felt almost forced to. I wonder occasionally whether addressing partisan polemics makes you partisan yourself. That's actually one of the thoughts that's diminished my enthusiasm about posting. I know I'll be backed into some argument where fierce partisans insist that if I don't share their wildly unreasonable demonization of the other side I must be....one of them!

The diminishing enthusiasm part really resonates with me – the polemics and the defense against the polemics makes it difficult to say anything meaningful. It makes it harder to reflectively criticize the legitimate problems with the administration because you're constantly being bludgeoned with them when defending the policies that you agree with.

As a transplanted Texan, I also still cannot get used to a place where you risk pissing off everyone at the party because you support the president, the war, and, heaven forbid, capitalism.

And then he lays out his position, which mirrors mine pretty closely:

Both parties are chickenshit on gay marriage. I don't think the state should have anything to say about it. On the other hand, it's sad to me that anybody thinks state recognition should be important to their own sense of worth. This is what becomes of subsidies (which the legal status of marriage is). They are inherently discriminatory. It's appalling that people think marriage has to be 'defended' with subsidies or other attempts at social engineering.

Free trade is incredibly important to the growth of the world economy and the distribution of wealth to the far corners of the earth. Steel and agricultural subsidies are inexcusable even if the other guys are doing it. These protections simply slow us down and screw the little guy - in Africa or South America, that is.

The FCC's actions are just chilling to free speech. The new fines are restrictively punitive, and create at least the moral hazard of using them to shape political speech.

Bush never saw a spending bill or entitlement he didn't like, all small government rhetoric aside. Descriptions of his spending policy as some kind of fiscal rope-a-dope defy imagination.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, the decision to transplant Gitmo's prisoner treatment guidelines to Iraq is a textbook example of bureaucratic stupidity. The lack of control of potential WMD sites immediately after the invasion is a major screw-up - one that made the world a MORE dangerous place (remember the 'one vial' argument? Since we really thought they were there, job one should have been lockdown, regardless of the invasion pace).

I'm tired of people who think that businespeople are automatically immoral actors, or that the mere existence of profit or business self-interest signifies a problem. In my experience, the profit motive often protects us from the human instinct to control others when we gather in groups. Without the more objective monetary yardstick, it seems like the unspoken prime directive of groups (read:bureaucracies) is to control others, despite the best intentions of the individuals involved. I sit on a nonprofit board and I've seen it in action.

I endorse the mission in Iraq, which WAS, contrary to much invective, about bringing democracy to the Middle East. Or did I just imagine all the pre-war criticism of the administration being in the thrall of a 'cabal' of Straussian Neo-cons with precisely that mission? You remember, back when everyone thought WMDs were a lock? I understand some people thought Saddam could be deterred. I don't understand people who think it is all about oil or Halliburton. An immense good has been done getting rid of Saddam. It is beyond me why people are so vested in portraying that as entirely venal. Counter-tribalism, I guess.

Pure dynamist.

Posted by richard at June 30, 2004 10:46 AM

I agree with everything - but your opening whine and the end bit about the war. Come on, now, you said you want us write something when we agree.

Point #1, your whine: I do agree with your sentiment. Liberals are very good at convincing themselves that they (note my use of "they" not "we") alone are on the side of good and anyone who disagrees with them must be racist (if they have any opposition to affirmative action, for example), greedy (if they support any type of tax cut), or uncaring (if they are opposed to any type of subsidy, protection, or entitlement).

But the same is true of the other side (I know, because I happen to be somewhere in the middle). How could you not support our troops? Saddam killed thousands of his own people. Don't you think Arabs are entitled to democracy? Clinton allowed 9/11 to happen. And all sorts of other in your face crap.

Rational debate is tough to find.

Point #2, the War: The main case for war made to the American public and the world was about WMD. Deomcratization fo the middle east was icing on the cake. We wouldn't go to war just to democratize. The threat was the compelling reason - otherwise we would have taken our time and finished the job in Afghanistan.

"An immense good has been done getting rid of Saddam. It is beyond me why people are so vested in portraying that as entirely venal." See my first point . . .

Posted by: Mike F. at July 2, 2004 11:19 AM

And somehow the Purest "Dreck" at the same time. So add in "Go Wolverines!" at the end of this, and you would have offended my every sensibility and touched my last nerve.

Have I commenced a polemic here? You bet. This post of yours fits quite well with a longstanding rhetorical strategy — or comfortable rhetorical position — in which/from which you cast yourself as a last bastion of rationality against the radical, lick-chopping polemicists like Mike and me.

This is a privileged position you occupy, because it enables you to classify all your opposition as hotheads while at the same time disavowing total bootlicking fealty to the Administration. I'm not one of them — I just don't blindly and thoughtlessly hate them like everybody else.

Which would be fine and good if none of us posted any actual analysis or thoughtful comment here. By the way, here's mine on this point:

Of course the disempowered side is going to ratchet up the rhetoric. Tantrums can be effective, and you don't tend to have one when everything is going your way. Compare Justice Scalia's majority opinions to his dissents.

Take, for a further example, the reaction of 1990s Republicans to Bill Clinton's presidency. It was easy for apologists to say, "Get over it. It was just sex. There's no rational relationship between Bill's gettin' it and his ability to lead." Indeed, against great paroxysms of outrage about what Clinton's dalliances did to humiliate the nation among foreigners, one could, in the Just-in-casional spirit, have produced a graph or two of poll results to show that people overseas (who don't run screaming from the presentation of a nipple) simply didn't give a rat's ass.

But the outrage actually led to impeachment proceedings. Once the power shifted, so did the outrage, and an on-target declaration that there was a "vast right-wing conspiracy" met with Just-in-Casionaloid sighs of "Come off it," when "DUH" would have been in order.

In this case, we're not talking about one man's sex life, but a BIG WAR that killed lots of people. When defending war, the best approach is take six steps back and 'ow-you-say? "reflectively criticize." So you talk about Realpolitik strategy, Security Council resolutions, reverse-domino theories, demonstrations of force, "bad apples," etc. And we've played on that field with you: War as Risk or Stratego, where pieces get swept from the board, but you don't stop to look at them to see the missing limbs.

Our point has always been that you have to have not a reason, not a good reason, but a fantastic reason to go to war. And the rules are, you can't make one up. I think it's appropriate to resort to polemic when someone runs roughshod over those rules. Because we're not talking about Clinton's antics in the Oval Office anymore. We're talking about blowing people up.

So in sum: sure, if you're defending an entrenched leadership, you're going to be able to scale back the rhetoric. And if you're defending a war, you had damned well better. The latter point puts me in mind of the Supreme Court's decisions in the partial birth abortion case, where the majority used Latinate clinical language like "evacuate," "disarticulation," and "extraction" to describe the procedure, and the dissent resorted to the Good Old English "kill," "tear open," and "drag out."

The dissent accused the majority of putting too clean a face on the procedure. I should think that we could make the same declaration about your argument, even while you're calling us polemicists.

Certain stances on certain situations naturally call for outrage. Mike and I think Dubya has furnished one such instance. You may tactically decide to characterize much of the left's justified outrage as over-the-top, devoid of rational criticism, and not worthy of response.

But it's just a tactic, like everything else. And we're calling you out on it.

Posted by: Brad A. at July 2, 2004 11:27 AM

Mike F. – I understand what you're saying about the case for war that Dreck makes. He relies way too much on democratization a sufficient reason. You know from other conversations that my rationale is much more complicated and varied.

I think he does make a good point about the conflict between the people who said democratization would never work (before the war) and those who now say it was never about democratization.

But your point taken. As far as the whine – sorry, sometimes I say stuff about how I actually feel, rather than saying something convincing....

Posted by: richard at July 2, 2004 12:02 PM

"As a transplanted Texan, I also still cannot get used to a place where you risk pissing off everyone at the party because you support the president, the war, and, heaven forbid, capitalism."

If you were at a party and said you supported the president - except instead of NYC 2004 it was Texas 2000 - would there be any risk of pissing anyone off?

Posted by: Mike F. at July 2, 2004 07:00 PM

Probably, and it wouldn't be any fun being that guy either.

Posted by: richard at July 3, 2004 12:13 PM