Sigh (this post is probably a big waste of your time, and mine)

by John Holbo on February 4, 2005

First, many thanks to all who have bought stuff through the Amazon
links. Tomorrow I’m sending another US$150 check to the Singapore Red Cross for Tsunami reconstruction efforts. Please feel free to continue helping by buying … if you were gonna buy anyway.

Andrew Sullivan gets letters. Boyo does he:

I am utterly convinced to the point of certainty that the ‘failure of the people on the right to see the serious problems in the way we’ve administered the occupation’ was based on not wanting to give into the left’s countless methods to undermine the success of a George Bush-led anything. They will take a contrarian position no matter what the topic. They will lie and distort their own past stated positions, The ends justify the means, and all. The same people who claim to have been for the Afghanistan action in order to justify their exceptional opposition to the Iraq action were, for the most part, against Afghanistan. They lie with ease; they don’t want us to win anything; they want America to be publicly chastened, especially by our European intellectual ‘superiors’. Conceding anything to this crowd, right or wrong, feels like it will lead to giving them something they don’t deserve, the higher ground, and, worse, carte blanche to take us back to a pre-911 ostrich-like security strategy. We know things aren’t going perfect. But we never expected that standard in the first place.

I had anaphor trouble when it came to figuring out who ‘they’ are. I was all the way up to ‘their exceptional opposition’ before I figured out it was lefties being accused of having an end justifes the means attitude. (But then I’m a lefty so I’m probably lying as I tell you this.)

Sullivan concurs, in wise yet regretful tones: "That may well be empirically true. But it’s depressing nonetheless." That is, he agrees that it’s true that the behavior of the American left (most of the 49% who voted for Kerry?) is explicable as due to a widespread, overwhelming desire to be shamed before Europeans? Democrats love to feel intellectually and morally inferior? This is true to such an extent that, if Republicans were to admit error, the terrorists might win? Because the terrorists win if Americans are shamed before Europeans? I like to be ashamed in front of a European as much as the next guy, I hope, but …

Glenn Reynolds tops Sully in the mock-regretful Contumely sweeps with this post Henry linked. I am in awe. The awfulness of it is like a stone sitting on my tongue. I am speechless. Fortunately I can still type. Reynolds’ theory appears to be that the left – the Democrats? most of the 49% of the population who voted Kerry? – are either morally indistinguishable from or held hostage by the likes of Ward Churchill. (Oh, when will the wingers see and say: we have met the fever-swamp, and it is we.)

But Michael Moore sat in the box with Carter! But, um, Rush Limbaugh got a manly handshake and squeeze from Bush 1.0 up on the campaign hustings back in 1992. Where’s the outrage? (Does Glenn Reynolds believe Rush is a sane and responsible commentator on the American political scene?) But that was long ago! There wasn’t even internets! But the last time Carter was President there wasn’t even betamax. Who cares if he didn’t kick Moore out of the box? (Honestly, aren’t there problems in the world somewhere?)

But (splutter!) Naomi Klein! a leftist criticizing the left! Doesn’t that prove that the left are bankrupt Euro-slave Symbionese Liberation Army remnant look-alike dead-enders, plus Wavy Gravy if he’s still alive? Yes, it’s true that the right has tighter message discipline, if that’s what you mean. Witness the late linguistic pirouettes with social security privatization personal acounts personization soylent security. My favorite Grover Norquist quote: “The conservative press is self-consciously conservative and
self-consciously part of the team. The liberal press is much larger,
but at the same time it sees itself as the establishment press. So it’s
conflicted. Sometimes it thinks it needs to be critical of both sides.” Something similar is true of the right blogohemisphere (or so it seems to me). From the fact that the left is more often openly self-critical, it hardly follows that it is less truly self-critical, as Reynolds deployment of the Klein quote seems intended to suggest. To put it another way, if a lot of serious rightwing breast-beating ensued it might be a sign that the the right was seriously imploding. But on the left it is more normal, hence not a sign of implosion. (Hey, if he can say disdainful things, can’t I?)

But the right blogosphere is self-correcting! "The right has done a better job of muzzling and marginalizing its idiots, while the Left has embraced them." I would be very grateful if Reynolds would volunteer to start each morning with a visit to (say) Media Matters, then report back to his readers on every little embarrassing thing he learns. Or he could just for starters criticize Charles Johnson for maintaining a less than mannerly comments section. Maybe he could volunteer to clean it himself on odd days.

But wouldn’t that take an awful lot of the professor’s time?

But this doesn’t sound like an undue burden to Reynolds when he is meditating on Democratic obligations. Letters, he gets letters:

I keep hearing people saying "X is not the authentic face of the
left." Yet I don’t hear them repudiate all of the X’s out there. I
don’t hear them stand up and announce that X is wrong. I don’t hear
them explaining how they’re going to take the Democrat Party back from
the X’s. And I DO hear them defending or excusing all of the X behavior.If the left/Democrats mean what they say, they have it in their
power to stop the decay of the Democrat power. Stand up, speak out, and
take the Party back from all the X’s.

As Reynolds wisely but regretfully observes: "Yeah. There’s an endless supply of guys like Churchill. And I’d love to
believe that they’re marginal figures. But then I see the embrace of
Moore, and the behavior of major Democrats like Boxer and Kennedy … "

OK, let’s put senator Kennedy to one side. We’ll get back to him. Moving along, the Boxer thing is Kos thing. Kos shouldn’t have said what he said about the dead mercs, but the fact that he said it is not of great significance.The fact that Kos really REALLY dislikes mercenaries and disapproves of American military use of mercenaries – their employment makes him full of rage – does not make the fact that Kos really dislikes mercenaries the beating heart of the Democratic soul. Seriously, who thinks Kos’ attitude to mercenaries is a determining factor in the overall posture of the left, or the Democratic party? Reynolds pretends that Kos is unpatriotic but I’m sure he knows better. He’d be an idiot not to know Kos is a patriot in a perfectly straightforward sense. (I truly don’t believe the Instapundit is an idiot, often as he annoys me.) And Boxer is connected to Kos. Okey. We’re done with Kos.

What that leaves us with is that lefties are morally obliged to denounce folks like Ward Churchill – even though, long as this list would be (big country) this would clearly leave little time for squaring off against Republicans. Let’s call this the No Enemies To The Right prescription for the left. It has a self-evident moral obligation to be unified squarely against subsets of itself. (Who is defending Ward Churchill, may I ask? What major Democratic politician agrees with the things he says, and says so? Who would be such an idiot as to announce they are taking back the Democratic party from Ward Churchill, who thinks the Democratic party is a crypto-fascist conspiracy?)

And what in fact does Reynolds feel the right’s symmetrical obligations to self-criticism might be in this department? (There are lots of folks who comment over at LGF who are as far gone to the right as Churchill is to the left.) None, so far as I can tell. At any rate, Reynolds is allowed to write about what interests him, without trying to be fair and balanced, on the hypothesis that probably the NY Times will make it right by leaning way left. The right is free to outsource dissent, as it were, leaving it to the left to critique the right. But of course those criticisms are ignored because the left is assumed to be nothing but an irrational, seething mass of Bush-hatred. So it would seem no one is doing this little job of criticizing the right.

Furthermore, it would be very very wrong for the left to do what it is perfectly appropriate for the right to do, namely not self-criticize. Reynolds is explicitly advocating a firm double-standard, otherwise it would make no sense for him to say his side has no duty to slam crazy talk radio wackos all the time, but the left has a duty to attack Michael Moore en masse, day in, day out. Does Reynolds really think Ward Churchill is not getting media coverage commensurate with his World-Historical stature as thinker and activist? (Consistency, folks! Let’s have consistency! Don’t demand more from the other side than you are willing to demand of your own side.)

And you know what: Glenn Reynolds’ doesn’t believe that the American left is represented by Ward Churchill, plus remnants of Ken Kesey’s Merry Tricksters. He’s not dumb. Does Andrew Sullivan think the Democratic party is some sort of fifth column insurgency of self-loathing Europhile jihadis, muttering to themselves incessantly: WWSSD, WWSSD? [What would Susan Sontag do?] No one could actually think anything so implausible. It’s just fun to do the whole contempt plus mock-regretful tut-tut thing. (Been there myself.) It angries up the blood. But you stay lazy all the same.

What a waste of time this all is, including this very post. (Sigh.)

OK. Three questions for the right blogosphere. No, really, I’d like answers.

1) What does Glenn Reynolds refer to when he says ‘the Left’, in posts like the one linked? (Let’s just start with this little semantic splinter that’s been bothering me for some time.) Does the Left = the Democratic party?

2) If it is the case that nothing that the left is coming up with at the moment is the least bit intellectually serious – just Bush-hatred plus dug up hippy fossils: a "seething-yet-shrinking mass of self-hatred and idiocy" – what would the serious stuff be, hypothetically? You could, of course, say: there is no possibility that any reasonable person would oppose George Bush, either domestically or on foreign policy. But this is not plausible. So what would a strong opposition look like that looked nothing like what we’ve got? (Hint: the answer is: it would like look like what we’ve got.)

3) Ted Kennedy. He makes "an absurd and borderline-traitorous speech on the war." [Link to speech.] Is this acceptable? Quite frankly I see no hope for compelling politicians for forego absurdity. This would result in a lot of dead air time. The Republican party in particular – oh, never mind about that. And there are already laws on the books against treason. Kennedy:

We must learn from our mistakes. We must recognize what a large and growing number of Iraqis now believe. The war in Iraq has become a war against the American occupation.   

We have reached the point that a prolonged American military presence in Iraq is no longer productive for either Iraq or the United States. The U.S. military presence has become part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Suggesting we should learn from our mistakes is treason? (I admit it would mark a change in policy. But treason?) No, seriously folks. I happen to agree with the criticism of Kennedy’s speech that the case for thinking this way is significantly weakened in the aftermath of the successful election. (Never have so
many partisans/guerillas done so much damage and stayed so hidden with
tacit support and sympathy from so few. So it would seem. Strange assymetrical warfare we are engaged in.) So events have overtaken Kennedy’s pessimism in a happy way. And of course no one wants to rain on the Iraqi parade by belittling the joy of a free election. (Well, a few people do. They’re too partisan.) Nevertheless, it is hardly self-evident what the US course should be in Iraq over – say – the next 5 years. I should say there is room for dissent, at least in an intellectual sense. It is possible to be of the reasonable opinion that the Bushies have made many mistakes. For one thing, it is obviously possible to be of the intelligent, informed, reasonable opinion that the whole thing has been a catastrophic mistake, a distraction from – for example – fighting the war to keep things like 9/11 from happening again. (Yes, the election is truly nice. But there have also been significant costs.) This pattern seems likely to continue. That is, the Bushies will continue to make major military decisions that some people will think are bad. They will not think this because they mindlessly hate Bush, but because they are mindful of how it could all turn out badly – something the Bushies may not be sufficiently mindful of. It’s certainly possible.

In Kennedy’s case, the most reasonable assumption (surely) is that he dislikes Bush and is happy enough to hammer him (who thinks politicians are required to take no pleasure in smiting their political enemies?); but he also sincerely thinks Bush has made mistakes. As a Senator, it is his job to say so, if he thinks so. (Does anyone actually think Kennedy is secretly sympathetic to the Baathist remnants of the former regime? That’s just not plausible.)

Fred Barnes wrote a Spectator piece last week, suggesting the White House should define "what’s out of bounds in dissent on Iraq." This is an interesting idea. I get the sense that lots of the right blogosphere thinks that lots of lefty dissent – maybe most of it – is currently way out of bounds. This is not because the dissent is unreasonable (although some people pretend it must be) but because it is felt that, once the President sets his course, it is giving aid and comfort to the enemy to suggest there is anything seriously wrong with the course, because this produces the impression that we might falter, which would be worse. (It’s this sense of ‘aid and comfort’ that fuels the borderline treason charge.)

Now right bloggers will say they are staunch supporters of free speech, but that isn’t really the issue. Given that everyone (or most everyone) has the legal right to say that they think the war is going badly and some course other than the President’s would be better, is it morally right to express this opinion – if you are a Senator, if you are a private citizen? Or do you have a moral duty to bite your tongue for the duration? (Even if the war lasts a generation?) The objection to what Kennedy says, if it is serious, is not that Kennedy is necessarily wrong, or that he necessarily has an intolerable motive in saying these things. (I take it to be obvious that he doesn’t self-evidently have an intolerable motive. And the fact that he is mistaken in sizing up the military situation, if he is, would hardly bring him near the line of treason.) The only possible serious objection to Kennedy is that, even if he is right and has a good motive, it is still immoral for him to speak his mind. This is unacceptable (albeit maddeningly legal) dissent on the Senator’s part. (He can think it, and dammit we aren’t allowed to muzzle him, but he should keep his thoughts to himself.)

I take this objection to be absurd, but I can’t think what other ground for objecting to the bare existence of Kennedy’s speech there could be. Bush knew what form of government the United States has before he chose to go to war. The existence of a vocal opposition should not be surprising given this form of government. Bush should have planned for – among other things – the possibility that some people would disagree with his course of action. If he planned a war that can’t be waged by a democracy, because it requires all the critics of the war to shut up, then he should have changed his plan; or overthrown democracy as a sensible precaution before constructing it abroad (I kid, I kid); or not gone to war.

To sum up. Reynolds and others on the right say the left is a mindless, writhing mass of ressentiment. I always quote Trilling about how this view gets the situation exactly upside down and backwards: the conservative impulse does not at the present time express itself "in ideas but only in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas." But going around like this denigrating the other side’s mental capacity does not actually move the ball forward. (Not that nobody’s right. Obviously I’m right. But why should you take my word for it?)

Here’s some rules for the right that would make the game better. Don’t call anyone a big hippy unless they’re a big hippy. (Certainly don’t call half the voters big hippies; that’s dumb.) Don’t rely on poetic justice as fairness as an excuse not to consider uncomfortable evidence and arguments. That is, don’t hallucinate that refusing to self-criticize is some virtue of the right, because you have a somewhat nebulous sense that the left started it (out of a desire to be shamed by Europeans, or for any other reason.) It’s OK for the right blogosphere to ignore bad news if the media ignores good news? No, that doesn’t make sense. Even if it were completely true that the media ignores good news that wouldn’t make sense. Turnabout is fair play cannot convert a form of irrational unfair-mindedness into a form of rational fair-mindedness. Finally, if your objection to anti-Bush foreign policy talk is nothing specific to do with the talk itself but just a blanket sense that all such talk is at present morally illegitimate – even if possibly intelligent and plausibly patriotic – then please just say this is your view and have done with it. Say you think Kennedy has no moral standing to speak his mind unless he agrees with the basic course Bush is pursuing. Don’t erroneously hint that the ground for your objection is that these critics are unpatriotic or even necessarily wrong.

There. I said it. I rolled the stone of the ridiculousness of Reynolds’ post off my tongue to the best of my ability. Ah, feels better. But what a waste of my time, probably.

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Crooked Timber » » Not another one
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{ 56 comments }

1

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.04.05 at 7:17 am

I know it is mildly rude to toot your own horn, but I think my co-bloggers at obsidianwings and I have two fairly good discussions about the subject on the posts Who, Exactly, Is This “Left” About Which I Hear Such Strange And Dreadful Things? and Useful Distinctions. It may be a waste of your time. But it can be amusing. :)

2

washerdreyer 02.04.05 at 7:44 am

This post would only be better if it came with a pony.
I’m never sure what Sullivan is up to when he prints letters, since there is no question that he prints letters from opposing viewpoints and indicates possible agreement with both of them.
Did you (or did you consider) e-mailing Sullivan and Prof. Reynolds to ask them for their thoughts on these topics?

3

am 02.04.05 at 8:02 am

I take it from this that the “left” are beyond criticism? And that the “right” are eternally risible?

Just checking here: is this a reality-based thing?

4

washerdreyer 02.04.05 at 8:09 am

am-
Please explain a fair reading of this quote which implies that “left is beyond criticism”: From the fact that the left is more often openly self-critical, it hardly follows that it is less truly self-critical.
The direct implication of that quote is that the left has reasons to be truly self-critical.
Please quote any part of the John’s piece which vaguely suggests that the left is beyond criticism.

5

jholbo 02.04.05 at 8:20 am

Hi Sebastian, thanks for the links. am: I think the left is open to criticism, and that the criticism is most telling when reality-based. (Not sure whether that helps.)

6

Strange Doctrines 02.04.05 at 8:50 am

Ah–“poetic justice as fairness.” Well done.

How about “Where there’s a will to power there’s a way”? Okay, not as good. I’ll keep working on it.

7

MFB 02.04.05 at 8:50 am

Why, in God’s name, all the useless self-criticism?

The Right will always create left-wing strawmen (usually by falsifying what they said or did) and then use them to denounce the existence of the Left. That is their business; they have to do it to whip up righteous hatred among their supporters (hatred which they substitute for legitimate, acceptable policies or doctrines).

The Left has no reason to answer these things, any more than Jews are obliged to constantly explain that they are not poisoning wells and draining Aryan virgins of their blood.

8

dsquared 02.04.05 at 10:31 am

Suggesting we should learn from our mistakes is treason?

I’m reminded of Peter Cook’s line “I have certainly learned from my mistakes and am confident that I could repeat them exactly”.

9

Brett Bellmore 02.04.05 at 10:36 am

“They lie with ease; they don’t want us to win anything; they want America to be publicly chastened, especially by our European intellectual ‘superiors’.”

“That is, he agrees that it’s true that the behavior of the American left (most of the 49% who voted for Kerry?) is explicable as due to a widespread, overwhelming desire to be shamed before Europeans? Democrats love to feel intellectually and morally inferior?”

Come on, you’re not that dense. The obvious implication is that you don’t see yourself as being one with “America”, and thus America’s being shamed isn’t YOU being shamed. It’s just those yahoos who inexplicably control the government, and the great mass of bubbas and Scrooge McDucks who keep electing them, who need to be publicly chastened.

Don’t attack strawmen.

10

Mr. Svinlesha 02.04.05 at 10:46 am

“And you know what: Glenn Reynolds’ doesn’t believe that the American left is represented by Ward Churchill, plus remnants of Ken Kesey’s Merry Tricksters.”

In the interest of historical accuracy, and at the risk of sounding overly pedantic, that was the Merry Pranksters, not the Merry Tricksters.

I begin to feel old.

11

jholbo 02.04.05 at 10:49 am

I actually thought about addressing this point, Brett. The problem is that the notion that Democrats – or the American left, generally – don’t identify as ‘American’ – that they think of themselves as exiled Europeans first – is absurd. So I could have run it that way and ended up in the same place. Namely, far from reality. Yes. I probably should have mentioned this reading for completeness.

12

jholbo 02.04.05 at 10:57 am

Actually, Mr. svinlesha, I knew that I should have anyway. I’m from Oregon originally and Ken Kesey lived not too far away. He used to rent from the same video store I used. (My mom saw his Pranksters when they rolled through Grants Pass way back when.)

13

bob mcmanus 02.04.05 at 12:58 pm

You are right, this was a waste of my time. And yours.

If the purpose was to shame the Holsclaws, I gave up on that many years ago.

14

Keith M Ellis 02.04.05 at 2:17 pm

Whenever I’m annoyed when reading something like Reynolds’s caricature of “the left”, I do a reality check on my ideas about “the right”. And while I know full well that there’s a broad spectrum of viewpoints on the right and that Pat Robertson or Ann Coulter aren’t representative, the more press people like that get, the more pissed-off I get, and the more I tend to think of the “right” as being represented by those people. I shouldn’t do it, I try not to do it, but I do.

I don’t think we should underestimate the near-universal human tendency toward confirmation bias with regard to the opposition. When you’re opposed to someone, when you don’t like them, you see only the worst.

15

Darren 02.04.05 at 2:20 pm

A label on crookedtimber seems to quickly turn into either a target for invective, or a cloak of selfrighteous piety (depending upon the label). It appears that labels around here lead to obfuscation eg socialist means different things to different people…. Just my musings …

16

baa 02.04.05 at 2:22 pm

Are broad categories useful? Are broad generalizations useful? The answer, I would think, is “yes and no.” I am a Red Sox fan. And I am not (I hope) a bitter, pessimistic, jerk. There’s a great deal of truth, however, to the statement “Red Sox fans are bitter, pessimistic jerks.” And indeed, if a friend asked my advice about becoming the manager of the Red Sox, that’s the advice I’d give him.

The appropriateness of generalizations seems tied to the context in which they are deployed. In the case above, a generalization does the job. Unfortuntely the generalizations “left” and “right” are most often used in the genre that I might call “political light entertainment.” Or at least that’s the intellectual genre: they’re also used in fundraising (standard letter in my mailbox: “the left/right is trying to undermine marriage/outlaw abortion, please give!”). If we mistake political light entertainment for argument, then genrealizations will seem inadequate, and even offensive. I would suggest instead that we see “the left” and “the right” as markers of genre almost as reliable as “Once upon a time.”

17

Aeon Skoble 02.04.05 at 2:33 pm

“But the last time Carter was President there wasn’t even betamax.”

Actually, there was. Just sayin’…

18

Keith M Ellis 02.04.05 at 2:34 pm

Whenever I’m annoyed when reading something like Reynolds’s caricature of “the left”, I do a reality check on my ideas about “the right”. And while I know full well that there’s a broad spectrum of viewpoints on the right and that Pat Robertson or Ann Coulter aren’t representative, the more press people like that get, the more pissed-off I get, and the more I tend to think of the “right” as being represented by those people. I shouldn’t do it, I try not to do it, but I do.

I don’t think we should underestimate the near-universal human tendency toward confirmation bias with regard to the opposition. When you’re opposed to someone, when you don’t like them, you see only the worst.

19

Paul 02.04.05 at 3:08 pm

an absurd and borderline-traitorous speech

the White House should define “what’s out of bounds in dissent on Iraq.”

I’m tired of this shit. If Reynolds or Sully or Barnes or any of the yahoos who comment here think someone is commiting treason then CALL THE FUCKING COPS. Go ahead, you mealy-mouthed cowards, put your money where your mouths are. I’d like to see someone try to arrest Kennedy on the Senate floor. Bring it on. And if the White House wants to put limits on dissent, then they can damn well tell me to STFU.

None of that will happen though, because none of this is real, just a bunch of sad, pathetic bully boy wannabes living out their fantasies behind a computer screen.

20

Steve 02.04.05 at 3:17 pm

I was just going to say. The overwhelming tendency of the right when engaged in argumentation is to resort to ad hominem or ad nauseum, rather than address the point.

Ted Kennedy says “withdraw the troops”, and the Right says “You’re an idiot. Not only are you an idiot, you’re a treasonous pig.”

The main point, of course, is that they avoid the issue. You see this all the time. Report that Social Security privitization will cost $2 trillion this decade in transition costs… they’ll ask where you got that quote from, and then proceed to ridicule the source. Never do they address the real issue.

We must learn from this, but clearly learning does not mean silencing dissent but rather drawing the Right out further into the swamp of tar that they have tred into with their ridiculous debating tactics.

21

John Emerson 02.04.05 at 3:59 pm

Liberals “don’t feel one with America” — Brett, I thought you were a libertarian at heart. Where’s you get the Ein Volk / Ein Reich / Vaterland shit?

1. Reynold calls Kennedy a near-traitor.

2. Sullivan concedes some problems with his conservative friends just so he can blame liberals for what they do. Nice.

3. Then Armed Liberal claims, without any evidence at all, that terrorists got that way because of Western academic leftists. (Qutb, the al Qaeda ideologist whom AL knows plenty about, spent two years in Greeley, Colorado in 1950 or so. Not exactly a hotbed of liberalism there.)

Before 9/11 conservatives already hated liberals, but they were **just fine** with Islamofascists. There’s **lots** of evidence for that. The liberal-hatred is deeper and more fundamental than the Islamofascist-hatred, which is just this year’s model.

With Bush’s reelection, the right wing is feeling its oats. There going to take the gloves off, settle some scores, and do the things they’ve always wanted to do.

I’ve felt for a long time that the majority of them were in bad faith and that the reasonable ones are fooling themselves. If Reynolds, AL, and Sullivan are saying these things, imagine what the real crazies are saying.

22

luminous beauty 02.04.05 at 4:41 pm

As an old irrelevant hippy, I recognize hallucination when I see it. If you think the conservative viewpoint is amenable by rational discourse, you are hallucinating. Unthinking fear and hatred are the central foundations of their pathology, and sophistry is their method, not reason.

Yes, Wavy Gravy is still around and doing Good Works, thank you.

http://www.wavygravy.net/

23

Paul Deadman 02.04.05 at 4:48 pm

“I am utterly convinced to the point of certainty that the ‘failure of the people on the right to see the serious problems in the way we’ve administered the occupation’ was based on not wanting to give into the left’s countless methods to undermine the success of a George Bush-led anything.”

In other words “see how evil THEY are, they MADE US, God’s appointed moral leaders, lie”. If they’d give us what we want, we wouldn’t have to resort to dishonesty.

24

tad brennan 02.04.05 at 4:58 pm

After Sullivan printed that letter that you lead off with, I sent him the following email (he didn’t print it, though a few of my previous ones have become “emails of the day” on his site).
__________________
In a burst of triumphalist candor, one of your readers admits that the Right has systematically stonewalled and covered up Bush’s failures. Because I think honesty is a moral value, I want to applaud his confession, and follow his lead even to the point of admitting something embarrassing.
This morning [1/31], mixed with my relief that yesterday’s death-toll in Iraq wasn’t higher, and my joy over the amazing demonstration of people-power, I was ashamed to detect in myself a trace of disappointment that things had not gone worse. Hoping for failure? Isn’t that clear evidence that I hate America, or am just deeply irrational? Well, I can rule out America-hating–maybe there are some cartoon lefties who hate our country, but I’ve never been one of them. So how could it be rational for me to harbor even a fraction of a wish for a disaster, when everything I hold dearest–the future of my country, of my children, of democratic ideals–is tied up with the success of democracy in Iraq?
How could it ever be rational to wish for a car-crash, when you and the things you love are riding in the car? Easy. If you are strapped into a car and a notorious drunk-driver is at the wheel, it is perfectly rational to hope he crashes before he gets out of your drive-way, in order to avoid an even more catastrophic crash on the highway. It is perfectly rational to hope that your own car will suffer a minor embarrassing crash, so that you and your friends can wrestle the keys out of his hands and avoid a major crash that will total the car and kill all its occupants.
Bush is a serial drunk-driver. I have watched in horror as he has lurched from one hit-and-run to another, leaving victims in his wake–spending like a drunken sailor, impoverishing my grandchildren for decades to come with his deficits, lying about WMD before, during and after the invasion, turning decent US soldiers into torturers and deviants at Abu Ghraib, ruining America’s reputation overseas for a generation. After a close and bitter election he is even more drunk on power and arrogance, and I am horrified at the carnage he may create next. I keep waiting for sober voices to take the keys away, but his enablers are always there to deny that there are any problems, to claim that actually that screeching plunge into the ditch was part of the plan all along. So his cronies egg him on, making him more drunk, more reckless, and more dangerous.
And so I’m left hoping for some small catastrophe–please God make it a small one–that will still be big enough to sober everyone up, to make them realize how dangerous this drunk-driver is. It would have been terrible if things had gone badly yesterday–but less terrible than if Bush’s enablers use this minor triumph to justify lurching into Iran, or destroying Social Security, or attacking gays, or invading Pakistan, or whatever insane scheme these people will come up with next.
Yes, you Bush-lovers, you won the election, and for another few years there’s no way for me to wrestle the keys out of his hands. But please, for the sake of the country that we both love, don’t keep lying about the road-kill he has left behind. Try to keep him from running down any more innocent victims. Don’t feed his arrogance by pretending that every lying change of rationale was part of the plan all along. Use his many documented failures to rein in his ungodly ambitions, for the good of the country we all love. When you can admit Bush’s failures along with America’s successes, and not follow him blindly into disaster after disaster, then my heartfelt hopes for America’s success will not have to be mixed with a conflicted hope for Bush’s failure.
—————
you see? If Sullivan only had comments, I wouldn’t be taking up your time now!

25

Ben Alpers 02.04.05 at 5:08 pm

So what would a strong opposition look like that looked nothing like what we’ve got?

While I truly have no business speaking for the right, I can hazard what I honestly believe is a good guess: Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

For decades, Moynihan was many conservatives’ idea of a perfect liberal. Urbane (which is both good and bad to them in complicated ways), philosophical. In favor of an active government, yet religious and actively disdainful of everything the right means by “the Sixties” (even though his rise to fame was entirely a product of that decade). And there’s a bonus: many hardcore Democrats (some of whom might call themselves “left,” though I probably wouldn’t call them that) had (and to this day maintain) an affection for Moynihan. (On the other hand, at least through the 1970s, many others labelled him a “neo-conservative,” though he always rejected that label, instead calling himself a “centrist.”)

Let me give give you two purely anecdotal bits of evidence to suggest that Moynihan is the “liberal” many conservatives love (or at least loved).

First, years ago, I was having dinner with some of the directors of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (to give credit where credit is due, they had provided very generous funding for a conference I had co-chaired on the history of American conservatism, and then took the conference organizers out for dinner). They expressed sorrow over the fate of Moynihan. He was the one great liberal voice of his generation, one of the Bradley folk said, but unfortunately….(he then made a drinking motion with his wrist). There was general agreement that this was a fair assessment.

I also recently came across in the archives a 1975 letter from Allan Bloom to Moynihan himself, noting that, toward the end of his life, Leo Strauss had told Bloom that Moynihan was “the most appealing and decent man now in American political life.”

In the interest of being fair on this point (there goes the left again, feeling it has to present both sides…) I think liberals / Democrats / “the left” have, over the years, had their own list of conservatives that they wish were the folks they were up against. Some of these “conservatives” (like Moynihan as the ideal liberal, I’d argue) ended up not really being conservatives at all (e.g. Garry Wills, Kevin Phillips, and Michael Lind); others ended up being not nearly as pallatable as liberals would like them to be (e.g. John McCain).

26

Joe O 02.04.05 at 5:43 pm

Instapundit used to be readable. The Iraq war has unhinged him.

27

Mary Kay 02.04.05 at 5:53 pm

Yeah, it mostly is a waste of time because while Reynolds may not be stupid, he is intellectually dishonest. Arguing with someone like that is futile. They’ll never back down.

MKK

28

Kieran Healy 02.04.05 at 5:54 pm

Our provider had a file-system problem early this morning which meant no data (ie, posts, comments, trackbacks, nothing) was able to be written to our server. This wasn’t a Movable Type issue, or even a Crooked Timber problem, but a system-wide failure affecting many websites besides this one. Because of the problem, we can’t even post a notice on CT explaining what’s wrong. Sorry about this.

29

Quentin Crain 02.04.05 at 6:10 pm

For what it is worth from ZNet:

Churchill Replies

30

John Baughman 02.04.05 at 6:27 pm

John: Perhaps you were thinking of Kesey’s children’s book, Big Double the Bear Meets Little Trickster the Squirrel.

31

Miller 02.04.05 at 6:50 pm

This mechanism is a staple of all the right-wing radio heads. Whenever there is nothing else they want to blather about, they pull an obscure item X from anywhere (step 1: collect underwear) and bubble it up for a few minutes (step 2: ???). Ultimately, the end result is that X is symptomatic of the ‘left’ and integrated into the policies of the ‘Democrat’ party (step 3: profit).

32

Andrew Reeves 02.04.05 at 6:56 pm

Two thoughts: John, you could have probably gotten some really interesting scholarship done in the time you spend on Reynolds. Or at least spent time with your family.

The second thought is that while some people that you refer to might be disingenuously attacking straw-men, I think that there are a lot of folks out there who honestly believe poseurs like Churchill represent the face of the left. Why? Because the people who believe in the basics of capitalism but think that the government should provide a few more social services aren’t interesting enough to get air time in the media. Ditto for individuals who dislike evil dictators but have serious reservations about the means used by Bush and co. to go after (some of) them.

The leftists who are the most visible are the loud and obnoxious communists with their paper-mache puppets. The upper-middle class white kids in dreadlocks who get into fisticuffs with police get exponentially more media coverage than sane, rational people who oppose certain aspects of neoliberalism.

The reason that a lot of people see the most extreme face of the left and associate that with all of them is that the nature of the media rewards politics as theater.

33

Ben Alpers 02.04.05 at 7:07 pm

So what would a strong opposition look like that looked nothing like what we’ve got?

While I truly have no business speaking for the right, I can hazard what I honestly believe is a good guess: Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

For decades, Moynihan was many conservatives’ idea of a perfect liberal. Urbane (which is both good and bad to them in complicated ways), philosophical. In favor of an active government, yet religious and actively disdainful of everything the right means by “the Sixties” (even though his rise to fame was entirely a product of that decade). And there’s a bonus: many hardcore Democrats (some of whom might call themselves “left,” though I probably wouldn’t call them that) had (and to this day maintain) an affection for Moynihan. (On the other hand, at least through the 1970s, many others labelled him a “neo-conservative,” though he always rejected that label, instead calling himself a “centrist.”)

Let me give give you two purely anecdotal bits of evidence to suggest that Moynihan is the “liberal” many conservatives love (or at least loved).

First, years ago, I was having dinner with some of the directors of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (to give credit where credit is due, they had provided very generous funding for a conference I had co-chaired on the history of American conservatism, and then took the conference organizers out for dinner). They expressed sorrow over the fate of Moynihan. He was the one great liberal voice of his generation, one of the Bradley folk said, but unfortunately….(he then made a drinking motion with his wrist). There was general agreement that this was a fair assessment.

I also recently came across in the archives a 1975 letter from Allan Bloom to Moynihan himself, noting that, toward the end of his life, Leo Strauss had told Bloom that Moynihan was “the most appealing and decent man now in American political life.”

In the interest of being fair on this point (there goes the left again, feeling it has to present both sides…) I think liberals / Democrats / “the left” have, over the years, had their own list of conservatives that they wish were the folks they were up against. Some of these “conservatives” (like Moynihan as the ideal liberal, I’d argue) ended up not really being conservatives at all (e.g. Garry Wills, Kevin Phillips, and Michael Lind); others ended up being not nearly as pallatable as liberals would like them to be (e.g. John McCain).

34

Sven 02.04.05 at 7:12 pm

Great post, John. I love watching “when erudite liberals attack,” even if it is a waste of time. ;)

The WaPo’s Dan Froomkin sums things up nicely (the context is Social Security, but it also applies here):

Good policy can withstand tough scrutiny. And a good politician can tolerate tough questioning.

35

FS 02.04.05 at 7:33 pm

The actual Cook/Moore routine:

Dudley Moore: Yes, indeed. Do you feel you’ve learnt by your mistakes here?

Peter Cook: I think I have, yes, and I think I can probably repeat them almost perfectly. I know my mistakes inside out.

36

praktike 02.04.05 at 8:23 pm

John, it would help your case to note that world-famous American traitors Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Meyers called for a pullout of 15,000 American troops in the wake of the elections, which is 3,000 more than what Teddy was calling for (though I agree that the timing and tone of his speech was incredibly ill-advised).

37

Scott Lemieux 02.04.05 at 8:25 pm

As other have pointed out, we really shouldn’t be talking about people like Limbaugh, when we could be talking about, say, Tom Coburn or Jim DeMint. Does the InstaCohn think that United States Senators have less power than obscire professors? Of does that the death penalty for abortion doctors and preventing single mothers from teaching in public schools are reasonable, mainstream positions? Or is he nothing but a flat-out scumbag hatchet man?

Or, to be more succinct, if the Right has done a good job muzzling its idiots, how does Reynolds keep his blog?

38

JRoth 02.04.05 at 8:30 pm

Brett never fails to assail strawmen opponents for building strawmen. It’s an odd myopia, like all of the mirrors in his house are two-way.

It’s never occurred to Brett that one can be American and not think the way he does. Just like all the Red Staters who think that they own 9-11, but New Yorkers, somehow, don’t. Because it was an attack on America, and America is just the red states, not blue ones. Like New York.

In case that sounds like a strawman, just search for some quotes from Republican delegates at the RNC this summer. I’m paraphrasing pretty closely.

39

George 02.04.05 at 9:22 pm

This is the third or fourth time I’ve tried to post, so sorry in advance for the treble+ posting.

One: The ICRC has announced that they are full up on tsunami relief funds, so please donate to other worthy causes. (See here: http://www.ifrc.org/helpnow/donate/donate_response.asp) Don;t know if this covers the Singapore Red Cross, and in any event $150 won’t hurt, but just so you know.

Two: as a kinda-sorta member of the Right (I’m not a Republican, but I supported the war and voted for Bush, and generally agree with Reynolds), let me concede that he’s been way out of line with this series of attacks on the Left — which is, as you say, about as ill-defined as the Right. Both sides, plus every other side, have their share of bozos and creeps, all of whom have been both appropriately chastized and inappropriately cheered by someone somewhere. So what? It’s all subjective, which is why we have elections. No room on the Right for throwing stones.

Three: Wavy Gravy is alive, and he lives a few blocks from me. He’s got a nice place, and he operates camps for children in the California mountains.

40

nick 02.04.05 at 9:32 pm

You know, John, you could have avoided wasting the time you spent composing that (very worthy) post by using this shorter alternative:

“Glenn Reynolds is a piece of shit.”

It’s more cathartic, too. You can even set it to music and get it looped on the Knoxville college radio station.

41

Guy 02.04.05 at 9:48 pm

John,

That was a really great post. Thanks.

42

Douglas 02.04.05 at 10:18 pm

John wrote: “The problem is that the notion that Democrats – or the American left, generally – don’t identify as ‘American’ – that they think of themselves as exiled Europeans first – is absurd.”

This is another spooky echo from the past. Living in the US today, I keep getting flashbacks to apartheid South Africa. The parallels are numerous, and here’s another. The English-speaking and generally liberal S. Africans who opposed apartheid were tarred with this brush – they weren’t ‘real South Africans’, they were English and not African, didn’t understand the harsh realities of Africa, ad nauseum. The vulgar epithet was (is) ‘soutpiel’, salty dick – one foot in England, one in Africa, and the manhood dangling in the oceans between..

43

Decnavda 02.04.05 at 10:25 pm

As a kinda-sorta leftist (left-libertarian, to be precise), I have a question:

Who the hell is Ward Churchill?

44

Mark Childerson 02.04.05 at 10:32 pm

I think you misunderstood Sullivan’s statement. When he says “That may well be empirically true”, he says (in my opinion) that it may be true that the right is refusing to criticize Bush, out of fear of handing talking points to the left. He is not commenting on whether the left want to be chastened or not. The depressing bit is the right refusing to voice criticisms that they actually feel are valid.

45

crasmussen 02.04.05 at 11:30 pm

“The same people who claim to have been for the Afghanistan action in order to justify their exceptional opposition to the Iraq action were, for the most part, against Afghanistan.”

Uh, no. Fact is: when you go to a land you barely understand without a clear way to get out, you might want to bring along some friends to keep you company. That’s why Afganistan made sense (along with, OH THAT’S RIGHT, retribution for an actual and not imagined terrorist attack) and Iraq ultimately didn’t.

46

Chris Rasmussen 02.04.05 at 11:32 pm

Can we set up a pledge drive for Mr. Sullivan to leave the blogosphere, as promised?

47

bob 02.05.05 at 4:09 am

Actually, Andrew Sullivan notes on his semi-inactive blog right now that what Kennedy said just before the election is almost exactly the same as what Wolfowitz just said after the election (pulling out 12,000 vs. 15,000 troops as a gesture of goodwill to indicate lack of designs on colonization of Iraq).

I always knew Wolfowitz would eventually be shown to be a fraud, but I never would have guessed it would take this form. Ah, well, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

48

tib 02.05.05 at 4:14 am

I think you are giving Kennedy too much credit. He was not taking a particularly risky position, he was merely getting out in front of administration policy. His immediate prescription, withdraw 12,000 troops, was bested yesterday by Wolfowitz (15,000 troops to withdraw). It is a good bet that some variation of the ‘American troops too visible’ will become and adminstration talking point shortly, they tried to push it as part of the ‘handover’ in 2004. Kennedy’s ‘out by 2006′ is already a negotiating stance of some interim Iraqi ministers (Iraq’s Interior minister predicts we will be gone in 18 months).

All of this will pass by Reynolds, et al, but as you say your post was a big waste of time so what else can you expect.

49

tocque 02.05.05 at 5:48 am

It’s just those yahoos who inexplicably control the government, and the great mass of bubbas and Scrooge McDucks who keep electing them…”

A self-refuting point. From your point of view, other Yahoos who have “inexplicably” controlled government in history would then have to include examples that disprove your point, including:

* Your buddy Bill Clinton. Two terms and ultra-high approval ratings even during impeachment proceedings.

* Coleman Young, who while wrecking Detroit was elected over and over and over and over. By your reasoning he I must conclude he was a fantastic mayor because of his overwhelming support.

* Any given mayor or ombudsman of Chicago — ever.

While you were trying to make the point that somehow just being elected gives the current administration some kind of cred or approbation of competency, the preceeding examples and the countless unnamed ones show that to be counterfactual.

The masses can be, and often are — duped.

50

Ben Alpers 02.05.05 at 1:14 pm

So what would a strong opposition look like that looked nothing like what we’ve got?

While I truly have no business speaking for the right, I can hazard what I honestly believe is a good guess: Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

For decades, Moynihan was many conservatives’ idea of a perfect liberal. Urbane (which is both good and bad to them in complicated ways), philosophical. In favor of an active government, yet religious and actively disdainful of everything the right means by “the Sixties” (even though his rise to fame was entirely a product of that decade). And there’s a bonus: many hardcore Democrats (some of whom might call themselves “left,” though I probably wouldn’t call them that) had (and to this day maintain) an affection for Moynihan. (On the other hand, at least through the 1970s, many others labelled him a “neo-conservative,” though he always rejected that label, instead calling himself a “centrist.”)

Let me give give you two purely anecdotal bits of evidence to suggest that Moynihan is the “liberal” many conservatives love (or at least loved).

First, years ago, I was having dinner with some of the directors of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (to give credit where credit is due, they had provided very generous funding for a conference I had co-chaired on the history of American conservatism, and then took the conference organizers out for dinner). They expressed sorrow over the fate of Moynihan. He was the one great liberal voice of his generation, one of the Bradley folk said, but unfortunately….(he then made a drinking motion with his wrist). There was general agreement that this was a fair assessment.

I also recently came across in the archives a 1975 letter from Allan Bloom to Moynihan himself, noting that, toward the end of his life, Leo Strauss had told Bloom that Moynihan was “the most appealing and decent man now in American political life.”

In the interest of being fair on this point (there goes the left again, feeling it has to present both sides…) I think liberals / Democrats / “the left” have, over the years, had their own list of conservatives that they wish were the folks they were up against. Some of these “conservatives” (like Moynihan as the ideal liberal, I’d argue) ended up not really being conservatives at all (e.g. Garry Wills, Kevin Phillips, and Michael Lind); others ended up being not nearly as pallatable as liberals would like them to be (e.g. John McCain).

51

Rob 02.05.05 at 4:21 pm

Lets keep perspective. Bush just apointed an Attorney General who approves of torture and believes the President can set aside the law. He appointed a man convicted of lying to Congress in Abrams. He put a guy who at best overlooked death squads as our Ambassador to Iraq.

But I’m sure Ward Churchill may say something stupid again and so we must be vigilant against the Left!

52

x 02.06.05 at 1:33 pm

rob, but the beauty of it is that a professor can actually be made to resign. Unlike Presidents, Attorney Generals, Ambassadors or Secretaries of Defense.
With greater power comes greater impunity.

53

John_O 02.07.05 at 9:29 am

Let’s be reasonable and open our eyes.

Why bother with such a lengthy and convoluted reply to a man who is obviously a hack, not an academic? Reynolds long ago left any “open society” that might be available.

The truth is, the Right at this moment in time are not interested in debate. They probably never were. They are interested in power.

If you cannot see that – if you cannot see that it is now genuinely, overwhelmingly important that they be resisted, that their hackwork be shown up for what it is, that they be, in short, destroyed – then you are a fool.

A well intentioned fool, but a fool nonetheless.

This post should have been written several years ago. It doesn’t go nearly far enough, nowadays.

For God’s sake, man, all that right wing pundits like Reynolds want to do is to secure more power for themselves and for their friends. They don’t give a shit about complex arguments or knotty logic problems.

They are monsters.

Open your eyes.

54

Gotham Image 02.07.05 at 5:51 pm

Loved this post and I think I will link to my blog, if you don’t mind being associated with me controversial positions!

I love this treason talk.

55

derek g 02.07.05 at 11:15 pm

anyone, including instahack, who refers to the “democrat party” is already displaying their ignorance and lack of integrity.

56

Oscar 02.08.05 at 12:05 am

Actually most of the comments here seem just as lame poor-little-us and down on the lack of interest in debate and discussion as the average right wing blog. At times you all (Left and Right alike) seem like pathetic whingers.

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