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.