We have seen the enemy and it isn’t us

by John Quiggin on January 25, 2008

I’m really, truly, not going to talk about Jonah Goldberg. Instead, I’m going to talk about Cass Sunstein and his idea, reprised in Republic 2.0 that the Internet poses a threat to democracy by virtue of it’s capacity to allow us to

avoid information we don’t like. Conservatives are increasingly seeking only conservative views, liberals are seeking only liberal views, and never the twain shall meet.
Sunstein argues that the echo chamber effect tends to reinforce existing views and produce a poisonous partisan divide.

It seems to me that exactly the opposite is true. The partisan divide in the US is being reinforced because people are more exposed to the other side than before.

Before the Internet, the average liberal or social democrat was largely insulated, on a day-to-day basis, from the kinds of views represented by Free Republic or Little Green Footballs. Similarly, unless we sought out rightwing magazines we were insulated to a large extent from commentators like Goldberg, Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter. Now we can see them minute-to-minute and it’s obvious that the idea of treating them as part of a legitimate discussion is absurd.

Moreover, where it was once possible to treat occasional public manifestations of Freeperism as aberrations, it’s now obvious that this is how the Republican base really thinks. So, any Republican advocate or politician, no matter how superficially reasonable, must be regarded as either someone who shares Freeper/LGF views or someone who is willing to exploit the holders of such views in the pursuit of a personal or class interest.

And, of course, they think the same of us, and have been reinforced in their views by their contact with us (eg Jonah G).

The most optimistic take on this is that the Internet has merely accelerated a US-specific process that was well underway by the 1970s, with the emergence of self-conscious movement conservatism. The availability of blogs, Google and so on has killed off the illusions of the DLC and Broderism about the possibility/desirability of compromise and assisted the emergence of a similarly self-conscious movement on the left.

Outside the US, things haven’t gone quite the same way. Although most of the English-speaking countries have a significant group of bloggers/bloviators/pundits whose ideas (and sometimes whole columns) are imported directly from the US right, such people have been relatively marginal to the conversation in the Internet (at least that’s my view of the Australian experience). On the whole, the result has been much more positive than in Sunstein’s picture, and there has been quite a bit of genuine discussion. But that only began to happen once people started to exclude the RWDB group from the conversation.

To sum up, Sunstein’s story is really about US Republicans* and not about the Internet. Having established a self-sustaining ideology, immune to any form of empirical refutation, US Republicans have indeed created an echo chamber. But this process works across all media (Fox News, the Washington Times, talk radio and so on) and beyond, to the replacement of scientific research by the products of think tanks. Moreover, it does not rely on the exclusion of alternative views so much as on the availability of a distorting filter in which any opposition can be ridiculed out of existence.

  • Note again that, for Republicans the reverse analysis applies with “the rest of the human race” in place of Republicans.

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Crooked Timber » » Blogs and partisanship in the US
01.29.08 at 7:07 pm

{ 168 comments }

1

Thomas 01.25.08 at 2:46 am

John, you might as well turn the comments off on this one. You’re going to keep talking to yourself in any event.

2

John Quiggin 01.25.08 at 3:41 am

About as perfect an illustration of my point as I could ask for, thomas.

3

Vance Maverick 01.25.08 at 3:45 am

What can I do to insulate myself from Sunstein’s views? Short, that is, of giving up entirely on liberal blogs?

4

Not John Quiggin 01.25.08 at 3:47 am

Shorter John Quiggin: The internet is proof that everyone who doesn’t agree with John Quiggin is wrong.

5

Thomas 01.25.08 at 4:15 am

And your post is about as perfect an illustration of Sunstein’s.

6

geo 01.25.08 at 4:44 am

John,

I agree that movement Republicans are pretty much immune to reason — though even there, God’s grace sometimes works in mysterious ways. But isn’t it worth engaging them just for debating practice? After all, in a genuine democracy, each of us would find him/herself in several political conversations a day, some of them public, and a great many of them involving admittedly hopeless right-wingers but also many other people more open to persuasion. Wouldn’t it be useful to be able to cut the right-wingers off at the knees, even if they themselves don’t notice? Especially in a big, dumb country like the United States, winning arguments involves, alas, a lot more than being right.

7

George 01.25.08 at 4:46 am

I absolutely refuse to seek any timber that isn’t crooked.

8

Lee A. Arnold 01.25.08 at 5:09 am

One of the things I found out from the internet is that movement conservatism is numerically small. In the U.S., there can’t be many more than a thousand people who create the whole echo chamber.

I also didn’t realize that their economic ideology, beyond a healthy distrust of government, is thin, and intellectually insupportable. It is a small mass of slanted syllogisms derived by using one-equation ceteris paribus results.

Another thing I didn’t expect is that most other people who show up on the internet prefer to really think about things, and respond to well-made arguments. I had taught myself that mass media of any type would cause a predominance of lying. This turns out to be untrue. It appears that many writers in and out of the mainstream media are paying much closer attention to the truthfulness of what they write. Certainly not all of them yet. But perhaps this trend will continue, because writers look to influence opinion and to remain current — and in a complete rough-and-tumble free-fo-all, your reputation is all you’ve got.

9

Thomas 01.25.08 at 5:21 am

lee, it may be that only a thousand people on the right create the entire “echo chamber.”

but isn’t it more impressive that John is able to create an echo chamber entirely in his own head?

10

Sortition 01.25.08 at 5:38 am

It would be difficult to argue with the wisdom of Sunstein’s claim that it is better to expose oneself to sources expressing diverse points of view. However, the obvious question is why does Sunstein think that non-internet sources are more diverse than the sources found on the internet (even after accounting for the presumed tendency of internet users to focus on sources with points of view close to their own).

By non-internet sources Sunstein must mean the TV networks (broadcast and cable), talk radio and wide-circulation newspapers and magazines. Only such mass media channels need be considered since niche publications can be selected out in just the same way that websites can be selected out.

Mass media sources, however, are controlled by people with certain views. It is the views of those people, therefore, that Sunstein proposes to foist (or rather, to continue to foist) on unwilling audiences. Sunstien, it seems, finds the views promulgated by mass media to be to his liking, and thinks that it would be best for everybody if other ideas did not get the chance to be aired.

11

Russell L. Carter 01.25.08 at 5:48 am

Hmm, earlier commenters here seem to wish for High Broderism: it’s all good!

If we can’t discuss legalizing torture and endless war and the descent into the fascist surveillance state in a civilized way, well then there’s non-communitarian *bias*!

I’ve gotten boring about this again. There is no way that you can support discussing endless war and torture as a plausible option and be a moral human being.

Sorry. You’re a monster.

Hi there Cass Sunstein. I don’t much respect you.

12

John Quiggin 01.25.08 at 5:49 am

On the contrary Thomas, if I had any doubts about movement conservatives, people like you dispel them all for me. That’s the point of the post, and I thank you for illustrating it.

13

Lee A. Arnold 01.25.08 at 5:54 am

Thamas, having done no more than express the same sentiment three times (#1, #5, #9,) you may want to look up the definition of “echo chamber.”

14

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 01.25.08 at 6:35 am

John’s not quite right here, but then Sunstein’s quite off-base as well. The great Liberal/Leftie/Social Democratic Avoidance of Yank Conservative views wasn’t caused by the Internet. It was caused by Republicans getting into power in the US, being as partisan as possible, and then making one hell of a clusterfuck of things.

Rick Perlstein is a good example of this. While no conservative, he started out as a sympathetic scribe of the “movement”, and even wrote Before the Storm on the subject. By 2005, he was as partisan as possible, and even coined the phrase “E. coli conservatism.” Why? Revulsion at what happened at the US under “Conservatism”:

What happened once Goldwater and Reagan posthumously got their way with the FDA? The number of FDA employees dropped by 12 percent, and in 2006 there were 47 percent fewer federal food inspections than there’d been in 2003. A Perlstein blog post in April 2007 was a classic. It began, “First they came for the spinach . . . ”

He went on, “I went to the produce section to buy a bag. But they had all been recalled. Three people had died from E. coli contamination from eating spinach. I decided I could live without the spinach. “Next they came for the peanut butter.”

And after that, he wrote, they came for the tomatoes, the Taco Bell lettuce, the mushrooms, the ham steaks and summer sausage, and even the pet food. And he noted that in the case of the peanut butter, it was a bad roof and a defective sprinkler system in a plant in Georgia—never noticed by the remaining FDA inspectors—that had allowed salmonella to flourish. Perlstein’s conclusion: “George Bush’s Food and Drug Administration—and our other major food-inspection arm, the U.S. Department of Agriculture—are Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan’s noble words made flesh. But don’t let your family get too close to the flesh. They might get sick and die.”

15

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 01.25.08 at 6:35 am

The last two paragraphs are meant to be in italics.

16

dsquared 01.25.08 at 6:52 am

Can I just correct a misunderstanding and prevent others from making the same mistake as Thomas – Crooked Timber is not running a “Who Can Miss The Point The Furthest” contest and there will not be a £20 book token prize.

17

thejk 01.25.08 at 7:08 am

Note again that, for Republicans the reverse analysis applies with “the rest of the human race” in place of Republicans.

Stephen Colbert famously said, “reality has a liberal bias.” By the way, a majority of his guests on the show happen to be conservatives, whose views are often but not always ridiculed. Same used to be true for Bill O’Reilly show regarding liberals. Since I’m now in the liberal echo chamber myself, near-exclusively relying on the internet for daily news feed, I’m not sure if that still holds true.

18

idlemind 01.25.08 at 7:36 am

I think there are quite enough tinfoil berets worn in the blogs of the left, and some well-stocked caches of straw men there as well. So it’s not hard for members of the the opposing camp to pop their heads in for a moment or two and affirm their opinions of their opponents. It’s a simple matter of selective perception — and some members of the left do this, too. But the right seems to lack the Peter Daous and Steve Benens who wade into the opposing camp and actually try to catalog and explain the ideas found there. They’re less likely to have comment sections, more likely to have a heavy hand in editing them if they do, and don’t seem to have nearly as many links to opposing views.

So if it looks like an echo chamber and sounds like an echo chamber, perhaps it is an echo chamber.

19

MFB 01.25.08 at 7:38 am

Gosh, and I was just about to boldly challenge the vile Quiggin’s mendacious praise for the benefits of an all-cheese diet. I shall slink away.

I would say, however, that the more extremely one misses the point, at the moment, the more probable it is that a Westerner will be aligned with movement conservatism.

But that would be impolite, so I won’t.

20

derek 01.25.08 at 8:17 am

S. M. Stirling suggested the same thing Sunstein does a few years ago. My reply was that a distributed media may let you see only what you want to see, but a centralised media lets you see only what someone else wants you to see. That’s not actually better.

21

Seth Finkelstein 01.25.08 at 8:37 am

I’ve always thought that book was basically a completely wrong-headed bit of pontificating which stroked the ego of a particular professional class. The subtext is essentially “THAT SCARY INTERNET” – it makes political extremists, not like the cool heads of us in the chattering class, who are sure to listen to everyone who matters – oh [wring hands], what can we do to fight this threat to the Republic? (pun intended)

I’m sure he’d say there’s more to it. But in my observations, that’s how it plays in the media. All the errors in his model don’t matter, because of that attention-grabbing storyline.

People with a high tolerance for comment-threads might be interested in this forum on the book in its first edition:

http://press.princeton.edu/sunstein/sun_forum.txt

22

bad Jim 01.25.08 at 8:58 am

Life itself is a continuous series of post hoc ergo procter hoc suppositions, at least for anyone paying attention. Do we concern ourselves with the authoritarian mind because the resources of the Internet have brought such curious mental habits to our attention, or because their ascendance in the last decade has made such a fucked-up mess?

What I wipe off after my immersions in the blogosphere includes the sort of hatefulness I’ve managed to avoid since the rank racism of the early 60′s, which I could have blissfully continued to ignore had I not been reading liberal blogs that sample the right wing septic tanks from time to time.

From the same sorts of sources I get a little perspective on the mindset behind it, which almost makes me want to forgive the crippled idiots who want to retreat from the future.

23

dsquared 01.25.08 at 9:10 am

I think John is absolutely right on this one, by the way – before the internet, I would never have known that there were people out their writing books which proved to their own satisfaction that American social democrats were the true intellectual heirs of the Nazis. But now I know there are, it doesn’t really make me any more likely to have a conversation with them. It’s rather like before the internet I didn’t know that there were such things as furry fetishes, but the knowledge that there are, has changed my own sex life hardly a whit.

24

abb1 01.25.08 at 9:31 am

…and never the twain shall meet…

But they do, of course, often meet in comment threads. While in the pre-Internet era it was indeed very difficult for them to meet. I don’t know whose discussion is legitimate and whose isn’t – regardless – Sunstein’s whole premise is nonsense.

25

Bruce Baugh 01.25.08 at 9:38 am

Certainly I’m more polarized and less tolerant in a bunch of aspects of my worldview precisely because of more contact with alternatives. (And I deeply admire the last sentence of Dsquared’s #22 and wish I’d had anything as clever and had posted it first.)

As an American with a longstanding interest in kookology, I knew that these kinds of nut cases were out there. But it’s thanks to the net that I see the connections between them and the governing elite, how the latter uses the former to bring ever more radical ideas into the mainstream, and the harm all this does to civil order, justice, and other things I’m fond of. A lot that used to seem amusing and irrelevant no longer does. And as my sense of how the whole works changes, I find myself with more and more angry contempt for all the clever people who use “NPR voice” to keep this disgusting crap in place, who trample on the very foundations of moral choice with bullshit rhetoric, and otherwise subjugate their humanity to the tyrants du jour.

But it’s not talking with the likeminded that makes me feel those things. It’s going and interacting with the others that does it.

26

Alex 01.25.08 at 9:46 am

D^2, there is something you’re missing here; in the unlikely event of encountering a furry fetishist, you’re probably more likely to treat them with a modicum of tolerance than if you were just then discovering the concept for the first time.

Does this also apply to, say, Michelle Malkin? Normalising the horror?

No, I doubt it; letting them publicly and verifiably get their crazy on has to be damaging their credibility. Sunstein’s point is of course based on an assumption of false equivalence, anyway. And no-one has had more value out of false equivalence than Karl Rove, just as nobody has more to thank low expectations for than George Bush.

27

Neil 01.25.08 at 9:54 am

One problem is the belief polarization effect: exposure to conflicting views makes people more certain of their own.

28

Martin Wisse 01.25.08 at 10:09 am

Cass Sunstein of course totally ripped off this idea from David Brin’s early nineties sf novel Earth, where it was supposed to be the spam filters on steroids that would keep people from encountering other point of views than their own.

What both ignore is that even if you filter all political channels of the wrong conviction, you’ll find other channels subverted by political discussion, as many a Usenet group has discovered to their chagrin.

29

GreatZamfir 01.25.08 at 10:42 am

What’s a furry fetish?

30

Mr Art 01.25.08 at 11:01 am

So, any Republican, no matter how superficially reasonable, must be regarded as either someone who shares Freeper/LGF views or someone who is willing to exploit the holders of such views in the pursuit of a personal or class interest.

C’mon John. Any Republican? I know it’s teh internets, but dial down your partisanship for a second.

31

MR. Bill 01.25.08 at 11:34 am

Furrys are a ‘subculture’ of folks who dress as fantasy ‘animals’, sometimes cartoony..Some of these folks have sex dressed up so..
See http://www.humantruth.info/furry.html

The mindset might be understood by example with this clip of last years ‘Furry vs Klingon’ bowl off held in Atlanta.

32

magistra 01.25.08 at 12:10 pm

The internet has greatly increased the hatred between nations because we can now read the opinions of other country’s bigots that were previously hidden from us. If the US really wants to improve its image (in the English speaking countries) it needs to stop its citizens commenting on other nations’ website (or at least only license a selected few to do so). Of course other countries have an equally large (or even greater) precentage of bigots, but the US is so large and so dominant on the internet that its bigots are omnipresent.

Equally, I only have to start reading the ‘Have your say’ bit on the BBC websites to become aware that liberal elitist snobbery (however reprehensible) is often justified. Before the net I only had Julie Burchill to prove that.

33

minneapolitan 01.25.08 at 12:34 pm

31. but the US is so large and so dominant on the internet that its bigots are omnipresent.

But magistra, didn’t we read recently that the largest plurality of blogs is by Japanese people doing LiveJournal-style ruminations on their daily lives? I reject the notion that other nations are closing the “bigotry gap” with the US. When your quaint little Enoch Powells start becoming heads-of-government, then maybe we can talk about granting you Most Bigoted Nation status.

34

Slocum 01.25.08 at 12:43 pm

So, any Republican, no matter how superficially reasonable, must be regarded as either someone who shares Freeper/LGF views or someone who is willing to exploit the holders of such views in the pursuit of a personal or class interest.

Rats. Guess I’m going to have to stop seeing and talking to my Mother, then. And the thing is…she seems so superficially reasonable. But now I find out that all this time that she’s been someone willing to exploit the raging extremists at LGF to pursue her class interests. That bitch.

35

Bruce Baugh 01.25.08 at 12:52 pm

Mr. Art: It’s true. Not all Republicans are either LGF/Malkin-style bigots or deliberately exploiting them. Some are too stupid or ignorant to realize how their party has actually worked since 1994, and some believe that they personally are so suave, illuminated, or otherwise blessed as to be unaffected by it all. So there are jerks and fools as well as bigots and users. There are, however, no Republicans who are simultaneously informed, honest, and moral – either they’re uninformed, they’re lying to themselves and/or others about how their party works, or they are at heart fine with hatred, cruelty, and avarice as the foundations of all policy.

I didn’t always think so. But it’s been year after year of the rank and file continuing to go along with it all. At some point sheer naivete stops working as an excuse.

The Democratic Party has a large and diverse contingent of dissenters against the Democratic side of the War Party, who are regularly pressuring the leadership, supporting challenger candidates, and so on. The Republicans have nothing comparable – the only active challenge to the Republican side of the War Party is led by a friend of and tool for racists who’s bent on restoring the last grand era of plutocracy even more than Bush and Cheney. The choices for Republicans are kleptocracy with war or kleptocracy and nothing else. If the rank and file would like the rest of us to stop holding them in this sort of contempt, they could start showing any interest in alternatives that include the rule of law, competence as a value in governance, so on.

36

magistra 01.25.08 at 1:09 pm

Didn’t we read recently that the largest plurality of blogs is by Japanese people doing LiveJournal-style ruminations on their daily lives?

They, like the Chinese, are probably being bigoted in a language we can’t understand (and indeed in a character set that shows up as question marks on Western screen). That doesn’t count.

37

Matt Weiner 01.25.08 at 1:13 pm

Bruce, you left out what seems to me the big potential schism in the GOP: immigration. I don’t think this is any more flattering to Republicans.

This is interesting:

The most optimistic take on this is that the Internet has merely accelerated a US-specific process that was well underway by the 1970s, with the emergence of self-conscious movement conservatism. The availability of blogs, Google and so on has killed off the illusions of the DLC and Broderism about the possibility/desirability of compromise and assisted the emergence of a similarly self-conscious movement on the left.

I usually date the impossibility of compromise to 1992, when Dole and Gingrich decided not to accept the legitimacy of Clinton’s victory; and so they whipped the GOP caucuses into unanimous opposition to many of Clinton’s significant plans. AFAIK it was completely unprecedented that every single member of the minority party voted against proposals that had the support of most of the majority. But, this was the first time since the 1970s that the GOP had to deal with a Democratic president. So maybe the rise of movement conservatism had already killed off the possibility of compromise from the right, and it took a Democratic president to bring that out.

38

Bruce Baugh 01.25.08 at 1:26 pm

Matt, you’re right, I did leave out immigration. This is partly because I can’t quite make sense of the major Republican factions on the issue. I don’t much like the sound of any of them, but I do know I’m not a sympathetic audience and feel like I owe them some more actual study before I pass a judgment any more thorough than that.

1992 as a trigger date seems reasonable to me, representing the putting into practice of things that some folks had been talking about since Goldwater and finally managed to get attention for. In any event, yes, clearly the gap opens on the right with the Republican refusal to accept that a Democratic president should get a chance to govern as the sort of executive he was elected to be.

39

Thomas 01.25.08 at 1:29 pm

John, you misunderstand your own post: there was no reply I could make that wouldn’t confirm your priors.

DD, your cleverness never ends! But are you even familiar with the book? If you were, you might recognize that John hasn’t quite grappled with the argument.

Now, I’ll let you get back to ‘ridiculing out of existence’ any contrary views!

40

abb1 01.25.08 at 1:36 pm

…either they’re uninformed, they’re lying to themselves and/or others about how their party works, or they are at heart fine with hatred, cruelty, and avarice…

Neither Republicans nor Democrats are satisfied with their respective parties.

In a two party system the most effective way to gain an advantage is to demonize the other party and – don’t kid yourself – for both parties this is the main strategy. It doesn’t mean that they are equally odious, but there are more similarities than you, guys, seem to realize.

41

Z 01.25.08 at 1:37 pm

Slocum, I hope your mother is fine and all, heard she was a fine lady. If she did vote for Bush in 2004 though, she did ensure the continuation of a war that was causing thousands of deaths and the perpetuation of a system that condoned and organized arbitrary internments and torture on a massive scale. Why she would do that is beyond me, but ignorance is the kindest explanation I can think of.

Moreover, it does not rely on the exclusion of alternative views so much as on the availability of a distorting filter in which any opposition can be ridiculed out of existence.

Well said.

42

marcel 01.25.08 at 2:25 pm

It’s rather like before the internet I didn’t know that there were such things as furry fetishes, but the knowledge that there are, has changed my own sex life hardly a whit.

Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much.

Just like nervous, self-hating, homophobic homophiles who are nevertheless attempting to be well behaved in public. Or perhaps like Jerry Seinfeld, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

43

Bruce Baugh 01.25.08 at 2:27 pm

Abb1, I’m talking precisely about what folks do when they’re disgusted.

The Democratic Party has some very active dissent right now. It’s hopelessly screwed when it comes to Congress, thanks to a capitulated leadership, but outside the halls of power, we have folks running for office and supporting those who are, maintaining pressure for a variety of causes, and otherwise being sometimes productive nuisances. It’s a pretty classic bosses-versus-others struggle.

I don’t see anything comparable in the Republican Party. There’s no Republican equivalent to (say) MoveOn, no group agitating for honest accounting, competency as a high priority, or any other pre-Goldwater Republican virtue. There’s no Republican group pressuring for adhering to the Geneva conventions, nor promoting the idea of solid friendly relations with as many nations as possible as good for business. Nobody on the Republican side is making public noise about declining standards of living for America’s working and middle classes, nor the damage this does to family values. There’s this huge gap around enthusiasm for theocracy, kleptocracy, and perpetual war. Any Republican who seriously questions any of the prevailing dogma pretty quickly gets pushed all the way out, whereas on the Democratic side he’d be more likely to be appointed Senate Majority Leader.

Both parties do suck massively, but not to the same degree, and they have very different relations with their constituencies at the moment.

44

John Quiggin 01.25.08 at 2:36 pm

I’ve edited “Any Republican” to “Any Republican advocate or politician”. As several posters have pointed out, there are still Republican voters who haven’t caught up with what has happened to the party.

45

functional 01.25.08 at 2:44 pm

I’m assuming that the post was written to as a clever and subtle confirmation of Sunstein’s point that the Internet has lead to greater polarization (which Quiggin perfectly demonstrates by saying that the Internet makes it possible to dismiss conservatives out of hand)?

An equally fair rewrite:

Before the Internet, the average liberal or social democrat was largely insulated, on a day-to-day basis, from the kinds of views represented by the Democratic Underground or Daily Kos commenters that wish for Cheney’s death. Now we can see them minute-to-minute and it’s obvious that the idea of treating them as part of a legitimate discussion is absurd.

Moreover, where it was once possible to treat occasional public manifestations of Democratic Underground thinking as an aberration, it’s now obvious that this is how the Democratic base really thinks. So, any Democrat, no matter how superficially reasonable, must be regarded as someone who shares Democratic Underground views.

And that is supposed to prove that the Internet isn’t causing more polarization? If meant sincerely, the post is the most directly self-refuting thing I’ve ever read.

46

functional 01.25.08 at 2:46 pm

Damned blockquote function. Another try:

#

I’m assuming that the post was written to as a clever and subtle confirmation of Sunstein’s point that the Internet has lead to greater polarization (which Quiggin perfectly demonstrates by saying that the Internet makes it possible to dismiss conservatives out of hand)?

An equally fair rewrite:

Before the Internet, the average liberal or social democrat was largely insulated, on a day-to-day basis, from the kinds of views represented by the Democratic Underground or Daily Kos commenters that wish for Cheney’s death. Now we can see them minute-to-minute and it’s obvious that the idea of treating them as part of a legitimate discussion is absurd.

Moreover, where it was once possible to treat occasional public manifestations of Democratic Underground thinking as an aberration, it’s now obvious that this is how the Democratic base really thinks. So, any Democrat, no matter how superficially reasonable, must be regarded as someone who shares Democratic Underground views.

And that is supposed to prove that the Internet is NOT causing more polarization? If meant sincerely, the post is the most directly self-refuting thing I’ve ever read.

47

Slocum 01.25.08 at 2:46 pm

If she did vote for Bush in 2004 though, she did ensure the continuation of a war that was causing thousands of deaths and the perpetuation of a system that condoned and organized arbitrary internments and torture on a massive scale. Why she would do that is beyond me, but ignorance is the kindest explanation I can think of.

I expect she did vote for Bush (though I don’t know that for a fact). But perhaps it was because she believed that a withdrawal would likely have precipitated a full-scale Iraqi civil war and that it would have been immoral to abandon Iraqis to such a fate.

Now, you might think that belief was incorrect — that no such full-scale war would have resulted. But do you think such a belief on her part must necessarily be disingenuous?

48

functional 01.25.08 at 2:55 pm

Quiggin does demonstrate one thing: The Internet has made it far easier to cherry-pick the worst and craziest statements from partisans on the other side, and then write an intellectually dishonest post smearing everyone who disagrees with you on, say, school vouchers or welfare policy or capital gains taxes as beyond the pale. One is reminded of Michelle Malkin’s book Unhinged

49

abb1 01.25.08 at 3:04 pm

Well, Bruce, they’ve been led to believe that they are under attack by millions of savage murderers, that illegal immigrants are plundering their country, minorities are favored for good jobs, promotions and college admissions, homosexuals prey on their children. And recently I heard from a young relative that the unions destroy the national industries – look at Detroit.

Under the circumstances you can’t really expect them to worry about things like Geneva conventions, friendly relations, theocracy and kleptocracy. There’s a lot of anxiety out there, you know.

50

Righteous Bubba 01.25.08 at 3:10 pm

One is reminded of Michelle Malkin’s book Unhinged

Isn’t her hubby in that for punching some liberal?

51

Uncle Kvetch 01.25.08 at 3:13 pm

And as my sense of how the whole works changes, I find myself with more and more angry contempt for all the clever people who use “NPR voice” to keep this disgusting crap in place, who trample on the very foundations of moral choice with bullshit rhetoric, and otherwise subjugate their humanity to the tyrants du jour.

True story: At the exact moment I was reading this, my local NPR affiliate opened a discussion about Rudy Giuliani by welcoming…wait for it…”Jonah Goldberg, author of the new book ‘Liberal Fascism.’”

As several posters have pointed out, there are still Republican voters who haven’t caught up with what has happened to the party.

Or they do know, but figure that for all their failings, the Republicans must be the lesser of two evils…”They’re all bums, so I might as well vote for the bums who won’t raise my taxes.”

52

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 01.25.08 at 3:18 pm

Functional – the point of John’s post wasn’t Republicans versus Democrats – it was Republicans versus everyone else, like for example people living in other countries. The Republicans may seem loopy in the US – but to the average political blogger in Canada or the UK, I guess they’d be outright repellent.

It’s pretty hard to pin John as a partisan for the Democrat party, as he’s an economist living in Brisbane. I suspect the U.S. politician closest to him would be Bernie Sanders.

53

functional 01.25.08 at 3:19 pm

Never mind my comment 48. The more I look at it, this whole thing has got to be a parody. “Why, the Internet doesn’t cause partisan polarization. My proof for this is that the Internet allows me to see that all Republicans are evil! Footnote: It allows Republicans to think of the rest of us as evil too.”

54

John Quiggin 01.25.08 at 3:35 pm

Functional, you can add “incapable of reading”. Of course the Internet has accelerated polarization, and the post says so.

And there’s no need for me to cherrypick – you’re doing a great job of bringing the cherries here, and have done every time I’ve seen your comments.

55

SamChevre 01.25.08 at 3:38 pm

There’s no Republican group … promoting the idea of solid friendly relations with as many nations as possible as good for business.

Huh? Say what? Putting China permanently on the MFN list had at least as much Republican support as Democratic.

Nobody on the Republican side is making public noise about declining standards of living for America’s working and middle classes, nor the damage this does to family values.

No, they’re making public noise about the decline in family values, and the harm this does to living standards. There’s enough feedback that saying one is the cause, and one the effect, is simplistic on both sides.

And I have to say that I totally don’t see why “exploiting the LGF crowd” is a bad thing. Legalizing pot is a good idea, even though some of the supporters are disfunctional potheads.

56

GreatZamfir 01.25.08 at 3:44 pm

Functional, besides the parody I think John is making a serious point, namely that beneath the flame wars, there is a real divide. And that divide, he claims, is caused to large extend by the Republican party

57

functional 01.25.08 at 3:48 pm

Functional, you can add “incapable of reading”. Of course the Internet has accelerated polarization, and the post says so.

I read what you said; but you’re incapable of writing if you meant to say that the Internet has “accelerated polarization.” After pointing to Sunstein’s polarization thesis, you said, “It seems to me that exactly the opposite is true.

In English, if you say, “Sunstein says X, but exactly the opposite is true,” then you’re not agreeing with Sunstein.

58

functional 01.25.08 at 3:55 pm

Oh wait, I get it. The post said:

Sunstein argues that the echo chamber effect tends to reinforce existing views and produce a poisonous partisan divide. It seems to me that exactly the opposite is true.

By saying the “opposite is true,” you weren’t saying that there’s no “poisonous partisan divide.” Instead, you were saying that the “poisonous partisan divide” is being caused not by an “echo chamber,” but by cherrypicking a few idiotic websites of the [right or left] and then using them in bad faith to smear everyone on the [right or left].

My apologies. It was poorly written, but not as completely idiotic as it seemed.

59

Rich Puchalsky 01.25.08 at 5:09 pm

Bruce Baugh: “Not all Republicans are either LGF/Malkin-style bigots or deliberately exploiting them. Some are too stupid or ignorant to realize how their party has actually worked since 1994, and some believe that they personally are so suave, illuminated, or otherwise blessed as to be unaffected by it all. So there are jerks and fools as well as bigots and users. There are, however, no Republicans who are simultaneously informed, honest, and moral [...]“

I’ve been saying that since, oh, 2000 or so — although I generally refer to it as everyone in the GOP being either stupid, ignorant, or evil — and somehow it’s generally dismissed as too partisan, rather than as an honest but impolite evaluation of U.S. politics, the actual positions of the Republican party, and the actual motivations of people who support those positions. I assume that the dynamic around this is going to be like what happened with anti-war views. Five years from now people will be saying “Of course Bruce Baugh was right about Republicans then, but he said it in the wrong way so of course we couldn’t listen to him.”

For the people whose mother is in the GOP, and therefore this just can’t be right, well, those are the kind of people who just can’t imagine that their mother is an actual person and therefore might be, as people sometimes are, uninformed, dishonest, or immoral. I’ve never found Argument Ad Mother very convincing.

60

Z 01.25.08 at 5:09 pm

But do you think such a belief on her part must necessarily be disingenuous?

Oh no, not at all, I am sure this is all in good faith (I admit you put me in a tight corner with that specific question about the military situation in Iraq because I can’t really judge how much the average American voter knows about such issues, so ignorance might be too strong a word). However, I will restate my point that giving your voice to the organizers of massive arbitrary internments and torture (which is totally unrelated to the military situation in Iraq) is at best a sign of great ignorance of what is done in your name. Please also note that nowhere did I write that she should have voted for Kerry instead.

61

Lee A. Arnold 01.25.08 at 5:16 pm

I will never read “Liberal Fascism” — in that account, I am hopelessly polarized, against gibberish — but the idea of it strikes me as a rather canny bit of pre-U.S. election propaganda, since it has been taken up, perhaps according to plan, by the well-funded echo chamber, and with enough time left until November to filter down to the cheapo remaindered piles at Wal-Mart. Brilliant really. So: I think someone (with more free time than I,) should respond to this cue, and write a book entitled “Conservative Communism,” since there are not only endless instances of corporate socialism now plundering the public weal, but also conclusive historical examples, such as the new film “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days,” that the U.S. Republicans would have been rather comfortable in Ceausescu’s Romania.

62

SomeGuy 01.25.08 at 5:39 pm

D^2 or John Quiggin,

What was John’s point? That exposure to other points of view might tend to reinforce existing views and produce a poisonous partisan divide even more so than only being exposed to similar points of view?

That reading the comments sections of the Democratic Underground (or reading John’s post) is a good way to make a conservative even more conservative and reading the comments section of LGF or Freepers is a good way to make to a liberal even more liberal?

Clever.

But I am pretty sure Sunstein thinks we have responsibility to seek out the best opposing arugments. And pretty sure he feels that the best opposing arguments would be civil in tone. Maybe he needs to read more D^2 or Lieter?

If, so, I think more than just Thomas missed the point. Maybe clarification is needed. If not, well hopefully I have made that point.

idlemind,

Try Marginal Revolution and Tyler Cowen.

63

someone 01.25.08 at 5:55 pm

…their mother is an actual person and therefore might be, as people sometimes are, uninformed, dishonest, or immoral.

I felt the same way after the 2004 election, that was very disappointing. But that’s half of the country you’re talking about, not a bunch of rednecks in white robes. There’s gotta be more to it; can’t be that simple.

64

John Quiggin 01.25.08 at 5:58 pm

Tyler and MR are smart and worth reading, and I do. But they aren’t (at least in my recollection) advocates for the Republican Party.

65

Cranky Observer 01.25.08 at 6:10 pm

> But I am pretty sure Sunstein thinks
> we have responsibility to seek out the
> best opposing arugments. And pretty sure
> he feels that the best opposing arguments
> would be civil in tone

Which we would do via judicious examination of reality, and the use of those fixed entities known as “facts”. Oh wait – didn’t another guys whose name started with Su write something about that?

Cranky

66

Martin James 01.25.08 at 6:31 pm

I think its a bit of a toss-up. On the Sunstein side, relative to MSM most popular blogs that deal with politics have a more pronounced(biased?) point of view and the posted comments tend to reveal that people like other people to agree with them rather than not.

For example, there are many more posts with “you are ignorant/stupid/evil” than “that’s a fascinating take, I’m so glad you shared an opposite viewpoint it really expanded my thinking.”

So on the Sunstein side most people prefer an echo chamber. On the the other side, is that its not really a new phenomenon.

Where I think Quiggin take sthe point too far, is that he thinks that the understanding people have of “empirical” reality strongly influences the values they hold. I think its the opposite. They create an empirical worldview that matches the values they hold for other than empirical reasons.

There are no “morality machines” that can take empirical measurements of good and bad. Take torture, what empirical standard can tell that waterboarding is wrong?

All the empirical arguments in the world about whether torture is effective can’t tell us why it is just plain wrong.

I would make the analogy to mathematical axioms. Morals are like axioms, you have to pick them outside of reason and only then can reason help you build from there.

67

Bruce Baugh 01.25.08 at 7:10 pm

Rich Puchalsky: You were right on in 2000, too, and I was dead wrong thinking that there wouldn’t be much practical difference between Bush and Gore, and in thinking that the Republican regime was most likely to be sort of vaguely center-right technocratic in inclination. I’ve been trying to acknowledge the prior correctness of folks like you in recent years, but I may not have done this with your 2000 and 2001 commentaries. Well: you nailed it. If I’d listened to people like you and Avedon Carol, I might have been part of an attempted solution rather than one more muddled bystander. Most of the time I have the horrible ghastly feeling that the window of opportunity for useful redress is now long closed, but I’m resolved not to miss it if it’s there out of stupid quibbles about rhetorical nuance or whatever.

68

Bruce Baugh 01.25.08 at 7:12 pm

Someone, note that ignorance is an explanation in many cases. The media establishment lies, systematically, and while personal reflection and looking at local facts can lead someone to reject many lies (as it’s done for a lot of the public on both war and impeachment, whatever the Democratic leadership may insist), those things alone can’t give them the truth of what’s being done far away, particularly in secret.

69

nick s 01.25.08 at 7:47 pm

The Sadly, No! principle seems to apply here: as the marginal cost of putting opinions online diminishes to the cost of internet hosting, which is essentially free for the opinionator, it’s become possible to see fringe opinions before they’re refined into more palatable forms for mass distribution.

But when you delve down deeper into the barrel, you begin to find conservatives who will voice the forbidden tenets, and who couple them quite plainly to the Republican agenda — and the further into the barrel you go, the bonkier and whoopier and (most importantly) plainer the messages become. The nuttier winguts often parrot the talking points and the message wackily off-key, while expressing the meaning vividly and nearly 100% correctly, nearly all the time. They’re nearly an ideal source of insight.

On the issue of bipartisanship, the historical analogy that has long appealed to me is the Popish Plot / Exclusion Crisis era of 1680 and thereabouts. ‘Moderation’ at that time is implicitly a rhetorical, not an ideological posture.

70

Bruce Baugh 01.25.08 at 7:59 pm

Hey, that’s a good read at the link. Thanks, Nick.

71

Rich Puchalsky 01.25.08 at 8:23 pm

Bruce, I certainly wasn’t trying to make you feel bad about anything, much less being a “muddled bystander”. It is very, very difficult for people who are used to some kind of rational analysis to accept that one side of a dispute really is entirely full of bad actors, because it so rarely happens, and because propaganda insists that it always happens. There’s still plenty of time to do things about it; I think that the critical period actually begins when Bush leaves. (Of course it’s too late for half a million Iraqis, thousands of U.S. troops, various ecosystems, the economy, and so on but I’m talking about the overall political situation.)

From elsewhere above: “I felt the same way after the 2004 election, that was very disappointing. But that’s half of the country you’re talking about, not a bunch of rednecks in white robes. There’s gotta be more to it; can’t be that simple.”

Yes, more than half the country is uninformed, dishonest, and/or immoral. That shouldn’t be a surprise. The number of “informed” people is generally smaller than the number “uninformed”, for any version of “informed”. And if you view the willingness to act on racist belief as immoral, as most people do, then of course that’s what the GOP Southern Strategy was all about. People in the U.S. do this curious dance where they all accept that a) the South votes as a bloc for the racist party, because of racism, b) that doesn’t indicate anything about the individual racists who want to e.g. keep black people from voting or address illegal immigration through taking measures that will have people dying in the desert.

It’s not that the Democratic party or any other party is full of saints. But the Republican party is now wholly dedicated to evil policies. The only way that anyone can currently support it is if they, personally, are either too ignorant or stupid to be able to know what is going on, or if they agree with its evil.

72

Bruce Baugh 01.25.08 at 8:32 pm

Rich, you didn’t make me feel bad. The whole wretched evil situation makes me feel bad. But in the midst of it, knowing that here are people who see through to some important things early on and tell the rest of us (including me) is a mitigating factor. It suggests that if I tune my judgment and sharpen my attention, I can avoid making some of the same mistakes again. Ditto others who screwed up as I did.

73

JJ 01.25.08 at 8:47 pm

Even David Brooks:

Conservative institutions and interest groups proliferated in Washington. The definition of who was a true conservative narrowed. It became necessary to pass certain purity tests — on immigration, abortion, taxes and Terri Schiavo.

An oppositional mentality set in: if the liberals worried about global warming, it was necessary to regard it as a hoax. If The New York Times editorial page worried about waterboarding, then the code of conservative correctness required one to think it O.K.

Apostates and deviationists were expelled or found wanting, and the boundaries of acceptable thought narrowed.

74

abb1 01.25.08 at 9:03 pm

Freepers say taxation/income redistribution is evil, immoral and a form of slavery. Ditto racial quotas. Ditto criticizing the war when fighting is going on, etc, etc, etc. That is not ignorance, it’s a point of view. Confused (IMO), but a point of view nevertheless. Sorry, but calling it ‘ignorant’ and ‘evil’ is just counterproductive.

75

JJ 01.25.08 at 9:44 pm

(The blockquote didn’t work for the last two, but all three paragraphs are Brooks’)

76

Rich Puchalsky 01.25.08 at 9:52 pm

abb1, if you can’t call a point of view evil because it’s a point of view, then clearly you can’t call anything political evil. Everything is a point of view. But come on, points of view have intentions and consequences. The intentions are evil because they are racist and warmongering intentions. The consequences are evil because they involve people being killed for no good reason, people being tortured, and various American institutions that permit democratic governance being destroyed. I’m not just using evil as a word that means “anything I don’t like”, I’m using it as a specific descriptor for people who want other people to be killed, tortured, and oppressed, and take actions to carry that out.

Sure, Freepers don’t agree that what they believe in is evil. That’s because they’re evil.

77

Orin Kerr 01.25.08 at 10:15 pm

I think this post demonstrates that when describing a political perspective that one opposes, it’s often very tempting to point to the least thoughtful and most outrageous examples as representative of that perspective as a whole.

78

abb1 01.25.08 at 10:26 pm

Well, Rich, their point of view typically is some sort of weird combination of nativism and radical individualism. Weird, yes, but not necessarily illegitimate. Not something self-evidently ‘evil’, I don’t think.

79

abb1 01.25.08 at 10:37 pm

On the second thought, I’ll admit that the neocons fucked them up good in the last few years.

80

Righteous Bubba 01.25.08 at 10:38 pm

I think this post demonstrates that when describing a political perspective that one opposes, it’s often very tempting to point to the least thoughtful and most outrageous examples as representative of that perspective as a whole.

Aren’t you from that victim’s-family-should-be-able-to-rip-the-flesh-off-criminals site? Outrageous and not very thoughtful.

81

John Quiggin 01.25.08 at 11:07 pm

I must say Orin Kerr is one of the handful of exceptions to the points I’ve raised above. He does give an indication that there are reasonable people on the other side of the political divide.

But as #80 indicates, that doesn’t extend to some other bloggers at VC let alone the kinds of sites I mentioned in the post.

82

Thomas 01.25.08 at 11:20 pm

John, after reading your post and the comments here (with a few exceptions), why would anyone believe that the important thing is granting the existence of reasonable people on the other side of the political divide? You spend a couple hundred words arguing against that point, and now concede that there might be a handful of exceptions.

If anyone at CT were capable of shame, this would be a good occasion for it. It’s not just the ugly partisanship. It’s the ignorant dismissal of Sunstein’s argument. I mean, read the book. (I’ve read a lot about books at CT lately; do any of you bother to read the book first?) The argument in the book may be wrong, but it isn’t wrong for the reasons given here. As I said above, this is much closer to an inadvertent confirmation of the argument than a response or refutation.

83

Martin James 01.25.08 at 11:53 pm

Rich,

If its true that “more than half the country is uninformed, dishonest, and/or immoral” and if democracy is likely to put the majority in power, is democracy then a recipe for evil?

84

Rich Puchalsky 01.26.08 at 12:23 am

Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others.

85

Martin James 01.26.08 at 12:35 am

Rich,

Fair enough, but what about a Quiggin legitimatocracy where you can only vote if you are reasonable. Have we tried that one?

86

MD 01.26.08 at 12:40 am

Of course, all the posters and especially commenters at the Daily Kos, Huffington Post, et al., are models of enlightened, rational enlightenment, and no conservative could ever read their emissions and reach the same conclusion as Quiggin, but in reverse.

87

Clyde Mnestra 01.26.08 at 12:44 am

I’m not trying to be thick, honestly. Would it be possible for someone to explain what’s “exactly the opposite” of Sunstein’s argument that “the echo chamber effect tends to reinforce existing views and produce a poisonous partisan divide”? I mean, explain what John Quiggin was intending to say? I’m having difficulty understanding what’s meant by the opposite here, and in mapping it onto the post. I’m supposing it’s not the “In sum, Sunstein’s story is really about US Republicans* and not about the Internet,” which seems to quarrel with him but not to amount to the opposite.

88

Sortition 01.26.08 at 1:04 am

Clyde,

By “the opposite” it is meant: “the internet allows us to exit the echo chamber and learn how different the other side’s views are from our own views, and thus induces us to see people on the other side as deserving condemnation in the most poisonous terms.”

89

Martin James 01.26.08 at 1:07 am

I wondered the same thing.

I think he agrees with the effect(polarization), but attributes it to more exposure to the opposing viewpoints rather than less.

90

Sortition 01.26.08 at 1:11 am

> Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others

Having never tried democracy we are not in a position to comment on its advantages and disadvantages. Getting about 60 million people to vote for an evil candidate (and about 60 million other people to vote for the other evil candidate) does not constitute a proof that a majority of the population is evil.

91

Martin James 01.26.08 at 1:12 am

The “US Republican” parallel might be that busing caused movement conservatism. Being forced to interact led to more polarity.

92

Seth Finkelstein 01.26.08 at 1:35 am

I think John Quiggin is saying that people don’t become more partisan from the reason that Sunstein theorizes, that due to the Internet, they don’t listen to other side and hear only their co-partisans. Instead, “exactly the opposite is true” from what Sunstein thinks, in the sense that Internet makes people become more partisan because they CAN and DO see and hear the other side’s partisans, and it’s full of raving lunatics. You get exposed to them like being exposed to influenza.

[My own view is that both arguments are overreach, but I'm not sure how seriously John Quiggin means the above post to be taken].

93

clyde mnestra 01.26.08 at 2:55 am

Thanks for those clarifications. Makes sense to me, even if it’s not what I think of when I think of exact opposition. Putting aside the merits of Sunstein’s claim, or Quiggin’s alternative account, they seem fairly compatible. It’s not like Sunstein’s co-partisans are completely insular; they observe some external phenomena and react to it, and then reinforce their reactions.

Of course, they’re also not self-aware that they’re reinforcing only because of polarization; they always think it’s a product of their unassailably correct, mutual perception of the merits. Which is why this is such a tantalizing post and, potentially, group of comments.

94

John Quiggin 01.26.08 at 3:02 am

#86 – if you reread the post you’ll see that I mention exactly this point

#93 and previous – I’ve added a clarifying sentence

95

Brett Bellmore 01.26.08 at 3:56 am

“Didn’t we read recently that the largest plurality of blogs is by Japanese people doing LiveJournal-style ruminations on their daily lives?

They, like the Chinese, are probably being bigoted in a language we can’t understand (and indeed in a character set that shows up as question marks on Western screen). That doesn’t count.

LOL! No probably about it, I’m a fan of (Some aspects of) Japanese culture, but there’s no hiding the fact that the Japanese are one of the most bigoted cultures on the planet. To the point where they have a hard time admitting that they’re even the same species as the rest of us, and are pouring enormous resources into developing advanced robotics, specifically so that they don’t have to import foreign labor.

On the main point, yes, it’s true: Exposure to liberals on the internet has actually worsened my opinion of them; Prior to the internet it was all to easy to believe the issues that separate us merely hid the deeper common ground, but arguing in the comment pages of places like Crooked Timber has convinced me that, if anything, the basic philosophical divide is deeper than public politics’ carefully blurred catch phrases make evident.

It’s easy to believe the bogey man doesn’t exist, until you venture into the forest, and he jumps out from behind a tree to start defending racial quotas or judicial mangling of the Constitution.

96

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 01.26.08 at 4:32 am

BTW, this thread reminds me of what Douglas Adams wrote about his Babel Fish?

… By effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.

97

roger 01.26.08 at 4:55 am

What’s funny about the Sunstein view is that this terrible partisanship is supposed to be drowning out voices – but the move is always then towards a nice centrism that, by coincidence, reflects all the GOP talking points of yore. So we seriously recognize the historical greatness of the New Deal but it is time to seriously reform social security. And nobody serious wants to withdraw from Iraq, as that would be a disaster. And we seriously have to cut back on our government spending, except of course for the military. And we can’t really take seriously these extremist outcries about our constitutional rights when we have to get serious about our security.

The funniest thing about the center is that it is never quite sure what we should make of the war in Iraq, and prefers the judgment of historians fifty years out. Was it a success or mass murder? Who knows? We must sternly await the verdict of history.

Meanwhile, this is the first presidential primary I’ve seen where one candidate, John Edwards, was almost entirely blanked out of the national media coverage because he was too far to the left – that is, almost as left as Jimmy Carter – while the press solemnly swore that Rudy Giuliani had not run in the primaries where he was trounced by Ron Paul, who wasn’t serious, and devoted much more attention to him than Edwards, pretending, after Iowa, in fact, that the race, bizarrely, was between the first place winner and the third.

What is truly worrying is that the old radical center is now filled with such deadwood – the Michael Ignatieffs and Cass Sunsteins and Brookings Institute apparatchiks. They have simply become a front under which the right does whatever it wants in terms of policy, with the center crying for civility and seriousness a la Joe Klein edges out any real dissent, appearing on tv and in the press as the only parameter to the left.

Which is the real reason they hate the internet. The only place where they can’t do the cowbird act and kick out real opposition to the establishment. That kills them. They hate people like Duncan at Atrios, because he is supposed to only exist on the fringes, up there with Noam Chomsky, and he’s an Internet star. Whereas I don’t believe there is one centrist internet star. Anywhere.

98

Thomas 01.26.08 at 5:55 am

roger, I think Sunstein would be surprised to find that he’s a centrist who is just mouthing GOP talking points. I do think he’d agree with you that there’s not “one centrist internet star.” That’s the subject of the book!

99

Bruce Baugh 01.26.08 at 6:00 am

Glenn Reynolds functioned as a centrist blog star for a good run after 9/11. it’s not that he didn’t claim to be libertarian and all, but he linked so widely and was willing to give a friendly nod to all kinds of commentary that he got a pass for it. At least, he did until gradually making it clear that he was in the end just one more fan of kleptocracy and dead brown people.

And yes, I agree that what’s most suffered in the age of widespread blogging and linking is the abstracted equivalency stance of the “vital center”. Specificity breaks down the detachment necessary to keep doing the centrism thing.

100

abb1 01.26.08 at 8:42 am

Hmm, I don’t know about the center-right, but bloggers like Drum, Yglesias, even Marshall – they all seem like solid centrist, mainstream liberals to me. The DLCstas, the Clintonistas.

101

functional 01.26.08 at 3:14 pm

77 — Orin, it’s actually kind of charming that Quiggin has enough self-awareness and is self-deprecating enough to admit publicly (heck, not just admit, but demonstrate) that he himself is biased by a “poisonous partisan divide” that keeps people from being rational and fair.

102

roger 01.26.08 at 4:47 pm

abb1 – the bloggers you mention all share a trajectory. In 2001, when they were starting out, they did advance standard center-liberal opinions – especially about the war, which they all supported. In this, they were in the same place as Peter Beinert, or Richard Cohen, or Tom Friedman. What has happened since, however, is they have drifted well to the left of the media’s acceptable center-liberal position. Not only are the opposed to the war, they also don’t spend a lot of time worrying about not being perceived as tough on national security. Worse, from your NYT-Washington Post perspective, they don’t look at the great crisis in America, right now, as one of entitlements. That’s a key chorus issue. Just as being part of an La gang requires at least one drive by shooting, being part of the acceptable center for the media requires one heartfelt article about how the government is spending way too much on social insurance, and for the undeserving middle class no less, and we need a bi-partisan commission which we can all get behind to stop that terrible, terrible spending. Of course, there have been other ephemeral issues that the centrist’s can notch their belts with – the defense of Scooter Libby, for instance – but robust Truman Democratiscism and civic worry that we just spend too much on the healthcare and retirement of middle classers who are gonna have to learn to tighten their belts – those are the great parameters of centrism.

The exemplary centerist liberal is Peter Beinart, I think. He could have been created in a lab presided over by Dr. Marty Peretz and Dr. Tom Friedman, he is so centrist in every pore. He has a great career ahead of him in the media, about 30 more solid years of concern troll liberalism, then the reluctant turn to the full bodied right.

Which brings up the question – why did this group of young men – Drum, Marshall, Yglesias, Klein, et al. – drift away from the vacuous center? Here is where blogging is an advantage. There is simply less of a cocoon – in fact, built into one’s advance is some at least minimum dialog with one’s readers. Whereas, of course, Peter Beinart only depends on a second tier of readers, those in the opinionmaker ranks. He depends much more on Fred Hiatt’s opinion than on anybody else’s, and once that is established, he can keep going indefinitely – the top newspapers take a perverse delight in disappointing and generally pissing off their general readership. Their definition of brave is appointing the son of their best buddy at some prep school to an op ed position in spite of their best buddy’s son having a long record of idiocy behind him – re the Bill Kristol appointment. They’ve convinced themselves that this is bravery, rather than corrupt insider dealing. Which gets us back to Sunnstein’s bogus argument.

103

abb1 01.26.08 at 6:51 pm

If by ‘center’ you mean ‘establishment’ (which seems to be the case here), then I agree – no one would want to read blog posts written by very-serious-people.

104

Slocum 01.26.08 at 7:23 pm

For the people whose mother is in the GOP, and therefore this just can’t be right, well, those are the kind of people who just can’t imagine that their mother is an actual person and therefore might be, as people sometimes are, uninformed, dishonest, or immoral. I’ve never found Argument Ad Mother very convincing.

Oh, I’m not saying she is particularly well informed. She’s college educated and was one of those compulsive straight-A student types (Phi Beta, Cum Laude, etc, etc). But now she’s pushing retirement age and is about as well-informed as is possible from reading the local daily paper of a small midwestern city at the end of a long day.

And yet if you gave her a history and current events test, I imagine she’d score well above average. So if you want to ban people with her level of informed-ness from voting, you’d be disqualifying most of the electorate. Such is democracy…

105

nick s 01.26.08 at 9:53 pm

brett@95: ‘bogey man in the forest’? Curious analogy. Though I’m reminded of this, and how the internets have brought so many pale, dispersed libertarians out of their isolation.

roger@102: that Jonah Goldberg is participating in a ‘red-blue’ debate in a few months, with Peter Beinart as the ‘blue’ representative, boggles the mind.

106

Orin Kerr 01.26.08 at 10:57 pm

I must say Orin Kerr is one of the handful of exceptions to the points I’ve raised above. He does give an indication that there are reasonable people on the other side of the political divide.

But as #80 indicates, that doesn’t extend to some other bloggers at VC let alone the kinds of sites I mentioned in the post.

I certainly appreciate the first point. I tend to think that politics is rather like religion: for most people, we are born into our politics more than choose it. As a result, I see the left and right as quite similar; there are reasonable people on both sides and unreasonable people on both sides, and it’s really hard to say if a typical person on the left or the right is more likely to be ‘reasonable.’ Unfortunately, the all-too-common misperception on both sides is that one’s side is somehow special; that one’s own side has some sort of lock on the reasonable way of looking at the world. And the most common way of furthering that misperception is to focus on the least thoughtful examples of te other side as characteristic.

At the same time, I’m puzzled by John’s response in the 2nd paragraph to my concern that he is being uncharitable. If I understand John’s comment correctly, his response is something along the lines of “Yes, but you blog at a site where some of your co-bloggers are unreasonable, too.” Is that supposed to be a counterargument or a concession?

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Orin Kerr 01.26.08 at 10:58 pm

Oops — misformating on my part. That second paragraph in my comment above is John’s, and should be in italics rather than plain text.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.26.08 at 11:49 pm

“So if you want to ban people with her level of informed-ness from voting [...]“

Yeah, sure, I write about a threat to democracy, and that means that I want to ban people from voting. Argument Ad Mother usually involves reading skills as the first thing to go.

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Cranky Observer 01.26.08 at 11:55 pm

> As a result, I see the left and right as
> quite similar; there are reasonable people
on both sides and unreasonable people on both
> sides,

Where does Dick Cheney fall in your classification? What is the appropriate response when a Dick Cheney ends up in an office of extreme power?

Cranky

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Seth Finkelstein 01.27.08 at 12:01 am

I think the point is that there’s a different between a group of reasonable people and a few lunatics, and a group of lunatics and a few reasonable people.

Yeah, yeah, nothing can be proven absolutely, everyone thinks their side is the former, I know, I know – nonetheless, the inverse can’t be true either, there are outright genocidal political parties in the world, they can’t be redeemed by having a nonlunatic fringe.

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Orin Kerr 01.27.08 at 12:36 am

Cranky,

I think Dick Cheney is often unreasonable. The primary solution is to not vote for a ticket that includes Dick Cheney. If you have any other questions, just let me know.

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Down and Out of Sài Gòn 01.27.08 at 12:57 am

As a result, I see the left and right as quite similar; there are reasonable people on both sides and unreasonable people on both sides, and it’s really hard to say if a typical person on the left or the right is more likely to be reasonable.’

Orin, do you feel like taking the Sydney Harbour Bridge off my hands? Looks pretty, doesn’t it? Half price until the end of January.

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geo 01.27.08 at 5:52 am

Orin: …the all-too-common misperception on both sides is that one’s side is somehow special; that one’s own side has some sort of lock on the reasonable way of looking at the world. And the most common way of furthering that misperception is to focus on the least thoughtful examples of the other side as characteristic.

This sounds reasonable, until one remembers that the “least thoughtful examples” on the right controlled all three branches of government until recently, along with many state governments, large chunks of the mass media, and most of the business elite, and that they openly acknowledged and fanatically prosecuted their intention to establish a one-party state. The “least thoughtful examples” on the left (Bob Avakian? the Trotskyists?) have never come anywhere close to winning an election for student council. The parallel you’re suggesting seems preposterous, Orin. There’s every reason to focus on vicious and fanatical conservatives, since they run the country, and no reason to focus on vicious and fanatical leftists, since they are a thousand miles away from running anything but their own meetings.

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Orin Kerr 01.27.08 at 7:57 am

Funny, this is exactly the reaction I would get if I posted my comments at RedState.com. With the polarity reversed, of course.

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SJ 01.27.08 at 9:20 am

But, Orin, that reaction would be objectively false, wouldn’t it?

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SJ 01.27.08 at 9:41 am

Slocum Says:

Oh, I’m not saying she is particularly well informed. She’s college educated and was one of those compulsive straight-A student types (Phi Beta, Cum Laude, etc, etc). But now she’s pushing retirement age and is about as well-informed as is possible from reading the local daily paper of a small midwestern city at the end of a long day.

I have some sympathy for this view. Now, I’m not saying that any of what follows applies to your mother, as I don’t know her or anything about her.

The Republicans have gone out of their way to create classes of single-issue voters, on issues like abortion and gun control. For these classes of people, there is no alternative to the Republican party. I guess it’s possible to argue that these people are uninformed, dishonest or immoral, in the sense that we might think that they’ve been manipulated and should recognise that fact. But how could they?

It’s also possible to argue the reverse side of this coin. For someone who’s main issue is what is now called “pro-choice”, there’s no alternative to the Democratic party, regardless of whatever stuff the Democrats might do.

So I wouldn’t necessarily sheet home the blame to the each and every Republican voter.

But I do support John Quiggin’s modified version that “…any Republican advocate or politician, no matter how superficially reasonable, must be regarded as either someone who shares Freeper/LGF views or someone who is willing to exploit the holders of such views in the pursuit of a personal or class interest.

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abb1 01.27.08 at 10:20 am

There’s every reason to focus on vicious and fanatical conservatives, since they run the country…

SJ beat me to it. Big business runs the country, not conservatives. In respect to illegal immigration, for example, the establishment position is clearly in contradiction with nativism. In respect to most social/racial/religious issues the establishment is mostly indifferent and only uses them as rhetorical bait.

You could say (as it was said here many times) that conservatives are, in effect, enablers of various evils, but they don’t run anything.

Neocons fucked them up good, though. It’s much more natural and straightforward to view communism as a terrible existential threat than Islam. The movement has gotta be in a state of disarray now, all kinds of weirdness there.

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SG 01.27.08 at 10:55 am

what Brett said about the Japanese at 95 is bullshit. Brett, if your wife thinks all foreigners are fat and stupid I suggest you blame it on the foreigner she knows, not on her Japanese upbringing.

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Bruce Baugh 01.27.08 at 12:51 pm

I propose a thought experiment.

It’s 1997. Clinton’s been reelected to a 2nd term; investigation of various pieces of misconduct are underway in a big way. Newt Gingrich has his party machinery working smoothly now, and very little’s happening in the way of governance without his okay. Bin Laden’s put out a declaration of jihad, administration officials are secretly preparing to try asssassinating him, Republican leaders say this is all “wag the dog” business. Academy Award voters are all over The English Patient.

Now then. I go to some net forum of the time or write an article for a political magazine, saying that within five years, the Republicans will be back in office…and will immediately begin extensive warrantless wiretapping and planning an invasion of Iraq, both things they will claim retroactive justification for once terrorists destroy the World Trade Center. Within five years of that, there’ll be an ongoing occupation of Iraq conducted in flagrant violation of every principle of counter-insurgency, the president will have declared that he’s not interested in the mastermind of the actual terrorist attacks, and as a matter of policy the US will have abandoned the Geneva conventions in favor of torture and detention without habeus corpus. In many polls, two-thirds of the country will say they want the occupation ended and three-fifths that they want the president and/or vice president impeached; Democratic leadership will be boasting of their good sense in refusing to do either.

Would I be taken as anything but a particularly paranoid anti-Republican nut?

Analyses that presume a general equality of merit break down in the face of unequal results. Sometimes, maybe usually, more voices in one part of the spectrum are worth respecting than those in other parts.

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Brett Bellmore 01.27.08 at 2:12 pm

“what Brett said about the Japanese at 95 is bullshit. Brett, if your wife thinks all foreigners are fat and stupid I suggest you blame it on the foreigner she knows, not on her Japanese upbringing.”

While my wife IS asian, I never said that she was Japanese. Asia’s a big place, you know. Fact is, she’d be rather insulted to be called Japanese; They don’t have positive memories of Japan in the Philippines. (Actually, they don’t have positive memories of the Japanese anywhere in Asia except Japan.)

No, SG, racism runs through the whole Japanese culture. You don’t have to expose yourself to it THAT deeply to notice. True, it’s a bit more subtle than the Klan, but it’s a heck of a lot more legally sanctioned than the Klan, too.

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functional 01.27.08 at 3:20 pm

This sounds reasonable, until one remembers that the “least thoughtful examples” on the right controlled all three branches of government

Anyone who says this about the current judicial branch of government in the United States is just paranoid, akin to a John Birch society member in the 1960s who thought that the Supreme Court was run by communists. There is no good-faith case for claiming that the judicial branch of government here is completely controlled by conservatives in the first place, let alone by the “least thoughtful” conservatives.

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meter 01.27.08 at 3:46 pm

Apparently Functional hasn’t been paying very close attention to recent S.C. rulings. Or the distribution of votes on each issue. Right down party lines.

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Orin Kerr 01.27.08 at 5:58 pm

Meter,

I follow the Supreme Court pretty closely, and I think “functional” is pretty much right (although I wouldn’t compare the view to John Birch — perhaps it’s more like the mirror image of the worldview of Michele Malkin, Fox News etc). The Court is actually quite evenly divided. When I was clerking, in 2003-2004, the more liberal Justices clearly had the upper hand; last term, the more conservative Justices tended to have the needed votes. I expect that this Term the votes will generaly line up in a liberal direction. But on the whole, the current Supreme Court is a remarkably centrist institution.

Of course, that’s not what you hear if you get your “very close attention” impression of the Supreme Court from the New York Times or Slate, Those publications consistently leave the impression that the sky is falling and right wing radicals are in charge, much like Fox News consistently leaves the opposite impression.

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Orin Kerr 01.27.08 at 6:02 pm

Oh, and I would emphasize one important point of disagreement with ‘functional’: I think “good faith” disagreement is not only possible, but near universal. Everyone is very sure that they are correct when it comes to these topics. I think some of these perspectives are analytically weak and myopic, but I don’t doubt the god faith of those who hold them,

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functional 01.27.08 at 6:26 pm

Meter — one doesn’t have to pay very close attention to know how stupid it is to claim that all S.Ct. votes are right down party lines. Some Republican appointees, for better or worse, have voted to strike down various uses of the death penalty, to uphold affirmative action practiced by state entities, to reaffirm Roe v. Wade, and to strike down state sodomy legislation. I could go on and on, but those are the most well-known rulings from the past 5 or 10 years that any educated American would know off the top of their head.

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Bruce Baugh 01.27.08 at 6:59 pm

Orin: Whereas I think good faith stops being an acceptable justification at some point, and that point is right around the systematic denial of and excuse making for vicious incompetent criminality as a way of life.

Contrast. Democrats allegedly take peace seriously, and there is in fact a very widespread network of individuals and groups angry with the party leadership’s abandoning of peace as a goal, and attempting to push them back toward it. Democrats allegedly care about corporate malfeasence, and we’re seeing an equally widespread push when it comes to matters like telcom immunity in wiretapping matters. We saw it on Social Security, and so on.

Republicans allegedly take fiscal responsibility. Where is the equivalent of Move On for regular auditing, the use of standard accepted practices, investigation and prosecution of war-related profiteering, and the like? Republicans allegedly take the rule of law seriously. Where’s the push for oversight? And it goes on and on like that. When an entire party abandons all of its declared principles in favor of the personal authority of a leader figure, bystanders are entirely justified in feeling that good faith doesn’t cut it as an excuse, that earnestness must be coupled with some more self-scrutiny.

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duus 01.27.08 at 8:03 pm

#

So, any Democrat, no matter how superficially reasonable, must be regarded as someone who shares Democratic Underground views. And that is supposed to prove that the Internet isn’t causing more polarization? If meant sincerely, the post is the most directly self-refuting thing I’ve ever read.
Posted by functional · January 25th, 2008 at 2:44 pm

I think Quiggin is arguing that the internet has increased partisanship because of exposure, not withdrawl of exposure, as Sunstien apparently argues.

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duus 01.27.08 at 8:05 pm

Posted by Bruce Baugh · January 27th, 2008 at 6:59 pm

well said.

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Righteous Bubba 01.27.08 at 8:13 pm

At the National Review, Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism blog features a letter from a high-school debate coach who assures Jonah that his opponents can’t argue. Oh, and coach’ll read Liberal Fascism ASAP.

I think it’s going too far to say that the entire Republican base is as nutty as its leading voices, but the leading voices seem to be fools or just wrong, and taking their arguments seriously is not far removed from earnestly dealing with UFO nuts.

Here’s a funny axe-grinding essay by Austin Bramwell written after his departure from the National Review’s editorial board. It’s largely about groupthink and includes amusing sentences like “To be sure, conservatives have hotly denied the charge of neoconservatism but never by actually disagreeing with it.”

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geo 01.27.08 at 8:19 pm

Functional: If the right wing doesn’t yet completely control the American judiciary yet, it’s not for lack of trying. See, for example, http://www.savethecourt.org/site/c.mwK0JbNTJrF/b.960599/k.5FAC/Right_Wing_and_the_Court.htm. The balance between partisan loyalty and academic or professional eminence among Republican nominees at all levels has shifted drastically since movement conservatism came to power with Reagan. Not to mention their disgusting habit of choosing the youngest possible nominees (eg. Clarence Thomas), to guarantee their long tenure.

Orin: You seem like a thoughtful and civil person, so I sincerely hope you won’t take offense. But your suggestion that everyone on both sides is in good faith is not merely preposterous, it is utterly preposterous. The most obvious example is the invasion of Iraq, which was based not on good-faith misunderstandings but on plain lies. But then, the entire Bush administration is one long lie: if you examine his campaign promises in 2000 and compare them with his actual proposals once in office, you find not merely occasional minor deviations but wholesale disregard. He promised to govern from the center and he governed with extreme, unprecedented partisanship.

Meanwhile, his apologists, from Limbaugh to Fox to the Weekly Standard to Free Republic, simply do not adhere to customary standards of evidence and inference. They shout, sneer, and blacklist. They are as bad as Stalinists; but while there are perhaps two dozen Stalinists left in the United States, the right wing effectively dominates American politics.

Please, Orin, a little moral seriousness.

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functional 01.27.08 at 8:28 pm

Geo — so you’re backing up your ignorant assessment of the judiciary by citing the ludicrously biased website of People for the American Way? I would link to a Free Republic site in response, but that would be just a joke on my part, whereas you seem to think you’ve made a serious point.

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Russell L. Carter 01.27.08 at 8:32 pm

“The Court is actually quite evenly divided. When I was clerking, in 2003-2004, the more liberal Justices clearly had the upper hand; last term, the more conservative Justices tended to have the needed votes. I expect that this Term the votes will generaly line up in a liberal direction. But on the whole, the current Supreme Court is a remarkably centrist institution.”

You’re relying on the unstated assumption that you know where “The Center” is actually located. I happen to think that (and my opinion is certainly as well founded as yours, in my opinion) that while you do appear to be quite reasonable, your implied position of “The Center” is actually quite far to the right. Perhaps you place it where you do because most of your informal internet presence is located in the midst of a pack of raving right wing loons. Then Kennedy’s medieval patronizing treatment of women doesn’t seem so erroneous. I mean, you must think he’s in the center.

Right?

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Russell L. Carter 01.27.08 at 9:13 pm

Fascinating.

functional: none of the people on either side argue in good faith.

orin: everybody on both sides (aside from psychos) argues in good faith.

Can’t you guys your get story straight?

I have come to believe that right wingers *are* arguing in good faith. It’s just that their underlying moral philosophy is completely broken. Situations like the present US have arisen many many times in history, and sadly I’m not aware of any where the schism was repaired by talking. (Could be that my grasp of history is deficient) And this is the problem with Cass Sunstein’s thesis: the problem here isn’t remotely associated with new (bad) communication modes spontaneously generated by the internet; the problem is that a powerful political faction has gone seriously awry in a classic way, and human beings have not yet developed an effective means of repairing the dysfunction without a lot of damage. So we fight. Let’s keep it to the internets, I say.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.27.08 at 11:16 pm

Good faith is highly overvalued. If someone supports white supremacy, it doesn’t matter whether they do it in good faith or not. If someone lies to get us into war with Iraq, it doesn’t matter whether they believe in good faith that what they are doing is right. What we have to deal with as a first-order matter of politics is that there are people who want and do these things, not why they want and do these things.

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functional 01.27.08 at 11:21 pm

Russell — First, Orin and I are not the same person, so there’s no need for us to be consistent with each other. Second, I never said that all people argue in bad faith. Some people do argue in bad faith, of course, but I would never cherry-pick a stupid argument from Crooked Timber and claim that it represents all of the left.

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Seth Finkelstein 01.27.08 at 11:32 pm

A sadly not-so-hypothetical question on center vs radicals: Suppose half the court came to the conclusion that torture would be Constitutionally permissible against anyone the President declared an unlawful combatant, and “Such damage must rise to the level of death, organ failure, or the permanent impairment of a significant body function” before it is illegal. The other half of the court says that’s a barbaric affront to the very nature of civilization itself.

1) Are the conservatives being reasonable by staking out a moderate position between no torture at all and torturing someone to death?

2) Is this court “in the center”, because half will permit torture and half won’t?

3) Are the liberals being extremist because they won’t countenance any torture at all?

I really wish this were an absurd scenario. I think it says something about our politics that it isn’t.

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geo 01.27.08 at 11:42 pm

Functional: Are you sure you’re not equating “ludicrously biased” with “harshly critical of the Bush administration”? Save the Courts argues using facts and reasoning; Free Republic mainly uses slogans and venom. Can you specify what you found inaccurate or tendentious about the posts on Save the Court? And of course, they’re hardly the only possible sources for the claim that the Reagan and Bush administrations emphasized ideology over competence to an unprecedented degree in judicial and other appointments.

Rich and Russell: Yes, in an ultimate sense, everyone is in good faith, if that means believing that their reasons are good ones, or no one is, if it means being completely objective and disinterested. But short of the ultimate sense, there are people who actually listen to the other side, who try to figure out how the world looks to the other side, who seek out the best possible arguments for the other side and respond to those rather than to the weakest ones,
and then there are people who don’t let their legislators from the opposition party discuss proposed legislation, who pass shady legislation in the middle of the night, who vow not to bring legislation up for a vote unless it is supported by “a majority of the Majority [party],” who bully and misrepresent their interlocutors on talk radio, etc., etc.

Distinctions aren’t metaphysical; they’re practical.

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functional 01.28.08 at 1:00 am

Functional: Are you sure you’re not equating “ludicrously biased” with “harshly critical of the Bush administration”? Save the Courts argues using facts and reasoning; Free Republic mainly uses slogans and venom.

OK, then, the Heritage Foundation. Whenever they write about judges, they use a lot of facts and reasoning. Still, I think that even as a conservative, I’d have enough sense not to cite a Heritage Foundation report when asked by a liberal to prove that liberal judges are indeed running rampant over democratic values.

Can you specify what you found inaccurate or tendentious about the posts on Save the Court?

Easily, but why should I spend several hours trying to educate some anonymous partisan as to why People for the American Way isn’t the most unbiased source of information as to whether appellate judges are doing a good job? PFAW’s one and only criteria, in each and every case, is whether a liberal result was reached. Thus, for example, if a Bush appointee ever ruled in a single case against a plaintiff claiming employment discrimination, they’ll trumpet it as “Bush Appointee Favors Corporations Over the Little Guy,” regardless of the merits of the particular case.

If you can’t see why this sort of stuff is biased, then you’re living proof of why it’s a bad idea to live in an echo chamber.

And of course, they’re hardly the only possible sources for the claim that the Reagan and Bush administrations emphasized ideology over competence to an unprecedented degree in judicial and other appointments.

That’s stupid and unsupportable. McConnell and Sutton (two representative Bush appellate appointees) are ideological while Reinhardt (a Carter appointee) is just competent? It is to laugh.

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Orin Kerr 01.28.08 at 1:02 am

Seth,

What law are the Justices interpreting in your hypothetical? Without knowing that, it’s hard to understand what your hypothetical is asking, and impossible to connect your choices to any particular political valence. Or so it seems to me.

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Bruce Baugh 01.28.08 at 1:15 am

Orin, the idea that supreme executive authority to remove and torture people has to be considered in the light of particular legislation is itself very much part of the problem.

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geo 01.28.08 at 1:45 am

Functional:

Are you suggesting that the Heritage Foundation is ludicrously biased? If your hypothetical liberal said that it was, you’d ask for some evidence. That’s why I asked you for evidence about Save the Court. The burden of evidence is on someone — in this case you — who tries to discredit a finding — in this case, that Bush administration judicial appointments have been wildly partisan — by alleging bias rather than by rebutting it.

But let’s leave Save the Court aside. Consider merely the prima facie evidence. 1) The Bush administration immediately transferred the function of certifying judicial nominees from the relatively nonpartisan American Bar Association to the extremely partisan Federalist Society. 2) During the first three years of the Bush Administration, the percentage of Republicans in the federal judiciary increased from 46 percent to 57 percent. 3) Ten percent of the Bush nominees were in their thirties or forties — highly unusual and obviously intended to minimize the appointments open to the liberal successors. 4) Has there ever been such a parade of extremists and hacks proposed for the bench as Miguel Estrada, Priscilla Owen, William Pryor, Charles Pickering, Carolyn Kuhl, Janice Rogers Brown, and — for the Supreme Court — Harriet Miers? 5) Cass Sunstein in the American Prospect: “The ideology of recent court appointees seems closer to the Republican Party platform than to the United States Constitution.” (Quoted from memory.) And all this is off the top of my head — didn’t require the “several hours” that you scorn to waste on me.

Tossing around terms like “ignorance,” “stupid,” “insupportable,” and “to laugh” won’t cut it, my man.

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SG 01.28.08 at 1:54 am

No, SG, racism runs through the whole Japanese culture. You don’t have to expose yourself to it THAT deeply to notice.

Brett, not only are your examples bullshit at the level of trivial Daily Mail cliche, but saying something like “this whole culture is racist” is both contradictory and bullshit. Maybe you need to try looking at the actual, modern, real Japan rather than the wartime Japan of your imagination before you start saying stupid (and, funnily enough, racist) things like “all japanese are racist”. Especially given your own eager, fact-insensitive quest to prove that all “africans” just came down from the trees.

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Thomas 01.28.08 at 2:08 am

bruce, come on man, not even John Yoo thinks that the legislation is totally irrelevant to the question. What kind of extremist are you?

orin, don’t you see where you are? Back away slowly.

We’re more than 140 posts in, and, with about a half dozen exceptions, we might as well have been reading John again and again. I think Sunstein’s book says something about that. It’s a bit late, but I suppose not too late to point out that, contrary to the John’s suggestion, one of the arguments Sunstein makes is that the sort of thing we see at LGF and the sort of thing we see here have very little to do with what people “really think.” The same mechanism that leads to the most extreme posts at Free Republic leads to the confident dismissals of Sunstein’s book here by a bunch of anonymous (and not-so-anonymous) morons.

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jdmaistre 01.28.08 at 2:10 am

So if we follow Quiggin’s advice, it’s best to avoid discussing issues with the conservative-right and just continue cussing them out in liberal-left internet enclaves, thus fulfilling–or reinforcing–Sunstein’s enclave theory?

Now I’d have to credit both Quiggin and Sunstein with some insight into this great but proximate divide. Like seek like for reinforcement and succor in enclaves; others feel all-too-easy access to opposing world-views but stinging slaps on their faces.

But there’ve been some attempts at actual engagement (and a few interesting sites and links provided) in this discussion, though no small amount of moral and political preening, strutting, and stage-thundering from the Jacobin Mountain.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.28.08 at 2:41 am

If only the typical comment thread here could be populated by people who write like John Quiggin again and again, rather than by conservative trolls who call people morons.

John Q.’s point was really pretty simple. Sunstein wrote that people would only seek their existing views, and become segregated. While in fact everyone here is regularly exposed to conservative views, and can see how contemptible they are. That isn’t some generality about how everyone finds everyone else’s views comtemptible. Viewed through any kind of civilized norms, the torture-supporting, warmongering, racist, theocracy-friendly U.S. conservatives — which is to say, all of them — really are contemptible.

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Thomas 01.28.08 at 2:57 am

Well, rich, I find myself wondering why Sunstein bothered to write his book, given how easy it is for you (and so many others) to refute it! How did Sunstein miss the obvious? Perhaps he’s not as clever as you.

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functional 01.28.08 at 3:14 am

You’re doing a good job of parroting a few left-wing talking points and meaningless factoids. But you’re still miles away from even pretending to defend the original assertion, which was that the “least thoughtful” conservatives control the entire judicial branch. (You’re basically claiming that people like McConnell or Kozinski or Posner or Wilkinson are the “least thoughtful” people around, which is just idiotic whether you like their politics or not).

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Brett Bellmore 01.28.08 at 3:23 am

SG, I did NOT say, “All Japanese are racist”. (Didn’t say all Africans just came down from the trees, either; They came down from the trees at the same time as the rest of us, of course.) I really get tired of this whole business of attributing to me things I never said, just because they better fit your image of me than my actual utterances. What I said was that racism runs all through their culture. Not quite the same thing. Kinda like no point in my home state of Michigan is more than 5 miles from water, but the entire state isn’t under water.

Oh, enjoy this site dedicated to documenting circa WWII Japanese discrimination: http://www.debito.org/misawaexclusions.html

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Russell L. Carter 01.28.08 at 3:37 am

A bit of reflection produces this:

“You’re doing a good job of parroting a few leftright-wing talking points and meaningless factoids.”

Fixed, you’re welcome.

For those who derive pleasure from voyeuring vacuous ideology transformed into religion I hereby direct you to the candidate endorsement posts on Eugene Volokh’s (“I think the government should torture people before it kills them”) site. The whole crew shows up, including Orin.

Oops, I violated Sunstein’s thesis.

And I don’t even have to spoon out my eyeballs and stomp those suckers flat.

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geo 01.28.08 at 3:44 am

Functional:

“Meaningless” — really? But I think I see where our disagreement is coming from, so let me backtrack and reformulate. It all started when Orin said, approximately, that both left and right were equally sincere and thoughtful, with a roughly equal admixture of insincerity and thoughtlessness. In other words, some fanatics on both sides, but no fundamental difference. In reply, I pointed out that while the (comparatively few) thoughtless people on the left have absolutely no political influence, the (far more numerous) thoughtless people on the right have enormous political influence, since they are perfectly aligned with (at least, that’s how I should have put it) the party that until recently controlled the executive and legislative branches and were on their way to controlling the judiciary by the extremely, unrelievedly partisan nature of their judicial appointments. They have not, as you correctly point out, finished the job.

And as you also correctly point out, not all conservative judges are thoughtless hacks. I greatly respect Posner’s intelligence, for example, even if not his moral imagination.

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Seth Finkelstein 01.28.08 at 4:44 am

Regarding “What law are the Justices interpreting in your hypothetical? Without knowing that, it’s hard to understand what your hypothetical is asking …”

Umm, it’s a hypothetical example, hence it’s a hypothetical law. The idea is to illustrate that a mix of sane and insane people can readily be rhetorically presented as some sort of sober moderation.

Any specific example can be nibbled to death by ducks, as the saying goes. It’s a careless hack who would write something like “we’re approving torture because we can”. I think Bush v. Gore is the classic example there (of alleged judicial reasoning that lined up exactly with political expediency).

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SG 01.28.08 at 8:34 am

well Brett, I’m sure that the distinction between “runs all through their culture” and “all of them are racist” is very great. How, precisely, can a Japaense person be Japanese, subscribing to a culture which is racist “all through”, and not themselves be racist? The distinction is pretty weak, and you’re only making it so you can avoid the logical trap of your original statement – “all Japanese are racist” is a racist statement.

Backing it up with an example of racism from a hostess bar near a US marine base is pretty weak too. So when you said “all through” Japanese culture, did you mean to restrict your statement to cases of the sex industry? Cases where Japanese business people are trying to protect themselves from the chaos US marines cause in the night-life industry? Or perhaps in inimitable Bellmore style you think that the sex industry represents the entirety of Japanese culture?

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functional 01.28.08 at 1:49 pm

by the extremely, unrelievedly partisan nature of their judicial appointments.

No one thinks this except for extreme partisans who get all of their information from an echo chamber in which activist groups wildly exaggerate every perceived “wrong” decision by any Bush judge. The fact that you aren’t aware of this echo chamber just confirms the echo chamber’s power.

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SG 01.28.08 at 2:10 pm

The fact that you aren’t aware of this echo chamber just confirms the echo chamber’s power.

or alternatively, “if you don’t agree with me, you’re wrong”.

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functional 01.28.08 at 2:39 pm

No, it’s “if you’re saying things that can be supported, if at all, only by reference to the most patently biased sources of information, then you should consider whether you’re the one living in an echo chamber.”

As far as I’ve seen, no one around here has enough basic self-awareness to even think about that point.

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Righteous Bubba 01.28.08 at 3:33 pm

No one thinks this except for extreme partisans

Also True Scotsmen.

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Martin James 01.28.08 at 4:38 pm

Rich,

“Viewed through any kind of civilized norms…”

This is hyperbole.

I will try to be less so. MANY civilized civilizations have been warmongering, some racist, a few even real live theocracies.

And only a very, very few have had norms that were neither torture-supporting nor warmongering nor racist nor theocracy-friendly. I mean by those standards, the chamber of civilizations is so small you can’t even get an echo.

Would you give me partial credit if I agreed with a re-phrased version like

“Those of us that believe that ideals such as peace, racial equality, government free of religious superstition, and the progress of universal human rights find the Bush Administration contemptible”?

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Rich Puchalsky 01.28.08 at 5:52 pm

No, I’m not willing to go that far, Martin James. When I referred to civilized norms, I meant *contemporary* civilized norms. Sure, there have been any number of civilizations in history that were torturing, warmongering, racist, theocratic etc. that still were great civilizations of their time. But we don’t have to pretend that the situation hasn’t changed. The acceptance of standards of human rights is now so widespread that the nations whose ruling regimes are warmongering, racist, torturing, or theocratic can no longer be held to be fully civilized.

People should really read what John Quiggin wrote and not get distracted by the trolls. People from all over the world read the English-language part of the Internet, and those people have a very high degree of buy-in to some form of human rights. The GOP is forthrightly against human rights — remember the recent candidate debate for the Presidential primary at which everyone cheered when the candidates promised to double Guantanimo? So of course there is “polarization”; polarization of the world against a corrupt ideology that serves a rogue regime.

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Martin James 01.28.08 at 6:22 pm

On my optimistic days I agree with you. On my reality-based days I think “contemporary civilized norms” have both a short half-life and limited cultural reach.

In the long run we’re all barbarians.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.28.08 at 8:06 pm

I think that my statement about norms can be reasonably said to be normative. Maybe in the long run those norms won’t hold. But right now, at this moment, they do. Not in the sense that civilized countries everywhere always act according to them, but in the sense that people from civilized countries everywhere have a very wide range of agreement on them as norms.

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Martin James 01.28.08 at 8:28 pm

Rich,

I think you are right, but I’d say its more a close majority than a very wide range of agreement. For example, the world values survey shows a pretty broad range of values on gender equality, secularism vs. religion etc.

But if you are right that there is a broad consensus that norms are being violated, then I think you would have to conclude that the enforcement of norms by the people of civilized countries is fairly impotent.

In other words, you have to concede that the majority you refer to is either not that committed to enforcing its norms or it is fairly powerless.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.28.08 at 10:47 pm

Dude, what are people going to do? The norms are being violated by the President of the United States, fully backed by the U.S. military. People have enough trouble taking on rogue states when the state is something like, oh, Somalia. We’re getting into basic political theory here — the grouping of nations, if you imagined each as an individual, is basically an anarchy, and there aren’t any easy norm-enforcing mechanisms.

That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. This thread is about why Internet polarization occurs. If you read on the Internet the messages of a bunch of torturers who were saying how they should kill even more people, you’d be disgusted by them even if you couldn’t immediately do anything about it.

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Orin Kerr 01.29.08 at 2:50 am

Geo writes:

Orin: You seem like a thoughtful and civil person, so I sincerely hope you won’t take offense. But your suggestion that everyone on both sides is in good faith is not merely preposterous, it is utterly preposterous.

I absolutely agree that such a position would be utterly preposterous. Fortunately I have not taken such a position.

Anyway, this is an interesting thread — I may try blogging about these issues over at the VC.

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geo 01.29.08 at 4:59 am

Oh, and I would emphasize one important point of disagreement with ‘functional’: I think “good faith” disagreement is not only possible, but near universal. Everyone is very sure that they are correct when it comes to these topics. I think some of these perspectives are analytically weak and myopic, but I don’t doubt the god faith of those who hold them,

Orin, #124, in toto.

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Orin Kerr 01.29.08 at 7:19 am

Ah, my apologies for the misunderstanding. I meant to be referring specifically to the issue Functional was discussing. Functional had written that “There is no good-faith case for claiming that the judicial branch of government here is completely controlled by conservatives in the first place.” In my response, I argued that actually good faith was near universal “when it comes to these topics,” but I wasn’t at all clear that I was placing that limitation on it. So just to be clear, I think that those who make claims about who controls the courts are almost always acting in good faith; I didn’t mean to suggest that all people everywhere make statements in good faith. My apologies for the unclear writing.

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Farren 01.29.08 at 10:07 am

Re: Functional

I’m not America. I’m a left-liberal South African. But I do have an interest in America’s politics since it still has an cultural/economic imperial role in the world (albeit a declining one). And I read both Democratic Underground and Free Republic fairly regularly along with other sites to gauge the spectrum of US political opinions.

And the comparison is simply nuts. The _presence_ of hysterical and extreme views on DU does not equate to a similar _proportion_ of views, nor the reception they receive from other members of the same site. Without question, DU has a massively greater diversity of views and far more members willing to argue for measured responses and take radically differing positions on many issues.

Bar one or two issues, Free Republic posters seem to march in lockstep and disagreement is largely centered around exactly how evil those evil libruls are and whether Americas internal and external enemies, real and imagined, should be shot, tried for treason or silenced by more civilised means (the Free Republic version of a “centrist”).

Functionals post buys into the myth of “balance” that appears to have successfully permeated mainstream American political dialog. But there is no balance between the self-defined “right” and self-defined “left/liberal/progressives” in the USA. 80% of the actual, healthy debate, discussion and evolution of ideas is happening in the latter camp while the former only appears to be evolving the _tactics_ which it uses to foist the politics of hate, exclusion and exploitation on other Americans and the rest of the world.

Certainly, leftists and progressives should deplore any individual purporting to share their aims that advocates methods like assassination to further their aims. And most do. But being reasonable and civilised in dealing with the incoherent, intolerant and selfish ideas of the American movement conservatives who’s tactics and prescriptions border on fascism, should _not_ equate to acceptance that their bile and venom enjoys some status as some equal but alternative way of running a country (or attempting to run other countries).

Rather, it behooves intelligent, informed and compassionate people to view their ideology with the contempt it deserves and try to bring about its demise through education, honest reporting, demands for accountability and so on.

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Farren 01.29.08 at 10:09 am

Oops, some spelling errors above. Meant to say “I’m not American”

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geo 01.29.08 at 4:21 pm

Well said, farren.

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