Two weeks ago I made a post that was as comprehensively misunderstood, relative to my intent, as anything I have written in quite a while. So let me try again. I meant to assert the following:
1) Sometimes Republicans (conservatives) make loud, radical, extreme ‘philosophical’ claims they don’t really mean. Democrats (liberals), on the other hand, don’t ever really do this.
I was interpreted by some as asserting the following:
2) Invariably, whenever Republicans (conservatives) seem to say something crazy or radical, they don’t mean it. They are always moderates about everything. In fact, they are liberals. We can ignore any appearances to the contrary.
Well, I for sure didn’t mean 2. Crikey.
In general, the way to keep 1 clear of 2 is by applications of ‘some’, and appropriate cognates. (I’m saying that sometimes Republicans/conservatives do something that Democrats/liberals never do, not that Republicans/conservatives never don’t do this thing that Democrats/liberals never do.) It may be that my original post was insufficiently slathered with ‘some’. For present post purposes, if I should ever seem to be saying 2), add ‘some’ until it turns into some variant on 1). On we go.
Let me provide an example of the truth of 1 in action: Rick Perry gets into the race, saying he wants ‘government to be as inconsequential as possible’. So Perry is taking anarchism as his regulative ideal. But, of course, he isn’t. He so obviously isn’t an anarchist that it’s obviously a losing rhetorical strategy to paint him as an anarchist. Nevertheless, he did, literally, advocate anarchism, at the level of philosophical principle. If it’s true not just that ideas have consequences but that ideas have implications, then it’s fair to say that, by implication of his ideas, Perry is an anarchist. (Of course he’s not.)
Nor is Perry a minarchist. Nor is he plausibly an advocate of Thoreau-style Civil Disobedience. It is not plausible that Perry actually believes anything like ‘that government is best that governs least’. So it is not plausible to say that his actual statement is a sound-bite simplification of his philosophy.
Let me provide an example of the asymmetry between conservatives and liberals: if Barack Obama had run for office saying ‘government must control everyone’s lives, down to the last, least detail,’ he wouldn’t have won the Democratic nomination, much less the Presidency. Because everyone would have thought he was some sort of communist, or at least a socialist. And, presumably, they would have been right to think that, if he had said that. It is not the case that Democrats/liberals emit wildly inaccurate articulations of their own philosophical positions/principles. If any liberal says ‘we need communism now’ that person would be presumed to be a communist. Whereas when Perry advocates anarchy, he is not thought to be advocating anarchy.
Now let me swat away some irrelevant objections. Of course it is possible to find examples of Perry saying things that he probably means. If he says he wants to order a pizza, he probably wants to order a pizza. If he says he wants to lower taxes, he wants to lower taxes. If he says he would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned (I don’t know whether he has said this) there is a pretty good chance that he would, if elected, nominate Supreme Court Justices who would increase the likelihood that Roe v. Wade be overturned at some point in the future. But sometimes – pretty often, actually – Perry says stuff that he clearly doesn’t mean, at the philosophical level, in the sense that he has no intention – or desire – to realize, in actually existing actuality, the implications of that particular idea. That’s because Perry is a conservative, and that’s what conservatives do. Unlike liberals.
And of course Democrats/liberals sometimes say things they don’t mean. Obviously Democratic politicians are politicians. But they do not exhibit this very distinctive sort of cognitive dissonance, at the ‘philosophical’ level, that pretty much all Republicans/conservatives exhibit. Conservatives sometimes say extreme ‘philosophical’ things that, in an ‘operational’ sense, they don’t mean. Liberals pretty much never do this.
This raises two puzzles. First, why does it work this way, rhetorically? Second, what does Rick Perry – and his target audience – really believe?
In my previous post I advanced some tentative hypotheses. But let’s just stop here for now. Do you agree, dear reader, that there is an asymmetry between Republicans (conservatives) and Democrats (liberals) exemplified by Rick Perry saying things like ‘we want to make government as inconsequential to the lives of ordinary citizens as possible’, which he doesn’t remotely believe. Whereas it is not the case that liberals adopt postures of philosophical extremism, merely for rhetorical effect?