Friday, July 28, 2006

What Can We Do?

So, I'm cutting out any attempt at an erudite and inspiring preface here and just cutting to the chase: what can we do?

The Bush administration is a disaster--far worse, far more dishonest, far more incompetent than even I suspected back in the campaign days of 1999...and I suspected that they would be pretty bad. The Democrats are, well, the Democrats, and they aren't exactly providing inspired leadership for the loyal opposition.

So. The country is in trouble. As is so often the case, America being in trouble means that the world is in trouble.

But what do we do?

Sitting around enumerating and bemoaning the vices of the Bush administration does not seem to be improving the situation. Under some conditions it might, I suppose, but it doesn't seem to be working now.

The Bush administration has, in effect, employed the Big Blunder strategy: they've screwed up so badly and so often that we hardly notice individual errors any more. Any one of their monumental screw-ups might have brought outrage under an ordinary administration, but there are just too many of them for each one to provoke anything like the appropriate level of anger.

So we sit around, numbly, dumbly, watching the slow-moting train wreck unfold, too worn out by remonstration to to even complain with appropriate vigor.

So what do we do?

Why are there no demonstrations, one wonders? Because the cause is too diffuse, too big? It seems like the only thing that can draw people out in impressive numbers is something bone-headedly simplistic like withdraw the troops now! or war is bad!

Perhaps what's needed is a demonstration to protest the overall, pervasive, multifarious failure of this administration--the dishonesty and corruption, the mismanagement and incompetence, the stupidity and arrogance. A million civil but angry people on the Mall drawing attention to and protesting the fact that this administration is, in virtually all important ways, an abject failure might--just maybe--have some effect.

Though I think we should do that, it's hard for me to believe that it should be at the top of the list.

Maybe the only other thing there really is to do is get out and work for (sigh) Democratic candidates. I don't know.

But blogging the disaster obviously isn't doing the trick.


Blogger Jim said...

"Maybe the only other thing there really is to do is get out and work for (sigh) Democratic candidates."

I can't think of any other option. You can't think of any other option. It is clear that Democratic control of Congress can only help matters. So, it's time to get to work getting Democrats elected.

The other things to do are:
1) Inject some spine into the entrenched Democrats -- or replace them. This is very much what the Lamont-Lieberman race is about.

2) Inject some spine into those Republicans (if any) who can be swayed away from the Bush-Rove machine.

3) Inject some spine into the media to point out what is true, rather than he said/she said.

Numbers 1 through 3 require political action, letters to senators and reps, letters to the editor, attending political events and protests, as well as blogging and talking to friends, neighbors, co-workers, and, yes, even strangers.

And, if you can figure out a way to energize mass demonstrations, then go for it!

9:07 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Sometimes, people have heard the arguments and have come to different conclusions. Sometimes, it's simply not a question of rhetoric, technique, or not yelling loud enough.

Democracy sucks.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize I'm way, way in the minority on this, but I don't think the Democrats are actually that bad. They're not great, by any means, but I think they're doing about as well as can be expected given their options. There's only so many things a party that's completely out of power can do, and they're completely out of power because Karl Rove's been masterful thusfar at making it seem like each disaster that's befallen America in the past 6 years is an argument for more Bush leadership, not less.

I think that line of thinking hit its terminus after Katrina, but we haven't had a major election since then. I'd bet the farm that the Republicans are gonna take some major, major hits this fall, and that a Democratic congress is gonna nail Bush's ass to the wall... in part because if that doesn't happen, I have grave reservations about the future of this country.

And Tom, I'd have a lot more faith in your "well, we're just coming to different conclusions" line if there was any evidence at all that people who're still pro-Bush at this point are having any kind of rational debate. As it is, the vast majority of what I see coming from Bush supporters - and I include you in this group, based on the exchanges we've had - is a desperate struggle to come up with any and all reasons why the other guy is (maybe, possibly, if you take some wild starting positions as a given and squint real hard) worse. That's not reasoned consideration, that's using the corpse of reasoned consideration as a cover for a power grab.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WS could start accepting advertisements on Philosoraptor and donate the revenue to causes he supports.

4:01 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Or, Chris, I could say that those who think things can't get any worse than Bush have no imagination.

I really can't engage a characterization of my arguments, can I? Anything that starts (and usually ends) with "your arguments are bad and anyone who doesn't agree with me is patently irrational" is a conversation killer.

If you want to believe it's Rove's mastery of propaganda and not the underlying realities that drive the democracy, then just admit that democracy doesn't work, because there will always be a Rove or an Atwater or a Carville or a Dick Morris who's substantially better than whatever the other side has.

Take a poke around the internet for Isocrates, who was a contemporary of Plato. Very interesting fellow.

"And yet how can we praise or tolerate a government which has in the past been the cause of so many evils and which is now year by year ever drifting on from bad to worse? And how can we escape the fear that if we continue to progress after this fashion we may finally run aground on rocks more perilous than those which at that time loomed before us?"

4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, gosh, Socrates, really? Never heard of him, thank goodness I've got your condescension to rain down upon me and inform my ignorant little head. But, in all seriousness, are you really, honestly accusing those of us who don't like GWB of trying to undermine democracy wholesale? Golly, way to prove that you're a fan of reasoned debate, and not just "rhetoric, technique, [and] yelling loud enough."

Can you engage in a characterization of your arguments? Sure, you can just point to one or (preferably) more instances of you arguing something other than what I've accused you of. Doing a quick google search of your comments here on this blog, however, tends to paint a picture of you as not much more than a Bush apologist. And given that that's the case, I don't appear to have much of a possibility of having a reasonable conversation with you, so me using a "conversation killer" is not really an issue here.

As for what drives a democracy, I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that both "underlying realities" and propaganda influence elections, and that it's both A) bad, and B) not historically unheard of for propaganda to be the deciding factor. If that leads you to deride me as someone who just plain hates democracy (and freedom, etc.) then so be it - I'll keep faith with Sir Winston that democracy is the worst form of government known to man, save all the others, and leave it at that.

6:24 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I was referring to Isocrates, Chris, who is not well-known. I try to keep my condescencion to a minimum. (Altho on some days, I deserve a Good Conduct Medal if not a Purple Heart.)

I am a Bush apologist on the whole, not because I think he's perfect, but because I (think I) see how much worse things could be. However, the apologies I make are on the whole a product of my original thought, with the occasional reference to a fact or two that can't be found in the NYT or on Kevin Drum's blog.

But an apologist can't be talked with reasonably, you indicate. OK, if you say so. I feel that way about polemicists, who are the majority here, but I try anyway.

No, I don't deride you as a democracy-hater, or deride you as anything else. (Despite the fact you deride me as little more than a Bush apologist.)

I'm simply questioning the meme that the political landscape of the US at this time is a result of Karl Rove's sophistic brilliance.

I mean, he's simply not that good; one of the universal points of agreement between left and right is that the Bush administration has been abominable at PR. If this is all due to Rove, then I share your "grave reservations about the future of this country," and further about the nature of democracy itself.

On which Isocrates has some very interesting and relevant points. I'm not talking about Bush at all really, Chris, in fact, I'm trying to take a step back from recreating the partisan dance (or combat) done everywhere else on the internet, and inquire about the nature of things together.

8:50 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, we seem to face at least two separate but related problems:

1. The badness of the administration


2. It's ability to persuade people

These two things together form a toxic combination, but I was really thinking about 1 rather than 2. Rove is a fiendishly clever manipulator, but if not for 1 he wouldn't be that dangerous.

Things could be worse, of course...they could always be worse. They could even be worse with a better president--Gore, say.

The point is that it isn't likely. Not even remotely. Recognizing that things could be worse doesn't provide reasonable grounds on which to defend someone who made things far, far worse than almost anyone else was likely to have made them. If I hire an obviously sub-par doctor to remove a splinter, instead of the perfectly reputable doctor next door, and, through dishonesty and incompetence the first doctor cripples me, it's no defense of him to point out that things could be worse. Sure, I could be dead, but by rights I *should* be perfectly healthy. Sure the reputable doctor *might* have killed me, but the odds of it are so low as to not warrant consideration.

Bush may not be the worst possible president, and he may not have done the worst possible job...but those aren't grounds for defending him.

So back to the original subject: given that he IS a disaster, what do we do about it?

9:18 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

WS comments "So back to the original subject: given that he IS a disaster, what do we do about it?"

OK, here's a pop quiz.

***Since Bush took office***

A) In trying to tell people how you feel about specific failures of the Bush administration:

1) How many letters to the editor have you sent to:

a) Your local paper(s)
b) Local TV news programs
c) National publications
d) National TV news programs

2) How many times have you tried to call into:
a) Local radio shows
b) National radio shows
c) Any TV show
d) Any on-line forum with a locally or nationally noted figure

3) How many times have you tried to persuade to your views:
a) Family members
b) Friends
c) Neighbors
d) Casual acquaintances
e) Strangers

4) How many times have you contacted:
a) Your US Representative
b) Your US Senator
c) Your *other* US Senator
d) Prominent local political figures (From Governor down to Mayor)

5) How many times have you worked a phone bank (or distributed flyers, or held a sign on a street-corner, or gathered petition signatures) for:
a) A candidate you felt you could support
b) An organization you felt you support

6) How many times have you decided that, although a candidate (or organization) does not hold with your views on one or two matters you consider to be important, they hold your views on enough other matters that you will give them money (or other support) anyway?

(For me, the ACLU fits this bill. They interpret the 2nd amendment far more narrowly than the rest of the Constitution. But, since they are the most effective group out there trying to protect most of our rights, they get my support anyway.)

Now, repeat 1) through 6) for:

B) In trying to win support for an alternative course of action

C) In trying to get a particular politician elected

D) In trying to gain acceptance of a politically-active organization.

WS asks:
So what do we do?

I answer:
Any or all of the above. And, yeah, you are not likely to see any direct effect of your efforts. IN fact, your efforts may have no effect at all. But, they might. The more of us who do these things, the more likely we are to succeed.

An example:
Lisa took two of her kids to a Washington, DC, vigil in front of the White House, protesting nuclear testing. The vigil was small, a hundred women at most. Rain poured down. The women felt frustrated and powerless. A few years later, the movement against testing had grown dramatically, and Lisa attended a major march. Benjamin Spock, the famous baby doctor, spoke. He described how he'd come to take a stand, which because of his stature had influenced thousands ... Spock talked briefly about the issues, then mentioned being in DC a few years before and seeing a small group of women marching, with their kids, in the pouring rain. "I thought that if those women were out there," he said, "their cause must be really important." As he described the scene and setting, and how much he was moved, Lisa realized that Spock was referring to her soggy group.

1:14 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Nice work Jim!

You know, blogging may actually be counterproductive, as we all spend less time doing stuff that matters.

I know I do.

7:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I thought Isocrates was a typo; my apologies.

That said, I stand by most of my comment above. You say you see how much worse things could be, but Winston called you out on that down below. In fact, this kind of contrarianism using token arguments seems to be a recurring pattern with you.

For example, in the past you've argued that a lot of the hits Bush is taking on his handling of detainee issues are an inevitable side-effect of Bush making the hard choices... but you've failed to prove, or even make much of an argument, that there's an either/or structure at work, where Bush's stance on civil liberties is a necessary and unavoidable consequence that helps us to dodge a bigger hit.

In fact, we could pile these straw man arguments on all day: maybe some people are supporting Bush because they love small government. (Except that Bush has radically increased the size of government, and there's little evidence that a Democratic president would have been worse, or even as bad.) Maybe some people are supporting Bush because they don't want the country to face a crippling tax burden. (Except there's not much evidence that Democrats want to do much more than move taxes to where they were during Clinton's term, and we did ok with that level of taxes.) Maybe some people are supporting Bush because they want a strong response to the War on Terror. (Except our response under Bush, while aggressive in some respects, as been horribly managed, and at this point in time you'd have a hard argument to make that even the worst-case boogeyman Kerry scenario - cutting and running from Iraq the day he took office - would have been worse than what we've got now in Iraq.)

In fact, the only people left I see standing behind the President are social conservatives whose support of the president hinges more on faith than any kind of reasoned consideration, and WoT hard-liners, who believe Bush is the only guy with the guts to take the war to Iran and Syria. (Which is another kind of blind faith, when you come right to it.)

In short, there's certainly a space for reasonable disagreement between liberals and conservatives - were McCain president right now, I'd probably be unhappy for a whole host of reasons, but I could at least recognize that there's a legitimate issue of difference in judgement involved. But that's not what we've got with GWB, because the problem most people have with Bush isn't ideological in nature, it's all about his extreme lack of competence. And unless Bush supporters start to make some detailed coherent arguments that rise above the level of contrarian sniping or pure dogma, I'll continue to believe so.

As for the Bush admin being bad at PR, that's only half true - they're lousy at PR when it comes to anybody who's not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt to begin with. But within that sphere - which, prior to Katrina probably held a good 50, 55 percent of the country - they're great at hitting the right broad notes (GWB loves freedom, Kerry wants to appease the terrorists). And in the meantime, it's just not that far out to suggest that Rove's actions had a non-negligible effect on the 2004 election.

And as for "inquiring about the nature of things together", I'll just note some confusion as to how you can claim to be "a Bush apologist on the whole" in one paragraph, and then a few lines down claim to be "trying to take a step back from recreating the partisan dance (or combat) done everywhere else." Those would seem to me to be exclusive states.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well said, Chris. I couldn't agree more and certainly couldn't have said it better myself.

Though re: the last para, Tom might be saying that he's a Bush apologist *in general*, trying to be objective *in the particular case at hand*.

7:35 AM  

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