Sunday, January 17, 2010

Obama And the Conservatives

So I tend to drop in on Carolina basketball discussion boards more frequently than I really should. And at Inside Carolina, where I go most often, there's an off-topic board that is often amusing and informative. There are quite a few smart and interesting posters there, and I find that it's frequently worth my while to see what they have to say. Politics is a common topic, and though the majority of posters seem to be liberals or centrists, IC is one of the few places I frequent where I do encounter fairly adamant conservatives.

And let me tell you, those folks do not like Obama.

And let me tell you something else while I'm at it: they're basically delusional.

The problem, perhaps unsurprisingly, is largely one of emphasis. There are risks associated with health care reform, of course, and there are benefits. And the conservatives radically and consistently minimize the benefits and exaggerate the risks. And so on with every similar thing. Anything complicated or unclear enough to be spun--i.e. just about everything in politics and policy--will be spun by them to the president's detriment.

Obama is, as you well know, an inspiring speaker. So what's the conservatives' take? He's only an inspiring speaker--all talk, no...anything else. The strong suggestion is: no brains. Demonstrably false, but that's the view. Or, when pushed to the wall on this, they might admit that he's intelligent...but, of course, it's at best a low cunning, at worst an outright evil intelligence. And so on. Inspiring rhetoric, you see, was good when Reagan did it, bad when Obama does. And in Reagan's case it was no vice and no sign of any other defect (despite the man's patent lack of notable smarts). Obama, however, is judged by different rules.

When all else fails, they just make up and attribute to him hidden (and reprehensible) motives and intentions. Currently, there is a thread in which they defend Rush Limbaugh's recent assertion that Obama is sending aid to Haiti for political reasons. Because the Haiti lobby is so powerful in D.C., I suppose... (Of course nobody who takes Limbaugh seriously is worth talking to...so I suppose it's really my fault for allowing myself to get dragged into such discussions.)

And not so long ago, there was a thread in which the same folks argued that Obama was now entirely responsible for whatever happened in Afghanistan, and that no blame could henceforth be attributed to Bush. Of course such a claim is indefensible, but that didn't keep them from defending it for ten pages or so, in a genuinely astonishing display of tenacity. I suppose Truman was solely responsible for winning WWII...

Sadly, the irrationality in play in these discussions is largely avoidable irrationality--largely a matter of willfully ignoring facts, spinning evidence, and resisting obvious arguments. These folks do not like Mr. Obama, and they've hardened their hearts against him. Consequently, it really doesn't matter what he does--everything will be interpreted in such a way as to make him seem like a terrible person, and each of his policies is--almost by definition--not only indefensible but intentionally harmful to the country.

It's a tragic waste of the human spirit, actually. Here is a fairly large number of people, some of them intelligent (some of them not so...) who sit around spinning loony fantasies about the evil heart of the president--a president who is obviously a smart and decent sort, committed to bipartisanship.

One of their favorite riffs, of course, involves a claim of equivalence between conservatives' hatred of Obama and liberals' hatred of Bush. Conservatives hated Obama before he ever entered office, and liberals' hatred of Bush was hard-earned and long coming...but, again, reasoning about the matter is just not on.

It's sobering to watch a group of people become so unreasonable about something, dragging each other further and further down into the dark waters of group think. It'd certainly be interesting to know how widespread such lunacy is. I suppose democracy has always faced this kind of challenge, but I have to say that it shakes my faith a bit. I'd like to find a big a patch of common ground as I can with conservatives, but it certainly seems that any proffered hand will be slapped away.

Being a liberal, of course, I'm inclined to be too open-minded to take my own side in an argument, but fortunately I have the Limbaugh criterion as one way to keep me from falling into a vortex of self-doubt: if x takes the claims of Rush Limbaugh seriously, then I needn't take the claims of x seriously. Limbaugh provides such a bright, clear case of irrationality and mercenary charlatanism that I reckon I can use him as a clear touchstone for dividing people into the folks I should strive to take seriously and the ones I can dismiss without remainder.

But seriously: how far out of touch do you have to be before Rush Limbaugh starts sounding like a sensible person? I mean, doesn't your bullshit detector have to be completely broken before that guy starts sounding reasonable? But how could someone so utterly incapable of distinguishing bullshit from non-bullshit make it through the day? How is it that they aren't perpetually buying Brooklyn Bridges? The answer, it seems, is, again, that it's not a lack of intellectual horsepower that is their real problem, but a lack of objectivity. I'm sure that these people can recognize bullshit in their daily interactions, when something important to them is at stake. Their suspension of their reasoning powers in political discussions is, I'll bet, largely willing. If Limbaugh started giving financial advice, my guess is that the dittoheads would suddenly get a lot better at separating sense from nonsense...though the recent case of Glenn Beck and gold may show that I'm wrong about this...

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