Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Operation No Gloating Revisited

Back in '04 I suggested that if Kerry won, those of us roughly in the leftosphere shouldn't gloat about it. The idea wasn't particularly well-received, but I want to offer it up for your consideration again, anyway.

We all know the situation. The House is probable and the Senate is a real possibility. Now, few sensible people are more outraged than I am by what the Republicans have done in the relatively recent past. Though I'm not a huge fan of the Democrats, it's hard for me to believe that many parties have ever deserved to lose an American election more than the Republicans deserve to lose this one. So if they do, then I, personally, will be extremely relieved (read: dancing in the streets).


I won't gloat about it. I wish I could convince everyone on this side of the web to show similar restraint. There's simply no point in it. Straightforwardly moral points aside, the pleasure to be gained from gloating about such things isn't worth it given how much such behavior contributes to the long-term problem of decreasing political civility. If you have a blog, I beseech you to do--that is, not do--likewise. And tell your friends.

I'm afraid we can't expect people to lose gracefully right now in American politics. The very least we can do is win gracefully.

Almost every time I bring up the topic of civility in public discourse some newbie shows up in comments and points out that American politics used to be a lot less civil than it is now, as if I were a complete moron. But listen: just because it used to be worse doesn't mean it's o.k. now. It was actually better in the relatively recent past, and it would be, well, better if it got better again.

This is also the kind of post that usually gets the following kind of comment somewhere down in the thread: "that's the problem with you milktoast centrist types. You're so obsessed with civility that you're willing to let the fascists take over." Not so. Were the fascists marching down the street, I'd shoot them. In fact, I'd insult them first ("Stupid fascists," I'd say. "You're even dumber f*cks than the communists."), and then I'd shoot them. By urging people to be more civil I don't mean that we shouldn't state facts, nor refrain from calling something bad if it's bad, nor refrain from calling someone dishonest if he's dishonest, nor any other similar thing.

Folks roughly like me are in a bit of a bind, though. We think that Bush and company are not just bad, but very bad. In fact, as I've made clear in the past, I'm inclined to think that Bush may be impeachably bad. Now, I thought the Republicans had lost their minds when they started calling for Clinton's impeachment (note: before he had even been elected, as someone pointed out again recently). And I think that many current Republian leaders are so bad that it's almost obligatory for reasonable people to get furious about it. But, given that the facts about the Clinton presidency are, to say the least, extremely dissimilar to the facts about the Bush presidency, there is no inconsistency here. For one thing, at least we waited for the guy to be elected--well, sort of elected, anyway--and to screw up royally before we started talking impeachment.

So the incautious observer might think that I'm being inconsistent (on the one hand) or wimpy (on the other). I think that both conclusions are based on relatively transparent misunderstandings, though, of course, I could be wrong.

So I hope we won't be troubled by either of those misunderstandings.

In conclusion: let's not gloat if the Dems win, shall we? Somebody's got to be the grownups around here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The difference between you and me, I think, is that I'd shoot first and _then_ insult. If you insult first, you're giving warning, and that can lead to them doing things like "ducking" and "shooting you before you shoot them"...

7:00 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Is it gloating to advocate that the new Congress start its term with a no-holds-barred investigation of every action of the Bush administration for possible violations of our laws and standards of governmental ethics? We can start with illegal detentions and torture, and end with Cheney's "Energy Panel".

Is it gloating to insist that those culpable be brought to a swift and fair trial, and given harsh sentences if convicted?

Is it gloating to fund textbooks that describe in plain, brutal, terms the undiluted evil of this administration? To make clear, in those text books, the role of of the radical right, the reasonable right, and the "civil" moderates in enabling and supporting the evil of the Bush administration? To lay out in no uncertain terms how our major press outlets rolled over and played lapdog to the Bush administration?

If these are gloating, then what do you, WS, consider to be justice? What do you consider to be right? What do you consider to be necessary to prevent this from happening again, for a long, long time?

If these are not gloating, then what, precisely, do you mean by gloating, WS?

9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Is it gloating to fund textbooks that describe in plain, brutal, terms the undiluted evil of this administration? To make clear, in those text books, the role of of the radical right, the reasonable right, and the "civil" moderates in enabling and supporting the evil of the Bush administration? To lay out in no uncertain terms how our major press outlets rolled over and played lapdog to the Bush administration?"

a) I think he's talking about blogs, mostly;
b) I was into it until this part, and then you started to sound like one of the guys who stands outside the White House shaking his fist at it all day.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Mike Russo said...

This is maybe getting somewhat far afield from the initial post, but I think it's relevant to describe a problem that comes up in societies that have recently ended a period of massive human rights violations. There are two basic models of accountability that such societies can follow as they attempt to come to terms with what's happened to them.

First, they can choose a justice-based model. This usually means war-crimes trials for everybody that the new regime can find and build a case against. The Nuremberg trials are perhaps the highest-profile example of this approach. Similarly, justice requires that reparations be made to every person whose rights were violated by the old regime.

Some other countries, though, find that this approach just doesn't work. The ties that unite the community are felt to be too fragile to stand the trauma that the justice-based model would inflict, it's too difficult to build cases against individual figures in the old regime without their cooperation, and there were simply too many crimes commited to prosecute everyone who deserves it and make amends to all the wounded. South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was an attempt to acknowledge and repudiate the crimes of the apartheid regime -- alleged criminals were given full amnesty so long as they confessed their crimes. This is less than satisfying for many, because people who have committed incredibly vile acts went completely free -- but the South African government believed that a series of high-profile prosecutions of white leaders would make it too difficult for blacks and whites to live and work together to build a new country.

I said two models, but that's a bit misleading, because there's a third option too. In Chile, they only got Pinochet out of power by offering him a blanket immunity. The dictatorship was so entrenched, and so many people were implicated by their cooperation in or consent to human rights violations that the new government feared that even acknowledging what had happened, much less pursuing justice, would simply destroy any chance of peace. Since then, there have been attempts to impose accountability, both within Chile and outside of it, but it's been incredibly slow going.

All of which is just to say that justice isn't the only value at issue by a long shot. It's very easy to condemn those who let others get away with bad acts -- very easy to think that the victims of apartheid deserved more than mealy-mouthed apology, and that granting amnesty to Pinochet was unjust and cowardly. But sometimes, if you want peace, justice has to suffer.

I really hope it's clear that my point in discussing these examples is to raise the issues in a stark way, rather than to imply that the Bush administration is in some way equivalent of an apartheid regime or Pinochet-style dictatorship. But I think similar concerns are implicated. I daresay I'm as furious about the administration's torture policy as anybody who hasn't actually suffered at its hands. There is very, very little that would make me happier than to see Yoo, Addington and Haynes made answerable for their attempts to define down torture. But I really doubt that would be the best way to move forward and reunite America behind a vision of ourselves that soundly repudiates what the Bush Administration has made of us.

The upshot of which is that civility is really not so much to ask, it seems to me.

1:33 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Colin started by quoting my original comment and notes:
a) I think he's talking about blogs, mostly;

OK, let us assume WS is talking about blogs. What is meant by "gloating"? I cannot tell from the original post. Can you?

b) I was into it until this part, and then you started to sound like one of the guys who stands outside the White House shaking his fist at it all day.

I may very well sound like the apocryphal fist-shaker. But, Colin, how will we prevent another G. W. Bush from hijacking our nation? I am open to suggestions. I hope all who consider Bush to be a disaster for the US can agree that we also must prevent others from following in his footsteps. The question remains, how will we keep this from happening again for a long, long, time?


6:25 AM  
Blogger Jim said...


Very well stated, and to the point. I would be delighted to have open debate on establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or any other debate that starts with the recognition that the Bush administration has committed illegal and evil acts that need to be confronted. (Heck, I’ll settle for a debate that recognizes that the Bush admin may have committed ...)

Mike is dead-on in saying:
All of which is just to say that justice isn't the only value at issue by a long shot. ... But sometimes, if you want peace, justice has to suffer.

But notice that the question of balancing peace vs. justice never entered the discussion here until I injected the notion of justice. And, while I accept that seeking peace may mean justice going (partly) unserved, I'll be damned if I'll sacrifice justice for a false "civility".

Who here considers my original comment uncivil? If so, what, precisely, is uncivil about it?

I grant the tone is one of anger and outrage. I am angry. I am outraged. Peace and reconciliation are impossible unless the anger and outrage of many tens of millions of Americans is recognized and addressed.

I grant that I spoke of this administration as committing "undiluted evil." Is there any other way to describe the intentional torture of innocent people? Of the Bush administration's utter disregard for our Constitution? Why is speaking such truths uncivil? Surely, anyone who opposes my view is free to speak (although, no one here has yet argued that these are merely diluted evils).

Any notion of civility that requires ignoring anger and outrage is misguided, at best. Such “civility” helped enable the rise to power of G W Bush.

I will not dispute a claim that we are unwise to allow anger to drive our actions. I will insist that we are fools to pretend the anger is not there, and we are greater fools to ignore those who dare speak their anger.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


By 'gloating' I mean gloating.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Scorpio said...

"if Kerry won, those of us roughly in the leftosphere shouldn't gloat about it.

As a matter of fact, if Kerry runs again, I shall personally puke. He is partly responsible for the fact that Ohio is no longer a democracy, through his failure to pay for any recounts at all -- even those in FL where the exit polls did not match the machine "count". Jesus wept.

6:50 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

The words might be "Kumbaya," but the tune's all wrong.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

The words aren't even "Kumbaya". The words are--again let me stress:

Let's not gloat if we win.

Even though we sure as hell better win because the other guys have FUBARed things in an astonishing mannter. Nobody's pretending this isn't important, that the GOP isn't currently run by idiots, criminals, and incompetents...I'm being up front about that.

To try to put my suggestion clearly:

Let's not gloat if we win.

That's all. Don't read anything more into it.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WS can't ask people not to celebrate. That's impossible. I plan to be at Deval Patrick's party on Nov. 7, and I'm taking a personal day on the 8th.

I suspect that racism will keep us from a full-out celebration, since racists in Virginia who applaud Allen and those in Tennessee who won't be able to vote for Ford will tip the narrow balance to the GOP, and that means the Senate will stay Republican. If so, gloating may be academic.

But if my ardent dreams come true in fifteen days, I suggest that the victorious Democrats do these things:

Recognize that the campaign is not over - To do what we need to do, we have to keep public opinion on our side. This includes the opinion of diffident supporters such as WS, which is probably the source of his desire for no gloating. We are still learning how to connect our proposals to their actual benefits to real, ordinary people, so we should find spokespeople who are not technocratic insiders.

Stay in front of the press - In fact, Democratic leadership needs to demand fair treatment from the press, particularly the electronic media, where we are persistently underrepresented. We also need to lay out our program, learning from the Republicans how to do a product roll-out. That means a lot of message discipline never before seen from Democrats.

Recognize the opportunities for mischief in the interregnum - The shredders will be overheating. We need to shine klieg lights in as many corners as possible. On the up side, watching rats and roaches scurry is entertaining TV.

Prepare committee assignments and agendas to start Jan. 2 - The Augean stables still need cleaning even if the Republicans have been gelded. There are three tracks here: investigations, legislation, and rules reform. Sequence these, starting with:

Where did all the money go in Iraq? Speaking of scurrying... There's so much dirt in this that everyone who's not a Kool-Aid-drinking GOPer will be appalled. And even liberals like me want our money spent to good effect. (There may also be a Constitutional crisis.) If this is gloating, by the way, I part company emphatically from WS; separation of powers and the oversight that springs from it is the essential reason to throw the rascals out.

Package a real middle class tax cut and a minimum wage increase with an immediate roll-back of Duhbya's tax cuts for the wealthy. Get Georgie to wield his veto pen. Better yet, provoke a hypocritical Republican filibuster.

Codify into the rules of both chambers much more transparency. Do this visibly and implacably. At every opportunity, show how the secrets the Republicans have held have allowed their corruption. If Grover Norquist ends up in prison, that's just gravy.

There's also work to be done in newly won state capitals. First and foremost is to redistrict to remedy the worst of the structural imbalance that the Republicans have put into place so that they can win the House without a majority of the votes. Do this in the name of reducing gerrymandering - and then really make some progress on that.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Good advice, ll.

And just for the record:

celebrating isn't gloating.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pulled my copy of McKeon, ed., Basic Works of Aristotle, which includes Rhetoric, but I couldn't find the quote. No matter.

What I did find was Aristotle's belief in the persuasive efficacy of sound argument. He obviously didn't live in the age of pandering media and the relativism of truth.

3:03 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home