Saturday, August 04, 2007

Getting Too Pissed Off to Blog

I started this blog back in 2003, for a couple of reasons.

First, I was alarmed and angered by the irrational and dishonest actions of the Bush administration. Second, plagued by a long-term, debilitating case of insomnia, I found myself unable to make any progress on my research projects. I'd been basically a zombie for about four years by that point, and I just couldn't write. So, to get myself back on the horse, I started blogging. Do a little informal political writing, I thought, and eventually work your way back up to what you really need to be doing.

I also had high hopes of trying to convince people that they needed to strive mightily to resist the ravages of partisanship and groupthink.

I've thought about quitting several times, but something Mark Kleiman wrote to me always prevented me: it beats yelling at the t.v.

Thing is, I'm worried that it's become little more than yelling at the t.v. for me.

At heart I'm quite the sappy patriot. I became fascinated by the Revolution and by the Founders when I was a kid. We had few books on the farm...but we did have an oldish set of encyclopedias and facsimile copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg address. Though I've rarely been subject to the kind of mindless, uncritical adoration for America that plagues so many people, I've nevertheless always loved the country very deeply, and held it in high esteem even when I've disagreed with its direction.

I became less interested in politics after Iran-Contra, and after I went to grad school and had too much to do to think about anything other than philosophy. I began to become interested in American politics again when the right's anti-Clinton hysteria became difficult to ignore. I'd never cared much about Clinton, recognizing him as fairly good and fairly competent, but I found the crazed tone of the right's criticisms extremely worrisome. I became passionately interested in politics again after the election of 2000, an event I followed more closely than anyone I know, and more closely than any other event in my life. I think it must be clear to anyone who did follow that election and the subsequent semi-recount closely that there are dangerous elements in American conservative. It is fairly clear that the Bush team and its cohorts exhibited a willingness to steal an American election. And I simply don't know what to say to you if that doesn't make you angry as hell.

Although I advocated deposing Saddam in the first Gulf War, I did not advocate the invasion of the second Gulf War. Although I thought that there were decently strong humanitarian reasons for deposing Saddam, I thought that the time was wrong, that our energy should be focused on al Qaeda, and that the administration was clearly lying to us about its reasons and the strength of the evidence. I have remained passionate about politics in part because I believe that the deception surrounding the decision to invade Iraq was a travesty, one of the most shameful episodes in American political history.

I was raised to avoid strong partisan attachments. In fact, though I'm basically a liberal, I'm not much of a Democrat. However I have, over the course of my life, become fairly strongly anti-Republican. My deep commitment to the principles of American democracy make it almost impossible for me to witness abuses of power such as those involved in Iran-Contra, or the repeated and continuing abuses of the Bush administration, without becoming outraged.

Since 1992 I believe that something very worrisome has been happening. A perfectly competent, reasonably honest, fairly centrist American president--was demonized, and a demented group of conservatives fabricated scandal after scandal in an attempt to discredit him and drive him out of office. They began calling for impeachment even before he was sworn in, and finally, with his complicity, managed to accomplish it. Even ignoring the travesty of the election of 2000, the events of the Bush administration have been the flip-side of the Clinton travesty. Bush is demonstrably unqualified for the job of president, he is neither intelligent nor knowledgeable, and he is, seemingly, rather vindictive. Despite his false campaign assertion that he was "a uniter, not a divider," he immediately began pursuing an extremely conservative agenda that almost seemed calculated to divide the country. He lied to us about the invasion of Iraq, violating his most sacred trust as president. And his prosecution of the war has been incompetent in the extreme. Yet a sizable percentage of conservatives continue to support him.

The question that arises naturally in the inquiring mind is this: if these conservatives will not tolerate a smart, competent, reasonably centrist Democrat like Clinton, and if they will defend even the most egregious crimes of someone like George W. Bush...where is this country headed? Are we headed for a state of affairs in which a relatively small group of extreme conservative partisans exerts undue influence on the country by senselessly and mercilessly attacking even the most centrist Democrats and mindlessly supporting even the most extreme and incompetent Republicans? Will this not inevitably generate corresponding partisanship among Democrats? And how can such polarization not be disastrous?

There's been much talk about polarization in recent years, but, as careful studies as well as casual observation have indicated, what's really happened is that the right has moved farther right while the left has more-or-less stayed put. Which puts someone in my position in a rather bad place: I want to preach against partisanship, but I also have reason to believe that it's the other guys who are most responsible for it. So I have to say something like "hey, don't be partisan like those other guys! Be more like us!" And that's something it's hard to say with a straight face, even if you believe it's right.

So that's all a pretty long road to the following small house:
I'm starting to wonder whether I'm just getting too pissed off to blog anymore. Every day seems to bring some new outrage by this administration, along with a flurry of intellectually and morally bankrupt attempts by blogospheric Bushies to defend the indefensible. There are cooler heads than mind, and it may be time to defer to them. Even when one can no longer control one's fury, at least one can recognize that one can't control it.

I'm not calling it quits just yet, but I am going to throttle back a bit for awhile. What started as a safety valve to keep me from yelling at the t.v. has become more of a catalyst. The insomnia that drove me to start blogging is finally in remission, and it's become possible for me to get back to the book project that I had to set aside. Small blogs are waning in influence, anyway, as full-time professional bloggers like Kevin Drum have begun doing it so much better.

So don't be surprised if posting gets a bit sparser. I gotta go read some Marcus Aurelius or something.


Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Newt Gingrich agrees, mostly.

No, really. All is not lost.

3:59 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Tom, you're a jackass.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Gingrich is like a stopped clock, indisputably, exactly dead-on...about 1/3600th of the time...

4:44 PM  
Blogger Joe the Blogger said...

Great post, WS. I hope you don't quit this blog, because it's a great place to find some sanity and clarity in the media.

What's so strange about contemporary American politics to me is the it has become more and more like sports, and less about real issues and philosophical disagreements. Many conservatives--George Will is one--say that Bush isn't really conservative because of the way he has let government grow during his presidency. He has allowed an amount of spending that is almost...liberal! On the other hand, some liberals complain that Clinton sold out the Democrats by supporting policies like welfare reform. The two parties have come closer on some very big issues. Another example: No Child Left Behind was supported by....Ted Kennedy! Also, if you think about the differences the Democrats and Republicans have on the broad contours of foreign policy, they are tactical rather than strategic. Both sides agree that we need to offensively attack terrorism while using diplomacy and economic/political development at the same time. Democrats just think that attacking Iraq was a huge tactical mistake b/c it took our eye off the ball since Iraq wasn't the real threat.

This is not at all to make the Nader-style argument that there are no real differences between Democrats and Republicans. There are many differences obviously. But the majorities in both parties agree on a lot of big ideas: capitalism, democracy, a social safety net, and a strong national defense. Things would be much worse if we had the horrible partisanship we see today combined with MAJOR disagreements about political philosophy. If Republicans began considering fascism as a live option and Democrats were arguing for socialism, then maybe I'd be more concerned. But as things are, the hatred and animosity seems to be all about having one's own side win elections....Which is a a problem, but I don't think it's a real threat to the sustainability of our democracy.

I do share the frustration with the far right's willingness to accomodate--and deny (see Bill Kristol)-- Bush's failure as a leader. But that just seems to reflect a willingness on a segment of the population to support their team no matter what. This may just stem from the common human weakness of failing to admit one's mistakes. A similar phenomenon was there during the Clinton years among Democrats who were unwilling to acknowledge that Bill had disgraced his office by his personal weaknesses.

What concerns me even more than the partisanship is the increasing individualism in our country and the lack of a sense of a united nation. That may be one thing that causes what seems to be an irrational partisanship in this country. But I the dissolution of American community and the disintegration of civic life poses one of the greatest dangers. One example: as much as I oppose the war in Iraq, I think it is a major problem that 1/3 of 1% are bearing the burden of national defense. I don't favor conscription, but it does give me pause that such a small minority serves. What also concerns me is the increasing influence libertarian philosophy seems to be having on the public. Proposing tax increases is now political suicide, even if the increases are restricted to the very rich.

Those are just a few examples, but it seems like this country is dissolving into factions and sub-factions...Patriotism is a joke to a lot of people today. Then again, most people really don't even seem to have the time to think about politics, so I can't necessarily blame them. The American addiction to work may be at the root of all this.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Colin said...

I started reading this blog for the philosophy / intellectual honesty kind of stuff. I don't really have strong feelings one way or another on the political writing but I do like seeing philosophy ideas pasted onto current events.

Eh, we all got hobbies.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Joe the Blogger said...

Oh...and apart from all the serious, quasi-philosophical reasons for keeping this blog going...It's often just damn funny. Even the title of this post cracked me up. If you have to post less for your sanity, WS, I understand...but this is a very refreshing blog to check in with...especially because the mega-blogs are somewhat impersonal and, often times, just not all that good.

12:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take heart, Winston. You're not alone:

10:25 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

This was a test. Few passed. It's obvious that Democrats don't want to work anything out with the other side, they want to destroy them.

At least your rants are getting shorter, Mystic, so you have that going for you. But at my blog, where you didn't last a week, if anyone had insulted you like that, I'd have deleted it.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Um...the...let me get this straight...DEMOCRATS "don't want to work anything out with the other side, they want to destroy them"????

I mean, it COULD be true, but given that the House Republicans were many times more unfair, viciously partisan, and aggressive than the Dems have been, it's a little odd that you'd make such a claim.

You've got Grover Norquist, who's very open about his desire to destroy the Democratic party; the Democrats have no one comparable. (Note: a few isolated commenters at Democratic Underground don't count as comparable.)

It's very clear which party is more strident and dogmatic, which one is more likely to accuse all who disagree with it of lacking patriotism, or of aiding the enemy, or of being defeatist.

Lord knows I'm hesitant to defend the Democrats...but you're completely out of touch with reality if you think that it's the DEMS that are the party most bent on the other's destruction.

I don't know what to do other than to suggest that the news...

2:24 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Yes, Tom, at your blog I didn't last a week, where I asked what a "social conservative" was, and NO one could give me a good definition, so you resorted to accusing me of intellectual dishonesty because I wanted to know what you were talking about.

Surely that says something bad about me.

Also, assertion of truth is not an insult. You ARE a jackass, therefore, it shouldn't be deleted.

But anyway, have your retort to this, I won't provide a counter-retort so as not to allow it to descend into a flame war.

3:05 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Also, if anyone would like to see what happened on Tom's blog - just because I find it hilarious that his accusation of my inability to sustain my sanity at that place for a week is apparently supposed to be indicative of some incapacity on MY behalf, here's a link:

3:14 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually I meant you and the left, WS. "Delegitimize" would have been a better choice of words than "destroy." And let's make no mistake, you're a Democrat despite your protestations. As for Norquist, he has some influence, but Howard Dean, the chair of the Democratic Party said he hates Republicans and all they stand for, and nobody said boo, so please.

You insult me, Mystic, and then talk of a flame war? No sir, this is on you. An assertion of truth is not an insult? I've heard it all now.

And Gingrich had a lot of interesting things to say. Too bad he will not be given a hearing.

3:31 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Here's the deal, Tom, plain and simple:

When I first met Winston, I was wrong a whole hell of a lot. I made assertions that were vague and poorly formulated and I had little evidence to back myself up. What had gotten me by previously was my quick wit and intelligence that permitted me to provide quick and seemingly good retorts to anyone who questioned me. I was so fast and good, rhetorically, that the people I hung out with, not being versed in philosophy, pretty much believed whatever I said. Not to give the impression that I was ALWAYS wrong, but I was wrong about a whole hell of a lot - it was just that I was good at pointing out flaws in the beliefs of others and that I had a convincing character and personality, causing them to adopt my beliefs over theirs that I demonstrated to be false. I mistakenly took the near-unanimous agreement to mean that I was right a lot.

Unfortunately, this was incorrect. I was less right than I was dominant. People believed me 'cause they liked me and because I was a persuasive speaker, but not necessarily because I held the correct views.

I see the same thing in you. You are clearly intelligent and you enjoy debate. You're also full of rhetoric (although I don't think your rhetoric is very good, mine may not have been good either, whatever). You're EXACTLY like I was in so many ways.

When I met Winston, I listened to what he had to say, and I realized that I was, in fact, wrong, where he was, in fact, right many times. He politely listened to what I had to say and then he told me clearly and precisely what components of my arguments were incorrect and for what reasons. Initially, I must admit, I butted heads because I thought that I was surely right, given so many previous agreements. However, after consistently clearly losing, I, in the interest of being truthful, decided that the verdict was in, and it was in my best interest to no longer pursue an obviously losing course. So, I did the INTELLIGENT thing and allowed him to better me, learning from him. It was good for me - a truthfully honest inquiry results in much more happiness than doctrinally believing whatever and managing to convince others of it. You're still stuck with falsehood, and you're still stuck with misery. Acknowledgement of truth, on the other hand, is much more liberating and fulfilling.

And you know what's REALLY important about this story that makes it not just a heartwarming story of a man helping another to turn away from the darkness? I learned something about Winston. That is, he admits when he's wrong.

See, it would be very easy to characterize someone who is so frequently said to be right as being another version of you or me - just that he's better than we are at the rhetoric, so people agree with him more frequently. The difference, though, is that you can't, and I couldn't, admit wrongness, while he can.

As I got better about arguing rationally and learning when I had well-laid epistemic groundwork for holding a position, I was able to present the occasional well-founded belief to Winston contrary to what he believed. For a good while, mind you, I just listened, because clearly I had a lot to learn. However, once I learned quite a bit from him, I began to slowly recognize when he might just be wrong.

When I presented him with these few arguments of mine that yielded contradictory conclusions to his, you know what happened? We talked for a little while, he didn't believe my premises, I showed him the proof that they were true, and then..he..Agreed!

So I KNOW he's not just being like you or me, only better. He's actually *gasp* truthfully inquiring into the reality of the universe! It's spectacular! He's very good at it, and that's why he's so frequently right, but you can rest assured that I know from personal experience, coming from a very similar place from which you come, that he's not just full of shit.

Sadly, there's a significant junction in that story where you and I diverge. You're stuck back at the point where you have to just accept the preponderance of evidence against you and try to figure out what you can do to make yourself a better, more responsible participant in discussion. You are stuck in your own misery. You steadfastly oppose any notion that you could be wrong, no matter what the evidence at hand seems to indicate. You're so used to being agreed with and being right, that you can't shed the alpha-male mentality. You know what happens to lions who don't know how to relinquish the title? They die.

So I just thought I'd tell you, that I rememebr how hard it was to pull my head out of my ass, but also that I did it, and so can you.

If you've ever heard a better moral to a story, I don't know what it could possibly be.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Jeez, I don't even feel like responding to this, Tom, but:

1. Are you SERIOUSLY asserting that Norquist only has "some power"?????

For chrissake, man, he's insanely powerful! He's had FAR more influence that Howard Dean... Or so it seems to the casual observer. Aside from the 50 State Project, it's hard for me to name anything significant that Dean has done (and, incidentally, I thought he was wrong, but I was wrong about that).

2. Now, hating is not quite wanting to destroy, but I'm willing to be loose on that one.

3. Republicans basically spent the entire Clinton presidency trying to destroy him. There is nothing comparable on the other side.

4. House Republicans spent almost ten years essentially cutting Dems out of the governing process. There is nothing comparable on the other side.

5. The K Street Project was a scheme to generate a permanent Republican majority by forging an unbreakable link between the GOP and lobbyists. There is nothing comparable on the other side.

5:15 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

If a Republican said what Dean said, I'd want him fired. Certainly not running the party, even ceremonially.

Re your post, there's a current on the left right now that things are so desperate that the left may exempt itself from even minimum standards of common courtesy.

If the Democrats lose another unloseable election in 2008, it'll be because of that.

In fact, I'll have trouble voting in the primaries for any Republican who emphasizes beating the Democrats over putting forth a positive vision for the country.

As for the politics, it was bad for the country for the GOP to try to destroy Clinton over chickenshit. As for the K Street project, it was unnecessary for the Democrats, as they controlled congress for most of 40 years.

The project failed of course---now that the Dems are back in power, the money's back to that side of the aisle, too. I haven't studied the new anti-lobbying legislation, but I'll be surprised if money still doesn't find its way through every crack.

As for "nothing comparable," congress pre the Gingrich revolution was quite comparable. I showed you the metrics before the last election. Were the Republicans worse? A bit. Now that the Dems have congress again, let's see what happens.

The senate expanded wiretapping powers the other day, 60-28. Harry Reid excoriated the Republicans.

6:35 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

So if a Republican said what Dean said, he'd be fired, eh?

But it's cool if Cheney says that if you vote Democrat, America will be hit by terrorists.


7:14 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

That's an extraordinarily weak response. None of that in any way stacks up against my points.

You initially asserted that the Dems are out to destroy the Republicans. I showed that, in fact, the evidence suggests a rather opposite conclusion: that the Republicans are out to destroy the Democrats.

You have produced no viable response to my points.

You point out, for example, that the persecution of Clinton was wrong--but that's irrelevant given the point at hand. of course it was wrong, but the point is that Republicans were bent on destruction; nobody, of course, was arguing that they were right to do so.

There has been nothing comparable by Dems.

Furthermore, you merely point out that when the Dems are in power, more money comes their way. Again, true but irrelevant. That's the way it is for both parties--but only the Republicans have tried to institutionalize it, refusing to do business with companies that hire Democratic lobbyists. So, again, you are wrong and your point fails.

We could go on like this all night, but all this proves is that you can keep typing.

In closing let me just offer a little quote from Grover Norquist:

"Bipartisanship is like date rape."

That's one of the most important architects of the recent conservative revolution speaking; and until the GOP moves away from this attitude, American politics will continue to be riven by unreason and viciousness. There's always a little of that in any political party...but the contemporary GOP has raised it to an art form.

7:27 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


Thanks, Mystic, for the kind words. Much appreciated.

I'm out of this thread, however, because it contains exactly the kind of dogmatism that's pissing me off (see post).

No reason to keep beating my head against a post. I've said my piece.

7:35 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

But Dean did say it. But the Dems did tyrannize the GOP pre-1994. But the K Street project was unnecesary for the Dems. But I did amend "destroy" to "delegitimize," and I was referring not to the politicians as much as the netroots, who insulate themselves from opposing points of view and whose shitlist is far bigger than their approved list of who and what you can consider.

So proclaim me wrong. It requires ignoring a lot of points. I never insist that you're wrong, BTW, only that other principled views than your own are possible, and possibly right.

Until Democrats seek to convince rather than condemn and dismiss, they will continue to lose unloseable elections.

7:49 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

I think you should give my post 2 posts ago a good thorough read, and then think about it for a while.

Tom's ass - Tom's head = Better Tom.

I promise you that you're not getting so many negative responses on this blog because you're making good points and we're just stupid. Some of those here are actually trained in this sort of thing and you don't appear to be.

So, it's not about your intelligence, so don't get offended. I'm just saying, maybe stop and listen and ask questions rather than claim that they're incorrect.

Come to think of it, I've never once seen you post a question. It's always an assertion. That says something.

8:19 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Goddamn it, Tom. YOU asserted that the Dems want to destroy the Republicans. I've shown that you were wrong. More specifically: if the evidence you've cited shows that the Dems want to destroy the GOP, then the GOP really, super-duper extra much wants to destroy the Dems. So, since we're engaged in an inherently comparative discussion here, it's senseless to point this out about the Dems when the GOP is so much worse. (Replace 'destroy' with 'delegitimize' and nothing much changes.)

Do the Dems want to delegitimize the GOP? Well, all parties sort of want to do that to their opponents. Are the Dems particularly bad about it? No. They're actually pretty mild. Is the GOP exceptionally bad about it? Yes, as I showed above. Do your responses to my arguments work? No, as I explained above.

Consider your response to the point about the K Street Project. Your newest response is that the Dems didn't need it. But my original point stands: There's rough parity without the K Street Project. When Dems are in power, they have an advantage; similarly for the GOP. But the advantages of power weren't enough for them. They wanted to radically undermine the ability of the Dems to raise money and govern, and to form a permanent alliance with K street.

So your attempted refutation of my point fails.

But talk about 'wanting' is really to miss the point here. Whatever each party wants, the GOP has gone beyond wanting to DOING. They've actively moved to try to do things like the K Street Project, and to take over the courts with the Federalist Society.

So, to review:

You asserted that the Dems want to destroy the Republicans. I noted that this was not true. Here the comparative stuff becomes relevant: Dems don't want to destroy the GOP any more than an average party wants to destroy it's opponents. But, interestingly, the GOP not only WANTS to--realio, trulio--DESTORY the Dems, they've actually taken significant steps to try to do so.

So, your original claim, to the effect that the Dems are particularly guilty in this regard (tacitly: especially as compared to the GOP) stands refuted.

11:06 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Tom's new claim: "So proclaim me wrong. It requires ignoring a lot of points. I never insist that you're wrong, BTW, only that other principled views than your own are possible, and possibly right."

Given that WS said previously "I mean, it COULD be true" about your assertion that the Democrats want to destroy the Republicans rather than work anything out, you clearly must not be trying to show him merely that your view is possible. Don't act like you don't think he's wrong and you're right.

Furthermore, you do this quite frequently - weaken your stance when it's shown that you're almost 100% certainly wrong, but insist that the weaker stance is the only one you ever took.

Don't bullshit your way out of something yet again. This is what I was talking about - this is what you have to overcome. You're no good in a discussion if you can't admit when you're wrong, man. Then it's not a discussion - it's just theater.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I amended "destroy" to "delegitimize." You continued to argue against "destroy."

I also said I was referring not to the politicians as much as the netroots. You continued to argue about politicians.

Oh, well.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

The point about the switch to 'delegitimize' was dealt with above, yet you continue to argue against the argument against the 'destroy' claim.

The dodge to the netroots is...well...a dodge. You were first talking about politicians. I showed that your point failed for politicians. And failed resoundingly.

Your claims keep mutating as they are refuted.

You're not discussing anything, Tom. It's all just debate. You're wrong on this, and clearly so, and you wont' admit it. You just keep trying little rhetorical tricks to obfuscate.

So there's no reason to keep wasting our time.

Oh, well.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Tom Van Dyke said...

I just don't like Howard Dean saying he hates the people in the other party and still being chair of his.

And for the record, I think Tom Delay did more in an effort to destroy the other party than anyone I can think of recently. I'm glad he's gone, and so are a lot of GOPers. That's why they didn't fight for him when he was indicted on politically-motivated criminal charges that'll never stick.

So there.

5:46 PM  

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