Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Q: What's More Important Than Iraq, Terrorism, The Bailout, and The Election?

A: Maintaining (or...regaining..) the kind of political culture that allows us collectively to make reasonably good political and policy decisions.

This--the ability to rationally discuss and select policies--is more important than any single policy. Smart people can usually recover from bad decisions. But people who characteristically make bad decisions are, barring great luck, screwed.

One reasons it's so important to elect Obama is that he seems to understand this point. Some liberals (like, say, Kos) have a tendency to sneer at Obama's "new politics" when the going gets tough, but the very point of the approach is to replenish the stores of trust and goodwill that allowed us to rely on each other and respect each other's judgment.

One of our biggest problems is that we now tend to see our political opponents as the enemy, and to attribute our disagreemens to bad will and dishonesty on the other side. As I've noted before, Dems are in a tricky position here, because this is primarily the fault of Republicans, who have been far more prone to and adept at using division and demonization for political advantage, thus doing long-term and deep damage to the country in order to achieve relatively short-term political gain. Of course it's risky to point that out in the midst of a sermon against demonization, but it's the truth, impolitic though it may be to express it in this context.

Obama is trying to win without demonizing and alienating his opponents. Unfortunately, McCain has pulled out all the demonization stops. Obama's idea seems to be something like this: if we can get through one election a little more unified than normal, this will make it easier for us to reason and act together over the course of the next four years...and easier to run an even more civil and unifying campaign next time. Unfortunately, the actions of the McCain campaign may very well undermine all of Obama's efforts. On the bright side, McCain might repent afterward, as is his wont, and that might help somewhat.

Obama's strategy is not merely built upon an aversion to conflict, but, rather on a hypothesis about what is required for a healthy, moral and rational democracy. A belief in the truth of this hypothesis is what drove me to start this blog, long before I had ever heard Obama's name. I couldn't agree with him more on this, and can't think of anything that's more important for us as a nation.

My own (hyperventilating?) opposition to Bush and McCain is based on the belief that, while one should routinely give one's reasonable political opponents the benefit of the doubt, one should use both barrels against unreasonable opponents who themselves work to erode the stores of public good will and rationality that we seek to restore. Of course one way to characterize our current problem goes like this: we've become too willing to characterize our opponents as unreasonable. Though I recognize this, I can't get around the fact that my considered judgment is that Bush, McCain et. al. are unreasonable. One sign of hope for my logical soul is that I didn't always think this of McCain, but only began to think it about the same time everyone else did. And I haven't gone into anti-McCain overdrive because of any particular policy position of his, but, rather, in response to his own decent into divisiveness and demonization.

But the important point is: even while we fight against the now-rotten McCain campaign, we should keep Obama's goal of unification and renewal in mind. Some liberals, I'm sure, are rabidly opposed to McCain simply because he's conservative--but that is a mistake. Or so I claim. Oppose him with great energy and force because he has become unreasonable and unreasonably divisive, not simply because he is conservative. I expect that folks around these parts agree with that, but there's a reminder anyway.


Blogger The Mystic said...

Furthermore on the point regarding the impact of the excessive willingness to characterize political opponents as fundamentally unreasonable on our democracy:

This has definitely impacted the capacity of the public to acknowledge when someone actually is unreasonable. Many people now seem to just take the "well they're all bad" position, or the "you can say that about all of them" position, or some other position which renders people equally unable to make coherent decisions with regards to politics.

When it's acceptable for anyone on either side of the aisle to say that anyone on the other side is fundamentally unreasonable merely for being on that other side, the public eventually gives up and labels politics nothing but nihilistic side-choosing. They attach the "no one's wrong, it's just opinion" mantra that our touchy-feely society likes to infuse in our children into it and the next thing you know, you've got political nihilism abrewin.

Not only does the adoptation of such a nihilistic stance where every political choice is equally good prevent us from actually discussing issues reasonably, but it also enables the public to feel justified in whatever political decisions they make - good or bad, becuase, it seems to me, omnipresent and, most importantly, acceptable divisiveness leads directly to the justification of political nihilism which plagues so many of my friends and foes alike.

1:46 PM  
Blogger lovable liberal said...

WS, your analysis is spot on. I'm not optimistic.

There used to be responsible and honest Republicans in positions of power. John McCain appeared to be one of them, but he has proven that he is not.

Any regrets McCain feels after losing (please god!) won't matter. The same Bushist apparatchiks will still run GOP campaigns as far in the gutter as they need to. Will Mitt Romney hold back when he runs in 2012? Nope.

This is why I've long thought that Democrats need to impugn Republican credibility at every turn. Yes, it's ugly and impolite to do that, but it's also valid, and it inculcates a lesson the country desperately needs to master.

It may be too late.

2:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree completely.

And I worry it's not possible for things to change for the better in the near future.

Have a look at this Slate article about the decline of moderate districts:


Nothing new here, but it's a good summary. It's hard to get a unimodal, consensus-seeking politics when you've got a bimodal country.

In addition, there's a lot of irrational and magical thinking in this country among both conservatives and liberals. If we're not willing to do the hard work of policy analysis and prioritizing our needs, we can't have a rational body politic.

Needless to say, I hope I'm all wrong about this.

5:36 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

...which leads us to a rather more mundane, but almost equally pressing issue: redistricting...

7:47 PM  

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