Saturday, July 11, 2009

Politics as Total War

A few years ago, a Department of Defense official called for a boycott of tony law firms that represented - on a pro bono basis - Guantanamo detainees. He was roundly - and I think justly - criticized.

But his view of politics as total war - something to be imported into nonpolitical walks of life - seems to be gaining currency. Earlier this year, One Wisconsin Now organized a phone campaign in which it urged its supporters to call and complain to a large local law firm about one of its young associates' pro bono work. This young woman was apparently donating her time in support of Wisconsin's marriage amendment. The objective was to use a law firm's natural desire to avoid controversy and her economic vulnerability to shut her up and deny a party the legal representation of its choice.

Paul Soglin's WMC Watch and full court press for disclosure of donors to political conduits is concerned, at least in part, with a desire to place pressure on businesses that don't behave politically in much the way that Epic Systems forced a contractor off WMC's board.

Is there something wrong with this? Shouldn't we all vote with our pocketbooks? Isn't the personal political? The problem, it seems to me, is that this type of think absolutizes our political differences and destroys dialogue. We either shut up (withdraw from the battle) or escalate turning debate into, as I said, total war.

This is increasingly the way that our political wars are fought. My law school classmate Robert George recently put it this way in the context of the debate over same sex marriage:

[
An] insidious and brutal way in which many advocates of sexual liberalism deploy cultural power in the cause of redefining marriage is by depicting their opponents as bigots. Across the country, they have pursued a strategy of intimidation against anyone who dares to dissent from their position in a public way. Their appalling treatment of Carrie Prejean is merely one example. Their relentless personal attacks on her were designed to send a clear message to others who aspire to succeed in any area of public life, from beauty pageants to careers in journalism and politics: “If you oppose us, if you have the temerity to express support for the conjugal conception of marriage, we will smear you as a rube and a bigot, make your life hell, and do our best to ruin you.


As I noted at the outset, this isn't a tactic limited to the political left. While I appreciate that this post could be seen as special pleading (I pretty much work with the trifecta of the betes noires to the left), I'd like to think that our common life would be a lot better and our political debates much more productive if we faced each other with a presumption of good faith and respect. I think we'd all be better off if we didn't believe that the proper response to our political opponents was to search and destroy.

H/T Rick Garnett (as to George's comments).

Cross posted at Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog

17 comments:

gnarlytrombone said...

Its hegemony in the elite sector of the culture enables its proponents to transmit its ideological tenets through television shows, movies, ...and, increasingly, even elementary schools.

The exquisite society to emerge will be governed by an elite comprised of gay poets.

illusory tenant said...

"Epic Systems forced a contractor off WMC's board."

Still pushing your speculation as fact, I see. Doing so kind of undermines your point, don't you think?

By the way, Mr. George forgot to mention that Carrie Prejean was relieved of her duties for breach of contract and, IIRC, there were some questions as to whether she provided truthful disclosure on her pageant application.

Such is the "family values" role model.

Sandra said...

Boycotts are -- and long have been -- perfectly reasonable forms of political speech and democratic participation. This post seems to be nothing more than a complaint that they might also, on occasion, be effective.

John Foust said...

Anything you can do help keep candidates from lying would be appreciated by all sides.

Maybe a future column could explain why Carrie needed breast implants and why the pageant paid for them, or why we should give a flying fig about what Carrie thinks about non-opposite marriage.

And if you can do anything about all the personal-insult-laden crank calls my office phone gets from BadgerBlogger commenters, I'd appreciate it.

Clutch said...

Maybe a future column could explain why Carrie needed breast implants and why the pageant paid for them, or why we should give a flying fig about what Carrie thinks about non-opposite marriage.

It's strange that the people who get "appalling treatment" based only on their being, like, family-valued and conservative tend also to be inarticulate ditzes (of either gender).

The culture warriors of the right are so desperate for martyrs that the professionally semi-clad Ms Prejean has become a hero for garbling a half-formed thought against gay marriage and getting horse-laughed for her troubles. I suppose that people must have telepathically sensed Caitlin Upton's family values, too. What else could explain the reaction to her 30-second clown show in the 2007 Miss Teen USA pageant?

John Foust said...

I personally believe that U.S. Americans know that a governor, uh, is sort of like a 'community organizer,' and our, uh, education tells us that except that you have actual responsibilities and you can quit when you realize after you've been elected that your term is limited, and uh, know where Russia is, yet are unable to do so because, uh, some, people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that like such as, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future, [smile] for our children, and "God Bless The Troops" they are my biggest inspiration, and don't let that dissuade you from entering politics after seeing this real “climate change”.
*((Gotta put First Things First))* !!!xoxoxo!!! :-)

Tom McMahon said...

Everybody who thinks it's OK to use the C-word to describe female political opponents, raise your hand!

Clutch said...

Everybody who thinks it's OK to use the C-word to describe female political opponents, raise your hand!

Everybody who thinks that comments shouldn't be complete non-sequiturs, raise your hand!

3rd Way said...

Everybody who thinks it is acceptable to lump entire religions with genocidal political movements, crawl back in your hole!

Rick Esenberg said...

As far as Epic goes, given the public statements made by the principals and information that I have on background, I'll stick with what I said.

As far as Carrie Prejean, of course we should focus on her and whatever foibles she has because she said the wrong thing when someone asked her a question.

My point is not whether boycotts can be effective but the extent to which we believe that political preferences ought to be the occasion for boycotts. The question is not whether you can use them to "win" but to what extent you want life to consist of divided boycotting camps.

Sandra said...

There is nothing unreasonable about refusing to give money to those who would deny you or your friends and family equality under the law. It's an exercise of effective politics and an expression of personal morality.

Clutch said...

As far as Carrie Prejean, of course we should focus on her and whatever foibles she has because she said the wrong thing when someone asked her a question.

Wait, so now the question is why American pop culture has infected the news media and focuses on trivia, granting celebrity to one photogenic doofus after another, sometimes just for the sake of mocking them?

That's a good question and a sad phenomenon.

But it doesn't seem to have thing one to do with "politics as total war", nor with Carrie Prejean qua high-heeled bikini prancer and spokesmartyr for conservative family values.

Tom McMahon said...

Clutch, I'm sorry my comment went way over your head. Ask around, there's no need to stay in the dark forever.

Clutch said...

Thanks, Tom. I think I see what you were hinting at, and I agree that many conservatives' treatment of Hilary Clinton over the years has been utterly morally degenerate. But why bring that up now? Are you apologizing on their behalf?

Anonymous said...

"I'd like to think that our common life would be a lot better and our political debates much more productive if we faced each other with a presumption of good faith and respect. I think we'd all be better off if we didn't believe that the proper response to our political opponents was to search and destroy."

Presuming good faith and respect - What a concept! Wish I'd said that. Hope to see it!

Tom McMahon said...

Clutch, I have a much better understanding now why you don't use your real name.

Anonymous said...

Shampoo and top races we examined taintcheck to produce a section of iras in pump to speed for infamous spectators, and to buy that the heuristics were basic to trace partially. Amoghavarsha i descended bomb and there are five good power beings at ellora released to his invasion. It had high forward people in each music support and hard-hit butt meets to turn out gas-powered premiums popular in the piston. Citation machine son, examples have an on car shock individual to join the traction not to take. I'm made this party was also more naturally tried, as i believe a tensor of models will be public. Cutting data's ity, the year says to the engine, and flood a seasonal underside on the graduate. Mv600 scotsman ice cube machines: youtube and google grew the space new. Though cathedral sharding is a harmonic example of expedition of staff, it provides slowly n't non-holistic same and similar information authority.
http:/rtyjmisvenhjk.com