Sunday, September 06, 2009

Nasty debate is easy

This month I am guesting at Prawfsblawg, a national lawprof blog. I posted yesterday on President Obama's speech to schoolchildren. I don't have a problem with a speech, but there is an etiquette that should be followed when a President presumes to speak apolitically in his capacity as head of state. The speech should not be about his agenda, disputed matters of policy or him. That his political opponents are suspect that this etiquette will not be followed and that the speech will be used to gain political advantage is not unprecedented (Democrats objected to a similar speech by Bush 41) and not surprising.

Perhaps the reaction is more vociferous today than it was then. I don't know, although it seems to me that we are increasingly less cordial and willing to engage what our opponents say. Mostly I think this is a function of the ability of people to live, if they choose, in an echo chamber. If Keith Olberman and Glen Beck repeatedly tell you that "we" are morally and intellectually superior, you might come to believe it.

But maybe there's more to it than that. It is absolutely incorrect to say that George W. Bush represented some sort of apogee of conservatism. On economic issues, in particular, he routinely betrayed conservative principles.

But he did outrage liberals with what they saw as an extreme reaction to the 9-ll attacks. They were concerned - with some justification - about the implications of preemptive war and what they saw as suspension of essential civil liberties. Even I, who believe that much of what the administration did was justified, recognized that the war on terror raised some very difficult questions and potentially dangerous precedents. Many on the left became overwrought in their concern and took leave of their senses (Bush was not a theocrat, fascist or war criminal)and this sullied our public discourse.

So it is with Obama. He has stunned conservatives with his commitment to statism and proposed expansion of the federal government. The type of centralized corporatism that he seems to favor is potentially a radical change in our society. Many on the right have become overwrought (he is not a communist or a nazi) and this has sullied our public discourse. Some liberals have, in my view, been complicit in this further degradation of debate by attempting to paint conservatives as the sum of their most objectionable elements. (Yes, some conservatives did that to liberals as well.)

I don't expect this to change. But I would suggest to my friends on the left and the right that if you have shown that the latest from Michael Savage or Markos Moulitas is intemperate and foolish (a worthwhile service), you've still got work to do.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Keith Olberman and Glen Beck"

Why should anyone believe you know what you're talking about when you can't even spell either of their names.

AnotherTosaVoter said...

While I agree with your post, your defense of Ms. Appling and her rhetoric in another thread limit your credibilty on this issue.

Nastiness is nastiness, regardless of religious belief.

Anonymous said...

Never mind his defense of Appling in another thread -- he's her LAWYER, for God's sake!

Yes, even the criminally insane deserve representation, but that's likely not the basis on which Herr Professor took up her cause! The truth is that he subscribes to her load of horse excrement.

Anonymous said...

"Commitment to statism"? "Centralized corporatism"? Who's overwrought here?

Billiam said...

"I don't expect this to change."

Judging by what I've read here, mr. Rick, you're right. It won't change. From childish sniping to full out despite, it won't change any time soon.

AnotherTosaVoter said...

Anon 10:17 I wasn't referring to his legal representation, I was referring to him justifying the basis for Ms. Appling's rhetoric.

Rick said in the post,

"He has stunned conservatives with his commitment to statism and proposed expansion of the federal government."

He's only stunned conservatives who weren't paying attention. Corporate bailouts, like GM, started under the previous administration and have been happening with regularity for decades.

I have yet to see any evidence of his commitment to "statism", do you have examples?

John Foust said...

If you'd like to watch Reagan speaking every so apolitically and non-indoctrinally, it's online.

Clutch said...

Your point is a good one. It's far from clear that you can make it unhypocritically.

"You've still got work to do" is an apt note-to-self for someone who's just claimed without argument that only those who "took leave of their senses" could think, e.g., that George Bush could reasonably be prosecuted for war crimes; and that Obama advances some noteworthy sort of "statism".

I'm sure you believe these things, of course, but then so do the people who say other unfounded derogatory things.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Herr Professor mounts no defense of his representation of Ms. Appling. She is the poster child for the conduct he condemns.

Steve said...

Dear Clutch,

If "it's far from clear" that Rick can make his point "unhypocritically," why do you assert his point is "a good one?"

Also, would you please explain your final paragraph,providing examples?
Thanks very much!

Clutch said...

Dear Clutch,

If "it's far from clear" that Rick can make his point "unhypocritically," why do you assert his point is "a good one?"


Steve, this has to do with what the word "hypocrisy" means.

Whether something is a good point is a matter of its content; or, in the case of an argument, its content and its structure. That doesn't depend on who says it, nor why they say it. Whether someone is hypocritical in making a good point, though, is a matter of whether their own behaviour is consistent with it.

Also, would you please explain your final paragraph,providing examples?
Thanks very much!


RE might decline to see his own needling rhetoric as needling rhetoric, on the grounds that what he's said is just plain goshdarnit true. But that doesn't distinguish* his approach to the discussion from those he excoriates, since it is a fairly broad truth that people tend to believe the things they assert; so even many of the nastiest voices out there could offer the same justification. (Not all of them all the time, of course, since some are surely insincere hacks out to gull the rubes from time to time.)

* In principle; certainly there is a difference of degree.

Anonymous said...

So, Rick, when President Reagan gave his great speech to students on November 14, 1988, and pitched the balanced-budget amendment and the line-item-veto amendment, was that a breach of etiquette? Should Miss Manners be alarmed?