War of Lies

September 15, 2009 at 3:59 pm (By Amba) (, )

Many conservatives adore Joe Wilson for shouting “You lie!” at President Obama, but some — some of the same ones — have no qualms about using untruth and distortion themselves as a weapon in what they see as an all-out war.

When a conservative (David Frum) points out that another conservative (Glenn Beck) has deployed an untruth, a third conservative (David Horowitz) defends the tactic.  In Frum’s account:

Horowitz agrees that Beck’s attack on Sunstein was false. Yet that falsehood does not worry Horowitz. The country is “under assault.” (As the broadcaster Mark Levin has said, President Obama is “literally at war” with the American people.) In a war, truth must yield to the imperatives of victory. Any conservative qualms about the untruth of Beck’s defamation of Sunstein amounts to “appeasement” – an appeasement that will end with the left decapitating the right.  [Frum then editorializes sardonically:] This is the language and logic of Leninism. There is no truth or falsehood comrades, there is only service to the revolution or betrayal of the revolution.

How can you justify using the same tactics you decry in your opponent?  It’s simple:  “We’re right and they’re wrong!”  “The end justifies the means!”

But that’s what both sides are saying.  That’s what both sides believe.

I don’t want either one governing me!!

Man, if I were one of our enemies, I’d be rubbing my hands together exultantly to see so many Americans indulging in the lethal luxury of a soccer-hooligan-level war with each other.

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Race: Danger or Distraction? Bomb or Bomb Scare? [UPDATED AGAIN]

September 11, 2009 at 12:54 am (By Amba) (, , , , , , )

Tonight on MSNBC I heard a parade of Democrats, including Ron Reagan, saying solemnly that they thought Joe Wilson’s “outburst” last night was about race, that such incivility would not have been directed at a white President.  (Bush II was booed in the same chamber.)  I had to turn it off.  I blew my stack on Twitter, because it seemed to me they had all received their talking points and were setting up a story line in which opposition to Obama’s health care plan could only be motivated by racism.  Makes me nuts.

(UPDATE II, Sunday the 13th:  James Pinkerton nails Maureen Dowd doing her duty for the cause:  “Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.” Pinkerton comments:

The cultural elites can’t have it both ways: They can’t simultaneously trash the middle class–labeling reasonable skepticism of Obamacare as “racism”–and then expect that same middle class to simply take the elites’ word for it that Obamacare is a good idea.

And I agree with Pinkerton’s terse prognosis:  “bad politics. It’s not going to work.”)

This led to a fascinating conversation with my brother David (True Ancestor), that I’m reproducing here, starting with Twitter.  (Still can’t bring myself to say “my tweets.”  I’d prefer a George Carlinesque “brain farts.”)

Sometimes I wonder if Obama was elected largely because his race is such a convenient way of ending an argument and silencing debate.

Tremendous barrage of “it’s race, it’s race” on the Left’s pet channel MSNBC today. A concerted campaign–this is how they plan to pass HC??

To get back to the subject of liberal Dems browbeating on “race” theme–I am disgusted beyond measure. This is exact flip side of Birtherism

My own bro falls for & perpetuates the “it’s race” meme re: Joe Wilson http://tinyurl.com/ljsvnt I bet a very liberal white prez wd get same

Here my bro’s so right tho: “I see signs all around me that people are pissed off and paranoid, self-righteous and self-absorbed.”

Please pause here and read David’s post.  It’s a very good and very thoughtful expression of the alarm that is the theme that has sincerely gripped many liberals (and David, as you can see, is no ultraliberal), just as alarm at loss of freedom to an overweening State is the theme that has sincerely gripped many conservatives.

I would have been astonished no matter who called the President a liar, and no matter who the president happened to be. But because Barack Obama is an African American man, in a room populated mostly by white men, it seemed to me that a little bit of mob mentality spilled over the decorous bounds inside of which presidential speeches have always been safely held. The fact that Joe Wilson hails from South Carolina added to the chill in my blood.

I don’t consider rough politics out of bounds. I don’t consider Barack Obama beyond reproach. I don’t consider all Republicans bad people (I vote for them sometimes). But moments like this disturb me deeply. It makes me wonder anew whether the animus against Barack Obama is heightened because many cannot stomach the thought of a black man being president.

I commented:

On the other hand, Obama’s race is very convenient for Democrats. No one can criticize his policies without being suspected/accused of racism. (I’m not suggesting that Joe Wilson’s incivility was legitimate criticism. I doubt it was a spontaneous outburst either. More likely it was a bid to be on the 2012 ticket.) That’s THE big theme on MSNBC today (as much a propaganda organ of the L as Fox is of the R). That so sucks — it’s one of the tactics that makes people feel like something’s being put over on them by trickery, thus aggravating the paranoia.

A lot of conservs on Twitter, and NOT crazies, are saying Wilson shouldn’t have apologized (in their wishful fantasies at least), because they believe the president WAS “lying” (illegal immigrants WILL be covered de facto because there’s no test) and somebody had to say it. These people are in a sincere (if well-fanned) panic about “statism,” and I think THAT has zero to do with Obama’s race.

David responded:

First of all, saying that Obama’s race is convenient for Democrats takes nothing away from the very real peril of racism, and the very real possibility that it may be playing a role in the way Obama is confronted, and the way he was confronted last night.

Furthermore, all leadership, in all eras, in all countries throughout time, have sought to take advantage of the convenient. That this is no different doesn’t make it less real or any less ominous. To merely view it cynically is to deny that racism occludes sensible judgment of Obama — judgment that could help mount a more effective opposition, that could lead to better legislation, and that could do less damage to the perception and the effectiveness of leadership in Washington. Racism is a flame that can be fanned. Last night, I felt the heat. Like a fever, it was a heat that chilled.

My concern was not aroused by any talking head on any network with an ulterior motive or an agenda; it arose as I watched the event unfold in real time, unadorned by commentary. Not only that, in what little commentary I watched afterwards (a bunch of talking heads on CNN, followed by Larry King’s interview of John McCain), the issue of race was never brought up.

Second, the non-crazy conservatives to whom you refer believe the president was lying; I believe they are wrong. There are reasonable interpretations on both sides, pointing to the fact that weaknesses in the legislation could allow illegal immigrants to be insured. Most of the CNN panelists I saw, and stuff I’ve read today, said they felt that could and likely would be addressed in upcoming negotiations. Whether or not Obama was lying does not make what Wilson did OK, any more than yelling invective at Bush, Bush II or Reagan at a similar (or any) occasion would have been OK.

If “somebody had to say it,” that somebody could have done much more good for their cause by saying so in a more intelligent way at a more propitious time. I don’t mind that somebody had to say it; I strenuously disagree that that was the forum and the moment in which to do so, and there seem to be many — including about $300,000 worth of South Carolina Democrats, and virtually every leader on both sides of the aisle in both the House and Senate — who agree with me.

I answered (warning:  I get a little vulgar):

To merely view it cynically is to deny that racism occludes sensible judgment of Obama — judgment that could help mount a more effective opposition, that could lead to better legislation

It’s not a matter of viewing it “cynically.”  Of course there is racism out there.  What’s frustrating is that no one can criticize Obama without being accused of it!!  That makes him, in a weird way, bulletproof (I know how ironic it is to use that metaphor, and I’m still worried about assassination attempts myself).  And he and Democrats are willing to take full advantage of it.  It means that his being black is, after all, an obstacle to his being an effective president, because of variants of race-ism on both sides.

I believe that while one edge of the hysteria about Obama is racist, much more of it is ideological, and that part would be much the same directed at a white liberal.  Christ, look at the insane attempts to destroy Clinton, who wasn’t even that much of a liberal.  Just a Democrat.

Which leads to the insight that Republicans are just as willing to fan fringe racism to get power back as Democrats are to fling accusations of it [to hold on to power].

In this climate, those who are, in fact, trying to mount a sane and civil opposition (Gingrich, Pawlenty, some of the others with counterproposals to the public option) can hardly even get heard.  Everyone’s walking around with a (metaphorical) hard-on, with adrenalin in full flood.  It’s very scary.  But Democrats are fanning the flames in their own way, because it will let them off the hook if Obama fails.  You must consider how creepy it is to have legitimate policy disagreement blamed on racism.  Wouldn’t that make you paranoid if the roles were reversed?  It would look like a diabolically clever way of silencing debate and ramming through an agenda.  Even if you believe in that agenda, getting it done that way will have too high a cost.

I’m scared sick too, I just think there’s blame to go around.  Dangerous times.


If “somebody had to say it,” that somebody could have done much more good for their cause by saying so in a more intelligent way at a more propitious time. I don’t mind that somebody had to say it; I strenuously disagree that that was the forum and the moment in which to do so, and there seem to be many — including about $300,000 worth of South Carolina Democrats, and virtually every leader on both sides of the aisle in both the House and Senate — who agree with me.

Jeez, I’M not arguing that “somebody had to say it,” or that the president was lying!  I’m trying to tell you why Wilson might have been angling to be on the 2012 ticket!  Some people were saying he was a hero (until he apologized), and that’s not about race at all!  The hysteria about immigration and “statism” was in full cry on the Right before Obama was a gleam in the Democratic party’s eye.  The point I’m trying to make is that the Democrats are so fixated on getting the public option (and I’m not sure Obama is, but he’s captive of the base) that they are going about this in a way that feeds into it and aggravates it, as extremes so often do incite each other.

David replied, in response to my first just above:

Yeah, you hit on it. It’s the whole hard-on for battle that’s got me a little on edge. It seems there’s almost a bloodlust. How can you can negotiate when you just want to murder the person across the table.

Do you really feel that “no one can criticize Obama without being accused of” racism? I feel like he’s been roundly, and in large part justifiably, criticized for his handling of this issue, among others. His approval ratings haven’t been bulletproof, nor should they have been. I don’t read as much as you do, but I simply haven’t seen any “legitimate policy disagreement based on racism.” In either direction. (Remember when Clarence Thomas referred to his confirmation hearing as a “high-tech lynching,” and the opposition just withered on the spot? That, to me, was a classic example of what you’re referring to.

I’m still naive enough to believe that if you have real debate, you will not be able to stymie it with fear. But you don’t have to look too far back in history, or too far afield, to see how naive that belief might be.

And in response to my second:

I see your point. And I’ll predict this right now: he’ll [Joe Wilson] narrowly lose his reelection bid; he’ll claim to have been bullied by Emanuel into making his apology; he’ll become a champion of the victimized right; and he’ll wind up on the 2012 ticket. It may all have been choreographed, soon after Obama became that gleam in the eye you mentioned.

So I said:

Wilson’s already claiming that his own party’s leadership made him apologize, that it wasn’t from the heart!  “Grassroots” Republicans are as mad at their own party’s elite as they are at Democrats.  People like Peggy Noonan who disdained Sarah Palin are toast, with them!

No, I don’t mean that no one legitimately criticizes Obama without being accused of racism, but if you listen to MSNBC (the left’s Fox), today they paraded one person after another pushing that line — including Ron Reagan.  It’s as if they got their talking points/marching orders, just like on the R when everyone starts parroting whatever Rush said that day.  Wherever it’s coming from, it’s a stupid ploy, because it makes reasonable people feel like they’re being had.  It’s a huge diversion/distraction from the question of what kind of healthcare policy we should have, and what better kind we can manage to get to given our disagreements.


Remember when Clarence Thomas referred to his confirmation hearing as a “high-tech lynching,” and the opposition just withered on the spot? That, to me, was a classic example of what you’re referring to.

Oh, definitely!  Definitely.  Nothing was more cynical than his appointment.

There are people who are doggedly (blue doggedly?) trying to have a real debate; they’re just being drowned out.  Too many people don’t have a taste or a hunger for substance any more, only for emotion.  To continue the hard-on metaphor, lots of people are looking to be jerked off.

And David (thankfully changing the metaphor) said:

That’s what happens on the eve of a conflagration. The tinder is dry. A few sprinkles here and there are no match for the lightning.

UPDATE: The plot thickens: David sends “more on Joe Wilson” (presented as evidence for the prosecution?):

Allegedly member of a far-right group called Sons of Confederate Veterans, and one of only 7 SC Republicans who went against his own party and voted to keep the Confederate flag flying over the Statehouse.

(If you follow the link, you’ll see that the SCV is actually split into two warring factions, one that is innocuous and one that is virulent.  No word on which one Joe Wilson is or was a member of.)

Does that change the equation?  It does change the 2012 equation, I think.

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At Ground Zero, Coffee and Jokes. [UPDATED AGAIN]

August 19, 2009 at 8:46 am (By Amba) (, , )

I wake up from vague political nightmares and turn on Twitter and find everyone cheerful, as if nothing happened.

Actually, I guess the Obama admin’s reversal and threat to ram through public-option health care with 51 votes (by the tactic called “reconciliation”) makes a lot of people happy.  It merely confirms alarmism on the right about O’s and dems’ “tyrant” instincts — that inflammatory argument will no longer have to be rammed through, it’ll slide right in — while it has immensely cheered up the moping warriors of the left, who’ve wanted him to seize this opportunity to do just that all along.

Here I was stupid enough to think things were actually working as they should and that the minority had managed to slow the majority juggernaut almost to a standstill, forcing everyone to think and talk and work out a compromise that incorporated the best of a range of views.  It looks to me as if the administration is reacting with wounded pride — urged on by its “base” — rather than trusting its own second thoughts or its flimsy (as it turns out) reconciler fantasies.

Didn’t they learn anything from the Hillarycare fiasco?  They have handled this SO badly.  Inconsistent, incoherent, chaotic, driven, it seems, by vanity and petulance rather than chastened sobriety and eagerness to learn.  Nothing new will be allowed to emerge.

The Democrats may have a political majority, but that can’t paper over the deep crack almost right down the middle of the body politic.  To force a solution on the country that close to half of it doesn’t want will give a fatal blow to the splitting wedge.  We’re going to be a crippled country.  When it’s all over we’ll be remembered for being so spoiled by success that we squandered our strength on the luxury of fighting each other, turning our birthright into the spoils of a political Super Bowl.

I’ll admit my own myopia.  When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail, and when you’re a centrist partisanship, not “socialism” or “wingnuts,” looks like the force destroying the country.  It goes back to the Republicans trying to destroy Bill Clinton (who, after the stumbles of his first year, is looking better and better, though rogue’s luck played a part) for no better reason than that he was a successful Democrat who’d “stolen” some of their ideas about fiscal prudence and welfare reform.  (Granted that Bill put the weapon in their hands — and it was in his own pants — but it was wanton and self-indulgent of the Republicans to grab it.)  It goes back before that to Democrats, including myself at the time, despising Ronald Reagan because he was a hawk and not an environmentalist, failing to appreciate how much the freedom we ourselves enjoyed depended on living in a strong country.

I think we’re in terrible trouble, and I’m really scared for the first time.  I must have been naïve:  hardly anyone seems concerned or even surprised this morning.  It’s just another day for you and me in paradise.

UPDATE: From the other side, Philip A. Klein agrees with Maxwell that using reconciliation to pass healthcare reform is an empty threat — and little more than a bluff.

UPDATE II: Randy finds the best links!  If I’d seen this by Clive Crook in the Atlantic sooner, I’d have just quoted it instead of trying to write about the issue myself.

This struck me as a non-story if I ever saw one.

Given hardening Republican opposition to Congressional health care proposals, Democrats now say they see little chance of the minority’s co-operation in approving any overhaul, and are increasingly focused on drawing support for a final plan from within their own ranks.

Oh please. It isn’t Republican support they lack, it’s public support. And this is not the way to go about getting it. Democrats are technically right that they can get a bill through the senate even with one or two defections on their own side, using a special procedure to prevent a Republican filibuster. But with public opinion, previously well-disposed to reform, now leaning against the Democrats’ proposals–a result of the White House’s dismal failure of leadership on the issue–it would be political recklessness of a high order to pass reform by means of a ruse. Not least because the purpose would be to disempower dissenting Democratic senators, not just Republicans. What would centrist voters make of that? The go-it-alone threat surfaces every few weeks. Though complaints about Republican obstructionism are justified, the idea looks less credible now than before.

It goes on.  Key passage, in my view:

The administration should drop the public option. Politically, the disappointment of the Democrats’ hard-liners would be a plus for the administration, not a minus: their protests would reassure moderate opinion. Substantively, it would subtract little or nothing from the considerable virtues of the other aspects of the reform proposals, around which a broad popular consensus can still be built.

And from the Financial Times editorial Crook links to:

The sooner he ditches [the public option], the better. …  In signalling that he might be ready to do so, Mr Obama has said that comprehensive reform is still possible without it. He is right. A broad consensus supports new rules that would stop insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, cap out-of-pocket expenses (so that illness would no longer mean bankruptcy), and make affordable insurance (with public subsidy where necessary) available to all. Those changes are transformative in themselves. Dropping the public option in order to get that done would be a triumph by any sensible standard, not a defeat.

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Twitter Guilt

June 12, 2009 at 10:40 am (By Amba) (, , , , )

I think I got into my first real Twitter jam session last night — those polyphonic volleys where you have to run and leap and snap each other’s responses out of the air like a dog playing Frisbee or an orca voguing for fish . . . where you have to track the threads of the conversation by weaving like an undercover detective through the throng of unrelated tweets, and where the elements of the exchange overlap like the parts of a fugue or canon.  And you’re trying to channel big ideas through a 140-character aperture.  It’s a distinctly new kind of mental challenge that takes about eight metaphors to surround and approximate.  If it’s most like any one thing, it’s probably playing jazz in a small combo in a noisy club, straining to hear, not knowing what your fellow musicians are going to play next, but all trying to keep the original melody at least distantly in mind.

So if I was having fun and exercising my brain, why do I feel guilty?

For one thing, I kicked off the thread by going over to Anchoress’s and starting a fight with her.  A friendly fight; we may disagree some of the time but it is (I daresay) with mutual affection and respect.  I felt that my political allergies were getting unbalanced and that I needed to go roll in some nettles on the right.  What drives me nuts on both sides is the way demonizing Bush seems to require deifying Obama, and in turn, demonizing Obama seems to require . . . well, gushing over capitalism, lately.  (And if you recoil from gushing over capitalism, it must mean you hate capitalism and side with those who want to destroy it and bring on socialism . . . no, no, NO!)  The rhetoric itself leads to paranoid black-and-white hyperbole like calling Bush, or now Obama, a “tyrant” poised to end presidential term limits and free elections, and painting an idealized, Norman Rockwell picture like this one of the glories of yeoman free enterprise that airbrushes out the megacorporate excess and fraud.  (Or, on the left, a socialist-realist wall mural depicting the Peaceable Kingdom of multiculturalism — Latina lesbians in overalls! — painted on some desolate urban underpass.)

So why do I feel guilty about such an observation? Because I realized that I am not the audience for blog posts of this sort.  They’re publicly posted, of course, the way a patriotic brass-band concert might be held in a public park, but it’s not polite to disrupt such a concert; if the oompah of Sousa sets your teeth on edge, just leave.  Criticizing such posts is as mean-spirited and irrelevant as fisking some other country’s national anthem.  People on the right (and left) write these posts for each other.  They’re hymns of agreement, they’re meant to rouse and rally and tune resolve.  They’re tuned to a pitch I cannot hear, or can’t hear without distortion.  In other words, it’s none of my business, and to go over there just to aggravate myself is rude.  Of course, that’s not what I go for; I go for goosebumps, like this and this.  I think I should keep my aggravation to myself instead of putting it on gratuitous display.

But there’s another kind of Twitter guilt I’m feeling that’s harder to define.  An intense conversation can’t be called a waste of time, so that’s not it.  What is it?  It feels reckless, irresponsible, heady, to be throwing big ideas around like that.  Too much reward for too little work?  Shame at having given in to the temptation to hold forth on things I know nothing about?  (How grandiose one can be in miniature!)  Twits rush in where angels fear to tread?  There was a kind of unearned intoxication . . .  Ah!  I know where I recognize this feeling from!

The hung-over morning after a college bull session.

UPDATE: And now I can pinpoint it a little further:  although I write about ideas a lot — in many cases, they’re all I’ve got — I’m wary of them.  I have a little bit of a “no ideas but in things” bias.  Ideas are like hot-air balloons:  they can easily get untethered from the earth and float bloatedly away.  Sometimes Twitter is like a collective balloon release.

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