March 08, 2013

"I think serious people who have questions and in some cases oppose some of the uses of drones or all the uses of drones by the US military could have been much, much better served by someone who wasn't such a horribly flawed messenger on this subject."

Back on the face thing, I had this comment to the comments:

I have an inchoate thought that I'm not sure I'll express well enough. There are all sorts of valid criticisms of various positions and views of Rand Paul I'm sure. And if I had said, he's the savior, we must praise him without reservation, I can see how raising those might be relevant. But as far as his critique of the expansion of executive power and the threat to due process and all that, saying "yeah but he sucks on abortion" isn't any kind of criticism: it's a derailment. It may be true, but what's the point of raising it, exactly?

I don't think this argument, per se, has been made by anyone here (though I have sure seen it out "in the world" - Democrat partisans sure didn't cover themselves with glory on the internets during this thing and in its aftermath.) Still, I believe there's a slight hint, when this type of thing is brought up, that raising it somehow diminishes, or tarnishes -- that might be a better word -- tarnishes the relevant point. I wouldn't put too much stock in what this guy says about warrantless wiretapping or secret tribunals, he's against raising the minimum wage, and I hear he's,against abortion too. Seems to me that tendency, understandable though it may be, is a pretty awful one when it comes to important matters like this, and it is one reason why it can be so fruitless to try to discuss ideas on their merits in our current, largely mindless, hyper-partisan political culture.

The part that I didn't express well was the reason for saying it (professional writer here, folks) which is that this tendency, the inclination never to offer any agreement or discussion of the issue at hand without such irrelevant disclaimers,is responsible for a subtle shift in tone and emphasis that may sound completely reasonable immediately but in fact sets the stage for a general mode of discussion where the derailment of the discussion into partisan irrelevancies looms larger than the actual issue at hand. And that is the case even when the person commenting registers support or at least genuine engagement with the real issue. The matter of, say, the alarming expansion of executive power, is buried in an avalanche of conformist disclaimers.

Here's an illustrative parody:

"Notwithstanding the fact that Rand Paul is a dangerous, insane, psychopath whose appalling membership in a culture alien to ours should not be tolerated, I concede he may have a point on this particular matter, though I'd like to reiterate for the record that this in no way should be taken to imply any real divergence from the cultural ideology I have sworn to uphold and with which I promise I am in complete conformity otherwise…"

Or for an illustration drawn from life, check out this bit of Lawrence O'Donnell's show on MSNBC (via Matt Welch), where the tag team covers the bases (O'Donnell -- somewhat hilariously allied with McCain and Lindsey Graham -- presenting the swarm of hyperbolic denunciations and disclaimers, while E.J. Dionne and Ryan Grim present the voice-of-reason concession:

See, it's not like anything the voice-of-reason guys are saying is wrong. It's just that, in context, the matter at hand all but disappears. The real takeaway is, wow "these [Rand Paul] people" are psychos, whatever they may be saying.

This is, no doubt, the MSNBC objective. But, it shouldn't be our objective. And I guess the conceit of this post is that we all have a little Lawrence O'Donnell in our head, as well as an EJ Dionne and a Ryan Grim, and that we shouldn't let Lawrence O'Donnell drown everyone out with irrelevancies. I do believe, though, that that is the way it will play out in our nice blue world. It's human nature, after all.

(And let me add, though I haven't watched MSNBC, or any cable news at all over the last couple of years, since I cancelled my cable, the charge that this network is in effect something like "state media" seems to be borne out clearly here.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at March 8, 2013 05:04 PM