Opinion is Social. [UPDATED]

March 31, 2010 at 4:19 am (By Amba)

Talking to a dear friend on the left side of the political spectrum today (not far left) was painful, not only because politics is exceedingly painful these days (the temptation to hunker down into a stoical — and possibly armed — private life has never been so great in my lifetime), but because it brought uneasiness and alienation into what has always been a close relationship.

She said, “the stupid people on the right.”

She said Rush Limbaugh wanted Obama to fail, and she wished Rush would make good on his threat to leave the country.

She said that Obama had broken his heart trying to get bipartisanship on health care.

[UPDATE I: I remembered later that she also told me she had just heard that it had now been proven that last year was the warmest year ever.]

I recognized that these were tribal signals meant to elicit ritual agreement from me.  Then that would be settled, and we could go on with our personal catching up in a happy miasma of accord.

Except that when she reached out, I wasn’t there.  (Imagine!  I, who think Rush has done a lot of harm, found myself restoring the context of his “fail” remark, explaining that it wasn’t about race but about ideology.)  Instead, I found myself numbly trying to tell her about the different reality that was there behind the scrim of her assumptions.  I felt stupid having to explain why people on the right fiercely resent being lumped together and smeared as “stupid.”  I refrained from telling her what a stupid thing that had been for a smart person like her to say.  But she wasn’t thinking when she said it.  She was bonding.  When I didn’t bond back, it was shocking and disorienting.  Suddenly we were stumbling in this weird, mined DMZ.

It struck me as profoundly anthropological and even biological — like worker ants or naked mole rats comparing scent badges when they meet in tunnels underground.  We touch antennae and find out if the other person is safe and approved and “one of us.”  If not?  We drive them out the nest, or kill them.  If so?  Nest solidarity is reinforced.

What business does this crap have between human friends?  What bewilders me is that the signals that are exchanged (and on the right they would be:  “the elitists and freeloaders on the left,” rah-rah Rush, and something about Obama’s leanings toward treachery and tyranny; I have close friends who reach out to me with those signals, and I can’t return them, either) are the crudest and most stereotyped and involve the least thought.  They are knee-jerk, groupthink slogans precisely because their function is tribal identification in an era when the old identifiers like class and religion have become muted and muddled.

This is so hard to talk about.

Only if you’re jolted out of your original identification can you catch a brief glimpse of the whole picture.  Class is the river that runs through it, class and family history.  If you’re upper middle class and economically secure, a kind of noblesse-oblige indignation on behalf of the disadvantaged is part of your heritage.  (I speak from experience.)  You may be cosmopolitan and Jewish, or descended from the highly educated abolitionist and pacifist strains of Christianity.  If your family was working class but unionized, part of the labor movement, you may have inherited a more collective common-man tradition that once carried a stirring idealism (if it also, in its heyday, veered uncomfortably close to idealizing the Soviet Union).  And if you’re a member of a minority group, you may feel you, or your less fortunate cohorts, started life under a historical handicap that must to be redressed.  On the right, you’re probably from the fiercely independent smallholder/yeoman/tradesman/craftsman class, and the “millionaires next door” that are so many of its sons and daughters; your ancestors’ lives were rooted in skilled labor or farming and hunting, homestead, church, and clan.  (You can see that I still have a much more detailed picture of the left than the right.)

I think the one smart thing Karl Marx ever said was, “The conditions of existence determine consciousness.”  That probably struck me so hard because the conditions of my own existence have changed so much, and because I’ve traveled so much, not only in space, but between worlds.  “Determine” is a little strong, but it’s close.

I suppose it’s natural that these groups of Americans should be set against each other; in many ways, their interests are.  And I can see (having grown up on the left) what drives the right crazy about “us”:  our interests are not direct and forthright.  We always purport to be doing things on behalf of others, often with admirable dedication; but insofar as we didn’t have to struggle to establish ourselves, our self-interest is in our self-image.

(To my friend, the opposition to Obama is self-evidently racist.  It would be crazy to deny that any of it is.  But to me, now, it seems evident that the convenience of being able to tar all opposition as “racist” was a major strategic weapon in the Democrats’ bid for power.  Race jiu-jitsu.  How racist is that?)

I’m going to have to leave this inconclusive.  I need some sleep.  My instinct is to reconcile, to find common ground.  And there is some:  it’s called America.  The divisions are real, but those who exacerbate them for sport or profit, on both sides, will deserve the blame for what’s to come.  Right now everybody feels warlike and heroic.  Hardball is admired.  Revolution is commended.  Unyielding enmity is intoxicating.  Compromisers who actually want to accomplish something that everyone can grumble and accept, rather than rant about some never-never-land Utopia of the pure left or right, are booed off the field.  These are the signs of a country that hasn’t had a real war in too long.

UPDATE II: Sure enough, today I had to cut short a close friend on the right by saying that talking about politics makes me sick.  While I could almost agree with her on “Throw the bums out — all of them,” she was seeking my agreement with the suspicion that the election of Barack Obama was only possible if “there was a plan” — a sinister, global plan, was the implication.

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50 Comments

  1. PatHMV said,

    I’ve been seeing this young woman who is a serious Democrat. Her roommate is a very liberal black woman. My politics are such a complete mystery to them, it makes life very difficult, sometimes. They take it as a complete given, for example, that Joe Wilson would NEVER have shouted out “you lie!” at the State of the Union, but for the fact that the President is a black man. They simply cannot accept any other reality.

    Fortunately, I am exceedingly charming, and they are both quite intelligent (other than, in my opinion, their politics), so we’ve been able to build bonds of friendship despite the differences. But to me, that friendship feels as though it comes at the price of me declining to express most of my political opinions, while they feel free to bring up the subject of politics much more regularly.

    I once opined that politics is the new religion. Sadly, I see that becoming more and more true each day. We no longer care if you’re Baptist or Methodist or Catholic. We barely care if you’re Jewish or Buddhist or Hindu or Animist. But we care very much if you’re a “right thinking” person in accordance with our current political beliefs.

    My own political instincts lead me to conclude that this is, in significant part, due to the fact that government now plays such a huge role in all of our daily lives. Fifty years ago, it didn’t, and so (as I note in my old post) politics didn’t matter that much to you, unless you were in the class of folks who might participate in the spoils system. Now, however, government at many different levels is omnipresent in our lives, occupying many social roles (such as providing aid to the poor, facilitating adoptions, taking in orphans, etc.) that were previously occupied by religious orders and volunteers.

    On the racism issue, the point I try (on the rare occasions I’m willing to risk being labeled as a racist or racial apologist) to make to my friends is that, sure, there’s some percentage of individuals who oppose the President because he’s black. There’s racism out there, sure. But does everybody who opposes Obama or Pelosi-care do so because of racism? Of course not. Even they have no choice but to admit that at least SOME criticism of the bill and the President is not motivated by race. So my point is, then, that it solves nothing to focus on the racially-motivated opposition, other than as attempt to discredit ALL opposition, by taint of association.

  2. wj said,

    One related phenomena I have experienced is people assuming that their friends on the opposite end on the political spectrum are somehow extremely rare exceptions. That the nut-cases that feed their stereotype are actually a small minority just doesn’t occur to them.

    I recall a time when one of my (moderately far left) friends was ranting about “all conservatives,” and how no sane person could possibly stand to associate with them. What set her off was, I note, an extreme position that I had not much use for either.

    When she paused for breath, I pointed out that I was a conservative, and we (mostly) got along fine. Without batting an eye, she responded, “Oh, but you’re a tolerant conservative!” Like that was an almost unique anomaly, rather than (as it is in my experience) the usual case.

    It occurs to me that, half a century ago, people with strong racial prejudices routinely did something similar when explaining away examples of blacks who clearly did not fit their preferred stereotype. So maybe it’s a normal part of human mental equipment.

  3. PatHMV said,

    Very good point, wj…

  4. amba12 said,

    Fortunately, I am exceedingly charming,

    Indeed you are, Pat. Indeed you are.

  5. michael reynolds said,

    Racism is rampant on the right. Don’t kid yourself. People don’t yell “ni—” at a congressman unless they believe themselves to be among like-minded folk. You write about the social bonding aspect of this, well, what’s the social bonding implication of yelling, “Faggot” at Barney Frank? That doesn’t tell you anything about the person yelling it and about the fact that he felt he could do it without being ostracized by his group?

    Please. You’re rationalizing.

    It’s no different than pretending there wasn’t blatant anti-Americanism in Vietnam peace demonstrations. People waved North Vietnamese flags at peace demonstrations because they knew their fellow demonstrators would tolerate it. Tea Party racism is the precise parallel.

    It is not necessary to distort the truth. You can truthfully say that the Tea Party protests are about a lot of perfectly defensible concerns. You can also truthfully say that a significant amount of it is about race. Emphasizing statement A while dishonestly minimizing statement B may make you feel better about your shift to the right, but it isn’t likely to endear you to former liberal friends.

    In fact your strategically blind eye to the racial problem of conservatives in general — a problem admitted by former GOP chairman Ken Mehlman and then promptly shoved down the memory hole — puts you in the same uneasy position as a Catholic pretending the church doesn’t have a problem with child molestation.

    You’re denying reality. The people who used to be your friends aren’t willing to join you in that denial. And by insisting on it you make yourself alien. You make it tribal when you start covering up for the very real flaws on your new team.

    The choice is not between lying to defend the left or lying to defend the right. The third choice is to be as honest as one can be.

    I’m left of center. I have no problem admitting that many on “my side” are theoretically racially tolerant from the safety of gated communities that “just happen” to be all white. No problem admitting that for a bunch of people who believe in diversity we sure have a lot of kids in very pale private schools. I have no problem admitting that many on “my side” don’t actually like regular people much. No problem admitting that “we” are smug, undeservedly condescending and closed-minded. There is still a strong thread of anti-Americanism on my side. There’s a residual tolerance for communism. There’s a weakness.

    Try being honest about your new side and you’ll probably have less trouble relating to the old friends on your former side. Stop pretending there’s nothing racial in the fact that one party has zero support among blacks, less and less support among Hispanics, very little support among Asians, Jews or gays, very little support among the young. You may not think the GOP has a race problem or a problem of a more general bigotry, but just about everyone on the not-white, not-Christian, non-straight side sees it pretty clearly. It’s not a coincidence that conservatives are white, southern, old and Christian.

    Put it this way: you and every woman you know, thinks this guy named Joe is sexist. Joe thinks he’s not. But every single woman who has ever met Joe thinks he is. And in fact, a fair number of other men agree Joe’s sexist. You think maybe the guy is sexist?

    You’re in denial and that will read to your former friends as less a political position than a psychological problem. KInd of like if you became a Scientologist and suddenly didn’t think Xenu was funny anymore. You wouldn’t seem like a person who had evolved, you’d seem like a person who stripped a few gears.

  6. PatHMV said,

    Awww, Annie! You say the sweetest things. If only you weren’t happily married to a man who could STILL crush me to a pulp… ;-)

  7. PatHMV said,

    If I point out how very tribal Michael is, in light of amba’s post, does that make me racist?

    And just to clarify, Michael, when “whites” split their vote 60-40 or 70-30, that’s evidence of racism by white people, and that’s confirmed by the fact that “blacks” vote almost 100% in line with each other? Don’t bother to answer, because you’ll just spew more bile and venom that will persuade absolutely nobody who’s not already a member of your political tribe.

  8. Maxwell said,

    The desire for reconciliation itself is quintessentially liberal (in the cosmopolitan sense, at least). Only someone very committed to liberalism, like you or Barack Obama (or even George W. Bush) would think that it could be an effective means of governing in this day and age.

    But really, democratic politics has always been warlike; as realpc might point out, only a very idealistic “progressive” could ever think that we could get beyond that somehow. I can imagine arguing that the Founders intended for our politics to be as contentious as they are, given the appeal of war to human minds.

  9. Maxwell said,

    One more thing, about the protests.

    I participated in the 2000 IMF protest in DC. The Black Block was clearly present there, as were a number of other idiots, and they did some of their usual stupid things. One of those things was harassing a rather quiet mounted police officer, who got surrounded by protesters closing in on him until his horse reared. I was trying to get people to leave him alone, and got pepper sprayed – accidentally – for my efforts.

    That was the end of my protesting career.

    My point: I don’t think the people who fail to silence idiots at the Tea Party protests are necessarily racists themselves. But I do think they have a choice to make, and how they choose will say something to the rest of us.

  10. PatHMV said,

    Here’s the thing, Maxwell. There’s a lot of folks being accused of “failing to silence idiots at the Tea Party protests,” but I’ve seen very little actual EVIDENCE of that. There’s a claim… no video or audio evidence… that ONE person made a racial slur against Rep. Rangel on the day Obamacare passed. Is the responsibility of every tea party adherent to drop everything and roundly condemn that remark before being allowed to continue their protest?

    At one event, some protester did indeed yell the word “fag” at Barney Frank. Video evidence shows that the offending protester was shouted down by the rest and told things like “hey, we don’t need that kind of talk.”

    So show me specific things you think should be condemned, and I’ll be happy to evaluate and condemn them as appropriate. But show me some massive, slanderous accusation that the tea parties are racist, and I’ll tell you to show me some actual evidence, rather than just media-fed impressions, that what you claim is really happening.

  11. Maxwell said,

    Pat,

    I don’t doubt that you would, although excepting the John Lewis incident, I think you are overly blase about the lack of evidence. Signs, for example, should be a much easier thing to police than shouted epithets.

    But I also think you’re missing my point. My experience in the anti-globalization protests suggested that the protesters claim was true – 99% of them were well-behaved and peaceful (if often carrying offensive signs themselves). But we failed utterly to police the 1% who weren’t. I expect that the same dynamic is true in the tea parties – certainly the rhetoric is very much the same.

    I just don’t think it’s possible for organizations with such diffuse leadership to control street protesters in any effective manner. Nor do I necessarily think that it’s ethical – freedom of speech is freedom of speech, however offensive (obviously drawing a line at physical or property violence or threats of the same). The civil rights movement was the one exception, and I think that was largely because of the geographic split between the more militant groups in the North and the southern groups who were committed to pacifism. I don’t think we’ll see the likes of that again.

  12. amba12 said,

    Michael, the trouble with what you’re saying is that it allows of NO principled opposition to Obama’s big-government liberal positions that isn’t tainted by racism. And that provides perfect cover for arm-twisting by the left. I believe there’s racism on the right (and a more subtle philo- and condescending form of racism on the left, which subjected candidate Obama to “the soft bigotry of low expectations” on the experience front), but I also believe that if an all-white equivalent of Obama promoting the same positions had been elected President, Rush Limbaugh would have wanted him to fail. I dislike Rush intensely, but I actually think that was a race-blind remark on his part (once I read it in context). (If you don’t bother to read it in context, of course, you can think whatever you want.)

    Just imagine for a moment how maddening it would be to you if you were constantly told that your position on some issue was no more than an ad hominem or bigoted reaction to the individual you were debating. That is really dirty politics, and it’s just as racist in its own way as the cruder, slowly-dying racism it decries. What I object to most is the way the two sides provoke each other in an endless vicious cycle. For example, the Democrats deciding to alter a sixth of the economy by any means necessary on a totally partisan basis — which has never been done before — feeds the absurd talk of “tyranny” and “totalitarianism” on the right. On the right people think it’s not absurd, just as on the left people think the accusations of rampant, pervasive racism are not absurd. But they are BOTH exaggerated way out of proportion, and quite deliberately so.

  13. amba12 said,

    I was going to say that consciousness can change if the conditions of existence change, and also if the people you hang out with change, and Michael is a good example of both: the new conditions of his existence involve Hollywood.

  14. amba12 said,

    Maxwell: I quoted Federalist #10 a few posts ago to exactly that point. James Madison on faction. I’ll put the link here later.

  15. El Pollo Real said,

    These are the signs of a country that hasn’t had a real war in too long.

    Otto von Bismarck (who introduced universal healthcare to Germany) famously spoke: Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided – that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849 – but by iron and blood.

    Obama needs a major distraction to get his agenda through. His speeches also lack Bismarck’s blood and iron fervor and instead just come off as bloody irony.

  16. El Pollo Real said,

    But to me, now, it seems evident that the convenience of being able to tar all opposition as “racist” was a major strategic weapon in the Democrats’ bid for power. Race jiu-jitsu. How racist is that?

    Here’s an anology. I wrote a little remembrance at my blog about the University Bombing at the UW Madison 40 years ago this summer. I meant to “tar” the perpetrators (one of whom has not been caught) and also the people who ten years later cheered the actions of perps. I didn’t mean to “tar” an entire generation for opposition to the Vietnam war.

    It is entirely possible to condemn the actions of a few species within a genus without casting doubt on the whole.

    You overblow as usual Mr. Reynolds.

  17. wj said,

    Then again, Bismark may not have been entirely correct. Granting (strictly for the sake of discussion) that “blood and iron” is an effective way to ram thru big changes. That is far from the same as saying that it is the only way to make drastic changes.

    From what I can see, President Obama has a different, but still effective, approach. Call it the “give ‘em enough rope” approach. (Because I’m net feeling up to inventing catchy descriptive tags this afternoon.)

    What he does (and did on both health care and during his campaign for that matter) is say what he thinks should happen. Then act like he might not be particularly intent on any particular way of doing it. Which, on the evidence, causes his opponents to go way overboard — due, IMHO, to their enthusiasm for putting him out of their way permanently. Then, when they have gotten far enough out on the limb to put off anyone who didn’t strongly agree with them to begin with, they discover that the limb is being cut off. And Obama ends up with most of what he wanted.

    I have seen this too much in the last couple of years to believe that it is either blind luck, or an occasional bobble in tactics. It looks to me like a standard tactic. And if, for example, I was giving advice currently to the government of Israel, I would suggest a drastic revision in their words and actions — unless, of course, they are feeling suicidal. Ditto for anyone else, foreign of domestic, who thinks they have an opportunity to slip or force something past the new kid on the block.

    Not that I think Obama will get everything he wants. Nobody ever does. But his success rate, once you accept that he believes in gradual progress rather than in getting everything all at once, is pretty impressive. And, I judge, likely to continue to be so — because the only way to successfully counter it is to actually try to negotiate a compromise.

  18. El Pollo Real said,

    And Obama ends up with most of what he wanted

    Ouch! That hurts in the same way that 2000-2008 wasn’t about getting what Bush wanted. It shouldn’t be about what the President wants. It’s about what the people he represents want.

    Besides, I regard most current discussions about Obama & Palin and other executive types (aside from their humor value) to be sideshow distractions from the real political events of this spring and fall.

  19. wj said,

    And yet, EPR, you were the one who wrote of Obama’s agenda. And I do believe that he has an agenda. Not, primarily, the one attributed to him by his opponents — that’s why there is so much gnashing of teeth on the left about all the things he hasn’t done. Mr. Reynolds frequently among them. But an agenda nonetheless.

  20. El Pollo Real said,

    And yet, EPR, you were the one who wrote of Obama’s agenda.

    Well yes I have WJ. I do think he has a personal agenda, especially regarding HCR. It overlaps with a signicant portion of the country. But I’m not convinced that that portion is a majority.

  21. Randy said,

    WJ, I believe you are right. During the 2008 campaign Jim Lindgren posting at the Volokh Conspiracy, described Obama as a “radical incrementalist:”

    People should not confuse Obama’s personality with his political orientation: by personality, Obama is the most reasonable, thoughtful, moderate person on either national ticket. He is definitely NOT an ideologue. Yet by political orientation, Obama is the most liberal or progressive candidate to be a party nominee for president in at least a half century — probably ever. That explains why he is in essence a radical incrementalist.

    An astute commenter observed:

    “Radical incrementalism” has an important place in twentieth century liberalism, and Obama might be an heir to that tradition. During the New Deal, the chief strategists behind the Social Security Act, led by Wilbur Cohen, whose career was built on social welfare policy, considered themselves radical incrementalists. Many were students of John R. Commons at Wisconsin, who advocated creating a European style social democratic welfare state one small step at a time. First, pick the weakest, most vulnerable members of society (in this case, the elderly) and build a program for them. Then, start working up to those whose familes were harmed by the death or disability of a breadwinner (SSI death and disability benefits, ca. 1950), then work to provide health care for the most needy (Medicare and Medicaid). Over time, the social safety would be sewn, and the United States would come to resemble European socialist systems. These men did not see themselves as revolutionaries, and rarely (with the exception of LBJ) had an advocate in the White House)–Truman pushed too far with health care in the Fair Deal and it went nowhere–but they succeeded in accomplishing quite a bit in 30 years. Incremetalists can have a tremendous effect, over time.

    The descriptive phrase works for me. YMMV.

  22. amba12 said,

    Very revealing, Randy!

  23. realpc920 said,

    “These are the signs of a country that hasn’t had a real war in too long.”

    Yes, maybe that is our problem. We don’t really feel like one big tribe of Americans unless we are being attacked by outsiders. As they always say, the whole planet will feel like brothers if we are ever attacked by space aliens. But this is really the way of Nature, isn’t it? I mean, I can see why you felt disturbed by the conversation with your friend, because I have experienced exactly the same thing too many times.

    I agree with you that it’s all tribal codes. The things people say are so mindless it isn’t possible that they ever thought about it. It’s just a code to establish tribal common ground.

    There are many experts and leaders spouting these tribal codes, such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, etc., on the right, and various academics on the left.

    They are not thinking or analyzing; they are resonating. The codes are generated subconsciously.

    And I can feel them in myself also. Except I get all of them, from all sides. The result is they are pretty weak and I can recognize what they are and try to shut them off.

    And I have had to learn to censor whatever I say. There are tribes I want, or need, to belong to. Such as the office where I work, or my family of origin.

  24. Michael Reynolds said,

    Michael, the trouble with what you’re saying is that it allows of NO principled opposition to Obama’s big-government liberal positions that isn’t tainted by racism.

    Of course there’s principled opposition. Of course there are perfectly legitimate reasons to oppose Obama’s policies. I said that. There’s nothing racist about taking the position that the federal government has no role in providing health care, for instance, it’s a perfectly defensible libertarian position. I would have made it myself 35 years ago.

    It’s an argument the GOP could make so much more effectively if their chief spokesmen weren’t race-baiting drug addicts and racist mental cases. We on the left did not force the GOP to anoint Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck as power brokers and spokesmodels. It’s not our fault the Tea Partiers invited a loon like Michelle Bachman to address them. Those choices send messages. And they are meant to send messages.

    Again, it’s like arguing that because the Catholic church runs inner city missions (true) and provides medical care in Africa (true) and does all sorts of wonderful things (true), we shouldn’t judge them by the fact that a rather large number of their priests rape children (also true), cover up the crimes (definitely true) and attack the victims (also true.)

    The reason that the Tea Partiers and the broader GOP don’t rid themselves of racists is that they don’t want to. The GOP is already a minority party and if they sent the message that they really, seriously, no bullshit, wished the racist assholes would go away, they would lose electorally.

    It’s a choice they made in 1968. Not only do they not purge the racists, they choose as spokesmen individuals who actively encourage and incite the racists. They deliberately profit from racism. As Ken Mehlman to his great credit admitted. And as every single black person in this country already knows.

    The right does not get to whine about being identified with racism when they actively recruit, pander to, and profit from, racists. They do not have to change a single substantive position. Not one. This is not a matter of ideology. It’s about power and the willingness of one political party to kiss the rings of racists.

    And this, Annie, is the history and the present reality that your liberal friends get and that you have chosen to wish away. That’s why you are suddenly alien. You’ve allied yourself with people who actively exploit racism, you’ve denied same, you’ve defended your frankly absurd and ahistorical position, and then you wonder why they chill you?

    Try defending the RC against child molestation charges and you’ll get the same reaction.

  25. amba12 said,

    Actively exploiting racism? And what is the left doing? Pot calling kettle … black? Both are keeping racism alive for power and advantage.

    It’s an argument the GOP could make so much more effectively if their chief spokesmen weren’t race-baiting drug addicts and racist mental cases. We on the left did not force the GOP to anoint Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck as power brokers and spokesmodels. It’s not our fault the Tea Partiers invited a loon like Michelle Bachman to address them. Those choices send messages. And they are meant to send messages.

    Well, if that’s the case, then the Tea Party movement is going to discredit itself and there’s no need to worry about it. Mainstream Republican candidates will be forced to either muzzle or disown the blatant racists. Glenn Beck is a nutcase, but I think you will find that Rush carefully avoids racist statements. He’s an equal-opportunity insulter. He does accuse the left of reverse racism all the time.

    as every single black person in this country already knows.

    Tell that to Shelby Steele, John McWhorter, or Thomas Sowell. For a quick summary of a point of view your generalization obliterates, read this, Michael, it’s very good whether you agree with it or not.

    Also, for your edification, my friend didn’t chill me. We were uncomfortable with each other talking about politics (I’m even more uncomfortable talking politics with right-wing friends who attribute their revulsion against people of the same sex loving each other to the Bible, one of whom used to be gay herself). So we stopped talking about politics. Like realpc, given a choice between friendship or family and politics, I’ll take the former. Politics is about two parts posing and bluster to one part substance. It has a weird, oblique relationship to who people really are. It isn’t what it seems to be.

  26. amba12 said,

    P.S. Please go into talk radio already. The Left needs its Rush. If you think you’re doing well as a kids’ book writer, you have no idea. Only the best cigars.

  27. Michael Reynolds said,

    Actively exploiting racism? And what is the left doing? Pot calling kettle … black? Both are keeping racism alive for power and advantage.

    Right. In just the way that the Catholic church and the victims are equally to blame for molesting children. Perpetrator, victim, can’t we all just get along?

    After all racism is just a historical artifact, a memory, all gone! Nothing real there.

    Well, if that’s the case, then the Tea Party movement is going to discredit itself and there’s no need to worry about it. Mainstream Republican candidates will be forced to either muzzle or disown the blatant racists. Glenn Beck is a nutcase, but I think you will find that Rush carefully avoids racist statements. He’s an equal-opportunity insulter. He does accuse the left of reverse racism all the time.

    It’s ridiculous to pretend Rush isn’t a race-baiter. Even the better class of Republican admits it. You’ve not only become a Republican, you’re several beats behind the better class of Republican propagandist. Spend 10 minutes on Google looking up Rush’s racism.

    And the argument that we shouldn’t worry about extremists because they’ll all sort themselves out? Seriously? That’s the argument you’re making? “Oh, pish-posh, racist nuts, they’ll go away soon enough, once we’ve destroyed Obama, nothing to see here.” And you actually wonder that your old friends are nervously looking away?

    As for me in talk radio: wouldn’t work. I actually care about the truth. You used to.

  28. amba12 said,

    Oh right, Michael. I forgot: the left is all about victimization. All about rich people feeling good about themselves by championing the helpless oppressed who are too permanently beaten down to fight for themselves.

    As usual, you’ve worked yourself into a froth where all you can see is the blood in your own eyes. In the nonracial sense, anything that isn’t white is black to you, or vice versa. I’m such a Republican!

    If you’re convinced that what you have is the truth, then surely you have a sacred responsibility to disseminate it more widely than here. But then, it’s much easier to fight a straw man who isn’t actually fighting you than actual armed enemies. It’s cowardly.

    For the record, I’m worried about assassination and always have been. And I do see people on both sides whipping us up to that point. Democratic thug tactics are alarming and enraging the policy opponents who aren’t racist to the point where they’re as dangerous as the ones who are, and will make common cause with them. They’ll use a nut to get rid of what they fantasize is a statist tyrant because those fears have been fed.

    War is so much fun until people start bleeding.

  29. wj said,

    Michael, I’m sure that you do care about the truth. And I’m equally sure that Annie cares at least as much. As in any discussion of politics (or religion, or any other controversial topic), there are nuances on both sides that make truth a slightly slippery concept.

    Facts exist. Truth includes an interpretation of what those facts mean, not to mention an interpretation of which facts are important and which ones are merely a distraction. In any political discussion, both sides can say (with perfect accuracy) “there are nut cases on my side, but they don’t represent the majority.” And both can ask, with equal accuracy “yes, but if you don’t agree with them, why do you not denounce them?”

    To which one perfectly valid answer is: “because they are so marginal that anyone with any sense will know that they are not representative.” Except, of course, they won’t.

  30. amba12 said,

    Naomi Wolf, of all people, has been invited to speak at libertarian rallies. Her book Give Me Liberty is being read by Tea Partiers. Since her liberal credentials are impeccable, maybe she can be heard through the roaring in Michael’s ears:

    When I went on Fox News people asked me why I was going on those shows. Are you kidding? You have to go, especially to people you don’t agree with. We need to get back into grappling with people we disagree with if we want to restore the Republic.

    I was invited by the Ron Paul supporters to their rally in Washington last summer and I loved it. I met a lot of people I respected, a lot of “ordinary” people, as in not privileged. They were stepping up to the plate, when my own liberal privileged fellow demographic habituates were lying around whining. It was a wake-up call to the libertarians that there’s a progressive who cares so much about the same issues. Their views of liberals are just as distorted as ours are of conservatives.

    JS: Why do you think the sides don’t understand each other?

    NW: Frankly, liberals are out of the habit of communicating with anyone outside their own in cohort. We have a cultural problem with self-righteousness and elitism. Liberals roll their eyes about going on “Oprah” to reach a mass audience by using language that anyone can understand even if you majored in semiotics at Yale. We look down on people we don’t agree with. It doesn’t serve us well.

    There is also a deliberate building up of two camps that benefits from whipping up home team spirit and demonizing the opposition. With the Internet there is even more fractioning since we are in echo chambers. With so much propaganda it is hard to calm down enough to listen.

  31. amba12 said,

    More Wolf:

    Demographically, I’m a hippie from San Francisco and I’m not culturally inclined to be sympathetic to states’ rights. My cultural heritage is FDR and Medicare and federal government solutions. But if you think through the analysis, strengthening state rights is a good corrective of the aggregation of an over-reaching federal power. Take California’s challenge of the Patriot Act or states like Vermont leading the way with addressing the corruption of the voting system. It’s a good example of the Tea Party thinking out of the box on how to address a problem. [...]

    JS: Would you call yourself pro-Tea Party?

    NW: Even though I’m appalled when racism surfaces, and I personally don’t agree with certain policy solutions and a lot of what they believe in, as someone who is very concerned about reinvigorating democracy the Tea Parties are an answer to what I asked for. [...]

    If people are taking my book seriously and organizing, getting into office, caring about the constitution, and not waiting for someone else to lead them, I think, God bless them. All of us should be doing that. The left should be doing that. There is always the risk in advocating for democracy that the first people to wake up might not be your team, but that is a risk worth taking. I would rather have citizens I don’t agree with organized and active than an oligarchy of people that I agree with.

  32. Maxwell said,

    Far be it for me to interrupt the AWESOME pissing match going on here, but I want to return to a point upthreads a ways:

    Maxwell: I quoted Federalist #10 a few posts ago to exactly that point.

    You did, but your takeaway was the opposite of mine. You were arguing that the system was intended to produce reconciliation (in the old sense) between the factions, and that the Democrats were betraying that heritage by “ramming” the health care bill as they did. My takeaway was that in a political dynamic where minority faction benefits from doing nothing but opposing the majority (and I think the last few years have proven that is precisely the case, for BOTH parties), then the majority should do as much as our Republic allows in order to advance its notion of the public good. And if it is wrong about what the public good is, then both the voters and the courts will have ample opportunity to correct its actions.

    That’s the republican system our founders invented. They did not invent one where the minority has the right to block the majority at every intersection. And again, for those whose political memories become rather hazy prior to 2006 but suddenly clear up circa 1932, I am speaking of both parties here.

    In other words, since you value bipartisan compromise so much: what do you think the Democrats should have done to produce an acceptable health care bill for all parties? Because what I saw was them bending over backwards to pick up one measly Republican vote, in developing a bill that was built almost entirely on old Republican blueprints (and for which the Republican architects, such as Chuck Grassley, are now trying to take credit!).

    They failed because in a game where one party has an incentive to cooperate and the other doesn’t, cooperation is simply not possible.

  33. Maxwell said,

    On the pissing match, btw: I’ll simply say that I think you are both systematically ignoring each other’s better points. That’s not a good foundation for a healthy argument.

  34. amba12 said,

    Tom: the answer is that I suspect key players in BOTH parties — I’m thinking even more of Pelosi and Reid than Obama — had no incentive to cooperate. The parties have reached the point where they’re taking turns taking revenge on each other and trying to impose their antithetical visions on the country. The country tends to the center, which means that the majority wants neither pure antithetical solution. Like some kinds of Olympic scoring, they’d shear off both extremes and take a lot from both sides. The bill already has some things in it that everybody likes. What the right doesn’t like is its likely real cost and its intrusiveness. It was you who told me about Wyden-Bennett, which was never seriously considered, and I recently heard someone (Graham?) claim that a version of that could have passed the Senate last August with 70 votes. And I think it had an individual mandate. I need to refresh myself on it.

    On the pissing match: I agree with you. I am ignoring Michael’s better points because I don’t want to be put in the position of whining, “DO TOO! see racism!” I don’t disagree with him that there’s racism. I just think the Dems are exaggerating its prevalence (by which I do not mean to say it’s trivial — Michael has no in-between values on his scale) and are using it cynically to twist arms by discrediting the legitimate policy opposition (which Michael has acknowledged is legitimate before proceeding to paint the opposition as deeply dyed with racism).

    Racism, like homophobia, is real and in some quarters dangerously virulent, but those quarters keep shrinking as the dinosaurs gradually die out. Obama couldn’t have won if racism were that rampant. He lost a lot of his own voters afterwards, when he revealed that he was less a centrist than a statist, or at least in thrall to same.

    I piss pretty good for a girl, though, no?

  35. amba12 said,

    [Our founders] did not invent [a system] where the minority has the right to block the majority at every intersection.

    Correct. Nor did they invent one where such a slim majority could strong-arm the minority without consequences. Both sides are to blame, and they are feeding each other’s flames.

  36. realpc920 said,

    “I can imagine arguing that the Founders intended for our politics to be as contentious as they are, given the appeal of war to human minds.”

    Yes they did, but not because we find war appealing. A lot of us don’t find it appealing, especially if we have an X chromosome. The appeal of war is woven into the quantum fabric of reality, in my opinion. Competition, hatred, repelling forces — they all help keep reality in its place.

    And even if we women aren’t always fascinated by guns and war machinery, we are just as competitive as men but in different ways. And we’re just as good at verbal warfare as men. We are not any “nicer” than men.

    Just as liberals, pacifists, idealists of all kinds, are NOT any nicer than libertarian conservatives. They just think they’re nice.

    We aren’t really nice, not any of us. If by “nice” you mean lacking self-interest or self-love.

    And yes, the American founders wanted the system to be grounded in verbal conflict. NOT because war and hatred are amusing for humans, or men, but because that is how the UNIVERSE WORKS. And they knew it.

  37. amba12 said,

    especially if we have an X chromosome.

    Not to be nit-picky, but you mean “especially if we have TWO X chromosomes.”

  38. amba12 said,

    Empedocles said that the universe was ruled by “the two great life energies of Love and Strife”:

    In his own words: “I will tell a two-fold story. At one time they [the elements] grew to be alone from being many, and at another they grew apart again to be many from being one. Double is the generation of mortal things, double their passing away: one is born and destroyed by the congregation of everything, the other is nurtured and flies apart as they grow apart again. And these never cease their continual change, now coming by Love all into one, now again all being carried apart by the hatred of Strife.”

  39. amba12 said,

    Which is to say: both compromise/reconciliation and uncompromising opposition are part of the picture.

  40. realpc920 said,

    [Not to be nit-picky, but you mean “especially if we have TWO X chromosomes.”]

    Yes thank you, that’s what I meant. And by the way the ONLY reason we females can afford the luxury of not loving violence is because the men always did the fighting for us.

  41. Maxwell said,

    I suspect key players in BOTH parties — I’m thinking even more of Pelosi and Reid than Obama — had no incentive to cooperate

    This doesn’t hold up to close analysis. If it were true, why didn’t Reid put the public option through reconciliation when he had an opportunity to do so? It likely had 50 votes in the Senate, and remains considerably more popular than most of the provisions in the bill. He would have instantly become a progressive hero.

    You also ignore the fact that it was Max Baucus who led the writing of the bill and the negotiations with Republicans, not Reid or Pelosi. And he ceded a great deal in those negotiations without getting a single Republican vote. As I said before, his Republican counterpart is now taking credit for the changes he effected in the bill that he ultimately opposed and said would give government the right to “pull the plug on Grandma.”

    I supported and still support Wyden-Bennet, but Graham is full of shit if he says it could have passed with 70 votes. Single-payer would be easier to pass than that bill, which is just as disruptive to the current system without getting nearly as much support from liberals. But if the Republicans wanted to offer it as an alternative, they could have! Graham could have done it himself. That he didn’t, despite his support for it, speaks volumes.

    Anyway, the bill that was ultimately passed is close enough to W-B for me to tolerate it. For now, at least.

  42. Maxwell said,

    I am ignoring Michael’s better points because I don’t want to be put in the position of whining, “DO TOO! see racism!”

    I don’t want to get into the position of moderating this, but just to be clear, that’s not exactly what I meant. I’m not talking about you ceding his points or him ceding yours – I’m talking about engaging with arguments that aren’t easy to twist into a strawman. For instance, no liberal Rush Limbaugh would ever say anything like this:

    I’m left of center. I have no problem admitting that many on “my side” are theoretically racially tolerant from the safety of gated communities that “just happen” to be all white. No problem admitting that for a bunch of people who believe in diversity we sure have a lot of kids in very pale private schools. I have no problem admitting that many on “my side” don’t actually like regular people much. No problem admitting that “we” are smug, undeservedly condescending and closed-minded. There is still a strong thread of anti-Americanism on my side. There’s a residual tolerance for communism. There’s a weakness.

    Similarly, the notion that you’re a Republican apologist is a canard. You’ve always been upfront about being more critical of liberals because we are “your” people in a way conservatives never will be. A big-tent party should always make room for those who prefer to criticize their own. C.f. David Frum and Andrew Sullivan.

  43. Maxwell said,

    And yes, you do piss with force and clarity.

  44. amba12 said,

    Even though I can’t write my name in the snow.

  45. Icepick said,

    The right does not get to whine about being identified with racism when they actively recruit, pander to, and profit from, racists. They do not have to change a single substantive position. Not one. This is not a matter of ideology. It’s about power and the willingness of one political party to kiss the rings of racists.

    Hmm, let’s consider this. How about the guys that beat up a black Tea Partier and called him a n*gger? Those were SEUI members, one of the most important blocks of Democratic support. I heard no massive condemnation of those actions by Democrats, and certainly no effort has been made to separate themselves from an organization that has such racists. There’s one known former Klansman in Congress, and he’s a Democrat of very long standing. The Obama Administration decided that they were okay with the New Black Panther Party threatening violence against anyone who voted for the white guy in the last Presidential election.

    Those are all associations that you Leftists and Democrats CHOOSE to make, that you can’t wait to make. Therefore, every Democrat and Leftist in America must be a fan of both “n*gger” shouting unionists AND Whitey-hating black radicals! Wow, no wonder you guys are so fucked up, you hate white people and black people with equally rabid furor!

    And don’t think your Jewishness keeps you safe, Michael. (Are you claiming to be a Jew today, or a god-hating athiest that has no use for religion? It’s hard to keep that straight.) Jesse Jackson hates all you Heimies, and one can’t get more Democratic than Jesse jackson.

    No wonder you Democrats hate Republicans so much, you can’t even get along with yourselves without hurlinig racial slurs at each other….

  46. realpc920 said,

    Hatred deserves more respect. It prevents the universe from collapsing into one-ness.

  47. wj said,

    Even though I can’t write my name in the snow.

    Well, in North Carolina, how much opportunity would you have to practice?

  48. realpc920 said,

    “You make it tribal when you start covering up for the very real flaws on your new team.”

    Amba isn’t on a political team. How did you ever get that idea? If someone is a micrometer to either side of some imaginary line, you have to put them on one of the teams?

    “one party has zero support among blacks, less and less support among Hispanics, very little support among Asians, Jews or gays, very little support among the young.”

    Do you have data to back that up? Black support may be low, but it is nowhere near zero. And there are plenty of young conservatives.

    About racism:

    The word “racism” is emotionally charged because of this country’s history. The word is thrown around but seldom is carefully defined. Real racism is no longer common — there was an old scientific theory that some races are more evolved and civilized than others. Anthropologists have discredited that theory.

    What we call racism now is mostly tribalism. It’s the same kind of hatred you see between different factions of Islam, or between Jews and Muslims, or between different African tribes and factions. Different groups can look alike and still hate each other passionately.

    It’s really silly to imagine that so called racists hate blacks because of their physical appearance. There are blacks who hate other blacks because of tribal and ethnic differences. It’s the same kind of hatred, and it’s tribalism not racism. Race is merely one of the excuses for hating.

    There were many leftists who deeply despised G. W. Bush because of the “tribe” he belonged to — rich, white born-again Christian. Liberals think it was perfectly fine to hate a president because of his tribe, as long as race was not involved. As soon as there is a race difference, you get all self-righteous. Otherwise, tribal hatred is perfectly ok with you.

    I remember the torrents of contempt that rained down when G. W. Bush expressed any love for Jesus. Never mind that Jimmy Carter is probably just as religious.

    Liberals love to cry racism because it’s clearly and simply wrong and hateful. Anti-black hatred in America compares to anti-semitism in Nazi Germany. Everyone agrees it was immoral and unfair. Very few things turn out to be so unambiguously wrong.

    But slavery has been over a long time and racism is a discarded theory. The problems blacks have in America now are cultural and socioeconomic.

  49. staghounds said,

    To comment on the original post , this has been very much my experience with people. It’s funny how whenever we contact strangers we do some human equivalent of sniffing their butts.

  50. amba12 said,

    Exactly, staghounds!!

    And the thing that’s always bothered me about tribalism of any kind is that it cuts you off from people you’d really like. I’m Jewish, but there are Jews I really like and Jews I don’t, Catholics I really like and Catholics I don’t, etc. . . . the restriction to “one’s own kind,” including politically, keeps one from finding one’s real “own kind,” one by one. (Remember Kurt Vonnegut’s karass vs. granfalloon?) Opinion is a smaller part of people than it appears to be. The way they live their lives and relate to others is not necessarily logically connected to their ideas. It’s like the badge gets so big it hides the face.

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