Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Of Course It's Pandering!

I will answer the Los Angeles Times's editorial board definitively.

Isn't pandering what all the whining has been about the past couple of weeks? Why doesn't Obama hear (the netroots, the Real Americans, the debt hawks, insert favorite interest group here)?

I realize that some of those calling for Obama to listen to them genuinely feel that their views are the best for the country. Others, like the Republicans who are urging further mastication of health care reform, not so much.

But Joe Klein hits on something that's been bothering me, even back before the Massachusetts Senate election. During the Bush years, and perhaps back thirty or more, there's been a real effort to dumb down the electorate. Don't bother your pretty little heads about 9/11 - go shopping! There are the misinformation campaigns, heavily funded, against the idea that smoking causes cancer and that we are altering the earth's climate. There are the religionists who insist that belief is as good as scientific evidence.

Yeah - believe anything that makes you feel good! And insist that your elected representatives follow the program!

Sorry - I'm feeling sort of disgusted with that kind of process. I'm also trying to come up with a more constructive response. But that's harder than just complaining. And I don't think that President Obama is even listening to me. Sob.

The purple apple-berry really did cheer up my morning, though.


Andy said...

Klein's piece really bothered me. He gets paid to follow all the confusion that is the federal government and even he can't understand it all. Instead of complaining about how the people are stupid, maybe he should look at those who've made government incomprehensible to the average citizen who is trying to make a living, who have neither the time nor the desire to decipher the overly complex drama in Washington. He complains we should be grateful for that $60-$80 a month tax break yet doesn't seem to realize the unemployed don't get it. Maybe Klein should spend less time learning about Washington and more time learning about the people he belittles. He's just confirming what is often said about liberal elites.

troutsky said...

Perhaps, I don't know, this is just a wild idea, but perhaps there are NO POLITICS. That would suggest there is no democracy. Michael Moore tried hard to explain it this morning to Amy Goodman but ended up with the same "the people are ignorant" analysis. Then he called for "the people" to rise up.

What if there was a certain market-based economic system whose property rights were enshrined in a Constitution that were somehow undermining the whole liberal-democracy thing?

Andy said...


I can't count the number of times I've heard the "people are ignorant" argument from the left since the Mass. election. Even assuming it's true (and I don't think it is), it's just a dumb - dare I say, stupid - thing to say. Telling people they are ignorant usually doesn't encourage them to support the one's favored policies.

Cheryl Rofer said...

Andy, as you rush on to the Republican meme that Democrats think people are stupid, please look at what I wrote.

The Republicans have dumbed down the national discussion over the past thirty years, and the Democrats have bought into it. You want more wars? You want all those TSA blueshirts at the airport? You want free drugs for seniors? You can have it all, and we'll lower your taxes too.

So now we're running out of taxes to cut, and bridges and school systems are collapsing.

Maybe we need to look at things differently. And maybe we need to work together instead of calling names. Whatta concept.

Cheryl Rofer said...

And speaking of that Republican meme, doesn't it imply that those terrible Democrats may think you're dumb, but we [Republicans] think you're smart, you're very smart indeed. You're so smart, you'll see the value of this beautiful land in we want to sell you, on the water, beautiful views...

Andy said...


I wasn't criticizing what you wrote and I agree to an extent that some do try to "dumb down" the people. And I didn't mean to imply you are one of those that thinks people who don't support Democratic policies are stupid because, after all, that's clearly not what you said. However, there are many on the left (including Klein) who say exactly that and I don't think that is something that can be denied. Additionally, I don't think anyone can deny that it's a pretty stupid narrative politically regardless of its merits. I also agree we need to work together instead of calling names.

I think you are, however, confusing analysis with advocacy by implying that my criticism somehow means I'm falling for a "Republican meme." As I think I have mentioned many times before, I don't support either party since neither is really interested in providing a home for someone like me. I have many disagreements with the GoP - probably more than I have with Democrats. My refusal to buy into one party's talking points should not be interpreted to imply I somehow support the other party. Truth be told, I think both parties are "establishment" and running this country into the ground in pursuit of their programmatic interests.

Cheryl Rofer said...

It's a Republican meme. Which doesn't mean you're a Republican, Andy, just that you've bought one of those lovely waterfront view lots.

Anonymous said...

If Obama is failing to communicate, there is clearly something wrong. However, Obama promised that unemployment would stop at 8% and then decline. It is now over 10%. One of his faults is that he raised expectations well beyond what he could deliver.

Obama's health care initiative is scaring businesses and consumers alike. Voters want the government to address the cost of care first. That implies buying insurance across state lines, tort reform, electronic health records, etc. Universal coverage has to wait until the costs are in check; otherwise, the country cannot afford it. Cutting Medicare reimbursement scares the elderly.

His stimulus bill wasn't well constructed either. Obama needed to focus on private job creation--e.g., an investment tax credit, not a tax cut for consumers. The pork barrel projects to come online this year will be too late to soften the blow of the recession. So people are angry. They are also afraid of his health care reforms.

On energy, he's been lagging. The country needs an energy bill, and has needed one for 20 years now. It is mostly environmentalists on the political left who have been the road block. However, the Republicans couldn't get it done either with both Houses of Congress. That's why there is general despair in the country.

The ruling class in both parties just don't seem to get it.

Andy said...

Ok Cheryl, let me frank.

You talk about wanting to work together and end name-calling, and you've made many good posts about the importance of science and rational thought, yet every time I make a some criticism of Democrats or their policies the first thing that comes out from you and your co-bloggers is the ad hominem labeling of "republican." This is usually followed by strawman arguments and baseless assertions about wanting more TSA, more war, etc. as you did above. Ignoring the merits (or lack thereof) of critical arguments does strike me particularly rational nor does it appear consistent with the high standard of debate you've demonstrated at ACW, your old site and elsewhere.

You say it's a "republican meme." Well, I'm not the only one making the same argument (the second link is particularly good). I'm also not making a sweeping generalization, but if you spend anytime over at DU or DailyKos and read the comment threads, or read a number of less-prominent liberal blogs (or even Klein!), then you'll see some evidence for the meme. If you want to ignore it, that's your business, but it would be nice if you treated critical commenters as something other than uninformed GoP Stooges.

Cheryl Rofer said...

Andy, you frequently make good comments, but the last couple have used, yes, Republican memes.

I may be unusually sensitive to those memes just now, because, as I said, I've been thinking about how Republican brainwashing has hurt our collective national thinking; or national dialog, if you like.

I've also, as sort of a New Year's resolution, decided to call people on nonsense, because that's one way to improve the national dialog.

I know that many people don't like Joe Klein, which is another somewhat unthinking meme. Klein can be blind on some things, and I don't always agree with him, but I thought he got this right.

The fact that other people may repeat a meme may mean that it is indeed a meme. So citing others isn't very strong support. And Democrats have been particularly stupid in picking up Republican memes, particularly these last few weeks.

I don't read Daily Kos, and particularly not the comment threads, except for the occasional post I'm directed to from elsewhere.

And Republican trolls do exist, with the express purpose of depositing their memes on blogs. Most of the time I don't think you are one of them, but your last two comments were pretty stereotypical. And I'm really, really down on the stereotypical just now.

Andy said...


You say that citing others isn't very strong support, but what other support is there when the whole point of the argument is flows from examining what people actually say? And as far as supporting arguments go, you've provided nothing - I guess "republican meme" needs no elucidation?

As for Joe Klein, I don't like or dislike him. You are again confusing analysis with advocacy. I simply disagree with his arguments in this particular and the assumptions behind them.

Whatever. I'm not a mind-reader and I have no idea what you consider to be "nonsense" or stereotypical. And since making arguments you deem to be nonsense results in ad hominem even at commenters you say "frequently make good comments" then I see little point in continuing to comment here. Why spend the time if the host is going to assume bad faith and adopt a dismissive attitude when certain arguments are made? No thanks. It's been nice reading your blog(s) all these years and I will continue to do so, but I'll spend my comment time elsewhere.

helmut said...

Oh, c'mon, you two.

Andy, you're at one of the few places that actually does operate in and on good faith. We lean left-progressive, if necessary to label it, but with an understanding and appreciation for aspects of reasonable conservatism, and other views of course. This openness is simply taken by us as a starting assumption, a given, but we view it as a two-way street. We have our political and other preferences, of course, as we all do. And style-wise, as you know, I in particular sometimes have a cavalier or dismissive way of expressing them. But we're pretty clearly not driven by blinkered commitments to ideology and, despite strong preferences, we're genuinely committed to intellectual integrity. I think you probably know this. You caught me the other day with a rant-y ad hominem, you were right, and I gladly admitted it.

Allow me to say, though, that we all have our ranty moments as well as our meticulously analytical moments - that goes for me far more than my colleagues here. My take on this regarding this blog - and I've thought about this for years - is that the contributors here have non-blog careers that require careful analysis and in-depth professional knowledge. Although I hate the word (I'll happily call myself a dilettante), we're all "experts" in our lines of work. So, we sometimes bring real expertise to blog posts. But I never wanted this place to be some dry replication of academy-speak or government-speak or a place where I have to reenact my professional life. The fruit play a big role in this. As human beings, we're often simply angry or frustrated or joyous, and I like that blogs allow for the freedom to express this. I don't want to try emulate orthodox journalism or regurgitate academic debates. I don't want to have to use that language either. These backgrounds do, however, inform our views on all sorts of things.

But the character of this blog is quite clearly not Malkinesque or Olbermannesque. It's what makes this blog sometimes really interesting, but also in a position in which it usually doesn't gain a huge amount of traffic. Honestly, I have no interest in engaging with Malkin, Coulter, Limbaugh, etc. crap as if it's genuine argumentation or even sincere. That is a waste of time and leaves us all dogs chasing our tails. But it's also important to understand them as cultural phenomena. I think that's often your point - that progressives should try to understand better this demagogue phenomenon (to put it in my terms) rather than dismiss adherents as simply stupid. You're right. But I think the distinction holds - the substance of their arguments, claims may actually be quite vapid, while some of their followers are generally not. I have a tough time explaining this, but I do think it's real.

Anyway, you might think I'm being paternalistic, but my suggestion is to reconsider Cheryl's remarks about Republican memes and examine thyself. Could she be right?

Regardless,... you're welcome here and I hope you'll continue to comment.

Andy said...


Thanks for your comment.

To begin with, let me make clear where I stand. I'm usually a contrarian when commenting on blogs. If I write nothing then that's an indicator I either agree or have no opinion (or enough time). If I disagree or if I haven't yet formed an opinion then I take a contrarian stance. The purpose is to hear the other side because at the end of the day a cogent, logical and substantive argument is what will persuade me one way or the other. When people respond without making an argument at all and simply issue an ideological or partisan-based dismissal, then that indicates to me they either have no counterargument or are so blinded by their own mindset that they are not interested in debate and are instead cemented into a particular mindset.

As I'm sure you realize, politics is a war of ideas and ultimately a battle to convince others to adopt a point of view and see things your way. So, if your goal is to encourage me to examine myself with respect to what you consider a Republican meme, then suggesting I might be a troll, making assumptions about positions I might have, engaging in ad hominem, and adopting a patronizing dismissive attitude strikes me as a counterproductive strategy to induce me to question my assumptions. So I'm not quite sure which of Cheryl's remarks you want me to reconsider since she pretty much ignored what I had to say. I certainly didn't have to think very hard to determine that I'm not a Republican troll. Other than that, I find little of substance upon which to reconsider. Additionally, it seems only fair to suggest that I shouldn't be the only one here who should reconsider my position. Fair's fair, right?

And as far as "Republican memes" go, even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then. So if you're going to dismiss everything the other side says out of hand (or arguments that sound similar to what the other side says) then might I suggest that's also poor strategy at the very least, in addition to the fact that doing so gives others the perception you're not interested in an honest discussion.

Now, I understand that people have ranty moments and that passions flare from time-to-time. After all, we're only human. If this is one of those times, then I can and will certainly accept that and move on. But as it stands, my perception is that there is a litmus test here for acceptable discourse and I'm really down on litmus tests.

Cheryl Rofer said...

Andy, I think you're taking this a bit too personally. My posts on politics are my opinions. I've found that trying to change others' minds, as a primary motivation, leads to those ad hominems you dislike so much. I'm not making assumptions about your positions, if you mean my comments upthread about paying for wars etc. with lowered taxes. Those were merely examples of why some of those memes are nonsense.

And I've said a couple of times that what I would like to say about the damage that Republican memes have done is a work in progress. I'd like to think it will eventuate in a blog post, but I've been blogging long enough to know that that may or may not happen.

The only ad hominem I can find is suggesting that you might be a troll, and I apologize for that. For the rest, I've criticized what you've said, which I believe is fair game and not ad hominem.

We've been showered with nonsense and lies from the Republican party now for thirty years. Too many people accept the nonsense and lies. We've got to turn that around now. I hope to do my part.

Andy said...


Thanks for your comments. My responses follow:

I've found that trying to change others' minds, as a primary motivation, leads to those ad hominems you dislike so much.

Well, if you begin with that assumption then the response you receive will be pretty predictable, no? And consider the old adage about first impressions.

I'm not making assumptions about your positions, if you mean my comments upthread about paying for wars etc. with lowered taxes. Those were merely examples of why some of those memes are nonsense.

Thanks for the clarification, but I want to point out that predicating those comments with the word "you" leads one to believe they are aimed at the person you're responding to.

The only ad hominem I can find is suggesting that you might be a troll, and I apologize for that.

Thanks, I do appreciate that.

For the rest, I've criticized what you've said, which I believe is fair game and not ad hominem.

I guess we have different standards of criticism. I fail to see how unsupported assertions about waterfront property and "Republican memes" constitute criticism. There's no nice way for me to say it, but I find those kinds of "arguments" intellectually hollow. If I missed something substantive, then by all means please point it out.

Furthermore, I think you completely missed the thrust of what I was trying to say. I was commenting on the Klein article itself and I think if you read back over what I wrote, you might see something a bit more nuanced that a simplistic notion of or naive belief in a "Republican meme." After all, in my original comment I criticized Klein for "confirming what is often said about liberal elites." In other words, my point, if you think through it, was that Klein is feeding the Republican meme and that is a stupid thing to do. I still think it's a stupid thing to do. So on that score, your criticisms, such as they are, don't make a lot of sense.

Then I expanded on that and argued that liberals who say such things (and there are liberals who say such things) are only hurting their cause. They are not only feeding the "meme, but they are unnecessarily alienating potential allies. I provided links to prominent liberals who make the exact same argument. If that is tantamount buying waterfront property on Lake GoP, then I don't get it. I also attacked Klein's thesis on the merits which I won't revisit.

Overall, your responses haven't told me much. I have no idea what your opinion is my actual arguments, whether Klein's thesis is correct or strategically smart. All I know is that you think I've bought into some Republican memes, that you don't like Republican memes generally and that the notion of liberal elitism disparaging the electorate is one of those memes specifically.

So if it seems I am taking this too personally, then it is out of confusion and frustration. I'm used to being called all kinds of names on blogs. I'm used to people failing to take a comment at face value, to being put in ideological boxes. It comes with the territory. But it was kind of a shock to get what I perceived as that kind of response here from someone I found on ACW a couple years ago and followed ever since. It seemed completely out of character.

Finally, I'm still here spending time and effort trying to come to an understanding because of that history. If this was some random blog I happened to run into I would have given up after that first response and conclude this space was just another bunch of koolaid drinkers. So I hope you consider my additional comments and my effort to explain my perspective as constructive criticism. If I did not think it was worth the effort I would not have bothered.

helmut said...

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Cheryl Rofer said...

Andy, I think your remaining concern or confusion comes out of a too-literal reading of my comments.

As Helmut said, I'm not writing this blog for publication in a professional journal. So I use more casual kinds of writing, including the generalized second-person, metaphors, and snark. (I almost said yes - snark! but decided to keep this straight and probably dull.)

The argument you've continued to make about liberals saying people are dumb is a Republican meme. You've bought the property, because you've been built up to believe that you're smart enough to see through those dreadful liberals. (In this case, "you" does indeed refer to Andy, and yes, this is a metaphor.) If others have bought property there too, it doesn't legitimate the argument, it just says that others have bought that argument.

And that's an important part of my argument. There have been so many lies repeated so many times for the past thirty years that they have become part of the common wisdom.

It took me a while to realize that, because my common wisdom was formed before the Republican noise machine went into high gear and persisted for long enough that people grew up thinking it was common wisdom. All of a sudden, one day, the common wisdom seemed to me to come from another planet.

So yes, Andy, I think you've bought into the Republican meme that liberals think everyone else is dumb. And I think the others you cite have bought into it too. I think the basis for it is slim to nonexistent. And if I didn't say it (as I think you said), then why are we arguing about it? Because that's what you think Joe Klein said? I guess we disagree on that, although at this point I don't remember Klein's exact way of expressing himself and don't really care.

I haven't said that I think that buying into that one meme implies anything at all about your other thinking.

That crappy common wisdom that the Republicans have polluted for the past thirty years isn't good enough for us now. We've got to clean it up.

Andy said...


The argument you've continued to make about liberals saying people are dumb is a Republican meme. You've bought the property, because you've been built up to believe that you're smart enough to see through those dreadful liberals.

I am beginning to wonder if you read what I actually write. I never said that all liberals think people are dumb and I never even said a majority of liberals do. There is a small minority who DO think that whether you choose to believe it or not. Their comments on the topic are there for everyone to see. I don't think they represent the mainstream of liberal thought and I never said they did. If acknowledging that such a minority exists and arguing against that viewpoint constitutes buying "the property" then I guess I'm guilty as charged.

But I fail to see the alternative. What would you have me do since acknowledging the meme exists and arguing that people shouldn't feed the meme is, for you, buying into it. What's the alternative? Simply ignore it which does nothing? Embrace the minority and say, yes, the electorate is stupid, thereby providing ammunition to feed the meme? What?

Cheryl Rofer said...

Andy, I agree that to some degree we've been talking past each other. That's part of the problem of different conventional wisdoms.

I will, of course, clear all this up when I manage to write that post. [/speculation]

As far as what you do, Andy, that's up to you.

Andy said...


I look forward to that post. As far as what I will do, I am still here. I don't really get your position at a practical level but I now know you didn't intend to be insulting or demeaning and that's plenty good enough for me.