Saturday, February 06, 2010

Controlling the Dialog

Joe Romm today focuses his wrath on a (very long and repetitive) piece in Washington Post Outlook entitled “Why are liberals so condescending?” No I won't give the WaPo a link. See what Joe has to say and click from there if you feel the need to read this sort of thing again.

But just as the terrorists win if you become terrified, this meme (which has appeared in MSM, various magazines purporting to be liberal, and over and over again on discussion boards), the conservatives win if liberals take this bosh seriously. It, of course, plays into the ever-popular conservative meme of victimization and thereby gives the conservative base a feel-good reflex, along with another way to bash liberals. A double win for conservatives.

But there's more. These articles and screeds are designed to tilt the playing field away from fact and toward an acceptance that all viewpoints are equally valid. It also makes liberals like Romm irritated and perhaps a bit sheepish; we're nice people, we're not condescending. Joe stays on the attack throughout his piece, but I think he's missing the point that the WaPo piece is designed to make him waste his time refuting it. And, as he refutes it, referring snobbily to fact as something that might be privileged above opinion or divine revelation, he provides more material from which conservatives can claim liberal condescension.

And more timid liberals might pull back on their arguments to allow that, for example, the conservatives have a point about freedom of religion meaning that Pat Robertson should be allowed to say that the Haitians had it coming from his God. And in doing so, they move toward validating insane viewpoints. And the conservatives can notch up the craziness.

To the casual onlooker, the spat may look like the poor conservatives are just trying to get a word in edgewise.

It's a nice little trap.


Anonymous said...

Down With the People

Here's an article that reflects your sentiments. It notes:

One year ago, 59 percent of the American public liked the stimulus plan, according to Gallup. A few months later, with the economy still deeply mired in recession, a majority of the same size said Obama was spending too much money on it. There's nothing wrong with changing your mind, of course, but opinion polls over the last year reflect something altogether more troubling: a country that simultaneously demands and rejects action on unemployment, deficits, health care, climate change, and a whole host of other major problems.

If you recall, even larger majorities supported going to war with Iraq and later changed their minds.

Joe Romm said...


Always hard to know whether to respond to such media clap-trap, but the WP has maybe 100 times as many readers as I do. So the damage is done with the piece, and progresses should know how to respond when they hear this argument thrown at them,

Also, the piece cleverly dodges the climate science argument, so I also think it is worth engaging for that reason.

Bill said...

In a similar vein, see Steve Gimbel's "Why The 'Climategate' E-Mails Do not Mean What Conservatives Seem to Think They Mean". Gimbel is sensible and perceptive on the difference between the scientific and public conversations, and how tactics pioneered by Frank Luntz have framed the public debate to the disadvantage of science. Paralysis here is victory.

I've been aware of denialism for quite a while, but I have been newly appalled recently to find some Twitter friends repeating the most sickening propaganda against climate science (e.g. IPCC "fraud"). These are people with whom I am otherwise broadly sympathetic. Some of this might be coming from a willingness to believe almost any charge made against government, but I'm really not sure. In any case, I think we're losing the battle for rational public discourse.

Cheryl Rofer said...

Hi Joe -

Thanks for coming by.

It's hard to know how to respond to these nonsensical attacks that seem designed to waste time and energy. One of the basic rules of politics is not to let false claims go unchallenged. The result is the kind of thing Bill cites.

OTOH, one of the basic rules of Internet discourse is not to feed the trolls.

So I don't see an ideal strategy for responding (or not) to things like the WaPo editorial. Laughter is always good, but, as you note, WaPo has a wider readership than most of us do.

MT said...

I think it's liberal to explain why you're governing the way the you are. The conservative thing is to say "trust us." I think it may not be about status (as the "condescension" concern frames the issue) as about full-blown identification. If you're representative in government isn't going to explain his or her choices to you, then you'd better hope that he or she is just like you. I think that fits with the emphasis on "values" and why religiosity seems to tilt Republican. To be religious is to accept on faith that we all agree what's right and wrong.

MT said...

"Trust us" and "let's talk about this instead," I mean.

helmut said...

It's a difference between taking on faith what someone else has already thought and being encouraged to think through something yourself. It's true that, on some occasions, the former might be right and the latter wrong. But we would never know either way regarding the former, would we? We've at least got a chance with the latter.