Daily Archives: June 20, 2006

Bill Clinton and Joe Gandelman on divisive politics

Over at The Moderate Voice, Joe Gandelman praises a Bill Clinton speech decrying political divisiveness:

He told his left-leaning audience of about 500 journalists to consider opposing views and appreciate the value of working with people who differ with them. He urged them not to turn public figures into “two-dimensional cartoons.”

While he doesn’t agree with much of the Bush administration policies, Clinton said, he has come to understand President Bush better. Clinton said Bush has “an intuitive intelligence,” provoking laughter from the audience. But Clinton said he meant that seriously.

What concerns him more, he said, is a particular strain of the Republican Party that he said has gotten control in Washington. Reminding his audience that he grew up in the South as a native of Arkansas, Clinton said right-wing ideologues and “ultra-conservative, white Southerners” have “demonized” those who think differently from them.

Some will no doubt roll their eyes at Clinton’s preaching and argue that he still downplays the demonizing that liberals do (including Al Gore’s denunciation of critics of race-based preferences as people who “use their color blind the way duck hunters use a duck blind — they hide behind it and hope the ducks won’t notice”). Still, these days I find a bit of hypocrisy better than honest bashing.

Joe’s own comment is worth reposting in its entirety:

The politics of demonization (which is also practiced by some Democrats as well) has infected the content and tone of national debate, the tenor of generally-polarized radio talk shows and, most definitely, the blogosphere where some think that if someone writes a differing idea they MUST be the Enemy.

There was even a case of a progressive blogger being driven from posting because his anonymous identity was exposed (see here and follow up here). It’s quite notable that you don’t see bloggers exposing the identities (or running the private phone numbers on their blogs) of people they AGREE WITH. Just why do you think that’s the case?

I met this same progressive blogger who wanted to protect his identity at a Stanford University conference on blogging last year. How? Another progressive blogger at the conference made a blanket statement swiping at conservative bloggers and THIS progressive blogger got up to DEFEND the integrity of conservative bloggers on the panel and some others associated with them as people who seriously debated issues in good faith.

And, indeed, later I was invited to drinks at a table that included that same anonymous blogger on the left and several bloggers on the right, who proceeded to energetically discuss political issues but but weren’t out to destroy each other — and who didn’t feel that just because someone disagreed they were the enemy and that they would not read or link to them or would de-link them.

So there are thoughtful, constructive people with different ideas out there in politics and the blogosphere. Will the political and blog cultures drive them away?

The answer, I suspect, is yes. I often disagree with Joe Gandelman, but he deserves nothing but plaudits for being a voice of moderation in the blogosphere and being open to discussion across the lines of right and left. Thanks, Joe.


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Sorry, but more on C******

(Thanks to my friend John K. for the asterisks idea.)

By now you’ve probably heard of Coulter’s latest stunt: her comment in an interview with John Hawkins of RightWingNews.com that Vietnam veteran and Iraq war critic John Murtha was “the reason soldiers invented ‘fragging.'” Coulter is true to obscene form. Meanwhile, Hawkins is quoted by Editor & Publisher as commenting:

Although, I wouldn’t have phrased that like Ann did, I would say in her defense that in that quote she didn’t say that she wanted to kill Murtha, she’d didn’t say that she thought he should be killed, and she didn’t say that she thought Murtha should have been fragged. Is that hair splitting?

Why, I’m glad you asked, John. It is. Would you say the same thing about a left-wing enfant terrible? Of course not.

Meanwhile, E & P says that Coulter’s shock-jock tactics haven’t cost her any subscribers to her syndicated column. O tempora, o mores.

Meanwhile, read this interesting column by WorldNetDaily’s Ileana Mercer, who strongly challenges Coulter on conservative grounds.

Ann Coulter, I imagine, considers herself an individualist, not a collectivist. Which is why her views on grief perplex. About certain September 11 widows Coulter has written the following: “These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9-11 was an attack on our nation and acted as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them.” (Emphasis added.)

Nations don’t grieve; individuals who incur loss do. The nation, following September 11, can legitimately lay claim to the confusion that comes with a loss of a previous sense of security and to the sorrow that accompanies the deaths of compatriots. However, only the immediate relatives of the victims were in fact bereaved. The nation might be shocked, reeling, but only the families of the dead were utterly devastated. With every day that dawns, they alone face the kind of pain the rest of us cannot fathom.

The line, “letting the community grieve and get on with the healing process,” is standard in liberal locution (adopted, sadly, by many Crunchy Cons); it’s straight out of Oprah’s vernacular.

The idea that people not directly affected by a tragedy ought to perform the rites reserved for the bereaved conjures the image of a tribe in the paroxysmal throws of a grief ritual. It’s inspired by the equally primitive specter of Oprah’s televised group therapy sessions, in which every individual’s pain is equally weighted.

In the abstract, September 11 was an attack on “our nation.” In reality, some felt it more than others.

Mercer also draws an interesting contrast between the “Jersey Girls” and Michael Berg, the father of slain American Nick Berg, who she argues does deserve the opprobrium Coulter heaps on the anti-Bush 9/11 widows. Berg recently voiced regret about the death of the man who personally beheaded his son, the infamous terrorist Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.

Finally, she ably deconstructs Coulter’s pretensions as the woman who would be Mencken:

[O]n the “Lou Dobbs Tonight” show, Coulter anointed herself as the Right’s H. L. Mencken. Coulter is certainly sui generis, but she’s no Mencken.

First, while not-quite “Godless,” Mencken held “that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind – that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.”

“In America,” he contended, “[religion] is used as a club and a cloak by both politicians and moralists, all of them lusting for power and most of them palpable frauds.”

More material, Mencken was a libertarian. He hated government with all his bolshy being and was deeply suspicious of power – all power, not only liberal power. To Mencken, all government was evil, and “all government must necessarily make war upon liberty.” Therefore, the only good politician was “one with a pistol at his head. Put it in his hand and it’s goodbye to the Bill of Rights.”

Mencken certainly would have had few kind words for dirigiste Dubya, the ultimate statist. Coulter, conversely, has shown Bush (who isn’t even conservative) almost unquestioning loyalty, other than to protest his Harriet Miers indiscretion and, of late, his infarct over illegal immigration. Such singular devotion would have been alien to Mencken.

Nor would the very brilliant elitist have found this president’s manifest, all-round ignorance endearing – Bush’s penchant for logical and linguistic infelicities would have repulsed Mencken.

About foreign forays, Mencken stated acerbically that “the United States should mind its own business. If it is actually commissioned by God to put down totalitarianism, let it start in Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Santo Domingo and Mississippi.” Mencken believed that “waging a war for a purely moral reason [was] as absurd as ravishing a woman for a purely moral reason.” Not in a million years would he have endorsed Bush’s Iraq misadventure.

Since he was not a party animal, but a man of principle, conformity to the clan would not have seen Mencken fall into contradiction as Coulter has: She rightly condemned Madeleine Albright’s “pre-emptive attack” on Slobodan Milosevic, as having been “solely for purposes of regime change based on false information presented to the American people,” but has adopted a different – decidedly double – standard regarding Bush’s Iraq excursion.

To repeat: Coulter is sui generis, but Mencken she is not.

I’m not a fan of Mencken’s isolationism, which I believe Mercer shares, and which would have likely left Hitler in power in Europe. Mencken had his share of faults, including an anti-Semitic streak (evident in quotations in an article that tries to absolve him of the charge). His sharp satire could be quite nasty. But as Mercer says, he was willing to speak the truth to all power regardless of party affilliation.

We could use a Mencken right now.


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