Monday, December 06, 2004

Policies, Character, and Biased Neutrality

I've noted before that Jonathan Chait is the single writer I agree with most often. And it's articles like this one ("In Defense of Bush Hatred (Again)," sub. only) that are the reason why.
"I'd like nothing more than for American politics to revolve entirely around policy and for everybody to ignore personality. I'd happily vote for an obnoxious, philandering, dog-kicking tax cheat who carried out effective policies at home and abroad. Why, then, if the real basis for my opposition to Bush is his performance in office, would I even bother to mention my personal disdain for him? It's a reaction to his success at passing himself off as a moral paragon, and even as a great leader in the mold of Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, the intense personal animosity many harbor against Bush didn't really blossom until the last couple of years, in response to the absurd cult of personality that grew up around him in the wake of September 11."

I echoed this sentiment in my election post-mortum, and I do say again here. Policies are more important than subjective (and frankly biased) notions of "character." It may be natural to a Democracy to look toward the latter, but that doesn't make it valuable or right.

Chait also attacks the "thoughtful observers [who] tend to see any given problem as equally the fault of Democrats and Republicans, and...wish both sides could get along better." The point Chait is trying to make isn't that it's bad to observe thoughtfully. Rather, its that trying to pidgeonhole problems so that they fall equally on the shoulders of both parties is facile, stupid, and factually wrong. To me, objectivity in analysis means that one doesn't slavishly defend a single party or viewpoint, but neither does one go out of ones way to show off non-partisan credentials by attacking both sides. In one of my early blog posts, I quoted Chait and others in explaining how the latter flaw is systematic in the media today and undermines any reasonable claim that there is a "liberal media bias." The point isn't that non-partisanship is bad, it's that sometimes the facts fall decisively on one side of the partisan divide. People who try to say otherwise destroy their own credibility and cheapen the political discourse.

1 comment:

N.S.T said...

The root of my "relativism" (schraub, you know what I'm talking about) is Just what you describe. It is the reflexive impulse to blame both parties equally, though, in my case, it is a philosophy exercised when convenient. You tend to attack Bush a lot more, "slavishly" blaming the other party rather than "defending" your own. It would be nice to give a little conservative love on "Debate Link" every now and then, but whatever. You don't owe it to anyone to be objective, thoughtful, or conclusive, though, god bless you, you try. This is the default thinking of a typical party memeber, as could be backed up by research which i have seen but don't care to go back and find: Your average Republican(Not me, mind you, but the average one) thinks that liberals are morally compromised, and your average Democrat thinks that Republicans are boorish rednecks from the south, or, more generally, just stupid and intellectually provincial. Chait's statement about politics being solely a matter of policy seem to confirm the suspicions of Average Republican man: Democrats don't vote based on character at all. Southern hick christofascist(I'm telling you, the next big word) confirms the suspicions of Average Democrat man by appearing uninformed, dogmatic, and stupid. The fact of the matter is that we don't elect philanderers, tax cheats, dog kickers, or truly obnoxious people, provided, of course, that any of the above qualities are known to us when we vote, and, furthermore, we don't live in the District of Columbia(Buh-dum-chh), and we don't elect stupid people, most of the time anyway, either. In a perfect world, these high standards we hold our politicans to would make all politicans equally moral and ethical, and, thus, make debate revert back to the issues Chait longs for. However, politics is as much about policy as it is about making yourself appear to meet the standards the public has for politicans. The irony of this is that, as mediums have been devised to reach larger and larger voting audiences, the level of discourse has declined. We've gone from the days of Lincoln and Douglas, having meticulous, painstaking, intelligent debate, to Nixon losing in 1960 because he didn't look good on TV, to Kerry losing, in part, because he appeared wishy-washy(though, in my opinion, his policies made him vulnerable, but, back to the post...). In the end, the critical thing to think about, in my opinion, when pondering how discourse deteriorated over the past 100 years(and it is 1000 years, you can't seriously long for the serious discourse of the Clinton adminstartion, or the Carter admin. or the Kennedy admin.) is the role of new mediums in bringing politics to the masses, which may be ultimately responsible for the decrease. That would be my theory, since it would stand to reason that the level of media coverage would become tailored to larger mass of people, and, thus, dumbed-down. Anyway, i think I'm more ihteresting than usual today and I'm interested if you have comments.

Thanks-- Nick