Sunday, September 07, 2008

Political Self Reflection

I've been politicked out lately. Recently I was asked to contribute a regular feature at Ephblog called "Ephpundit," whereby I will provide commentary on the presidential campaign (at least for the next two months - we'll see if it goes on from there). My first post is here. And that post sums up some of my feelings: I am not tired of policy or issues, or even the horse race. But I am tired of the rationalization and justification on both sides. I'm tired about my thin skin about Obama, the candidate I have supported with more personal fervor than any in my lifetime. I am tired of Republican and conservative friends defending Sarah Palin, defending her as the GOP nominee as they must but in ways that make them unfamiliar to me politically and ideologically. I am tired of the way this makes me respond to them and them to me. I'm not proud of some of my behavior as a result but I am also not proud of theirs.

So I wanted to think more about John McCain's speech the other night before posting. Because my utter (and I believe justified) disdain for his selection of Palin, and my disdain for what he has become in terms of policy has frankly blinded me to the man, who is pretty fucking amazing. Yes, I wish that Republicans had granted John Kerry, whose record of service is every bit as honorable as McCain's, the same sort of respect, but that sort of tit-for-tat is what got many of us into this mess to begin with.

So I went to Daniel Drezner, who is not only a Williams alum, but is a center-right guy whose views I respect a great deal even if I do not always agree with them. And I especially took note of this post in which he assessed McCain's speech. because while I thought it was pretty bad as far as speeches went, I also recognize that one of the critiques of Obama is that he is all speeches (I disagree profoundly, but politics ain't always about reality) and to be fair, my critique of Palin's speech is that it was a great speech-qua-speeches, but that it sucked in content.

And the thing is, I sort of came to like McCain again. I think he is wrong on just about everything (though Drezner's assertion that McCain is worlds better on global economic policy is one I take seriously, mostly because I'm not intellectually equipped to disagree, by which I mean, I don't know enough) but that is to be expected. And I think that is what I too often forget about when it comes to my conservative friends. I think they are wrong about everything. And maybe even more pliable than I am when it comes to rationalizing faults in their party. But like John McCain, they come by their politics, right or wrong, honestly. And even when the arguments become dishonest, on my part and theirs, it is informed by an honest belief in ideas, ideology, and politics. And that is something. In the end, it might be everything.


*Special* Agent Chet Desmond said...

Ok, Dcat-

Awaiting a blog entry about the Tom Brady situation. Some analysts are sticking with them and think they will still do very very well.


montana urban legend said...

Jeezus. Now you're starting to sound like me.

I think the parties are trying to more broadly mirror the electorate itself - if that thought makes any sense. I didn't realize how confusing the race was starting to look. But maybe now's the time where things generally start to look confusing.

Your post on the other site was more informative to me, even if only because it goes into your thoughts on the "independents/undecideds" who so up your ire. What's interesting this year, is that, having long ago decided who I want to win, I find it notable the degree to which the parties have appropriated each others' themes, if not ideas. Obama first broached this by acknowledging the shocking sacrilege to Democrats of Republicans having actually had ideas. Republicans made a strong play for identity politics after the Democrats nearly fractured themselves over it. The Democrats emulated aspects of the last 2 administrations by selecting an elder candidate (some will object to any characterization on my part of Cheney which includes the term "statesman" in it) with foreign policy credentials as VP. A prominent Republican said that this would come down to personalities, and not issues. And so on. No wonder things seem a little confusing.

Republicans got their candidate-veteran, whose "maverick" credentials, in contrast to the Democrats' candidate-veteran the last time around, were restricted to confronting his party rather than the contentious policies of his country. Ironically, even this brand of maverick wasn't maverick enough. For some reason, an Alaskan governor - whose record on wasteful spending was only matched by her fervent belief in all things religious and nationalistic - was required to really shake things up. She brought God and the guns to wrap up in McCain's American flag. And thus, the holy trinity of traditional right-wing rhetorical pablum - militarism, nationalism and religion - was firmly re-asserted, and with a touch of the usual Republican appeals to their version of a fertility cult to boot.

With symbolism this strong, it seems there's no need to seriously discuss, let alone focus on the issues. McCain's reputation for political moderation allows him to throw in things like the environment into this year's set-list of issues, which reads like this: the economy, foreign policy, energy, health care. Merely mentioning them was enough. Addressing them in detail would have required a confusing divergence from McCain's tough balancing act. Exactly how much should he distance himself from Bush? Given the profligate spending, massive expansion of Medicare, and blithe injections of idealistic nation-building into foreign policy in recent years, would the changes he'd like to make be in more conservative directions from those taken by the Bush administration? That question is, of course, too complicated (i.e. politically problematic) to answer.

Conservatives aren't opposed to change per se, they just aren't sure of when a change is needed or not. (Usually when they're not running for office). But since Bush already resolved that conundrum for them, all that was left to do was to roll out the symbols, and let the electoral process take off from there. Let cognitive dissonance reign.

My take, as always: let the most rational platform win. And this time specifically, let's do it before we become a one-party state.

dcat said...

MUL --
Great comment.
I think you are fundamentally, if sadly, right about what will inevitably be a virtually idea-less race from here on out. Or at least ideas will be mere appendages, no more or less (ok, probably less) important than the personal invective and defenses against it, and certainly not as important as the constant attempts to change the framing of the narrative. Right now, at least, that framing is working in McCain's favor. The GOP has done a great job of scaring the media so that the so-called liberal media is now pretty much in McCain's basket in terms of framing things as he wants them framed.

I still wonder what the long-term Palin factor will be. They have framed that image as well as can be framed, but i do believe that some of her political stands are toxic, and of course the more many os uf know, the less we like. I see in today's WaPo that Palin used state funds intended for travel for a whole lot of nights when she was sleeping at home. We'll see if that has any traction.

It could be a long two months. Thanks for you observations.


dcat said...

Special Agent --
Ask and ye shall receive! I've posted on that very issue on the front page. Nothing earthshatteringly insightful, but perhaps a note of cautious optimism. All is not lost.


Steve said...

Do I detect a touch of world-weariness denting the keen and youthful enthusiasm?

dcat said...

Steve --
The tone of this campaign is going to get worse before it gets better. That certainly fuels my current attitude.


montana urban legend said...

dcat, thanks --

I was going to link to this post, but I think there's an even broader series of observations about what's going on that I'd like to link together and post somewhere first. As you've stated, it's becoming clear that the way people talk about anything having to do with the campaigns is becoming increasingly touchy. There's an overarching theme in that somewhere that needs to be even more extensively analyzed and written about.

The blogosphere is becoming increasingly territorial. At some point, people will have to say why certain politically "intrusive" disruptions of their territorial instincts are or are not acceptable. I'm no post-modernist, but language, and by extension, one's concept of legitimate debate, are being increasingly shaped by political concerns. One thing I've always admired in you is your willingness to entertain such intrusions and point out exactly why they might have been legitimate or not.

I think the side that does this more successfully will win. And that will not only be a win for one's party, but for the cause of reasoned discourse of every variety in this country. The human mind can only stand to be constrained for so long, despite whose feathers it ruffles to unleash it. When exercising discretion over the terms of debate devolves into controlling language (which is the same thing as controlling thought), then you know someone has lost it.

Hypersensitivity to one's political concerns is not the same thing as debate moderation.

And feel free to refer to those earlier observations any time you want.

Cheers -