Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Myth of Reconciliation?

I can't seem to escape the chill that fell over me earlier today. Approaching a red light, I noticed that the car stopped in front of me had an "Obama" bumper sticker. But as I drifted closer, I spotted a red slash through the name. Not a big, goofy, cartoon-like slash. Rather, a thin, surgical hash; neat, understated, and scarlet red. No other writing of any sort.

I'd seen some pretty over-the-top bumper stickers and t-shirts about President Bush. But, searching my mind, I couldn't recall anything equally sinister. And, unlike Bush, Obama's not actually done anything yet, and so can't be disagreed with on issues of policy; only on the issue of existence. The driver in front of me had chosen to announce to the world his opposition on that one.

This happened not in Arkansas but in Danbury, Connecticut. And it made me recall an article (I can't remember where it appeared) observing that Democrats are under the bizarre delusion that the entire country feels a sense of reconciliation via the election of Obama. I suppose he was correct; I find it hard to imagine anyone feeling seriously negative toward someone as obviously intelligent, centrist, and level-headed as Obama, at least not at this point. Indeed, I've heard steely Republicans such as Ed Rollins making more than cursory vows to support the president in the unprecedented trials ahead. I thought we were enjoying a brief post-partisan lull.

But today it was driven deeply home for me that there are people, maybe even loads of people, who, for whatever reason (racism,
tribalism, campaign demagoguery or Rush Limbaugh) are feeling very very unreconciliatory.

(As for centrism - and Obama's appointments seem as centrist as can be - I recall that nothing infuriated Republicans more than when Bill Clinton adopted and advanced their agendas. They just hated that. Which illustrates that our nation's divide is, again, tribal.)


Big Fella said...

For people with a weak character it is much easier to carry a grudge, than to try and work together. One thing that is making me feel good is when I hear that some of the well known names from the conservative side of the aisle, have some positive things to say and are looking forward to reversing some of the excesses of the last administration. No one group is all good or all bad, despite what some would have us think.

Anonymous said...

you know what's funny about this post?

i came accross it while looking for an online source for this picture:

the last seven years have been one uninterrupted stroke fantacy about assasinating the president for progressives. their hatred of bush also preceded his first day in office.

your attempt to portray the use of the universal slash device as an expression of unpresidented atavism is risable.

i don't think anyone could convincingly sell the conciet that the coming ODS will be anything but a pale imitation of the vile, seething, precognative hatred progressives have become known for.

Jim Leff said...

Jummy, I'd have been offended if I saw a "hang bush" image. In fact, I even expressed offense here, when CNN's bogus reporting convinced me that Bush was snubbed by European leaders:

If anyone has anything truly malicious to say about anyone (Bush, Obama, or whomever), I deem them extremist and pretty much disregard. I wasn't talking about extremists. Just regular folks. So if the professional-looking dude in the Toyota Camry with the slash-obama sticker was indeed an extremist, then he absolutely deserves to be disregarded, and I can feel relieved.

On the other hand, he clearly didn't offend you. So maybe the impression I took away was correct. Because while I'm having some trouble fully parsing your thoughts, I do get the impression that you're not feeling very conciliatory. And that, after all, was my point.

As for early liberal revilement of Bush...well....

President Bush promised, at the outset, to try to unite, not divide me. Yet, eight years later, I retain a profound feeling of having been divided. I tried to meet him halfway on the uniting thing, Jumbo. I really did. But here I am, along with 75% of the country, staring at the guy from across a deep, dark chasm. When I first started disliking his policies, I was deemed to be on the wrong side of that cliff. Now it's flipped, and he's seen as on the wrong side. The division itself was not my choice. I think the first big cleaving was when I was deemed an un-American traitor for opposing the Iraq War. I had trouble recovering from that. Like "axis of evil", it's not a label one can really work with toward any sort of productive point.

I don't wish him ill, though. I just think he did a really bad job, in ways that adversely affected my life and the lives of countless others. I think he badly hurt the country. I revile what he's done, but, still, it's nothing personal. Obama, who has done precisely nothing good or bad, seems to be deeply, deeply and personally reviled by lots of people on the right. That perplexes me. I don't see the symmetry. I never saw that sort of widespread initial revilement of Bush when he started out (though, again, there are always crazies out there). I was worried, but open-minded. The left grew disgusted with Bush when he started actually doing stuff. And, over time, the center grew disgusted with him. Now even a lot of the right is disgusted with him. That's simply the inevitable result when someone wrecks your country. Still nothing personal, though, at least on my end. Anyone who'd seriously instigate violence against the guy should be locked up. I don't like the level of invective, from "my side" (whatever that even means....this ain't football, after all) or from any other. I'm really sick of it.

Anonymous said...

like i said: risable.

if your strenuous affectation of outrage and dismay here is any indication, we can only expect that progressives will respond to every policy critisism of obama's administration by accusing his critics of "creating a climate of hate".

the thing which is easily recognized about this sort of post is that it's a self-concious reaction to the fact that conservatives have manifestly taken obama's win more gracefully than progressives were capable of in 2000.

good luck keeping your majority by telling people that disagreeing with the president is tantamount to hatecrime.

Jim Leff said...

Some quick notes:

1. I'm not a "progressive", or even a "liberal". I'm as close as this country has to a centrist. I'd describe myself most closely attuned (insofar as I can feel myself attuned to any politician) to 2002 Mccain (still not sure he actually ever existed, or whether it was the recent Mccain who was the phantom). So you ought not base your expectations of the behavior of "progressives" on my utterances. I certainly would not generalize about conservatives based on yours....even though you actually are one.

2. My point was that Obama hasn't done anything yet. So strenuous expression of antipathy toward the guy can ONLY at this point come from hate (or at least mindlessness, which is worse). That's diametrically opposite to the conclusion you're reaching....that I'd deem substantive criticism hate-based. That you completely missed my point doesn't bother me. What does interest me is why. I think the overall tone of how I was talking, and a few phrases caught your eye and caused you to jump instinctively into an antipathetic snarl. I try really hard to resist doing that. I'm trying to encourage others to also resist that. There's too much rancor out there, we can't afford to react like that anymore.

3. as for "disagreeing with the president is tantamount to hatecrime," aside from the fact that there is not yet anything to disagree with him about (see point #2), making disagreement with the president tantamount to crime seemed to work pretty well for Cheney/Bush for several years. If the war hadn't been a catastrophe and the economy hadn't tanked, it'd even, in retrospect, have seemed like a winning strategy.

Disagreement is good. Even great. Disagreement generating hate is unfortunate and uncivilized. And hatred alone (i.e. with someone who's not yet done anything which which you can disagree) is despicable.

Anonymous said...

think of how facially absurd it is to say that that there is not yet anything with which to disagree with obama over. as if the president elect is a platonic projection which gets flicked on on jannuary 20th. if that made any sense, then what basis would anyone have to have supported him?

as it turns out, obama's own supporters have found much to disagree with him on already...

...and the ball continues to roll forward as his recent national security picks have inspired violent disagreement from his base and marked approval from conservatives.

if that's how his base handles him prior to his innauguration, it is - to use the word again - risable to expect muteness from those with broad philosophical departures from obama's worldview.

i can anticipate already your churlish reply: "how do you know what his worldview is? he hasn't yet begun to govern." and the answer is of course that obama's worldview has been made expliscit during the past two years in which there was ... a presidential campaign.

i realize what an obvious point this is, and i don't mean to bore other readers with it, but jim leff seems determined to pretend that such obvious things are inobvious if not altogether unknowable. no honest observer would see an anti-obama bumper-sticker two weeks after the election and rush to their blogs to frame it in terms of "already! the hate!" pretending to believe that it was applied after november 5th. rather, the bumpersticker jim saw was obviously a remanant of the campaign season.

that campaign season saw much rancor directed at obama's opponents, who not only have yet to begin governing, but will never begin governing, because they lost the election. for example...


and, you know, etcetera.

jim would no doubt contend that this sort of thing is different from the horrifying spectacle of a bumpersticker bearing obama's name with a slash through it, because palin somehow earned such vociferous opposition. i don't know how he can say so for certain, though; she has not yet been innaugurated president, and so her policy views are accordingly unknowable, right?

in any case, both mccain and palin have been subject to the vile universal slash device...

oh! the humanity!

the hate appears to be indiscriminate:

that last image alone could have been a sufficient response to what jim tried to do here. in a flash, it exposes his lurid pantomime of moral shock as silly. but i work the night shift and have nothing better to do. so i'll continue on.

bush was not yet elected when his opponents first developed their unabiding hatred for him. it really came into full swing with the blood libel which asserted that bush was somehow culpable in the dragging death of james bird. so unfalsifiable was his opponents' hatred of him that when bush noted that bird's muderers were thoroughly prosecuted and given the maximun sentencing under his governance, his opponents wailed in phony moral opprobation that bush was now, by some logic, a triple-muderer.

every other item in the litany which jim would contend explains and justifies bush derangement syndrome is similarly poisonous and falsely premised.

the centerpiece of anti-bush hatred and rancor was a three year witch hunt for a "leaker". the goal of this wastefull enterprise was to prosecute the bush administration under the The Intelligence Identities and Protection Act. though the probe was dropped when the leaker was found to be a low-level war opponent serving beneath colin powell, and the "leaked" agent did not fall under the law's definitions of a covert agent per the law's author, such things were immaterial to the witch hunt. the true purpose was to enact vengance on the law itself, for when it was originally introduced, bush-opponents shrilly decried it as an abridgement of the first amendment, which they supposed encompassed the "right" to publish the names of covert agents and their covers. this enterprise, which bush opponents championed, had the effect of getting at least one covert agent killed.

another wasteful witchhunt was launched over the uncontroversial firing of a handfull of attorneys general. bush opponents shrieked that such a move was an "unpresidented" act of politiziation of the justice department, despite the fact that the preceding president had fired and replaced the entire justice department staff for expliscitly political reasons immediatly upon taking power of office. they will be similarly silent when the current president elect does the same.

and on and on and on it goes. the notion that bush labeled war opponents "un-American traitor(s)" or that he made "disagreement with the president tantamount to crime" is an outright lie. i challenge jim to substatiate this claim, bearing in mind that he considers unsubstantiated critisism to be mere hatred and thus despicable.

a less precise claim is that bush promised to unite, but betrayed this promise and instead divided. this claim is too nebulous to challenge but with a cargo-load of anecdotes. it's meant to be unfalsifiable - an emotional note which defies being captured by logic. a reasonble person might consider that this claim is belied substatially by the fact, per the bird anecdote mentioned above, that bush's opponents had started in with calling him a murderer two years before he deployed any troops to afghanistan or iraq. certainly, it was not bush or bush's supporters, but rather bush-opponents who composed the charming graphic which divided a map of the united states into "jesusland" and "the new american republic".

the internal meaning of this claim is similar to the formulation by which peace is defined as the absence of opposition. for bush opponents, this means that bush failed to unite with them by failing to oppose himself. it's not the cry of a wounded optimist, it's the war cry of an absolutist and fundamentally totalitarian mindset.

the method of jim's original post is, as i noted, both stylistic and practical imposture. the style is to identify only the most bland and innofensive opposing speech with exaggerated moral disgust. the practical aim is to set the tension at that low level so that when more substantive disagreements are aired, it will trigger an explosion of counter-attack in which substantive critisism is rhetoricly criminalized. by establishing the foot of the gradient at the utterly unremarkable, obama-supporters' attack against actual debate will be made to seem "justifiable", at least with regard to it's consistency within the context of the gradient.

the motivation is also as i stated above. it is undeniably the case that conservatives have, on ballance, handled their recent catostrophic electoral defeat with admirable grace and concilliation towards the victors. they have not established ""-like entrenchments.

rather, they have appropriately turned inwards, where a divisive and frequently rancorous battle wages over the question of how conservatives lost the american people. from this fire, new visions and rethinkings of conservative means and ends have already begun to germinate.

whether any of that is bound to amount to anything, we can freely speculate. the point is that while a tenured labor progressive like joe lieberman has been drummed out of the party by obama supporters for his apostacy on the single issue of the war in iraq, noted rightwing demagogues like am talker dennis prager sincerely catalogued the positive aspects of obama's victory over his own party.

this difference in approach to our nation's fundamental value of republican pluralism shames bush-haters and obama-supporters, as well it should. but they haven't the character to own that shame. and so evidence of the fact of conservative conciliation must be destroyed. applying the method described above, the result is a post titled "the myth of reconcilliation" and the many others like it.

the dishonesty in this approach is abject, but not uncommon. the temptation is always there within passionate people to leap out of the interminable and seemingly feckless routine of argment and counter-argument, comprimise and reapproachment, that a principled participant in a liberal democratic republic constrains himself to. standing above the argument, like plato above society, it seems to be a tempting strategy to simply abandon one's affirmative argument and instead furtively apeal in whispers to each observer's ear, "i don't much care either way about what the two of them are arguing about, but that one there? he beats his wife."

commonly, it's seen as useful to portray oneself as neutral and their opponent as hampered by ideology; themselves, malleable to reason, their opponent, dogmatic and bias-confirming. this is an imposture often adopted by progressives, or we have to conclude that progressives are prone to this imposture lest we have to find an alternative explaination for clinton's two terms in office in light of the phenomenon by which, when called to account for one specific or another of his administration, the claim is made that "i never supported clinton." five or nine years down the road, i'll be debating scores of apparent progressives who "never supported obama". it's well established that such curiously unclassifiable posers of anti-bush hate-memes can claim to have supported the "old" mccain as a setup for the now worn and shabby punchline, "mccain changed. not we who revered him as our maveric in a time before he ran directly against a progressive democrat."

it's not worth it to follow such a poser through the veil of deciet. there's nothing really to prove there. people who are awake to the feignt wil note it, and those who are blind will only pick up on the emotional notes while simultaneously editing their myspace friends list. for my own part, i never claimed that jim was a progressive or a democrat. but, curiously enough, i never identified myself as a conservative, and yet jim seems to claim the epistemolgical power to say, " I certainly would not generalize about conservatives based on yours....even though you actually are one."

perhaps the elipses are meant to represent the dramatic moment when he realized that he possessed these powers. i don't know. i will put this to you, though, jim: how can you be able to say anything of me for certain ... when i haven't yet served a single day in office?

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