Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I’m Not Interested in Figuring Out Whether I’m Leaning Left or Right—I Have a Hard Enough Time Remaining Vertical

The notion that netroot Democrats are a radical protest group may be politically useful spin, but it is analytically inaccurate. The center of gravity of the dissident bloggers is located in the middle, not the periphery—Kos, Atrios, Brad DeLong, Marshall and many others are liberals, not leftists. The occasional old guard types that do surface in the comment sections from time to time stand out as a bit quaint, blue-dog Marxists among the irritated pragmatists. Remarkably few commentators are dreaming about nationalizing the toilet paper factories. The funny thing is that many of the bloggers think of themselves as more leftist than they actually are, perhaps unconsciously buying into the right-wing way of conceptualizing things. For the right, after all, Eisenhower was a pinko.

You also read that the Democrats on the web have no positive program. This too is spin. Precisely because the developing consensus of the netroots is anything but radical, its values and policy preferences are bound to be less dramatic than the revolutionists on the right. If you don’t want to repeal the Bill of Rights and you aren’t proposing an invasion of yet another foreign country or attempting to establish a national church, you’re bound to have more trouble making headlines than your photogenic opponents with their amusing pathologies. Even universal health care, a traditional Democratic goal sometimes featured as radical, obviously is anything but groundbreaking. It’s catch-up—Indoor plumbing! What will they think of next! Taking the energy crisis and global warming seriously isn’t daring innovation either. It’s what we obviously ought to do.

Unfortunately, a manifesto composed almost entirely of sensible proposals aimed at managing real problems is not going to make very inspiring reading. Maybe I’ll take a whack at composing one. I’m told I’m good at dull.
On the Advantages of Maintaining a Sense of Humor about Human Sexuality, a Not Exactly Pindaric Ode inspired by an Internet Debate on the Impropriety of Certain Amorous Proclivities

All our games are coarse and rude,
Unless, of course, you’re in the mood.
Besides, when you come down to it,
Both girls and boys are full of shit
As was delivered by the Saint
Commenting on the human taint
Betwixt the boudoir and the loo
And number one and number two
Where we beget and were begot
And go to get and to be got.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Academics and Politics

Profs often complain that they are ineffective politically because people resent their intellectual level. No doubt that occurs, but I think the main reason that academics have trouble reaching large audiences is not that they are smarter than their potential listeners, but that their way of speaking conforms to specialized rules of scholarly discourse. A lot of the complexity of professorial language consists of rhetorical Masonic Handshakes that verify the guild membership and status of the speaker to his colleagues; and both habit and humility guarantee that a learned person will make unreasonable assumptions about what the listener already knows about a subject. Meanwhile, academics spend their whole careers trying to come up with something new to say or at least some new way to say something old. This requirement alone guarantees that no simple truth will be uttered, even if it is news to the actual recipient, without a elaborate garnish of ifs, ands, and buts. There is always the suspicion that the plain facts plainly enunciated will not suffice either to maintain one’s own dignity or respect the capacity of the other person, even when the plain facts are already damned hard to explain and nobody knows anything without having learned about it.
The Most Apt Analogy

Commentators consistently impute more rationality to the Bush foreign policy than the record warrants. They write as if the goal of our occupation of Iraq was to set up a stable regime and then leave, even though the administration is on the record that it plans to remain in the area and the military is constructing elaborate installations with room for 50,000 or 60,000 troops. It is hard to believe that even the fantasists that run our government imagine that the U.S. has the political will or the economic and military resources to turn Mesopotamia into a permanent entrenched camp in the midst of a hostile region. Stupidity, however, is a great enabler of optimism.

Snow and other administration spokesmen have recently taken to likening the current impasse in Iraq to the Battle of the Bulge as if the activities of the insurgents were the last, desperate counterattack of a strategically defeated enemy. The problem with the analogy is that we are not contending against a single organized power like Hitler’s Germany. With remarkably few exceptions, everybody in the neighborhood hates us, including most of our current allies in the ersatz People’s Republic of Iraq. It’s possible that we can defeat any particular group, but so long as we insist on continuing our occupation, there will always be new groups, armed and financed by public and private sources in the surrounding nations. We simply don’t have the armed forces required to pacify the entire Middle East, and we don’t have the economic resources necessary to bribe the Iraqis into willing submission.

The accurate analogy here is not the Battle of the Bulge. It’s an ingrown toenail.