Matt Yglesias has a cute post up on my discussions with Kevin Drum.
Now, Kevin and I have met, and while I think a Venn diagram of our views would overlap by about 85%, we do have some significant differences – we’ve just agreed to have a cross-blog discussion and try to identify and clarify them – but I have found that wherever he & I disagree, our discussions typically come from a point of mutual respect and a genuine belief that each of us means what we say, that we’re entitled to have an opinion, and that our arguments aren’t somehow codes for something else.
That’s not true of everyone participating in these discussions, sadly.
At a dinner at Kevin’s, I met some other bloggers – other than Tom of TBogg, I haven’t retained names – and we had a telling exchange.
Kevin asked me a direct question: “So is it that you buy into the ‘restructuring the Arab world’ justification for the war?” As I started to answer, one of the other bloggers, his voice honeyed with superior knowledge, added “Why in the world did you let yourself get spun so badly by the White House?“
My reply was Mad Dog Stare #2 (a personal favorite) and a simple statement: “Thank you so much for granting me the courtesy of assuming that I may have examined the information and made up my own mind.” He and I didn’t have much to say to each other for the rest of the evening.
Matt (whose post on Michael Totten’s ‘schtick’ lit me up like a Christmas tree – Matthew is, after all, the one who parlayed his blog into a cush media job, which in his own terms means that it’s his blogging that qualifies as ‘schtick’) posts the following. I’ll intersperse my comments.
Kevin Drum’s got himself embroiled in a quagmire-like debate with hawkish liberals or ex-liberal hawks or whatever you want to call them. In response, some things to consider doing before you defect from the Democratic Party:
Well, first of all, I don’t have any plans to defect from the Democratic Party. I may or may not vote the party line; personally, I’ll take each campaign as I see them. But I’ve been critical of the Democratic Party because I think it’s headed off a cliff into electoral oblivion, and I intend to publicly kick it’s ass as hard as I can to do what I can to get it steered in a more successful and productive direction.
Take a deep breath. Look in the mirror. Take another deep breath. Look at some photos of your liberal friends and family. Ask yourself: Do you really believe that they opposed the Iraq War because they wanted Saddam Hussein to stay in power; do you really think they don’t care if your hometown gets destroyed by terrorists?
No, I think they opposed the war because they believe they can have the benefits of modern liberal society without getting their hands dirty. They value moral purity and self-satisfaction above everything else – with the possible exception of creature comfort.
Try reading some actual policy statements put out by Democratic foreign-policy hands, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and members of the Armed Services Committee. Ask yourself: Do the views expressed therein really sound like the characterizations of them you’ve read on NRO and the hawk blogs?
Actually, I do read the policy statements and talk to people who work within the political and defense establishment. I don’t base my opinions on Instapundit, NRO and Fox News And, believe it or not, I’m actually unhappy with much of what I hear. I’m trying to engage in a broader dialog about what makes me unhappy, in the hopes that I and others like me can have some impact on what the Democratic Party thinks and does.
Look again in the mirror, focusing this time on your hairline and that little space next to your eyes that gets wrinkly when you squint. There’s no easy way to say this, but . . . you’re getting old. I am too. It’s scary, it happens to us all. Ask yourself: Has the left really changed, or am I just that cliched guy who stopped really caring about the poor as I aged?
Tell you what, Matt – you look in the mirror and ask yourself if you’re just another jejune 20-something year old who thinks he knows everything; it’s a painfully familiar condition to me – I used to be one too. Back when I worked in politics and wrote laws and policy. But philosophically, I was uncomfortable with the idea that I could be a part of the political class, and make a damn comfortable upper-middle class living as a policy wonk, staff to an elected, or commentator – all without ever getting my hands dirty in the real world.
I was uncomfortable with the love of power that I saw in my peers, and the lack of wisdom, humility, and openness to have one’s views changed through experience. Sound familiar? It’s OK, you’re smart, and if you’re lucky, you’ll grow out of it.
Take a look at the transcript of the latest White House press conference. Find some other examples where the president had to respond on-the-fly to questions. Ask yourself: Given the perilous international situation, am I really comfortable with the fact that a total moron is president of the United States.
Gosh, Matt, I just love the schoolyard names. Here’s a clue: Bush isn’t a moron. I doubt that he’s even particularly stupid; I’ve met and had business with a fair number of elected officials, and the stupidest one I know (Barbara Boxer – most of the ones I’ve met are Democrats, so there may be a Republican who’se worse) is probably as smart as any of the bloggers I have met to date. One doesn’t get to high elected office in this land by being stupid, stories of Chauncey Gardner aside.
I’ll also add one of the hard truths that came to me several years out of grad school – life isn’t like school, and being smart and clever alone are not decent predictors of future success.
And having been elected, these officials – even Boxer, or my own detested Jackie Goldberg – are worthy of some basic measure of respect by all of us. I may loudly and publicly disagree with Jackie’s policies and politics, I may think that she’s deeply wrong and happily look forward to the end of her term, but I would never suggest that she’s an idiot or a moron, or that the public that elected her are idiots for electing her.
Read this post again. Consider the condescending tone, the cheap psychoanalysis, the refusal to confront your actual arguments. Ask yourself: Isn’t this exactly what I’ve been doing all this time? Just an exercise.
Matt, here’s a proposal. Go through all my stuff on Armed Liberal and Winds of Change. Find me five posts with condescending tone. Find five posts where I psychoanalyze you or any of the liberal Democrats (or even wacky leftists) with whom I disagree. Email me the cites. If we disagree, I’ll let Kevin or Brian Linse act as a referee. Find five, I’ll send you a nice crisp $100.00 bill. I’ll bet I can easily find ten quotes like that from you. I’ll even give you 2-1 odds; I’ll only ask for $50.00 if I do. Are you in?
I’m out here looking for arguments, and I have the habit of allowing that people who say things mean what they say. Perhaps it would be a good thing if you did too.
Here’s a little quote to put all this in a larger perspective. John Schaar was a political theorist, and a staunch member of the New Left – and one of my professors as an undergrad. This is from his essay on ‘The Case for Patriotism':
“Finally, if political education is to effective it must grow from a spirit of humility on the part of the teachers, and they must overcome the tendencies toward self-righteousness and self-pity which set the tone of youth and student politics in the 1960’s. The teachers must acknowledge common origins and common burdens with the taught, stressing connection and membership, rather than distance and superiority. Only from these roots can trust and hopeful common action grow.”
…it’s something that Matthew hasn’t learned yet, which is a personal problem for him. But it’s something the left in this country hasn’t learned yet, which is a political problem for me and the rest of us.