So let me lay out the issue I have with Jeff Goldstein – not just with Jeff, but with those who increasingly want to hammer down their political opponents.
My view of politics is essentially communitarian – i.e. that it takes place within a community of people bound together in a polity, who agree to be bound by political decisions and who – to some extent – yield their personal power over their public lives to the political community.
This model allows for a wide range of politics – it works as a construct that limits government power by the consent of the governed, and one that expands it (i.e. it’s not inherently opposed to or in favor of any specific exercise of government power). It says simply that we are fellow citizens and that we will, grudgingly sometimes, accept the decisions made by our political process even when they contradict our own desires.
We can’t and don’t grant that power to everyone in the world, it is inherently limited to our community (hence not cosmopolitan).
The American community, as I’ve written in the past, is a community of belief, not one of (as Heiddiger once famously said) blood and soil. So it is expansive, and flexible and inherently generous (which is to me the root of American Exceptionalism). The condition of that power, in the American ideal, is that we all get to possess our share of it. So when Jim Crow worked to keep blacks from their share, or when laws that forbade women the vote kept them from exercising their share – we worked to strike them down and ensure that everyone had some access to the shared political power.
The image of people being kept from exercising that power by force is inherently reprehensible to me; it defines (to me) the opposite of what our system of government and politics should be. It is most awful when the government blocks people from exercising power – when the political rights people should enjoy to participate in the political life of the community are taken away by the government for political reasons. But it’s awful when it is done privately as well.
I’ve been consistent in my writing, I believe, in saying that the worst sin is attempting to push people out of the argument (yes, there are probably views so extreme that they are rightfully pushed aside – but they’re rare in my view. In fact they’d better be…).
When I see Code Pink mobs shouting Karl Rove down at a booksigning, it’s disgusting.
So why, I’ll ask, is it any different when Jeff threatens those who arouse his pique with violence? That’s not an effort to police a conversation or set boundaries; I can’t see it as anything but an effort to bully people out of an argument. To win the game not with thought, skill, or fact, but by shifting the frame of the discussion from ideas to fear.
I don’t see it.
Look, the tone in a place like Ace or Cold Fury or Blackfive isn’t polite or refined, it’s aggressive, it’s profane and kinda rude (and usually funny as hell). They target people who – in real life – have done bad things – for abuse, outing, and where possible, legal action. They don’t (with one justified exception in Mike Hendrix’s case) target people who say things to them.
They don’t threaten to break people’s bones to shut them up or drive them from the conversation. The fact that Jeff hasn’t actually done it may give him some small relief, but in my view it’s pretty small. Intentions count, and as I said above, as vile as Deb Frisch was in her words, her actions really didn’t give a whole lot of factual basis for believing she was going to act against his kids (note that had her comments been directed against my kids, I would have acted just as Jeff did if not more strongly).
That’s my problem in a nutshell. Because I don’t see how you differentiate political style from political substance all that easily. The GOP is out of power because for all their talk of limited government, they tried to chain themselves to the platinum trough (see Steele’s recent spending problems as a good example of the cultural norm). John Edwards was a narcisstic asshole in person, and I find no reason to believe that his politics would have been any different. At an extreme level, the mindless violence that has characterized Palestinian governance since Arafat is a big reason why the only response the Palestinian polity can make to most challenges – is more mindless violence.
I do buy into the idea that our political system is wounded and that as a nation we’re being dragged down by courtiers in thousand dollar shoes. I’m all about kicking them out on their asses and replacing the government by the governing with a government by the governed. I think it’s critical that we do that – and do it soon – or we’re screwed. I’m to the left of Jeff on some political issues, but I’m right alongside him on this.
But – as I said when I challenged Charles Johnson way back when – it’s a problem to me to stand alongside people whose values – as opposed to beliefs – are so different than mine, and whose values I see as being so destructive to what we both profess to believe in.
It’s a problem for the ‘reform’ movement because if we’re busting our asses to replace one set of power-mad bullies with another – why bother?
I’ve got another, personal problem with Jeff, and that is simply that I believe that as a student of violence he has an obligation to raise the standards for his own behavior. I’m not some super-bad stone killer warrior…but I’ve known more than a couple of them in my life, and being the nosy bastard that I am I’ve spent a fair amount of time interrogating them on their values while picking their pockets for skills. And those values are, simply, don’t be an asshole. Don’t be a bully. Defuse conflict when you can, and end it quickly when you must. Use the confidence your skills offer to create the space to minimize the liklihood of violence – not to egg people on and create it.
Those are values I espouse and try really hard to live. They’re 180 degrees from what I see Jeff doing, and I’m sure that’s part of what makes me so reactive to it.
So that’s why I’m comfy with my decision to pull the link to Jeff, and why I’m (potentially) understanding of his teacher’s desire to pull his name from Jeff’s CV.
I wish it was different. I think Jeff is smart and talented and well-informed enough that he could do what he does without the threats and verbal bludgeons. Someday I hope he sees it that way.