Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On political dissent, and ideology versus reality

I find former President Jimmy Carter's accusation that critics of President Obama and his administration are motivated by racism to be childish, offensive and patently untrue. However, it's not the first time I've run into such a train of thought among my more liberal or progressive friends (and yes, I have a number).

It never ceases to amaze me how people (on both sides of the political aisle) can be so partisan when it comes to politics, criticizing in others what they do themselves. When they're opposed to a politician or political party, they can say or do what they like, because 'dissent is the highest form of patriotism' (as Howard Zinn put it in an interview with in 2002). However, when others oppose politicians or political parties which they support, it's bigotry, or racism, or socialism, or whatever.

The inimitable Victor Davis Hanson put the current fuss into perspective in an article for Pajamas Media titled 'The Rise Of The Uncouth':

The Left is now furious that, as the new establishment, the rules of discourse are not more polite. But from 2002-8, they (Who are “they”? Try everyone from Al Gore to John Glen to Robert Byrd to Sen. Durbin), employed every Nazi/brown shirt slur they could conjure up. NPR’s folksy old Garrison Keiler was indistinguishable from mean-spirited Michael Moore in that regard.

The New York Times gave a discount for a disgusting “General Betray Us” ad. The Democratic Party head Howard Dean flatly said he “hated” Republicans. Hilary Clinton all but called Gen. Petraeus a liar in a congressional hearing. The New Republic ran an essay on hating George Bush (not opposing, not disliking, but “hating” the President). Alfred Knopf published a novel about killing Bush. A Guardian op-ed dreamed of Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth coming back to kill Bush. And on and on.

No one objected. A Dan Rather said nothing—but tried to pass off forged documents to alter the election. A Bill Moyers piled on. There was no voice of “Now, wait a minute, this is going too far.” Did the Left assume that they were going to be perpetually bomb-tossers, forever on the outside of Karl Rove’s ballyhooed three-decades of Republican supremacy to come?

And then something strange and quite unexpected happened. The Democrats nominated a charismatic African-American, won the presidency, after obtaining large majorities in Congress, and suddenly became the Establishment, demanding respect for the Commander in Chief in direct proportion to their efforts to deny respect to his predecessor. Then just as suddenly two tropes appeared after January 20th of this year:

One — cannot we all get along? We deplore this resort to barbarism and crudity.

Two — if you dare sound off like we just did, then you are now a racist.

There's much more at the link. Highly recommended reading - but, as I said earlier, such observations can equally well be applied to the Right. Both sides are equally to blame. They're blinded by ideology.

In an e-mail discussion of a related topic today, an online friend, Ken Watkins, had a number of interesting observations. He's kindly given me permission to quote from his e-mail.

I have engaged in dinner party conversations at resorts, homes, and other locations both on domestic and foreign soil and on both a personal and professional basis for many years. I have benefitted from listening to the viewpoints of others and enjoyed sharing my perspective on varied subjects with others over the years. Since my retirement a couple of years ago, my participation in those activities is much more infrequent than it was when I was employed.

I came to the conclusion many years ago that I would be very careful in categorizing anyone as "smart" or "dumb". I have met and worked with and engaged in conversation with graduates of the finest universities in America and abroad. I have sat at the table and spent the day with the governors of three different states, as well as other publicly recognized and esteemed folks. And I worked with and around some of the brightest economic analysts, engineers, professional managers, and businessmen you could imagine. Most of them at least fancied themselves as "Renaissance Men or Women". They could speak with intelligence (and sometimes in more than one language) on subjects that varied from wine selection to quantum physics, and about everything in between. I could not then, nor will I ever be able to hold a candle to any of those folks on almost any of those subjects.

However, less than 2% of them will make it past the end of their driveways when the SHTF. Their intelligence has become their enemy. While there are exceptions to every statement, for the most part they are out of touch with the real world. They embrace values that appeal to the clever and let the traditionally left-wing media do their thinking. If they have even a passing thought that some common sense point might be appealing, they don't have the balls to even consider an opposing viewpoint, let alone embrace it. They know they are bright and intelligent, and therefore in their minds, they are better than those who might have a more rudimentary and basic grip on the facts of life. In their mind, those folks must be quickly dismissed as "ignorant right-wing rednecks".

And they are nearly always the first to condemn conservative white men, even thought for the most part, that is in fact what they are! I believe that is a key hint that they let the "party line" become their personal thought process. They are pompous asses. They don't have enough sense to close a gate behind them or pour piss out of a boot. So . . . . . I personally take their "intelligence" with a grain of salt and resolve myself to the fact that they will be the first to go TU when times get tough.

Thanks for letting me post that, Ken.

In my response to Ken, I pointed out that I've found those with 'level heads' (let it be said, on both the Left and the Right of the political spectrum) to have certain things in common. Here's an extract from what I wrote:

In my experience, those who 'get it', who are grounded in reality, have a few things in common. I'd say they all have at least two or three of the following attributes:

1. Their parents made them work for the things they wanted, and earn money for them, rather than just being given anything and everything they desired.

2. They had to work hard for an education, either through part-time study while working, or by studying full-time, taking part-time jobs, and funding the rest through grants earned by superior academic performance (i.e. hard work), and sometimes loans.

3. A great many of them had a military background, either through conscription or through volunteer service. I'll go further: a great many of them had a COMBAT military background. I've startled many friends during crises. When my frazzled friends asked why I wasn't reacting (i.e. panicking) like they were, I could tell them, in complete honesty, "Hey - no-one's shooting at us! This isn't all that bad!" I'm sure there are many on the List who can identify with that sentiment.

4. They didn't inherit much in the way of wealth, but had to build their own 'nest-egg' the hard way. That included financial discipline, not spending money on fripperies, etc. Almost certainly it also involved working with their spouse and children, expecting their assistance and co-operation to that end, and instilling the same principles in them (or should that be 'expecting the same principles from them'?).

5. They had faith in something greater than themselves. This could be God, or country, or service, or whatever (including a combination of factors): but it was a yardstick against which they measured themselves, and they genuinely tried to live up to its standards. They also took care to associate with those who tried to live up to standards, rather than settle for the lowest common denominator (i.e. 'everyone's doing it!').

6. They took pride in being able to do the routine tasks of life for themselves (e.g. basic plumbing, electrical work, woodwork, car maintenance, gun care, whatever). They didn't rely on hiring outside contractors to do everything. They also kept their tools for such things in good order, looking after them, buying things that would last rather than cheap rubbish, etc.

7. They accepted that their life was in their own hands, and they'd better look after it. This could range from health, through finances, through self-protection, through educating their families to recognize common threats (fire, flood, crime, etc.) and have the basic knowledge, tools and training to deal with such issues when they arose. They wouldn't go charging off demanding specialist medical attention for a sore toe!

Another respondent, Lyman L., wrote:

I'd say that a main discriminator [with those identified by Ken] is that they have finagled their way through life, and believe that everything can be negotiated. Up to, and including, the laws of physics. The only way they can maintain that belief is to isolate themselves from reality, and they do that well.

(Thanks for letting me quote you, Lyman.)

Again, I emphasize that all these comments can be applied on both sides of the political spectrum. A Neo-Con may be as guilty of such errors as a Stalinist! However, these criticisms remain valid, no matter what the ideology concerned.

I certainly wish for a greater level of politeness, courtesy and common decency in our political discourse. However, to call dissent 'racist' (as former President Carter did) or 'un-American' (to quote that bastion of Americanism, Nancy Pelosi) is ridiculous - almost as ridiculous as terming it 'patriotic'. It's none of those things. It's free speech - more or less polite, but free, nonetheless.

If it ever ceases to be free, God help us!


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