Thesis for the Week

From the President’s address:

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives – to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud. It should be because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.

Leadership, as distinguished from playground antics. This is all that I’ve been saying, and it’s not surprising that the President did a better job of it. We shouldn’t need an excuse to build a productive dialogue, but as unity often comes from tragedy, we should take this one, if we can.

Update: comparable to Jed Bartlet’s speech from the season 4 premiere of The West Wing. 10.3 metric Bartlets?

More than any time in recent history America’s destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedoms and our way of life. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people’s strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive. Forty-four people were killed a couple hours ago at Kennison State University; three swimmers from the men’s team were killed and two others are in critical condition when after having heard the explosion from their practice facility they ran into the fire to help get people out… ran into the fire. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They’re our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we’re reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes and we reach for the stars.



  1. Obama’s statement there is brilliant in a classical rhetorical sense in that it shifts the emphasis from the past, conceived as blame, to the future, perceived choices. Whereas Palin, Olbermann, etc. focus on what has happened, Obama is looking forward. Brilliant!

  2. Unfortunately they aren’t the only ones looking backwards Ian:

    I’m curious how our host would ‘build a productive dialogue’ when he feels 100% of the blame lies with one side?

  3. Unfortunately they aren’t the only ones looking backwards Ian:

  4. It’s possible to be “honest” and say the blame for incivility rests 100% with the Right. Your problem is between fairness and balance. It’s “fair” to say creationism isn’t science; but “balanced” to say, “but hey, they think they are, so let’s discuss it.” Similarly, it’s “fair” to say that extremist rhetoric at the top levels of government exists only on the right. Balance would be to add, I dunno, “nuh uh”?

    1. I still don’t think the “at the top levels of government” part matters, for reasons previously stated in response to a previous post. And I think you’re wrongly equating “incivility” with “extremist rhetoric at the top levels of government”.

      And I still want to know how an extremist is supposed to express themself without extremist rhetoric.

  5. I think the Left has a good case about ‘extremist’ rhetoric on the Right. We could debate how harmful it actually is (I tend to think liberals are drama queens on much of this. Still, you have a valid point.

    So we have extremism on one hand but civility is something entirely different. Civility is just about not slinging names, baiting the other side, being polite, etc. Basically it’s about good manners. On that point any liberal that contends their side is more civil is ludicrous. Example A would be your posts of this week. Extremist, no. Uncivil? Absolutely. I’m a pretty rational guy and I can tolerate a whole lot of nonsense from people. I’ve been reading your conservative bashing for three years and never let it really bother me. I’ve always thought that if you visited Louisville or I was in NYC we could have a beer together. But I can also honestly say that over the last few days if you had walked into the room I might have clocked you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 35 years it’s that civility doesn’t cause feelings like that.

  6. Okay, then. Maybe we could all here in our little political microcosm try to follow your President’s exhortation and “use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations”.

    Ames could cut down on the Republican bashing posts, which frankly aren’t usually all that interesting, either. If your political posts would get the same level of nuanced analysis that you give your legal posts, it would be a vast improvement.

    On the other hand, maybe Mike could also stop talking about liberals as if they’re one big hive mind (I know, devil’s advocate and all, but still), and perhaps also cut down on the immensely annoying word games about the precise definition of “influence” and such and engage more seriously about the actual issues more often.

    Y’all will have to tell me what I should do or stop doing; my capacity for self reflection doesn’t go that far.

    How about it, gentlemen?

    1. I have no problems with any of that Lanfranc. Of course if we’re going to stop making generalities about liberals and conservatives we would also have to stop using broad terms like Right or Left. You’ll get no quarrels from me on that as I prefer to only label positions on specific issues.

      The ‘word games’ are simply an attempt to get recognition for those good ideas that appear on the Right and not have them tossed aside as trivial or irrelevant. I understand why it may be tedious for everyone else to read but this is a specific point Ames and I strongly disagree about.

      As for you, if you could just understand that it is color, not colour and program not programme I would be thriled : )

    2. I’m probably just going to continue the fight Lanfranc talked about setting down, but I don’t find using the words conservative/liberal, right/left, to be a problem. I find them important and useful to use in order to comprehend what’s going on. The efforts of a broad coalition of ideologies. So it’s not that they’re used, it’s how they are used.

      Mike, when you usually use the word “liberal”, it is not really in reference to policy or you trying to highlight “ideas”, instead you also like to use the term for broad subjective labels and insults.

      For example, above this comment, “liberals are drama queens”. This statement is highly subjective (not to mention purposefully insulting), and holds an assumption that conservatives have not been. I find these statements to be irritating and they make me want to start arguing. Which is probably when I do.

      I consistently try to argue against those broad statements that you use against liberals, and try to show how it’s not a liberal characteristic. Like last year (I think), when you brought up liberals are always saying “the sky is falling”, which to counterpoint, I usually allude to that quote you used whenever Republicans have said anything about Obama’s policies.

      And I understand I come down hard on you and not on Ames, and it’s due to my own internal biases which I try to override. I’ve been looking over Ames posts from this week, to see if I should be outraged there as well, and I was at last comforted by one thing, that Ames seems to go out of his way to indicate that it is indeed a generalization, “I acknowledge that moderate Republicans will have trouble with this debate. After all, the fault is not theirs,”, “The right. Not all of you guys. No, certainly not, and I mean that earnestly”.

      And maybe that’s just because you’re out there Mike, keeping him to task (and seem to get angry anyway), and I appreciate it. I just wish I what I saw from you didn’t seem completely devoid of this sort of recognition.

      1. You’re saying on one hand, Generalizations are bad and you, Mike, should always add a caveat to any statements about liberals, and then you say, “I don’t find using the words conservative/liberal, right/left, to be a problem.” From my perspective those are contradictory statements.

        Let me be clear here: EVERY statement made about a group and not an individual is probably a generalization. It just is. Ames often talks about ‘Republicans’ without those qualifiers and i’ve probably called him on that literally hundreds of times. You seem to have forgotten all of those conversations where I mentioned intelligent conservatives that buck certain generalizations and then he minimizes them as irrelevant. There’s a reason we keep having that discussion which Lanfranc says is annoying. And I do that because while you may dismiss those instances I know that with lawyers EVERY SINGLE WORD carries meaning. There’s an obvious subtext in everything Ames writes and you seem intent on ignoring it.

        Despite your claim I didn’t make the broad statement that ‘liberals are drama queens’ but instead I was talking about how they are reacting to this specific issue . It’s kind of amazing to me that you find that statement problematic but don’t really find fault with statements like, “The blame for that climate unequivocally lies on one side of the political spectrum. The right.”

        Yeah, Ames threw in a little caveat at the end but if that’s necessary, why make a reference to ‘the right’ which is a very broad term encompassing literally millions of Americans? I mean really, when he’s talking about the ‘visible elements’ that have created this climate how many people is that? 50? 100? 200? It’s probably a fraction of 1% but he calls them ‘the Right’. No caveat can fix that. And furthermore – do you think it really is an honest statment to claim that not a single liberal is at fault for the political climate in this country? That’s a statment on par with blaming 9/11 on the Masons.

        I hate to say it but this was probably your most accurate statement:

        “And I understand I come down hard on you and not on Ames, and it’s due to my own internal biases…”

      2. I know, I’m trying to be honest here Mike.

        My broader point (and I did start on a list of your liberal comments), is that there’s a difference between saying, liberals are just paranoid and controlling parents with guns and saying I disagree with liberals gun laws because of these reasons. And the last time, I got you to talk about the specifics of policy but it was like pulling teeth.

        Those are different arguments, a lot of the time you go with the former.

        On the flip side, I don’t think usually go with the counter, OMG CONSERVATIVES ARE SO DUMB, route.

        And if Ames did it just as much, you are certainly not doing anything differently or more fairly.

        1. I honestly don’t know what you are talking about. You seem to be implying that i never talk specifics and that’s just nonsense.

  7. I don’t think it’s the right answer to stop using terms like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ altogether, not least because people actually often self-identify with those labels. The terms themselves are useful, they just need to be handled with care.

    The solution seems to be quite simple, really. Firstly remember that political beliefs are a spectrum, not some sort of platonic ideal types, and secondly avoid drawing silly conclusions based on preconceived notions about those groups.

    For instance, “conservatives don’t want gun control, so they don’t care about gun crime” is a silly conclusion. “Liberals want the government to handle health care, so they believe the government does everything better” is also a silly conclusion. (And yeah, so is “the blame lies unequivocally with those guys.”) That shouldn’t really be so difficult.

    In the end, it’s really about what the whole point of a political discussion. As I’ve stated before here, I don’t think the point really is to convince opponents to change their mind, which doesn’t happen very often.

    On the other hand, I do think that an important purpose is to simply learn about and understand the opposition’s views, even if you’re not going to agree with them. And mutual understanding, of course, in turn enables negotiation and compromise. But that process doesn’t work if you’ve already decided for yourself what they believe and why. Then there’s really no point to the discussion at all.

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