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August 02, 2007

Attacking Anti-partisans In Bipartisanship's House

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

I've seen many blog posts -- and very few op-eds -- that do what today's Yglesias op-ed in the LA Times does.  Matt focuses his ire on Washington elites who are discouraging partisan solutions to America's involvement in Iraq.  Maybe I'll try to locate a physical copy of the LA Times so I can fully experience the strangeness of someone attacking bipartisanship on thin grey paper. 

August 2, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

A very nice blast of anti-bi-partisan flare! Too bad is wasn't in the WaPo op eds, so the eliteists couldn't complain about it coming from that nasty ole pinko hippy LA Times on the LEFT coast.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Aug 2, 2007 2:02:03 PM

I find it sort of puzzling that so many big-name pundits are constantly squawking about bipartisanship, whatever the hell that even means. These people are presumably political junkies like most bloggers and blog readers, but it's sort of hard to imagine a political junkie who was turned off by partisanship. How the hell do you end up following politics for a living if your delicate sensibilities are shattered every time people disagree with one another?

Unless, of course, they don't really give a flying fig about bipartisanship, but simply use it as a nifty rhetorical tool to protect the status quo.

It's worth noting that so many of those who are now asking "Can't we all just get along?" are the same people who insisted that the unprovoked invasion of another country was the only way to settle an international dispute.

Posted by: Jason G. | Aug 2, 2007 2:14:30 PM

Matt's piece is poorly reasoned and self-undermining, though the latter is apparent only if you read closely enough to see the implication that Matt himself supported the invasion, which he appears to blame on reading the wrong book! The fact that bipartisanship, centrism, seeking consensus, using sane rhetoric and so on are no guarantee of anything good, and that those calling for such often don't have a good track record in regard to Iraq are fair points. However, it doesn't follow that seeking consensus or keeping the rhetoric sane were causes of the mistakes of Iraq or that those ideals aren't called for here. Nor does it follow that those things rely on trusting pundits, good or bad ones, nor that they imply citizens shouldn't participate, nor that they imply lack of sharp and vigorous disagreement and criticism. The piece is mostly an invitation to logical lapses.

Whether bipartisanship and so on are important or appropriate here is a fair question, but Matt does very little to help answer it.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 2, 2007 2:48:11 PM

it doesn't follow that seeking consensus or keeping the rhetoric sane were causes of the mistakes of Iraq

It doesn't necessarily follow, but it happens to be the case that this constributed to getting us into this mess. Moving along...

those deals aren't called for here.

Since one side wants to end the war and the other side doesn't (because they wish to ally with Bush, who, as far as we can tell, wants to keep the war going while he's still in office, it is a fact that "bipartisanship" isn't called for. Unless one side stops considering the president to be on their same partisan side, you can't have any bipartisan agreement.

How surprising that Sanpete doesn't think that a partisan confrontation is the solution here! Sanpete, at a certain point, one needs to say, "it's taking a bad bet to depend on pundits who are so consistently wrong." I don't think that's a bad approach. But I guess since they wear ties and have exalted places as "pundits," you consider them to be worth listening to. Personally, their redibility ran out for me a long time ago. I'm not going to reflexively disagree with the "bispartisan" pundits' opinions themselves, but I will seek more credible thinkers and evaluate their arguments first, not those of the pundits who have been so consistently wrong.

Posted by: Tyro | Aug 2, 2007 3:09:25 PM

sanpete takes the cutesy rhetorical tack of decontextualizing the argument, taking the notion of 'bipartisanship' at face value and discarding the fact that it's been used as a duck blind behind which war supporters have attacked war opponents since the beginning. But that's Yglesias' whole argument!

I must conclude that Sanpete is a wanker.

Posted by: matt | Aug 2, 2007 3:32:19 PM

it doesn't follow that seeking consensus or keeping the rhetoric sane were causes of the mistakes of Iraq or that those ideals aren't called for here.

"Keeping the rhetoric sane" seems like a loaded phrase, no? Who would ever be opposed to that? But as it happens, when self-styled centrists talk about keeping the rhetoric sane, they usually mean chopping off what they perceive to be the "extreme" ends of the spectrum. They are apparently under the misguided belief that the answer is always somewhere in the middle, when actually it is just as likely to be at one of the "extreme" ends of the spectrum. Fallacy of the golden mean and all.

(I wonder: if these people witness an argument between a Holocaust denier and a sane person, do they conclude that 3 million Jews died?)

Posted by: Jason G. | Aug 2, 2007 3:43:29 PM

It doesn't necessarily follow, but it happens to be the case that this constributed to getting us into this mess.

Neither you nor Matt give any evidence for that. I suspect you're confounding the stand-behind-the-President effect following September 11th with other things, but I'll let you explain yourself before I argue against it.

Unless one side stops considering the president to be on their same partisan side, you can't have any bipartisan agreement.

If a consensus or bipartisan solution is impossible, then some other solution must be sought. (It doesn't follow that the solution shouldn't consider whatever good points the other side might have.)

How surprising that Sanpete doesn't think that a partisan confrontation is the solution here!

How surprising that Tyro once again makes up/misreads/ignores what he's commenting on! What did I say in the last paragraph of my post?

Sanpete, at a certain point, one needs to say, "it's taking a bad bet to depend on pundits who are so consistently wrong." ... But I guess since they wear ties and have exalted places as "pundits," you consider them to be worth listening to.

As I already implied, this involves a logical lapse. The arguments for bipartisanship and so on aren't arguments from authority (the pundits don't say, "Bipartisanship is good, trust me"), so the records of the pundits making them aren't all that relevant to evaluating those arguments. The only pundit I read on a regular basis is Ezra. I don't think he wears a tie very often.

I'm not going to reflexively disagree with the "bispartisan" pundits' opinions themselves, but I will seek more credible thinkers and evaluate their arguments first, not those of the pundits who have been so consistently wrong.

Fine with me.

sanpete takes the cutesy rhetorical tack of decontextualizing the argument, taking the notion of 'bipartisanship' at face value and discarding the fact that it's been used as a duck blind behind which war supporters have attacked war opponents since the beginning. But that's Yglesias' whole argument!

Um, matt, unless Matt did a really good job of hiding his whole argument under a whole lot of irrelevant verbiage, I think you're the one decontextualizing. But maybe you can point out which points I made don't apply to what he actually said.

I take it you don't wank.

But as it happens, when self-styled centrists talk about keeping the rhetoric sane, they usually mean chopping off what they perceive to be the "extreme" ends of the spectrum.

Jason, I don't think many style themselves "centrists," but some probably mean what you suggest, in which case I agree with your point. Others mean something more like being civil and respectful, not exaggerating, that kind of thing.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 2, 2007 3:56:41 PM

However, it doesn't follow that seeking consensus or keeping the rhetoric sane were causes of the mistakes of Iraq or that those ideals aren't called for here.

Seriously, this is ridiculous. Please, please expand on "keeping the rhetoric sane," because I honestly don't understand how it could be applied to anything like what Yglesias is complaining about in his op-ed.

Posted by: Cyrus | Aug 2, 2007 4:06:21 PM

Others mean something more like being civil and respectful, not exaggerating, that kind of thing.

But surely this isn't all about manners? So the Republican calls the Democrat a treason monkey, and the Democrat calls the Republican a war monger. I don't see a problem of civility there; the only problem is that one is right and one is wrong. (Personally, I think the Republican is wrong, but someone who believes the opposite should be able to follow me the rest of the way.) If there's something objectionable about Republican calling Democrat a traitor, it's got to be just the fact that it's a lie. If the Democrat really is a traitor, by all means call him that.

Of course, you might assume that in this hypothetical name-calling match, each side is engaging in exaggeration. But I don't see why. If GWB's GWOT really is, as many Republicans believe, an unavoidable struggle for the continued existence of the US and all else that is good and holy, then sure, anyone who opposes it is a traitor or whatever. They're not exaggerating, they're just working from faulty premises.

Likewise when I call Rudy Giuliani (or these days, Barack Obama) a warmonger; if I'm right in thinking that he enthusiastically advocates unjust wars, then I'm right in calling him a warmonger. You might disagree with my premise, but surely not my inference?

Posted by: Jason G. | Aug 2, 2007 4:34:04 PM

Cyrus, in case you didn't see it, I expanded a little on that at the end of my previous post. It wasn't meant to carry whatever problematic meaning you must be assigning to it. I you don't like "sane," substitute whatever word you think best represents what those Matt is criticizing are calling for.

Jason, manners are part of what those Matt is criticizing are referring to, but hardly the only thing. There are rules of decorum in Congress to prevent debate from spinning into verbal brawls, and for good reason. I do think that calling anyone a "traitor" over their stance about Iraq is inaccurate and inflammatory in an unproductive way. A traitor (generally) doesn't act in good faith for the good of her country, and calling someone who does act in good faith for the good of his country a traitor makes rational, productive debate more difficult. This is a problem with most such name-calling and overheated rhetoric: it's inaccurate or at least highly controversial and creates controversy about itself rather than the issues.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 2, 2007 4:49:03 PM

I don't think Sanpete is engaged in a cutesy rhetorical ploy. I think that de-contextualization is intrinsic to his intellectual methodology. It seems to me that his consistent approach assumes that all real world questions can be reduced to abstract principles or ideas which are then subject to dispassionate analysis. In practice this leads him to mistake form for substance, which in turn leads to confusing his subjective bias with objective fact.

Take partisanship vs. bi-partisanship. If we treat the question in a purely abstract manner, defining the first as conflict and confrontation and the second as comity and cooperation, who could dispute Sanpete?

Of course real life, particularly politics, is not an abstract logical theorum. Politics operates in the realm of multiple and contradicting interests rather than the neat progressions of philosophical or religious discourse, which aim at determining absolute notions of "the good".

In the actually existing world, neither partisanship or bi-partisanship are absolute goods or absolute evils. Their character is entirely contingent upon circumstance. True bi-partisanship is only possible where a commonality of interests exists that supercedes the general differences between opposing sides.
Where such a common interest is absent, advocacy of "bipartisanship" amounts to arguing for the capitulation of one side under cover of a rhetorical figleaf. Likewise, condemning "partisanship" as a self evident evil denies the reality of the profound and irreconciliable conflicting interests from which it may grow.

On such hard shoals of reality, the idealist ship is bound to founder.

To address Sanpete's particular criticisms:

Matt's piece is poorly reasoned and self-undermining, though the latter is apparent only if you read closely enough to see the implication that Matt himself supported the invasion, which he appears to blame on reading the wrong book!

This is only "self undermining" if one can't conceive of being influenced by the opinion of others, or if one believes that the admission of error in such a case invalidates one's judgement in all matters.

The fact that bipartisanship, centrism, seeking consensus, using sane rhetoric and so on are no guarantee of anything good, and that those calling for such often don't have a good track record in regard to Iraq are fair points. However, it doesn't follow that seeking consensus or keeping the rhetoric sane were causes of the mistakes of Iraq or that those ideals aren't called for here.

Neither does it follow that such things weren't the causes of the "mistakes" in Iraq or that such "ideals" are what's called for here. Of course this isn't the argument that Matt is making. Matt's argument is that those who rode the war train over the cliff have, at the very least, exhibited stupendously bad judgement and that harkening to calls for "bipartisanship" in this context requires ignoring their abysmal record.

Nor does it follow that those things rely on trusting pundits, good or bad ones, nor that they imply citizens shouldn't participate, nor that they imply lack of sharp and vigorous disagreement and criticism.

Neither does it follow, despite the above, that Matt ever made such assertions. In any case, it is an exceedly bizarre construction to place on an article whose context and subject is the actual record of the elite opinionators cited.

The piece is mostly an invitation to logical lapses.

An invitation Sanpete accepts with alacrity.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 2, 2007 7:00:22 PM

WBR, your long prologue is quite disconnected from what I've said here and elsewhere, and is highly unintentionally ironic as to decontextualization and confusing the subjective with the objective.

This is only "self undermining" if one can't conceive of being influenced by the opinion of others, or if one believes that the admission of error in such a case invalidates one's judgement in all matters.

This isn't so hard to follow. See below for explanation.

Neither does it follow that such things weren't the causes of the "mistakes" in Iraq or that such "ideals" are what's called for here.

Very good, WBR. Did you see the end of the post you replied to?

Of course this isn't the argument that Matt is making. Matt's argument is that those who rode the war train over the cliff as he did have, at the very least, exhibited stupendously bad judgement as he did and that harkening to calls for "bipartisanship" in this context requires ignoring their abysmal record as hearkening to his calls against it would also require, by the logic of his own argument.

I've added the parts in bold to show what you're missing.

Further, as I pointed out before, the arguments for bipartisanship and so on aren't arguments from authority, so undermining the authority of those making them is largely irrelevant.

Nor does it follow that those things rely on trusting pundits, good or bad ones, nor that they imply citizens shouldn't participate, nor that they imply lack of sharp and vigorous disagreement and criticism.

Neither does it follow, despite the above, that Matt ever made such assertions.

And maybe you noticed that I didn't say he did. He did say this, however:

Meanwhile, the very elites we're supposed to trust ...

Citizens who have come to fear letting the powers-that-be sort things out from above have some sound basis for their anxiety -- the bipartisan elite turns out to have a fairly awful track record on Iraq. Indeed, one might begin to suspect that the real agenda here is to try to stifle political debate lest it risk displacing current elites from their cozy positions in favor of some new experts who've shown better judgment.

That, though, would be shrill and partisan. Better to not complain and just assume it'll all turn out for the best.

I'll let you figure out the connections.

The piece is mostly an invitation to logical lapses.

An invitation Sanpete accepts with alacrity.

Nice rhetorical touch, beginning and ending with unintentional irony.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 2, 2007 7:59:28 PM

Matt's argument is that those who rode the war train over the cliff have, at the very least, exhibited stupendously bad judgement and that harkening to calls for "bipartisanship" in this context requires ignoring their abysmal record.

But in a way this is self-undermining, isn't it? If we assume that M.Y. is, basically, saying that we shouldn't listen to these bozos because they are the same bozos that rode the war train off the cliff, then why should we listen to M.Y. (or Ezra Klein, for that matter), when he too rode the war train off the cliff?

The only way out of this that I see is if M.Y. is implying that being wrong on Iraq destroys one's credibility for all time, unless you recognize that you were wrong, in which case your credibility is restored.

It's obviously better to recognize your errors, but if being wrong about something very important destroys your credibility, it seems like it would take more than just saying "My bad" to rehabilitate yourself. And it's not even like M.Y. or E.K. have spent much time castigating themselves - I could be remembering wrong, but I think both of them just briefly admitted they were wrong, maybe did a blog post or several about why and how they got it wrong, and then moved on to criticizing the war just like everybody else.

Posted by: Jason G. | Aug 2, 2007 8:17:50 PM

I see. Because Matt admits that he allowed himself to be misled into supporting the war, his criticism of those who did the misleading should be ignored.

Yes, that makes splendid sense.

This "reasoning" doesn't seem disconnected from my prologue to me.

However, considering the character of your response Sanpete, I withdraw my assertion that your are not indulging in rhetorical ploys.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 2, 2007 8:45:18 PM

Jason, it's also relevant that some of the ones Matt criticizes have also admitted they were wrong.

WBR, Matt's seeming effort to blame his mistake on another pundit doesn't improve his position--many of them blame someone else. And Matt was himself one of the pundits at the time, writing in favor of the war. I've been clear: I don't think this means Matt should be ignored; I don't think it means any of them should be ignored; I disagree with his treating this as argument from authority. He, not I, is the one who argues what implies that he should be ignored.

Your continued failure to see the logic doesn't make you imaginative prologue any more objectively based.

Another empty rhetorical ploy at the end of your post, I see, more unintentional irony.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 2, 2007 9:07:20 PM

Because Matt admits that he allowed himself to be misled into supporting the war, his criticism of those who did the misleading should be ignored.

But doesn't it seem like kind of a cop-out for M.Y. to just point to Kenneth Pollack and say, essentially, "It was his fault"? I mean, what was so magical about Pollack that his findings alone forced M.Y. to support the war? Supporting the Iraq war was a failure of judgment and character, and cannot simply be blamed on misinformation. All the WMD and 9/11 nonsense was obvious B.S. at the time, as plenty of people were pointing out then. M.Y. and Ezra Klein and so many others chose to support an immoral and deeply stupid invasion, and often engaged in demagoguing those who disagreed with them. I don't think they've really confronted this.

Posted by: Jason G. | Aug 2, 2007 9:31:07 PM

M.Y. and Ezra Klein and so many others chose to support an immoral and deeply stupid invasion, and often engaged in demagoguing those who disagreed with them. I don't think they've really confronted this.

That's a fair point. To be honest, I wasn't reading them back in the day as I had my hands full elsewhere. So I've no real idea of their level of culpability. They should certainly a make full accounting if they haven't already done so.

As someone with no particular bone to pick with either Matt or Ez, it seems to me that though this is a worthy question in its own right, it really is external to the issues here. Unless you want to argue that their past support for the war invalidates their present opposition to it.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 3, 2007 1:42:01 AM

Your continued failure to see the logic doesn't make you imaginative prologue any more objectively based.

I assume you are referring to your belief that Matt, having admitted to being influenced by Pollock, et al, has no standing to criticize those he believes gulled him? Rather like claiming that a man who has been ripped off by a con artist has no standing to testify against the swindler.

Logic, btw, is proof of nothing other than its own internal consistency. The validity and materiality of a chain of logic is utterly dependent on its premises. Faulty premises lead to faulty conclusions, regardless of how "logically" arrived at. To paraphrase Luther "Logic is ego's whore".

My prologue was an opinion and made no pretense of objectivity.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 3, 2007 2:01:10 AM

I assume you are referring to your belief that Matt, having admitted to being influenced by Pollock, et al, has no standing to criticize those he believes gulled him? Rather like claiming that a man who has been ripped off by a con artist has no standing to testify against the swindler.

Somehow missed this. WBR, you still don't follow the basic logic here, and you must not have read what I said as plainly as I can: "I've been clear: I don't think this means Matt should be ignored; I don't think it means any of them should be ignored; I disagree with his treating this as argument from authority. He, not I, is the one who argues what implies that he should be ignored."

You also seem to have overlooked this: "Matt's seeming effort to blame his mistake on another pundit doesn't improve his position--many of them blame someone else. And Matt was himself one of the pundits at the time, writing in favor of the war." His testimony against the "swindler" is testimony against himself as well, as he was persuading others to support the war.

I can see why you would want to badmouth logic.

My prologue was an opinion and made no pretense of objectivity.

Pretense or not, the lack of objective basis is the problem with your stream of unfounded personal attacks.

Matt's piece was sloppy and illogical. There may be good arguments against calls for bipartisanship and so on, but he didn't make them.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 5, 2007 12:43:28 PM

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Posted by: judy | Oct 11, 2007 7:52:56 AM

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