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The Enemy of My Enemy

July 1st, 2009 · 7 Comments

I was expecting to have turned on Barack Obama more strongly by now. I knew for the first few weeks—perhaps even a couple months—I’d just be reveling in the thought that George Bush was no longer president. But soon enough, I felt sure, I’d be attacking Obama almost as vigorously for a totally different set of awful policies—not necessarily because he’d be as bad on net as Bush, but because he’d be setting the agenda. By all rights, it should’ve happened long ago. I expected not to care much for his positions on economic issues, but I hadn’t anticipated the sheer size of the spending and debt levels we’d be staring down. Perhaps more importantly given my own idiosyncratic concerns, he hasn’t been all that much better than Bush in some of the places where I really was hoping we might see dramatic improvement—state secrets, detention policy, gay rights. Many have remarked on the number of legal briefs coming out of the Obama DOJ, on a range of issues, that you’d be hard pressed to distinguish from his predecessor’s. I’m not happy about any of this, yet I don’t find myself thinking and writing about it daily. Looking at what I’ve written both here and at The Economist since January, there are plenty of posts defending the administration to some extent or another, and many fewer directly attacking. Is this proof of the vaunted hypnotic power of The One?

Could be. But here’s what I think is actually happening. I pull up my feed reader in the morning and get the political news of the day as seen through the prism of two-party political conflict. These fall into two central categories. First, there are issues where Obama is only marginally more sane than Bush, but conservatives are outraged that lip service is being paid to sanity. Second, there are issues where Democrats are grinding along with some well-intentioned but probably harmful plan, and the Republican response is shrill, dishonest, offensive, and—if those fail—flat out psychotic. The latter end up grabbing my attention and provoking me to respond.

Now, I realize this is somewhat irrational. Per Jane’s Law, conservatives are angry because they’re irrelevant, and it’s hard to justify spending more time writing about their impotent rage than the actions of the people running the country. Moreover, this is the first step toward the sort of tribal thinking that our two-party system uses to cement coalitions that don’t make any intrinsic sense. There’s no a priori reason that someone’s position on the morality of abortion or the desirability of single-payer health care ought to correlate with their assessment of the threat of anthropogenic global warming—unless it’s that there’s a correct set of positions that the wise and good will converge on, while the stupid and wicked are either duped or malicious enough to get it uniformly wrong. (I shouldn’t caricature too much here: there are plenty of moderately prevalent views that you have to be a little dumb to hold, but they don’t necessarily track any partisan split.) Sooner or later, discrete issues blur into the territory of opposing teams. So while I know I won’t be able to entirely restrain myself, I’m going to make a conscious effort to pay attention to actual policy developments rather than the daily rage against the dying of the right.

Tags: Horse Race Politics · Journalism & the Media · Sociology


       

 

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 a // Jul 1, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    One problem with this analysis, though, is that Republicans aren’t impotent. They’re quite potent as a voting bloc in congress, and this fact, coupled with their basic insanity on a variety of important issues, seems to be creating a worst-of-all-possible worlds scenario in which Democrats self-deal in order to get legislation passed. Where one might hope to see the ideological give-and-take lead to some sort of improvement in governance, we’re instead seeing complete dysfunction.

    Anyway, my analysis is no doubt oversimplified, but I don’t think it’s fair to claim that the opposition party is irrelevant to the state of play.

  • 2 Kevin B. O'Reilly // Jul 1, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    It’s good, Julian, that you’re checking yourself. This kind of attitude reminds me of the old just-after-9/11 anti-idiotarian movement, where people spent a bunch of time “Fisking” Noam Chomsky and somehow let torture, warrantless wiretapping and unnecessary wars slip by. There’s only so much time in the day: focus on the idiots in power, not the idiots out of power.

  • 3 Arieh // Jul 1, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    “There’s no a priori reason that someone’s position on the morality of abortion or the desirability of single-payer health care ought to correlate with their assessment of the threat of anthropogenic global warming”

    Is this really true? Say you oppose universal health care because you have a profoundly anti-government streak — wouldn’t you then be more likely to view the evidence supporting the existence of anthropogenic global warming as weaker and more inconsistent as a way of avoiding cognitive dissonance?

  • 4 Dan Summers // Jul 2, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    I think this analysis is excellent, and shows how utterly the Republican Party has failed. There are reasonable and intelligent critiques and counters to the Democratic agenda, even though I tend to support it as a rule. But the GOP doesn’t offer intelligent and reasonable critique, but instead spews forth insulting blather and jingoistic nonsense.

  • 5 Ottovbvs // Jul 3, 2009 at 9:03 am

    This seems to be a rather complicated way of saying that the Democrats have the best tunes at present although Sanchez seems to have a generalized, vague and unspecified antipathy to them rather as some people don’t like Mahler. Does the odd bum note get play, are the brass not always in tune, does the percussion sometimes come in a bit late…..sure but they are producing recognizable and on the whole pleasing representations of the classics. With the Republicans on the other hand we’re in Schoenberg territory. Now there are some that like Schoenberg but he’s clearly never going to be a majority taste, in fact for most people listening to him is excruciating. And then there’s the matter of the conductors. The current one combines an intelligent if cautious reading with pop star celebrity. Most of the alternatives can’t even read a score.

  • 6 Three Questions «  Modeled Behavior // Jul 5, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    […] Julian Sanchez summaries many of my views I pull up my feed reader in the morning and get the political news of the day as seen through the prism of two-party political conflict. These fall into two central categories. First, there are issues where Obama is only marginally more sane than Bush, but conservatives are outraged that lip service is being paid to sanity. Second, there are issues where Democrats are grinding along with some well-intentioned but probably harmful plan, and the Republican response is shrill, dishonest, offensive, and—if those fail—flat out psychotic. […]

  • 7 Barry // Jul 6, 2009 at 10:56 am

    It’s probably fundamentally fatigue, and a hope that a Democratic administration can get some good stuff done. The alternative is not pleasant (i.e., the GOP+right-wing Democratic Senators combine to block enough stuff to keep the US in bad shape, which leads to a resurgant GOP administration in 2012, elected on the principle that Bush II’s methods worked in the long run).

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