"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."
- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)
"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."
- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"
Wednesday, 18 August 2004
Topic: Political Theory Conspiracy Theories: Assuming Competence on Scant Evidence Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, asked an interesting question in the August 8th issue of Just Above Sunset -
Lately I've been wondering if there isn't a way to launch a campaign to bring the word "liberal" back into the mainstream where it belongs. Maybe in the process, also find a way to demonize the word "conservative"?
And just now I received a query from a friend in Rochester, in upstate New York -
Do you know at exactly what point the Democrats let the Republicans succeed in making Liberal a dirty word?
I remember hints of it with Goldwater, but not with any real emphasis, and the same with Nixon. I do not remember it as anathema until Reagan. And how did they successfully spin economics so that "tax and spend" is Satan's work but borrow and spend (usually more, plus financing) is God's work?
And curiously, within a few minutes I received a similar query from a friend in Montreal -
I too ask the same question...
It seems to me that the Clinton (Democratic) years, and correspondently, the Jean Chr?tien, now Paul Martin (Liberal) era was wildly successful. To have liberal governments with balanced budgets and generous military spending, riding large down the center two-lanes of the political highway, they seemed unstoppable.
Anything Republican and conservative looked fundamentalists and extremist in those days. Now suddenly liberal is bad. How did American Republicanism succeed in being the voice of America?
Well, I do have an answer, or maybe a non-answer.
It is an interesting question.
I suspect this happened slowly and there was no meeting in Dallas or Washington where any such thing was decided. Folks on the dark side just talked to their audiences and some wording seemed to work, and thus they used what worked. Think random mutations leading to the evolution of what works surviving - except these guys don't believe in evolution. Maybe it's more like throwing lot of various kinds of mud against a wall and they found out, by dint of a whole lot of throwing, what particular mud sticks.
I don't much believe this was something some group of planners carefully chose to do, but rather one more thing that was tried, and glorious day, over the years they discovered that this particular wording worked for them.
I wrote the following to a friend recently, a fellow who I think falls too easily into conspiracy theories of life.
My natural tendency is to assume incompetence, not malevolence. That's how I look at the world. And that's where we part ways. In the world I know the bumblers outnumber the cunning by tens of thousands to one. The cunning and intelligence and careful attention to detail that goes into even a half-assed conspiracy is beyond most folks. Cheney is smart enough - and maybe a CEO here and there like Ken Lay. But they are rare, thank goodness. And Jeb Bush and his Florida crew? Well, they're just pathetic. Stuff comes out fast - the press is far smarter than they are - and they just look like fools. Hell, if you're going to conspire to rig an election you don't get caught so easily doing such stupid, obvious things. Amateurs! And Jeb is the smarter brother? Please.
Where we really do part ways is that you make this assumption that people always plan what they end up doing. I think you give people far too much credit. Most folks don't think that carefully, and act on regrettable impulse most of the time, and generally make it up as they go along. Then, sometimes, comes the oops and the regret. Then they backfill with rationales that are often just silly - like Bush and his war to rid us of Saddam Hussein's WMD that morphed into this reason then that reason then another. WMD program related activities? Gave me a break!
Why did we do that, really? Because Bush wanted to do that. But he just wasn't thinking it through. That's the kind of guy he is. And everyone has always cleaned up his messes for him before, so he saw no reason not to launch the war in Iraq. The thought of there being any downside to such a war just never crossed his mind.
Did he lie to us about the WMD - and have other hidden reasons? No. He's just not that smart.
In short, your opinion of folks is, to my mind, too high. But maybe my opinion of folks is too low. Who knows?