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Leaning to the Right?

By Brian | May 26, 2006 | Share on Facebook

In the comments from this post, Jeff Porten asks:

It’s my perception that you’ve polarized harder right since 2004. Agree or disagree?

Disagree.

My political leanings have been relatively consistent for the last few years. I’m generally conservative when it comes to financial matters. I’d rather have as much of my money in my pocket as possible, but I’m willing to pay taxes as long as I feel I’m getting some service in return. I’m generally liberal when it comes to social matters (pro-choice, pro-gay rights, etc.). And I’m anti-political correctness for political correctness’ sake, which may be more of a conservative thing, but I’m not sure how that categorizes…

The two things about my politics that might be confusing (and might make me appear to have polarized right lately) are these:

1) I tend to focus on what is happening as opposed to what could be happening.

So when stuff like the NSA scandals come up and people (mainly liberals, I find) begin screaming about how our civil rights are gone and the constitution has become birdcage liner, I tend to see their un-mitigated, un-punished, un-discouraged screaming as proof positive that they’re wrong. I also remain confident that as long as there are people out there screaming like this, the bright light of public opinion will keep any given administration from eroding our civil rights in any serious way. With all the hullabaloo lately, my civil rights have not changed one iota and, individual anecdotes aside, I believe 99% of the country is in the same boat.

2) I try to read multiple accounts of the same story, remove the spin and the editorializing, and focus on the facts.

The Bush administration has become as scandal-ridden as the Clinton administration was in its second term. Now, as then, a public mood has developed in which it’s very fashionable to disapprove of everything the President says or does, and use each new “incident” as further proof that he is <choose your favorite: evil, stupid, incompetent, power-hungry, war-mongering, a religious nut, other: ___________.>.

Stories about one thing end up being about something else. Criticisms about a particular event become evidence toward a theory of greater wrongdoing. Motivations are assumed and presented as fact. Tempers flare and logic subsides. Describing the event/action itself without embellishment becomes unsatisfying and insufficient.

In this environment, someone who points out inaccuracies in a story, or tries to separate opinion from fact, is often accused of defending the administration, even when his/her statements are inherently negative towards it.

Here’s a real life example to illustrate my point, taken from a conversation I had with a family member last summer:

Family member: That goddamn Bush. I can’t believe how badly he screwed up that Katrina mess.

Me: The mayor and governor screwed up the evacuation, and left FEMA to be first responders as opposed to the last line of defense. Where FEMA screwed up was in not adjusting to the situation on the ground; using the same old techniques, even though this problem was much worse than other problems.

FM: How can you defend FEMA when the whole world agrees they screwed up?

Me: I agree they screwed up. I’m just saying they weren’t the only ones who screwed up.

FM: I can’t believe you think Bush did a good job on this. <So-and-so> from <such-and-such> paper said no President has ever screwed up so badly.

Me: Ugh. I didn’t say Bush did a good job on this. The buck stops with him, so he gets the blame for the federal response. But if you’re lining up people to blame, you can’t ignore Mayor Nagin, Governor Blanco, or FEMA Director Brown.

FM: Brown is a @#%*@ing Arabian horse trainer. And the guy he replaced left because he was corrupt. It’s just another example of Bush’s cronyism, like the time he fired that General in Iraq for saying he needed more troops.

Me: Brown performed legal services and did logistics planning for the Arabian horse firm. And after that, he was assistant-director at FEMA, so it’s not so crazy that he got the job. Also, the guy before him presided over the FEMA response to four hurricanes that hit South Florida in one season in 2004, where FEMA was touted as being more effective than it’s ever been. Some even credited its response with helping to secure Florida for Bush in the November elections. Personally, I think it had more to do with the fact that Gov. Jeb Bush and the local Florida officials know what to do when a hurricane was coming, so FEMA’s standard response worked well. And by the way, what does Iraq have to do with any of this?

FM: Listen to you, defending Bush and FEMA at a time like this. When did you become such a radical republican?

Me: AARRRRGGGHHH!!! The first thing out of my mouth was “FEMA screwed up.” I just think the press is short-cutting past how they screwed up because it’s more fun/popular to blame everything on Bush. Sells more papers & all that. I think it’s important to understand how they screwed up, so we can fix it for next time. Don’t you?

<End of Act I>

You’ll note that nothing I said in the above conversation is complimentary to Bush, FEMA, or the events after Hurricane Katrina. All I’m trying to do is get the facts right. But it’s not enough to say FEMA was one of three agencies that screwed up. It has to be the only one. And the screw-up has to be the worst screw-up in the history of screw-ups. And it has to prove Bush’s incompetence in several other areas (including hiring practices and running the Iraq war).

The bottom line: The quantity and degree of unsubstantiated criticism against this president is more than we’ve ever seen before. When I see it, I just can’t help trying to set the record straight, or direct people’s attention to the actual issue at hand. Since this kind of behavior is viewed as defending the President (as opposed to levying more accurate criticisms), I can see how some may perceive me as becoming increasingly conservative.

I guess I’ll have to wait until someone unfairly accuses a Democrat of something in order to show my true, “fair and balanced” self.

Topics: Political Rantings | 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “Leaning to the Right?”

  1. Jeff Porten says at May 26th, 2006 at 8:09 pm :
    I guess I’ll have to wait until someone unfairly accuses a Democrat of something in order to show my true, “fair and balanced” self.

    Okay, here’s one: “The Bush administration has become as scandal-ridden as the Clinton administration was in its second term.” Yes, both administrations had their scandals. But do you think the following two statements, if true, are equivalent?

    1) “It’s scandalous that Jeff has been sleeping with so many 16-year-olds.”

    2) “It’s scandalous that Jeff has been dealing crack to so many 16-year-olds.”

    Both are scandalous, and both are illegal, but I suspect that I would lose a larger subset of friends in the case of #2. Which is why you cause that cranial pounding that is indicative of imminent head explosion, when you equate Whitewater and blowjobs to NSA wiretapping and a splendid little war.

    I appreciate your focus on “just the facts, ma’am”, but I don’t think you incorporate any due opprobrium for the people who are doing their damnedest to make sure you have insufficient and incorrect facts. That alone, I would normally expect, should be enough to make you disinclined to support the Bush people because they have such a strong track record of deliberately misinforming you.

    Beyond that, the reason I asked the question, and the reason I think you have tacked harder to the right, is that you’re hewing to your perception of a moderate course. You don’t see the same statements I do demonstrating that the Bushes are radicals (leaving aside the religion issue, where I think we’re more closely aligned), but you do hear about the radical lefties.

    Result: you’ve been consistently knee-jerk in support for the last dozen or so Bush administration policies we’ve debated. Your reasons are usually sound, but I think you’re working backwards from comfortable conclusions more often than not.

    What I find fascinating, and depressing as hell, is that just as I’m your canary for incipient doom, you’re my bellwether for how “normal” people see what’s going on. (Normal here only means “outside the Beltway and not politically psychotic”.) I’m gobsmacked at how all of what’s happened has gone down so smoothly without so much as a scotch chaser.

    Back to you. Tell me why you’re not a member of the Borg.

  2. Brian says at May 28th, 2006 at 1:48 am :
    I’m going to do this in two, separate comments. First, the stupid stuff:

    Which is why you cause that cranial pounding that is indicative of imminent head explosion, when you equate Whitewater and blowjobs to NSA wiretapping and a splendid little war.

    It utterly astounds me that I write 1,000 words about my view of politics, and the first thing you jump on is the comparison of the Clinton/Bush scandals. I should really just let it go and move on to the meat of the discussion, but as I said in #2 above, I can’t let the facts just lie out there all twisted up. So…..

    If you’re suggesting that Whitewater/”Monicagate” was the only scandal in the Clinton White House, you have an incredibly short memory. Just off the top of my head: Hillary revamping healthcare & refusing to keep Congress appraised because she “wasn’t a federal employee?” Hundreds of FBI files becoming lost and then turning up in the White House residence? Cabinet members resigning left & right over scandals and/or illegal activities? Gore making campaign calls from federal buildings? Renting out the Lincoln bedroom to wealthy donors in exchange for political favors? Arms dealers from Communist China visiting the White House? The federal raid in Waco? Hillary earning $100K from a $1K investment in Cattle futures? Firing the entire White House travel office & replacing them with friends & campaing contributors? And yes – sex scandals. Not just Monica, but Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broadderick (OK, I admit I had to Google those last two names).

    I’m not comparing the severity of scandals here: I’m just pointing out that it became just as fashionable to declare everything that Clinton did a “scandal” as it is right now with George W. Bush. Most of the scandals (for both Presidents) were likely less sinister than originally reported (and currently believed by many, I’m sure), but they sure sold a lot of newspapers.

    I’ll also note that when that “vast, right-wing conspiracy” was yelling “Where does it all end?!? The Clintons think they are above the law!!!” I was doing no such thing. I was doing what I’m doing now – trying to understand the facts, criticizing that which was done wrong, and ignoring that which is exaggerated or sensationalized for effect. IMHO, you and I had less arguments about it then, because at the time, you were more inclined to do the very same thing.

  3. Brian says at May 28th, 2006 at 2:15 am :
    you’ve been consistently knee-jerk in support for the last dozen or so Bush administration policies we’ve debated.

    I find it absolutely awe-inspiring that you think I’ve been supporting any of the last dozen Bush administration policies. Go re-read the highlighted text in my post, and then go back and re-read any of the conversations we’ve had in the last few months.

    As far as I can tell:

    I’ve questioned whether modern data-mining techniques have a place in government intelligence gathering. You’ve apparently taken this as knee-jerk support for the NSA acquiring lists of phone call data.

    I’ve pointed out that the wiretapping program was intended to track the calls of those that known terrorists have recently spoken to on cell phones, not random American citizens. I’ve also opined that access to the source data trunk (containing all cell phone calls) in order to review those conversations is problem of technology being ahead of the law. You’ve apparently taken these statements to be knee-jerk support for NSA wiretapping.

    I’ve also rejected claims by people with no law background whatsoever that both of these programs are clearly illegal. I’ve advocated for investigations and/or trials as appropriate. Again, clearly a statement of support.

    I’ve pointed out that oil prices are set in the commodity markets, and companies that pay a (relatively) fixed price to find the oil are going to show record profits when the price they can get on the open market quintuples in 20 years, so obviously I’m a shill for the oil industry (and a sworn enemy of caribou in the ANWR…).

    I’ve pointed out that the President has the authority to classify and de-classify information, and that calling it a “leak” when he de-classifies something is stupid, political spin. Which means, of course, that I’m OK with the government outing an undercover CIA agent.

    Oh, and I’m pretty sure I also mentioned that no one in the government has even been accused of doing that (Libby has been accused of lying to prosecutors under oath, but not about Valerie Plame), and that the reporters who printed her name put her in as much (if not more) danger than anyone in the government. This kind of ringing endorsement of Bush policy should earn me a job in the White House, no?

    And going way back to last year (and tying nicely back to my original post), I stated that city and state governments were also to blame for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and that FEMA’s failure was a failure to adjust to the reality on the ground, which is a similar argument to the one I’ve been making about Iraq. This, I assume, makes me pro-FEMA and pleased with Bush’s handling of post-war Iraq.

    The bottom line (again): If you view my refusal to be as angry as you are about things that Republicans do, then you will clearly see me as a right-wing nutcase…

  4. Jeff Porten says at May 28th, 2006 at 3:31 pm :
    It utterly astounds me that I write 1,000 words about my view of politics, and the first thing you jump on is the comparison of the Clinton/Bush scandals.

    I didn’t “jump on it”, I used it as a segue to introduce the gist of what I wanted to say. I thought that was called holding a conversation. The thing in your post that I most wanted to “jump on” was your FEMA discussion — where you have a number of things that you call “facts” that I’d call “opinions” — and I bypassed that entirely in favor of moving on to a discussion that I thought might be more useful.

    I’ll merge the “stupid stuff” and the presumably “non-stupid stuff” because to me it’s all of a piece. No, I haven’t said that you enjoy eating caribou cheesesteaks at Billybob’s. But what you are doing is citing the Fox News (if not the Bush administration) spin on the world as the facts of the matter, and that’s where I perceive a shift in your oratory.

    Case in point: yes, I had forgotten about 90% of your scandal sheet there. I can recall from memory that about 75% of your list could still be considered highly debatable whether it was a “scandal” or “trumped up political attacks abetted by a right-wing media”. I note you left Vincent Foster off your list — did you forget him? Or did he not make your cut?

    The point being — that was off the top of your head. Well, I can’t remember the name of George H.W.’s mistress, and I’m not going to go Google it, because that’s irrelevant. It seems to me that the checklist for W is a bit more, well, intrinsic to the operations of the nation. Unless you want to reopen the debate about whether we bombed Sudan to distract the Washington Post.

    Likewise, your “as far as I can tell” list is remarkably congruent with what the Bush administration wants you to believe about them. Specifically on the points of wiretapping intent and whether a “leak” is an on-the-fly declassification, your talking points could have been written by Scott McClellan.

    When we argued in the 90s, I never thought you were reading the script from Newt or Dick (Armey), but these days that’s what it sounds like. Granted, I can be trusted to be knee-jerk in opposition to pretty much whatever happens at 1600 Penn, but I think we can both agree that my politics didn’t shift to get me there.

    The bottom line (again): If you view my refusal to be as angry as you are about things that Republicans do, then you will clearly see me as a right-wing nutcase.

    I’ve long since accepted that most people don’t get as passionate as I do about politics. Not angry, passionate. When anger is warranted, that means I get more angry. So, yes, you won’t get as angry as I am, and that’s okay.

    But what bugs me is that I don’t see what will trigger any anger at all with you. And seeing as how it’s the goal of political activism to get the Brians of this world passionate about our causes — anger being a very useful tool for that — talking to you is highly dispiriting. I think your real agenda, probably unconscious, is to apply your highly analytical mind to collect the facts that support your political policy of, “the world is basically okay as it is, and there’s not much I need to do about it.” Which is really the political view on which you and I don’t see eye to eye.

    Back to you. Still hoping you’ll convince me I’m wrong.

  5. Brian says at May 28th, 2006 at 10:10 pm :
    But what you are doing is citing the Fox News (if not the Bush administration) spin on the world as the facts of the matter, and that’s where I perceive a shift in your oratory.

    I swear, it’s like I’ve lost the ability to communicate with the outside world. And I don’t just mean you – Scalzi’s crowd has the same reaction, as do other people I talk to in the non-digital world. But I don’t know how to make it any clearer:

    Somewhere in the unknowable universe are the facts as they really are. The Bush administration wants us to believe some subset of them, coupled with their opinion of the rest. Their political enemies want us to believe another (likely distinct) subset of them, coupled with their opinion of the rest. I reject it all as a massive campaign to keep us uninformed or worse – misinformed.

    I don’t consider anything on my “as far as I can tell” list to be congruent with the Bush spin. I don’t know what the intent of the NSA wiretapping program was, but I’m not going to blindly accept the premise that it was the most sinister possibility, just because to do anything else is suddenly labeled as buying into the Bush team’s bullshit.

    It could be spying on random Americans. It could be spying on legitimate terrorist contacts. It’s probably a little of both. I’ve called for, and would be thrilled to see, productive and informative hearings on the subject to find out. Given the aenemic state of public discourse right now, I’m not holding my breath.

    What bugs me is that I don’t see what will trigger any anger at all with you. . . I think your real agenda, probably unconscious, is to apply your highly analytical mind to collect the facts that support your political policy of, “the world is basically okay as it is, and there’s not much I need to do about it.”

    That’s probably the closest you’ve gotten to how I think, but the implication is too laissez-faire. I think the world is basically okay as it is, and that illegal actions taken by our government are almost always identified and dealt with, either through the legal system, or through the electoral process. So what “I need to do about it” is keep myself well informed about current events, and cast an intelligent vote in November. Anything else is just hand-wringing. To me, the worst thing I can do for myself, my country, and my kids is to unquestioningly swallow the political hype of either party, and then vote for who they want me to vote for, and for their reasons.

  6. Brian says at May 28th, 2006 at 10:14 pm :
    I had forgotten about 90% of your scandal sheet there. I can recall from memory that about 75% of your list could still be considered highly debatable whether it was a “scandal” or “trumped up political attacks abetted by a right-wing media”. I note you left Vincent Foster off your list — did you forget him? Or did he not make your cut?

    I forgot about him. Probably because I wrote it off at the time as tin-foil hat stuff.

    My point wasn’t to compare scandal sheets. My point was to compare the political zeitgeist then and now. The reason 75% of Clinton’s list feels debatable is because it was all so many years ago. Today, the whole Cheney energy policy thing seems rather irrelevant, and Abu Grahib doesn’t even come up anymore since the secret prisons hit the talking points. Eight years from now, all but a couple of these scandals will appear legitimate, unless they’re formalized in an impeachment proceeding. That strikes me as a very dangerous precedent for the country to set.

    ——————–
    P.S. Sorry about the “jumped on it” crack – I didn’t mean to imply anything sinister there – just a bad choice of words.

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