Sunday, November 11, 2012

Stuck in the Middle With You

You might think of this as an uncompressed VastLeft cartoon, the kind of raw material that he boils down for them.

One of my liberal Facebook friends -- let's call him MC -- posted this today, after we'd sparred back and forth on the same subject a bit:
Funny. I have a very "conservative" friend (in the current American Republican sense) who insists Obama is a socialist. And I have a very "leftish" friend who claims Obama is Reagan reincarnated. To me, Obama seems generally like a moderate centrist. But when I say that, both these fellows wonder what planet I've been living on, that I could be so deluded. (If they spoke to each other, their heads might explode.) Makes me think of the story of the blind men and the elephant.
I recognized myself as the "very 'leftish" person in his post, so I wrote:
Well, I gave a number of reasons why I consider him to be the New Reagan, and I'm hardly alone in thinking so. (I also mentioned Clinton in that regard, and I seem to recall Clinton saying he was a Reagan Democrat, though it was 20 years ago and I could be wrong.) Does your right-wing friend give reasons why he considers Obama a socialist?

That being said, "centrist" is a meaningless word. It has no content. As the political elites move ever Rightward, the "center" moves with them. I also think it's important to distinguish between the political elites, who are not representative of the general populace, and the rest of the nation.
I might have added that MC has not given any reasons why I'm wrong about Obama.  I don't think I've called him "deluded", and I don't think he is; I do think he's intellectually dishonest.  When you can't offer serious arguments in support of your positions, it's fair and reasonable to doubt your bona fides.  Anyway, MC replied:
Your opposite number is a little shell-shocked right now and not really in the mood to discuss politics, and I respect that. I've been looking around elsewhere among reactions on the right for reasons why Obama would be any more socialist than any other somewhat liberal Democrat, and haven't found any. They seem to take it as a given. Maybe just the fact that he's not a total market fundamentalist, and considers that the government has some role to play in the economy? In which case, almost any major politician from the last several decades is a socialist. Or maybe it's "Obamacare" - even though that's a program to aid for-profit insurance companies, so it makes pretty inept socialism. I dunno, it's a puzzle.
I replied:
Yes, the claim that O is a socialist has been going around since he became a viable candidate. My opposite number may be reeling right now, but I imagine he was part of the chorus before the election. As you say, what reasons are given are not convincing: if O is a socialist, so were George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. He's not a total market fundamentalist, but he makes much of his background at the University of Chicago, a hotbed of Friedmanism. As you say, the ACA is pretty weak socialism. But we're talking about the same people who consider Obama a Kenyan, an anti-colonialist, a Muslim. The salt of the earth, the common clay of the new West. You know.
As for "If they spoke to each other, their heads might explode", I am made of sterner stuff than that. I've been debating people on politics (and religion and gay issues) for a long time.
After I wrote that, I realized who he meant by my "opposite number." If I'm right, my opposite number and I have spoken to each other often, both online and face to face, yet both heads are so far intact.  I also know that my opposite number never gave any reasons for calling Obama a socialist, even before he suffered the PTSD of this week's election.

Oddly, MC wrote this in reply to my rebuttal:
Oh, I agree. The "on this hand, on the other hand" that journalists feel obliged to do (thus bringing on e.g. a climate-change denier) - or the "both sides are hating on me, so I must be right" formulation. (No, you might still be wrong!) And Kristol is slimy, and Yoo detestable. Yep.

But there is also "moderate" in terms of what you call "content" - for instance, those of us who think there is definitely a role for government in the economy, but that there also can be dangers or disadvantages that come with overextending government's role - and conversely, that market forces do a lot of things well, but not everything that's important (and that some of their side effects need to be ameliorated). Seems almost obvious - unless you're one of those who reflexively hates "Government" or "Business." The ability to find this kind of commonsense "content" or "substance" comes precisely from the lack of interest in being an ideological purist, and the ability/willingness to listen to ideas and suggestions from a variety of points of view on the "political spectrum."
Here MC was doing exactly the "on this hand, on the other hand" thing he rejected.  As always, the benefit of defining your position as "moderate" is that anyone can look moderate if he's allowed to pick -- or, as here, invent -- the extremes he sits midway between.  Ironically, though, the Right in America comes closer to one of MC's extremes, what with its fantasy of shrinking government until you can drown it in the bathtub.  Most of Obama's left critics, on the other hand, don't want to eliminate the private sphere: certainly not me, Senator Bernie Sanders, Avedon Carol, Glenn Greenwald, Noam Chomsky ... the list could go on.  In much the same way, the Obama administration sought to marginalize its left critics on the Affordable Care Act by dismissing them as drug-addled, "fucking retards" (in Rahm Emanuel's delicate, tactful phrase), or 'disappointed' (mark the word) that Obama hadn't turned the US into a Communist country like ... Canada.  As you can see, the commonsense moderates of Obama Nation have reason and fact rather than emotion on their side.

I replied:
By the way, I do not think that Obama is "Reagan reincarnated," though he might like to believe he is. I do point out Obama's own declared affinity and admiration for Reagan, which is a bit different.
Yes, there is also "moderate" in terms of what I call "content." But that's not what you were talking about: you were talking about Obama's style, tone, etc., and his apparent aversion to conflict -- neither of which has to do with content. As for the rest, "commonsense" is vacuous and usually bogus. "Commonsense" tells me that the government should not go into debt, that it should be "run like a business," that women are naturally nurturing and close to nature, that homosexuals are women trapped in men's bodies, that the sun goes around the earth and not vice versa. "Ideological purist" is a diversion, also free of content. You're attacking a straw man here, again.
MC is another of those Obama supporters who follow their leader in casting Ronald Reagan as too moderate to be nominated by today's Republican party.  But this is the reverse of the truth: rather, the Democratic party leadership has swung to what in the 1960s would have been the extreme right.  At the same time, most Americans have continued to favor what now is derogated by Obama and his faithful as crazy radical notions: not only continued but expanded social safety-net programs, cuts in military spending and overseas adventurism, less concern about the deficit and more about jobs, and a progressive tax system.  Even most Republicans believe that corporations have too much power.  No doubt this can be interpreted to mean that most Americans are stuck in the middle of the twentieth century; I would suggest that there are worse places to be.

[P.S.  I meant to point out somewhere in there that someone who is temperamentally averse to conflict, as Obama reportedly is, will surrender incrementally to those who thrive on conflict.  Rather than get into a messy squabble, they'll make concession after concession to appease the other party, and before you know it, they've conceded a great deal, if not everything.  Even if I grant that Obama doesn't really want to go along with much of the Republicans' agenda, his supposed aversion to conflict guarantees that he will do so.  As he has done.  That's not "moderation."  And someone who is temperamentally averse to conflict probably should not be in politics, much less the Oval Office.]