Thursday, October 1, 2009

The curious Alan Grayson problem

Matt Yglesias nails it:
I think the real issue—and the real import—of Grayson’s statement is that it involved breaking one of the unspoken rules of modern American politics. The rule is that conservatives talk about their causes in stark, moralistic terms and progressives don’t. Instead, progressives talk about our causes in bloodless technocratic terms. This is also one of the reasons that Ted Kennedy’s stark, moralistic attack on Robert Bork’s legal theories are for some reason often cast by the MSM as some kind of illegitimate smear campaign. The reality is that it was just him talking about a conservative the way conservatives relatively talk about liberals. Like Grayson he characterized his opponents’ views polemically, but wasn’t offering any kind of wild factual distortions. But moralism from the left is very unfamiliar to American political debates.

The media will hate this, because it's made up of self-loathing lefties who can't stand left-populism. Indeed, it seems like most liberals tend to be skeptical of populism, seeing it as a province of the right and somehow unintellectual and undignified. But this is silly, and a liberal politics that doesn't include populism isn't a liberal politics with any future. Yglesias grasps this point as well:
I think there are some real limits to how far it does go. For one thing, it puts you at a permanent kind of rhetorical disadvantage. But for another thing, it’s just very hard to do big things without a certain amount of moralism. In particular, you really can’t talk about the climate change issue in a sensible way without mentioning the irreducible wrongness of residents of a large developed nation endangering the lives and livelihoods of a couple billion people in the developing world with our industrial activities. When you think about it, it’s really wrong! Wrong in a way that transcends the fact that it would be inconvenient for some key states and industries to recognize that fact.

The right, needless to say, is going ballistic at this development, but I doubt they're going to get as much mileage out of it as the Wilson remark gave the Dems. It's all about context. Wilson did his insanity during a speech by the president, Grayson did it during an ordinary House speech. Furthermore, as Marin Cogan notes, "It’s hard to see these two situations as equal. Grayson is being tongue-in-cheek; unlike the Republicans, who took up the death panel lie in earnest, no Democrat is seriously saying that the Republicans want you to die." Then again, conservative appreciation of irony is limited. Just Karl Rove's columns.

Personally, I wouldn't have said exactly what Grayson did, but are the Republicans really on solid ground here? Does hyping this do anything other than just remind people that the Republicans have no plan on healthcare?

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.