Posts Tagged ‘words’

Kevin Drum, Leaning Quasi-Correctly

November 14, 2008

It’s a mixed bag, correctness-wise, in this post:

ONE MORE FOR THE DEMS….It looks like Mark Begich is going to beat Ted Stevens in the Alaska senatorial race after all. Which begs the question: Is there anything that Nate Silver isn’t right about?

Yes, Kevin, Nate Silver is on top of his game, provided the game we are talking about is statistical analysis, and not appearing on TV without looking like a guy who spends way too much doing statistical analysis.

But no, Kevin, that is not what ‘begs the question’ means.


Tough Times for a Vague Concept

November 12, 2008

People simply won’t stop writing about what has happened to conservatism, and what, if anything, should be done about what has happened to it. Almost all of it is extremely tedious, horribly mixing up a number of distinct questions, each of which would be boring enough on its own. Many of the people who are ostensibly worried about conservatism are in fact worried about the word ‘conservatism’. Specifically, they wonder how it came to refer to what religious wackjobs think rather than what they think. Others talk about conservatism as if it is a real object out there that needs to be watered and turned toward the light from time to time, and fear that its nature is somehow being altered.

These are both incredibly stupid things to worry about, and it is only by conflating the two that they can be rendered so murky as for their irrelevance to be made undetectable. How else could Andrew Sullivan write an entire book about conservatism being “hijacked by Republicans”? Have neocons infiltrated the OED? Are they tinkering with Platonic forms?

Republicans aren’t fucking up conservatism, they’re fucking up our country. Whatever set of beliefs or attitudes you want to label ‘conservative’, it’s as easy to believe or hold them now as it has ever been. I’m just as convinced that heroin should become legal, and that public funding for the arts should become illegal, as I was eight years ago. I think most people would agree that those are some crazy conservative beliefs I hold; the fact that a bunch of jerks who don’t hold them are also considered crazy conservatives doesn’t mean anything has been hijacked. It simply more evidence of the fact that in a country where every conceivable political philosophy has to be hammered into a one-dimensional scale that goes from liberal to conservative, the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are always going to be ambiguous, and that discussions about the nature of liberalism and conservatism are always going to be inane.

The one good article I have seen on this subject comes from PJ O’Rourke. He clearly takes the fact that both he and the people who have been running the country have the term ‘conservative’ applied to them a lot more seriously than I do. What he sees as a missed opportunity, I see as evidence that most Republicans never cared about the conservatism to which PJ subscribes as anything more than a talking point. But, leaving that aside, it’s good stuff, and, as always, he’s very funny. Some excerpts:

To go from slime to the sublime, there are the lofty issues about which we never bothered to form enough principles to go out and break them. What is the coherent modern conservative foreign policy?

We may think of this as a post 9/11 problem, but it’s been with us all along. What was Reagan thinking, landing Marines in Lebanon to prop up the government of a country that didn’t have one? In 1984, I visited the site where the Marines were murdered. It was a beachfront bivouac overlooked on three sides by hills full of hostile Shiite militia. You’d urge your daughter to date Rosie O’Donnell before you’d put troops ashore in such a place.

The left has no idea what’s going on in the financial crisis. And I honor their confusion. Jim Jerk down the road from me, with all the cars up on blocks in his front yard, falls behind in his mortgage payments, and the economy of Iceland implodes. I’m missing a few pieces of this puzzle myself.

Under constant political pressure, which went almost unresisted by conservatives, a lot of lousy mortgages that would never be repaid were handed out to Jim Jerk and his drinking buddies and all the ex-wives and single mothers with whom Jim and his pals have littered the nation.

Wall Street looked at the worthless paper and thought, “How can we make a buck off this?” The answer was to wrap it in a bow. Take a wide enough variety of lousy mortgages–some from the East, some from the West, some from the cities, some from the suburbs, some from shacks, some from McMansions–bundle them together and put pressure on the bond rating agencies to do fancy risk management math, and you get a “collateralized debt obligation” with a triple-A rating. Good as cash. Until it wasn’t.

Or, put another way, Wall Street was pulling the “room full of horse s–” trick. Brokerages were saying, “We’re going to sell you a room full of horse s–. And with that much horse s–, you just know there’s a pony in there somewhere.”

Ralph Nader, Race Baiter

November 10, 2008

There is a lot of outrage out there about Ralph Nader’s use of the phrase ‘Uncle Tom’. A few fringey lefties are upset that Ralph is being falsely accused of calling Obama an Uncle Tom, when what he really did was say that the big question facing us is whether Obama will prove to be an Uncle Tom. That’s a bizarre complaint, since even Fox News honestly reported the comments in context and gave Nader a chance to recant, which he roundly rejected:

Nader, clearly, is a nasty human being, and the Fox News hack, the faux-outraged conservatives, the habitually-outraged liberals, and the deranged Nader-defenders are all letting him off easy by focusing on the words ‘Uncle Tom’. Smith asks him if he wishes he’d “used a phrase other than ‘Uncle Tom'”, as if Nader’s problem was simply word choice. But word choice isn’t the problem here at all. If Nader had used words that people didn’t like to argue a legitimate point, I would be unhappily defending him. But Nader was using the phrase ‘Uncle Tom’ because it was the easiest way to express an ugly, racist sentiment, namely that Obama has more of a responsibility to sign on to Nader’s wackjob agenda than previous presidents because he is black. This is something he has said in the past:

Asked to clarify whether he thought Obama does try to “talk white,” Nader said: “Of course.

“I mean, first of all, the number one thing that a black American politician aspiring to the presidency should be is to candidly describe the plight of the poor, especially in the inner cities and the rural areas, and have a very detailed platform about how the poor is going to be defended by the law, is going to be protected by the law, and is going to be liberated by the law,” Nader said. “Haven’t heard a thing.”

Nader has some unpopular ideas, and he isn’t afraid to call black people who disagree with them race traitors. Even if his ideas weren’t batshit crazy, that would be disgusting. Focusing on the words he uses to express that bile is silly.

Blogging: Real Work for Real Americans

September 21, 2008

Matt Yglesias usually tempers his populist rhetoric with some respect for the free market as a powerful tool that, though usually used to promote the well being of a kleptocratic cabal, could perhaps some day be used to advance causes that are enlightened and just; the current crisis has him pretty worked up, however, and there are signs he may be getting a bit carried away:

Of course it would hardly make a dent in the overall $700 billion cost of the bailout, but it seems to me that we should be seizing all the homes belonging to all the executives of companies in need of bailing out and selling them to raise some of the bailout funds. Maybe they could get real jobs and work for a living.

Yglesias is no doubt employing his highly developed sense of irony for comic effect here, but still, I expect a little more tolerance for non-manual labor from those who blog in glass cubicles.

On top of his concrete concerns about Paulson’s bailout plan – some of which I share – he has some meta-concerns about Democrats dropping the ball:

It’d be one thing for a bunch of conservative politicians to ram a terrible policy through. Then we could say “well, if some progressives win the next election things will be different.” But if this comes through an allegedly progressive congress then the whole enterprise starts looking pretty hollow.

That’s the second time in the post Yglesias refers to the Democratic majority as ‘alleged progressives’, which got me wondering: who ever alleged that? Who other than Yglesias has regularly referred to the left as ‘progressives’ at all? I looked into that question for a few minutes, but instead found this:

Commenter Freddie mentioned something yesterday that I’d like to endorse:

You know, I really dislike the use of “progressive” in the place of “liberal”. Among other things, it makes the Jonah Goldberg-style conflation of the Progressives of the 1920s with contemporary American liberalism that much easier.

Quite so only one shouldn’t even really blame Jonah Goldberg in this instance. The people who went about rebranding liberals as “progressives” were clearly and deliberately inviting this conflation. But while the historically Progressives did stand for some good things, and are a part of the backstory of contemporary American liberalism, they also stood for some very bad things. Certainly, whatever sins liberalism may have committed in the 1970s as it fell into disrepute were distinctly minor compared to the problems with the Progressives.

“Liberal,” by contrast, is an important term with a noble history and a contested legacy. I think the notion that something like contemporary American liberalism is, in fact, the correct instantiation of the historic liberal project for our times is a proposition that’s worth fighting for.