The Open Mind VI: Riposte and Counter Challenge

by A. Jay Adler on April 6, 2010
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I here respond to ShrinkWrapped’s initial offering in round 6. All previous rounds in this series can be found at the right of the horizontal drop-down menu above.

I played little league baseball. I hit for average, still more for power. I was even on a couple of championship teams. After the second championship, our coach recruited the best players from our league and put together a new team for entry into the PONY League. That was it. At fourteen, I discovered I couldn’t hit high school level fast balls, or curve balls either. After a few miserable multi-strike-out games, I was benched. My baseball career was over.

Fast forward to my twenties and softball, in a corporate league, and in friendly games in Manhattan’s Central and Riverside Parks. The latter were my favorite, on a field dropped below the main walkway level, right along the West Side Highway and the Hudson River. On Little League fields a homerun was basically an inside-the-park dash after lofting one over an outfielder’s head. But here there was a wall, twenty-five feet high, with another foot for the rail on top. One day, I lived my dream. I sent a big fat one higher and farther than I ever had in my life: rounding second base I got to do a Kirk Gibson fist pump, with a hop-skip jump in the air, as that baby descended behind the wall into Riverside Park like the moon goin’ down over Yosemite.

Which is to say I like softballs.

In the matter of the alleged slurs and spitting at the congressman, I have not the slightest difficulty now recognizing and acknowledging that I relied on media reporting that was not sufficiently corroborated to be reported as fact. I could enumerate a host of standard blogging excuses, but why bother. If I had sufficiently checked the reporting before my post, as I have since Shrink’s post yesterday, I would not have posted that particular material.

Let’s be clear, though, about what the circumstances are and what I’m acknowledging. The allegations haven’t been disproven. Of course, it is no one’s obligation to disprove them. There is no obligation to prove a negative. That’s not the way it works, and that is why I shouldn’t have posted what I did in the way that I did. However, I have now watched and listened to the available video, which is not lengthy, and amid the general din of shouting no one is in position to claim what any of so many individuals might or might not have uttered.

Where does that leave us on this one matter? It leaves us with the accusations, the people who made them, the people about whom they were made, and our own differing inclinations to lend credibility. Shrink quotes Andrew Breitbart. There are probably four and a half billion people on the planet whom I find more credible than the snarling, sophomoric Breitbart. In contrast, John Lewis and Barney Frank are people who have earned, in my eyes, a lot of props. Though anything is possible, I am disinclined to believe they would lie in this matter. Undoubtedly, they don’t get the same credit from Shrink. We are left with nothing dispositive. These are matters, one hopes, not of prejudice, but of political inclination, which we all have, and which suffuses all of our perspectives.

It is far too much in the nature of these left-right debates to generalize and simplify. For instance, I do not deny that some of the issues that upset Tea Partiers are matters of great and genuine concern. Many people who are not Tea Partiers are concerned about them too. The national debt and budget deficits; an extraordinarily costly federal program, in the form of the stimulus; the bailout of banks, investment houses, and mortgage and insurance companies, as well as auto companies, all of whom were either the cause of our financial crisis or simply businesses that deserved to fail – all are justifiably matters of great concern, even to people who may have supported those acts as necessary if problematic measures in historically difficult circumstances. But in all this we return very quickly to the issue of credibility.

Obviously, credibility is an issue on the right and the left. For liberals – for me, as I, personally, am the subject of Shrink’s post and of his challenge – credibility is denied by timing. I have heard many conservatives and Tea Partiers say that they were concerned about the debt before Obama took office. That may be – it has been a growing threat since the Reagan tax cuts and defense buildup thirty years ago – but it was only at the very advent of the presidency of the first Black president, whose citizenship, legitimacy, and loyalty to the nation were immediately attacked, that for some people the issue became a matter of mobilized hysteria. For some people, too close a relationship between the centers of political power and of financiers and business interests – historically a hallmark of Republican and conservative government – became a threat to liberty only under the first Black, and Democratic, president. Healthcare reform, a policy matter of understandable philosophical difference, was willfully misused to distort the political atmosphere beyond even the norm: “death panels” was a malignant lie that will haunt the Republican Party through history. And if we were to credit the characterization of the new health care legislation by conservatives and Tea Partiers – as a policy as fully government-run and deprivatized as they claim, which it is not remotely – then we would have to consider that most of the other “democracies” of the world, rather than simply having the wrong kind of healthcare systems, are already freedomless, Nazi states lost behind, not an Iron, but a hospital room curtain.

Shrink quotes Walter Russell Mead about populist movements. In the same post, Mead tells us

That doesn’t mean that everything populists want works out.  Andrew Jackson’s war against the Second Bank of the United States caused a depression in the short term and then left the country with a lousy, crash-prone financial system for the next eighty years.  His immensely popular Indian Removal Act that sent the eastern Indian tribes to Oklahoma was no triumph of justice and compassion.  And while a later generation of populists gave women the vote, it also brought in Prohibition.

Even on Mead’s own terms, these were no minor errors. Populisms are manifested in various levels of our combustible passions, which are not that by which our founders believed we should be governed. It may well be that with the deeper vision of greater distance we will see a connective tissue between the Tea Partiers and the Perot inspired movement that actually got as far as an organized Reform Party, and that political force actually influenced two elections. But it had no comprehensive, coherent, and sustaining philosophy and program distinct from its discontents, so it faded.

We did know, however, honestly, what was the originating force behind the Reform Party besides the sum of its unhappinesses. In contrast, everything in the origination and sustenance of the “grassroots” Tea Party movements has dishonestly masked their true nature, from the promotion and media manipulations of Fox News to the professional background organizing of Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks to the California political operative Sal Russo’s Tea Party Express. Even the Tea Party Patriots, which positions itself as the true grassroots anti-Tea Party Express, has as a leader and its public face Mark Meckler, who has a substantial background working for the Republican Party.

All of this undermines credibility, and, rather than – curious term – prejudicing me, as Shrink puts it, disposes me against the Tea Party movement, as, in the matter of credence granted, Shrink is disposed for it, and against, apparently, the claims of John Lewis and Barney Frank.

Disposition, too, leads us to read the same polls differently or to pick and choose our polls. Here, from Marc Ambinder, is some analysis of the latest Gallup poll.

Gallup’s new survey of the Tea Party movement is instructive for what it didn’t find: the movement does not encompass Democrats, including independent-leaning Democrats, or more than half of true Independents. In other words, the 28% or so of adults who say they’re Tea Partiers are very much likely to vote Republican when the chips are down.

Pay attention to terminology: it’s true that just half of those Tea Partiers surveyed called themselves Republicans. Yes, the lion’s share of the other half say they’re independent. But they’re not: they’re Republican-oriented conservative voters who are dismayed by the direction of the GOP and who don’t want to identify with the party’s brand. That’s not surprising, given how tarnished that brand is. Only 8% identify as Democratic; 7% identify as liberal; 70% percent identify as conservative; two-thirds are pro-life; nearly 90% were opposed to the health care bill.

So Shrink challenges me:

Either find me some evidence that violent or racist threats are a regular occurrence at the Tea Parties (or have even occurred at the Tea Parties) or retract your comments about the unhinged Republicans and re-evaluate your own prejudices that lead you to so easily believe such scurrilous charges.

Well, now, I’ve written before to the point that it is almost venerable Republican tradition to think the republic in peril at the hands of Democrats, but how matters have reached, indeed, an unhinged extreme. Why would we conclude otherwise from the recent Harris poll reporting that 57% of Republicans believe Obama to be Muslim, 45% that he was not born in the U.S., 45% again that he is a domestic enemy of the United States, 42% and 41% respectively that he is racist and anti-American, 41% again that he wants to take dictatorial powers, 38% that he is “doing things that Hitler did,” 22% that he wants the terrorists to win, and the Late Night Top Ten number one reason that Republicans are unhinged: 24% that Obama is the anti-Christ.

A quarter of the Republican Party believes that the President of the United States is the anti-Christ.

Consider that the Harris organization would even think to pose that question.

I believe the evidence is in that despite the healthcare reform he so disfavors, Shrink will be doing booming business in the years to come.

But as to evidence regarding the Tea Parties, the following are the product of about twenty-minutes of googling, and are from Tea Parties nationwide. And I omitted much I might have included.

Now, I have responded to Shrink’s challenge. I have admitted an error in judgment and I have provided, I think sufficiently under present circumstances, evidence of the nature I and others attribute to elements of the Tea Party movement.

I have my own challenge in response. Far from any prejudiced inclination to judge people, parties, or issues rather than give them due consideration, I think any reasonable perusal of the sad red earth will demonstrate that I depart from liberal orthodoxies in multiple areas, thinking issues through independently, to what I believe are reasoned conclusions, regardless of where they take me. I challenge Shrink, then, to tell us from which among the findings of the Harris Poll he departs. I challenge Shrink, and his readers as well, to share with us what positions they hold on significant issues in which, rather than prejudging matters in a doctrinaire manner, they depart from conservative or libertarian doctrine and think independently.

AJA


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