Thursday, May 19, 2011

If Rand Paul Says Something Crazy In The Forest, Does It Make A Sound?

I had been thinking about an exchange in the comments during the blogger-post-eating-period, so I figured I'd address some of the questions that came up during the debate.

The first debate was specifically about the post, where Paul compared being a public servant to slavery. On this point I thought 6.54's response said it best:
Rand's implicit definition of slavery, which you made explicit, is a big part of why I think his statement is insane.

Under that definition, all laws are slavery. Taxes are slavery. The draft is slavery. Fuck, even jobs and relationships are slavery. Rand appears to have no sensitivity to the shades of meaning in these different circumstances, most of which are much more easily comparable to slavery than universal health care.

Here's the difference:

If Doctors and hospital administrators and janitors and anyone else in the medical industry doesn't like the idea of universal health care, they are free to do whatever else they want to do. Slaves do not have this freedom. Period.
Luke argued in the comments that it was insensitive rather than crazy to call it slavery, which is also true, but I think that misses the point. I don't have a problem with hyperbole and saying over the top things in general (Goldman Sachs is not literally a vampire squid), but there just needs to be some form of factual basis to start, and to me this wasn't even close.

I also understand the point that Luke made about how his father felt about the taxes he paid, but I do think that generally moves into a debate about the merits of progressive taxation, rather than about losing our freedoms. I readily admit to mocking right wingers when they refer to "tyranny" and "slavery" when they refer to the social compact of taxes that exists in most western democracies. I do this because the 99.9% of the people making this complaints have never encountered the slightest bit of actual "tyranny" in their lives. These words have meaning, and these things actually happen in our world, so it just doesn't look good to pretend that they're even remotely the same thing.

So then the question becomes, as Luke asked, why do I call Paul crazy if that doesn't help the conversation?
I'd rather see the buck stop here though. I like this blog because you guys care, have good ideals, and are active in the political process. You have a chance to do good things, and I want you to succeed. I feel like the word crazy gets thrown around a lot here, though, and I don't think you are doing yourselves any favors by using it. For the most part, your political opponents (i am talking average folks, too, not just politicians) aren't crazy, they are just fed up and have lost faith in the government. You can't blame them for that.

You can't work with people you aren't even attempting to understand. As much as you would like to, you can't just pretend they don't exist either, which I know has been suggested here, too. Majorities never last forever.
And in addition to what Luke wrote there I'd add that I've called people far worse things than crazy. Frankly, this may just be a difference of opinion about what tone is appropriate in our discourse.

However, I completely agree that most people aren't crazy, and are fed up with the people in charge. No argument at all. I think part of the problem is the high levels of misinformation that exist in our society, that it makes getting into these debates very difficult. It's hard to get into a to a legit disagreement about the role of government in X industry if you can't agree on a basic set of facts.

Political journalists tend to look at the world as Blue vs Red, but the reality is that a huge portion of peoples' views are ideologically incoherent, and don't fit a cookie cutter mold. I'm not talking only about the right either. Having done a decent bit of canvasing (most of it during the 2008 election) I've heard some the full spectrum from extremely coherent arguments to some of the most confusing justifications imaginable about why someone was voting for or against our candidate. One of the reasons I like voter education work is precisely because I like speak to people one on one, attempting to talk out people's concerns and understanding what they expect from the people they vote for. On that level, not only do I have no problem with "attempting to understand" what someone with a different background from me thinks about politics, but I'm actually lucky enough that every now and then it's a part of my job.

Similarly, I really like talking about politics with friends (and people where there are much bigger disagreements than Luke), but the difference as 6.54 pointed out in his comment is that you are debating in good faith. I know that Luke is a good guy (pranks that he, J.N and I may have pulled on Jacob aside), and genuinely cares about a lot of the same stuff I care about, but may just have some fundamental disagreements over some major issues like the role of government, tax rates, etc. And I love debates like that, talking about issues like with friends is what makes being a nerd worthwhile!

As for why I treat the people I write about in a much different tone on the blog than I do when I engage in those discussions, I think 6.54 said it wonderfully:
But I have no interest in pretending that Rand Paul or Michelle Bachman or Newt Gingrich make their arguments in good faith. They just don't. Their ideas are literally incoherent most of the time, in the "get the government out of my medicare" sense. They have no respect for facts and history, and an explicit disrespect for Americans who aren't white, male and wealthy. (For this reason, I doubt that particular brand of American politics will survive our generation).

In this particular case, I'd certainly agree that using a word like slavery to describe a small change in medical funding policy builds up the illusion of a threshold being crossed in the minds of Paul's supporters. In fact, that's the whole reason he said it. But his immediate jump to such rank hyperbole is only another reason to write him off as just another disingenuous politician with no real interest in seriously debating about the public good.

If I took him seriously, I would indeed think him either stupid or crazy. In fact, I think he's just disingenuous. His goal is to create conflict and worsen the impression of an ever-growing monolithic government, when in fact decades of cuts have shrunk the government below the size it needs to be to do the very basic jobs we ask it to do.
Luke's response that if I understood Paul's worldview I would see it as an inappropriate exaggeration rather than an insane statement may also be true. In that case, I just view him as a selfish asshole rather than someone who isn't all there mentally.

The reason I think that type of language is necessary is that I think it's an appropriate response to much of what is happening in our current political climate.

When Republicans in congress propose destroying medicare as we know it, I think it's more than appropriate to point out that many old people will die as a direct result.

When Dick Durban flirt with cutting social security, I don't mind calling him a monster.

When Rand Paul says that the mining industry should be allowed to regulate themselves in the wake of the Big Branch disaster that killed 29 people, it's only logical to point out that he doesn't care if more people die preventable deaths on the job. And there are probably some words that come to mind about people who don't care if people live or die, aren't there?

This blog isn't the Washington Post op ed page, and I don't want it to be. The people who run our country make very important decisions on a daily basis, and the real effects of these decisions are often sanitized to keep people from getting too upset and connecting the dots about who is screwing them.

I like policy debates, but it drives me nuts how often discussions about these issues end up in the clouds. The real world consequences of Rand Paul's insane ideology would be fucking disastrous. And yes, I am saying I think Paul's Galtian style libertarianism can't make sense for anyone who is "sound of mind" and operates in a fact based world. In my mind, that can't be separated from what I think about Rand Paul the man or more specifically, what I angrily write about Rand Paul the man.

Frankly, part of the problem with politics is that we're taught to treat it like an other, a clean, honest debate between smart, well meaning people in a closed laboratory.

I don't need to tell you that it's not. It's a shitshow involving various groups of privileged, narcissistic assholes with truckloads of corporate money flowing to all sides. That's not to say there aren't good people in there, it's just to point out that when someone tries to make change there, this is what they encounter.

Anyhow, just my general thoughts on why I feel compelled to call people mean names on the blog.

What do you all think?


  1. I have a collective crush on you gents. That is all.

  2. You're taught that it's like a sterile lab, huh?
    Usually labs are sterile if they're doing microbiology or cell culture.
    So, say, growing E. coli - a fairly common system in microbiology.
    E. coli is a bacterium that usually lives in your intestine.
    So politics is like a lab that deliberately nurtures millions of shit-eating bacteria, but has strict rules about attire, procedure and cleanliness, to make sure that they only grow ONE kind of shit-eating bacteria... Sound about right?

  3. What if they are doing stem cell research? Or cancer research? What do you have to say then, Jacob? Another smart-ass remark I would guess.

  4. Yes, it would be a smart-ass remark. I am, after all, an ass, so it would be reasonable of you to expect me to behave as one.

    It was meant as a joke. A crude, bio-nerdy joke, admittedly, but a joke. Sorry if that wasn't appropriate in this thread, but I don't think it quite merits the straight-up "you're an ass" that it got. Particularly coming from someone who apparently knows me (from the handle), but refuses to attach their name to the shots they're taking at me (not that the handle doesn't narrow it down a bit).

    And I like the URL. It's very, "fuck you, fuckface".

    Ahhh... wonderful opening to our discussion on politeness in internet debate.
    JJ: sorry to have opened this can of worms and sent that south so quick