Thursday, September 27, 2012

Credibility is Not An Absolute Value

David Roberts from Grist is one of my favorite writers out there, and this piece could not hit the nail on the head any more if it tried.
Sullivan has the cover story in the latest issue of Newsweek, called “The Democrats’ Reagan,” about the enormous potential of a second Obama term. One of his main arguments is that a decisive defeat for Republicans in 2012 could interrupt their rightward drift. Defeat would cause soul-searching, cooler heads would once again prevail, and the party would tack to the center. Color me skeptical.

Mostly I was struck by this line, which comes in the context of a discussion about immigration:

Under Obama, deportations of illegal aliens are double what they were under his predecessor; and the number of border agents is at a record high. Both give him conservative credibility on the issue, if only the right would acknowledge it.

Read it again. See if you can spot the problem.

In post-truth politics, the basic mistake to see things like “credibility” as objective phenomena in the world. Put high heat to water, you get steam. Put conservative immigration policies to Obama, you get conservative credibility.

Credibility is not like that. It’s what you might call a relational phenomenon; it exists in the relationship between object and subject. Think about a rainbow. (Always good advice.) For a rainbow to exist, you need sunlight and water vapor in the air, but also a subject positioned at a particular angle to the sun and water vapor. A rainbow is just “how the light bouncing off the vapor appears to the subject.” Without the subject, there’s no appearing, and thus no rainbow.

Credibility is like a rainbow. It is relational. “Conservative credibility” is not something that simply happens when conservative policies are enacted or conservative rhetoric echoed. It requires a subject — in this case a conservative subject — to witness and acknowledge it. One must be credible to someone, and to have “conservative credibility” one must be credible to conservatives.
There is no credibility to gain from conservatives. Period.

And that Andrew Sullivan piece is absolutely awful, in case the hacky title didn't already tell you that.


  1. And of course, the issue is that Obama isn't the Democrat's Reagan so much as just the rebirth of the Republican one.

  2. And of course, the issue is that Obama isn't the Democrat's Reagan so much as just the rebirth of the Republican one.

  3. +1000 to that comment. See my tweets from last night about my thoughts reading through Reagan's speeches for class.