Which came first, politics or stupidity?

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Which Came First, Politics or Stupidity?

Annoted twitter argument made to Andrew Sprung following his comments on Jonathan Chait’s and Ezra Klein’s implicitly anti-democratic thinking

  1. Instructive to read Chait tonight after reading Ezra Klein tonight.
  2. …referring to Ezra Klein’s “How Politics Makes Us Stupid” and Jonathan Chait’s “The Color Of His Presidency.” Sprung’s post on the relationship between the two is “‘How politics makes us stupid’: Ezra Klein’s hypothesis, Chait’s case study.”


  • @xpostfactoid1 Which came first, politics or stupidity? (Classical critique of democracy re-stated for liberals.) @ezraklein @jonathanchait
  • .@jonathanchait comes close to saying the unsayable about the sacred premises of American political discourse  http://ln.is/nymag.com/news/featu/jQ41k 
  • #pt 2nd par from bottom, p 3 “greatest triumph”: limits of discussion exclude the bases of an authentic discussion  http://ln.is/nymag.com/news/featu/DbDWc 
  • Chait’s paragraph reads as follows:
    One of the greatest triumphs of liberal politics over the past 50 years has been to completely stigmatize open racial discrimination in public life, a lesson that has been driven home over decades by everybody from Jimmy the Greek to Paula Deen. This achievement has run headlong into an increasing liberal tendency to define conservatism as a form of covert racial discrimination. If conservatism is inextricably entangled with racism, and racism must be extinguished, then the scope for legitimate opposition to Obama shrinks to an uncomfortably small space.

    What Chait comes close to saying here, or says just not in so many words, is that an unshakeable and foundational commitment against the moral and intellectual tenability of ideological racism de-legitimizes or ought to de-legitimize the actual operation, including political action, by large segments of the population according to racist or racialized categories and impulses. Yet this point of view inherently contradicts foundationally liberal commitments in favor of freedom of conscience and inquiry, including the “right to be wrong” politically. If racism is in fact the operative if covertly held ideology of a sizable faction, and racism is inherently self-de-legitimizing, then liberal democracy itself appears self-de-legitimizing, as the free expression of intolerable depravity.

  • @xpostfactoid1 here’s why @jonathanchait‘s right: the limits of acceptable discourse preclude an honest or authentic conversation on “race”
  • @xpostfactoid1 Put simply, “Racism: Good or Bad?” is not a debatable topic. “Race” is for us a false and invidious construct @jonathanchait
  • The meaning of the “greatest triumph” of “stigmatiz[ation]” and “extinguish[ment]” is, among other things, that almost any statement other than unambiguous support for the foundational taboo against racism will be taken to violate it or to point toward its violation. Indeed, anyone who hopes to preserve a reputation and a political-professional future will hesitate even to begin to analyze the taboo as a taboo rather than as expression of an unquestionable truth.

    Within the space of public reason, or meaningful and legitimate political discussion, there is to be no space for racism, which,
    according to the dominant critique, is finally only to be understood as white racism or white supremacism, to the effect that “racism” and “white racism” are, at least in America, functionally synonymous. Racism is held to be prima facie unreasonable, and thus disqualifying for any would-be participant in public discussion. Yet, according to this same analysis, this possibility for which there is no space is in fact a pervasive reality.

    It seems that the American people, through our “white” faction, are to a very large extent committed to racism in truth, if not in name – as according both to widely held belief on the liberal left and also as analytical conclusion supported by the studies and political history Chait adduces. Furthermore, this problem, of the unspeakable depravity of a major popular-political faction, is not merely an intellectual problem, but a or the central problem of American politics. Finally, though it goes under another name for the best reasons, assertion of a positive ethnically based identity – constructing a Black, or Asian, or Jewish, or Irish-American “interest” – is, where not encouraged, certainly tolerated among other factions, as well among sub-factions of the “white” faction. In short, the for us false and invidious construct is a near-universal construct among us.

  • @xpostfactoid1 when we maintain that race shapes our political culture, we declare ourselves indefeasibly irrational >> @jonathanchait
  • @xpostfactoid1 >> falsifying the basic premises of liberal democracy – thus also the @ezraklein “hypothesis” @jonathanchait
  • That racism is both taboo and nearly universal is a widely held left-liberal assumption. The great “triumph of liberal politics” is in this sense a linguistic triumph against democracy, a triumph primarily on the level of stigmatized or extinquished expression leaving an underlying objective reality intact.

    Klein’s analysis, based on a discussion with Yale law professor Dan Kahan, reinforces a pessimistic suspicion that there is no further victory to be had: That there is no reason to expect any change in underlying sentiment, at least on the basis of discussion or conventional political activity. Indeed, Klein via Kahan stresses the insusceptibility of partisan factions to reason and evidence at all, whether on the malignity and destructiveness of operation according to the false construct “race,” or on questions of economic equality, or on issues like gun control or abortion, or on climate change, or on neo-Keynesian economic policy, or on health insurance and welfare, on likely on every other stalled item on the reasonable left-liberal agenda.

    The “silver lining” for Klein is only that eventually, in some unspecified way, “[a] political movement that fools itself into crafting national policy based on bad evidence is a political movement that will, sooner or later, face a reckoning at the polls.” Even while declining to estimate the harm that such a movement would have to do in order to come to face such a reckoning, Klein himself recognizes just how thin that lining is:

    At least, that’s the hope. But that’s not true on issues, like climate change, where action is needed quickly to prevent a disaster that will happen slowly. There, the reckoning will be for future generations to face. And it’s not true when American politics becomes so warped by gerrymandering, big money, and congressional dysfunction that voters can’t figure out who to blame for the state of the country. If American politics is going to improve, it will be better structures, not better arguments, that win the day.

    This point is the first time in Klein’s long post that the word “structures” appears. The sentence is also the last sentence.

  • @xpostfactoid1 so @ezraklein‘s vague notion of a better “structure” is a stealthy call for aristocratic “guidance” of the unworthy masses
  • @CK_MacLeod @ezraklein don’t think so – call for for more representative structures & less veto so can course correct when reality smacks
  • @xpostfactoid1 a simply “more representative” structure would be “representation” of irrationally self-deluded factions @ezraklein
  • @xpostfactoid1 the “re-structuring” cannot occur until after “reality” has already “smacked” – overriden dysfunctional democracy @ezraklein
  • …that is, after the failure of the system to perform “reasonably” has produced harms so evident, or with effects so compelling, that even congenitally deluded and irrational partisans are shaken out of their stances. At such a point they would have no choice but to take corrective action, though it is unclear why we should expect them to take correct action.

    As for the hope in better “structures,” it is even less clear why or how a thoroughly dysfunctional system would acquire the ability to repair itself. How is a system of “gerrymandering, big money, and congressional dysfunction” supposed to solve gerrymandering, big money, and congressional dysfunction? The indications are that it has not been able to do so, and that it shows no signs of doing so, and we have Klein/Cahan and Chait ready to explain why it is not likely ever to do so at least on the basis of its own intrinsic character.

  • @xpostfactoid1 the correct course evident to educated gentlepeople is taken after the emergency that democracy cannot anticipate @ezraklein
  • @CK_MacLeod His point: in democracy, reality can smack hard enough to discredit prejudiced delusion — if disillusoned majority empowered
  • @xpostfactoid1 but the premise is that prejudice delusion is endemic, so any democracy becomes, at best, government by emergency >>
  • @xpostfactoid1 >> under twin presumptions that emergencies are always solvable 1) at acceptable cost, 2) by democratic means
  • @CK_MacLeod to a degree. But change happens, prejudices dissipate.
  • @xpostfactoid1 Klein nowhere suggests they or the tendency can dissolve to produce a republic of reason – to the contrary
  • Indeed, according to Chait and even more according to the standard left-liberal analysis, even 150 years of smacking with reality has not produced what left-liberalism considers unquestionably reasonable (abandonment of racism among whites in communities under a direct legacy of slavery and its abolition).
  • @xpostfactoid1 while the history of liberal democracy suggests precisely the tendency toward crises requiring suspension of democracy, or >>
  • …in other words:
  • @xpostfactoid1 >> falsification of the second presumption, uncertainty of the first
  • …falsification of any expectation that our democracy or version of democracy typically handles its emergencies, small and large, democratically; uncertainty that, however it manages to handle true threats to its survival as liberal democracy, that it will be able to do so dependably.

    Sprung is right, in short, that Chait and Klein agree: They agree that the familiar premises of left-liberal politics, their politics, are chronically and dangerously flawed. This conclusion does not necessarily imply that the premises of a centrist or rightwing or any other politics would be superior or preferable. They do seem to leave us with no real choice but to await or prepare for the next “reckoning,” and the one after that.



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  1. Actually, no, Chaitred ignores the color of Obama’s politics, an issue we wouldn’t have with an Allen West or a Clarence Thomas, of course the left has shown those two so much civility, just consider Julianne Malveaux’s helpful suggestion,

  2. His wife should feed him a high fat diet, so he could die of coronary disease, as to the former, Wright, Khalidi, Bell, Ayers, De Unger, et al, critical legal studies, that the Chaitred piece seems to suffer from,

    • The statement you describe is of course utterly out of place in “civil discourse.” I’m still not getting how you think critical legal studies arguments are reflected in Chait’s piece, and what you think it has to do with either my argument or his.

  3. the left, has pulled this interesting hat trick, there is no way to really question Obama’s abyssmal policies or else one is accused of being a racist, the attacks on the Tea Party were certainly part of this,

  4. They still don’t appreciate ‘the fundamental transformation’ he has wrought, the critique is from the left, ie; why hasn’t he pushed for single player,

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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