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Comments by CK MacLeod

On “Sarah Palin shouldn’t be pretending Glenn Beck is normal

@ Ken:
It probly is a "moral necessity" in a constitutional republic to accept the government as legitimate until and unless lawful opportunities for redress of grievances have been foreclosed. There's no statutory or constitutionally ordained penalty for acting unconstitutionally, or some requirement for ejection from office. It's not a high crime or misdemeanor - in itself - though it's of course possible to imagine unconstitutional acts that rise to that level. You're of course free to believe that the government has acted illegitimately, as am I to believe that reaching that conclusion on the basis of a given supposedly or arguably unconstitutional act is a bad standard. Among other things, if accepted as a compulsory doctrine, it would mean that any president interested in retaining office would need to suborn or coerce the Supreme Court ahead of time. Conceptually it would already amount to a violation of separation of powers even before a wary executive or congresspeople acted to defend themselves and their prerogatives.

As for strangelet, I've criticized her many times for intemperate and antagonistic rhetoric, and even specifically for the "genocidalism" on a recent thread, although I later withdrew the remark, since I don't see her that way really and had only been trying to make a point. She seems bigoted to me, and vindictive about "WEC"'s, but I don't think she's dreaming of anti-WEC laws and WEC concentration camps. I don't see any comment on this thread that cross any lines in that regard. Perhaps you can point me to what you find unacceptable.

I never said that Glenn Beck's claims against Van Jones and Wilson were "false." I certainly implied that he goes about propagating them in an exaggerated, misleading, and, to me, absurdly ridiculous way. I plan on getting to Wilson soon (in more detail than in the review of Liberal Fascism), and one of our regular commenters has been promising to swoop in with a vengeance against my sadly unconvincing apologetics, so perhaps we can save that for later.


@ Joe NS:
I don't see how any of that is supposed to constitute an argument at all, nor why I should be obligated to defend the New Deal or FDR - though I'll happily volunteer that he wasn't a Hitler or a Stalin in my view, and may have been instrumental in preventing a real American fascism or communism from spreading.

As for the historical argument, the people of this country - you know, those pesky Americans - experienced massive alterations in their lives, and widely came to view those changes, at least the positive ones, as "progress." Those who believed government needed to modernize as well, not least out of self-defense from other powers affecting people's lives for good or ill, eventually came to be known as political "progressives."

One major reason the Federal Government wasn't a "presence" in the "daily lives" of Americans up to the 1930s would be sheer technological limitations. The first radio speeches weren't given until the 1920s, for instance, and even then the technology needed years to come into general use. From around 1900 through 1920, the federal government's actual reach and power expanded, in accordance with the rise of the country on the international stage, among other things. This process was greeted with great enthusiasm by many in those years, suspicion and fear by a smaller number, somewhat as today in some respects.

Anyway, I consider that a narrow and ahistorical definition of "presence." When the Federal Government opened up Kansas and Nebraska to settlement, there weren't x-thousand little Obami passing out forms and dreaming of future thermostats to tax, but the influence of government on the daily lives of those Americans was total: Those daily lives would have been completely different if not for acts of the Federal Government. Same can be said, all the more, for the daily lives of the prior inhabitants of those lands.


@ Joe NS:

As for the long train of abuses and usurpations as experienced in the late 18th century, and what might or might not be going on today. Who can say? In the meantime, I find it amusing to consider that Jefferson may have envisioned some kind of "baggage train" or some such - simple wagons perhaps hitched together carrying pots and pans, pulled by beasts of burden, tended by farmers whose right and left shoes would have been interchangeable - while the modern reader must on some level have images of modern transportation networks stimulated deep in the brainpan, or anyway the train that on occasion interrupts a daily commute.

We know that TJ couldn't ring up George or George's secretary or secretary's secretary and complain about that morning's abuse or usurpation, but y'all in St Croix can, voting privileges in Congress or not.

Sometimes you boil the water, sometimes the water boils you, but not all actions on the stove are pre-meditated frogicide. Sure there are dangers. Always have been, always will be. Part of having some element of free will and giving our fellow citizens the right also to be wrong. It's a disease whose symptoms must be managed, and even encouraged, to inoculate us against worse ones, and forestall, worst of all, the cures.


J.E. Dyer wrote:

Frankly, it looked to me like getting the health care bill passed in March fit the descriptions of both fighting as though their backs were against the wall, and stopping at nothing to get their way.

If we can't maintain any distinction between gaming the system and "stopping at nothing," then we're lost in the midnight in which all opponents are gray fascists, especially when they win. The rhetorical slide begins here, in combination with the selective historicizing that makes a warmonger of Woodrow Wilson and vast majorities of living and breathing Americans doing what came naturally to living and breathing Americans - adjusting the course of their government - into vast orc armies in the grip of Sauron.

I wasn't thinking only of Auschwitz, but, since you bring up the topic of genocide, it's odd to have this fanciful discussion of the perfectly good and free America laid low by the fiendish orc-progs, in cross-generational conspiracies of centralizing soul-destroying cowardice, when the constitutional idyll that preceded the first embers of progressivism was accompanied by and conditioned upon the extirpation of several pre-existing nations, and the enslavement of a race. So you'll have to excuse me if I don't regard the health insurance mandate as the greatest threat ever to the pristine American soul.

I'm not interested in unburying my tears and flagellating my patriotism at virtual Wounded Knee. I'm merely pointing out that history seems to work in many directions, not any one in particular. The imposition of false but narrationally convenient linear developments on the great what-was is one progressivism that truly deserves to be considered obsolete.

For instance, your summary:

Regardless of what we call it, the pattern of wanting more government to coerce more people to do more things has always led to bad consequences.

It's still not clear to me how you cope with the fact that, according to your own narration, the progressives have run more and more of everything according to that scheme, and yet over the same period our little country has risen to pre-eminence. The broad overview and takeaway is that the period of "wanting more government to coerce more people to do more things" has also been the period of the greatest and best national enterprise known to history (I mean that, take it as an apology for sounding like an America-hater in regard to the Natives and the Slaves).

Now, you may say that the great rise was in spite of, not because of the ideology of progress. I find that unlikely, and, rather than seeing progressivism as located on the path to the Gulag and the Concentration Camp, I see it as the successful and very American set of imperfect compromises that kept us off that path, at the precise time that all over the world others were rushing down it en masse. But even if you refuse to consider Social Security as one alternative to Socialism, rather than a step toward Socialism, it takes a stupendous and all-embracing amnesia to miss the fact that from, say 1880 to 1920, or from 1850 to 2010, unimaginably vast simultaneous and interconnected transformations in all social, cultural, political, and economic realms, vastly disturbing as well as vastly expansive and innovative, were occurring. The new demands on inherited institutions of self-government were equally vast. Of course government and expectations of government changed, mightily. Some things were gotten mightily wrong, no doubt. How could you expect anything else?

Back to our reality:

The Dems won big in '08. They acted big in '09-'10. I've referred to it as a moment of hypertrophied progressivism, progressivism at its moment of perfect self-contradiction and transformation into its opposite - for as much as I'm compelled to play the role of "defender of the great concept" on these threads, I consider myself an ardent opponent of Obamism.

The opposition rallied against the neo-progs and pushed them hard, and now has an opportunity, if they have the wits to seize and exploit it, to reverse '09-'10 over the course of '11 - ? . That's how things are supposed to work. If the opposition fails, then American governance may be re-conceptualized in the neo-progressive image. That, also, is how things are supposed to work - human beings, human passions, and human ideas being imperfect, we can reach the wrong consensus, too, and no piece of paper will stop it, though some pieces of paper can aid us in the work of reversing that bad consensus - but we'll need a legitimate government, and an insistence that all sides abide by legitimately achieved decisions, to do the work we'd prefer to see done. Undermining the legitimacy of those institutions with exaggerated and one-sided claims and calumnies will do us no favor in the long run - unless we're much more eager than the Founders were to settle the issue by violence.


@ adam:
One thing you've done is get me to take a long look at my concluding paragraphs and try to fiddle them into something that says what I mean to say more clearly, and doesn't try to say too much. I mainly wanted to focus on the immediate questions around SP's choices. I think for now I'll strike out the latest version of the last paragraph. I'd delete it if it hadn't made for an interesting speculative point of departure on your part. Maybe I'll figure out a better approach tomorrow.


@ narciso:
I'm not sure that we've arrived at an accurate description, or at any rate anyone has presented a convincing description of "what they are trying to do." I think "they" are made up of a coalition.


adam wrote:

Isn’t there room for Beck as well in this big nutty America? And for people who like Beck?

Absolutely. I don't advocate eradicating Beck til there's not a single cell of him left. I believe we can co-exist with Beck. For that matter, if he merely advocated quarantining progressivism or rolling it back, he'd give me a lot less to worry about.

The fans of Beck (and maybe Palin) are those whose biggest fear is that the new powers, if they come, will expect and rely upon respect from leading figures on the other side. That is, that they will allow reversing what can be reversed of the ongoing catastrophe to be held hostage to outmoded notions of comity and civility.

"Ongoing catastrophe" is a bit much. Poland 1943-4, Cambodia "Year Zero" - now those were ongoing catastrophes.

I'd have to know what you mean by "expect and rely," and what the Beckians would replace "outmoded... comity and respect" with. Are you anticipating or advocating a breakdown of the basic constitutional compact - that losers in the democratic game will or should cease abiding by (respecting) the results?

Isn't one of the chief complaints against the Obami, and chief cause of their declining political fortunes, that they have proceeded in a partisan and exclusive, cheatin'-hearted, extra-legal, non-traditional, etc., manner? Selling themselves as one thing - patriotic consensualist moderates with conservatively liberal goals, who'd hear all sides and reach the best decisions - but governing as evil partisan progressives? Adopting the Obama methods to attempt to reverses Obamism increases the risk of meeting another reversal amidst a heightening crisis.

Meanwhile, the Beckian rhetoric turns the other side into the enemy, and motivates them to fight as though their backs are against the wall. At the same time, the Beck-backers here have convinced themselves that the evil progressives will stop at nothing to get their way. So that's a formula for civil breakdown, or would be if it was based on an accurate depiction of social and political forces.

In the above ways, which parallel the simple homespun verbal tropes in Palin's little puff piece, the Beck-Palin rhetoric erodes the legitimacy of the political process, though not everyone is as explicit about this view as Ken above.

I heard Beck the other day call for "the least possible government." I believe that would be no government at all - for a little while. We'd never get there, as there are political and economic forces in the world that would be happy - or compelled by self-interest - to step in long before we reached zero state. So that's a silly fantasy - "the least possible government" would still be a lot of governing, mostly by people we have no reason to like very much.

Eliminating progressivism to the last cell is a silly fantasy. After the amputations and excisions were done, there'd be a lot less left on the operating table than thrown away.

Returning to a never-existent period of perfect constitutionalism may be an even more ridiculous fantasy, since there are historical examples of chaos and societal breakdown, but no evidence of some Constitutional Eden (or of a pre-Constitutional one - not even the indigenous tribal cultures come close to qualifying).

So unless we're going to flame out dreaming the impossible dream, after us the deluge, we're more likely to continue stuck in history, trying to make the best of it, adjusting the course of the ship of state, all in it together, strangelets and Palins, Becks and Obamas, no exit - Lindsey Grahams and John McCains brokering the compromises, since total victory for either side isn't possible without the elimination of the other side - and no one (hardly anyone, no one I take seriously) advocates that.


Zoltan Newberry wrote:

Teaching a growing audience to revere our Founders is a good thing, is it not?

Not necessarily - not on false pretenses to false ends.

And "growing audience" no longer applies. Beck's ratings are down 30% from the beginning of the year, 50% from their peak.


Sully wrote:

None of us know precisely where we are on the curve that leads to the government controlling everything because it has been ceded responsibility for the results of everything.

What's your evidence of any such curve at all?


@ narciso:
My judgment is that she has many admirable qualities. She ain't a saint. She's quite capable of fibbing to make a positive impression. The only other conclusion, I'm afraid, is that she's so far out of the mainstream, or so indifferent, that Beck really does seem normal to her. I find the fibbing easier to believe. My criticism is about what she seems to be trying to achieve - or avoid - with it.


@ strangelet:
Can you point to any place where I suggested Palin was normal? She's also about as far from normal as just about anyone.

I've always sought to judge her by what she does. I held open the possibility that by now she'd be on a different course than she seems to be on. I don't harbor any regrets about giving her a chance, and I still think she has made a positive contribution and can still be of great service.

If for now I choose to distance myself from her or even oppose her, it won't be while trying to do to her and her supporters what you try to do - which is the mirror image of what you accuse them of. If you have a problem with Palin's "real America," don't be a hypocrite and imply you have access to "more real America." America's a big nutty place with room for Palin and strangelet both.


@ bob:
Well, it's hard to say, from my perspective, which conclusion would be most charitable to her. I think she's smart enough to know that she was playing a little make-believe, kind of like Trent Lott and Strom Thurmond. So I think she made two mistakes: dishonest flattery, and of an undeserving figure, because she wants to maintain her marketability to his audience.


@ Ken:
I think pretty soon you may have it worked out that YOU or maybe your uncle Jake brought down the USSR.

Reagan played a role. The Pope played a role. The senescence of the Communist leadership and the imbalances of the Soviet economy played a role. The active opposition of leaders in both parties over the course of decades played a role. But that's all secondary to the point I was making.


When Obama, Reid, and Pelosi ram through legislation that contains an unconstitutional mandate to buy medical insurance, they are themselves an illegitimate government, as surely as if Obama had become President in a military coup.

We have a system to decide whether the mandate is constitutional or not. By your argument, the Bush-Cheney admin was illegitimate - at least in the eyes of those who, along with the Supreme Court, disagreed with its proposals for handling detainees. I suppose that the Cleveland Administration and the Congress of 1894 were "illegitimate" in your eyes, since the Income Tax Act was found to be unconstitutional. There would be an argument for declaring virtually the whole of US history "illegitimate."

If believing that the government of the United States is legitimate is an "obsession," then I'm happy to be as obsessed as the vast majority of my fellow insane citizens.


@ narciso:
I use "Gulag" because Beck continually associates progressivism with Bolshevism (as well as Nazism, of course) during his "progress towards what" rifs. Or were you criticizing Beck?


@ Rex Caruthers:
You're preaching to the converted. Even worse if they make the mistake of standing up for their innocence and get convicted. A good friend of mine spent a year in jail for that, on a charge which, if he had pleaded out, he likely would have gotten community service and a fine. (Drunk driving, except he wasn't driving. Long story.) The hitch was that the conviction would have cost him his job for the county. So he fought, and lost. Also spent $1,000s on a lawyer - advertises on the radio - whose entire defense consisted of accompanying my friend to court and lamely trying to get him off on a technicality.

Wish Glenn Beck could get as interested in this subject as in George Bernard Shaw toying with the idea of euthanasia nearly 100 years ago.


@ Rex Caruthers:
I'm no fan of the drug war, our incarceration rate, or the conditions of our prisons - all of which in my view, especially the last two, qualify as a standing rebuke to conservatives and liberals alike.

Maybe everyone should be willing to spend two days in the County Jail every few years, or two days in the state pen, or two days in Supermaxx, just to get a real taste of what their fellow citizens - including ones picked up on trivial charges or wrongly arrested or convicted - are subjected to. Would be good for (most of) them and good for the jails, too. And if they're not willing to spend even two days in the general population, then maybe there's something very wrong with our prisons.

All that said - the prisoners aren't there because they questioned the wisdom of their leaders or distributed unapproved writings or were suspected of having done so.


Sully wrote:

The progressive impulse does lead eventually to gulags if followed. Beck is only wrong in presenting that endpoint as imminent.

The "progressive impulse" has reigned in this country politically for around half of the time that this country has existed politically (if not longer, depends on your definition). Last I checked, we were the ones who helped destroy the Gulagers.


@ narciso:
Any of that is supposed to make GB look responsible, intelligent, sane, or anything but embarrassing and problematic for conservatives?


@ JHM dba "Sniper":
I think Kristol Minor lost his grip on S.P. a long time ago, assuming he ever had one, and I'm pretty sure Kristol Minor is very wary of Glenn Beck, maybe even more wary than he is of the Pauls (K.M. criticized S.P.'s endorsement of Ayn Rand Paul). It's in no major R's interest to start a war with GB. Luckily enough for me, I'm not a major R, so I can say whatever I happen to think.

On “Adventures in Epistemic Opening – Manzi vs Levin and the Fate of Everything

narciso wrote:

It was too pedestrian a scheme, compared to Zorin’s psychotic earth quake plot, Stromberg’s sub launching super tanker, Drax’s space station, I know Die another DAy, went too far, but there has to be
a happy medium.

I sit doubly shocked, shocked (or would that be quadruply shocked?), first that a film with Olga Kurylenko would get dissed at ZC, second that y'all ain't positively responding to the fact that the evil bad guy was an eco-fraud! And pre-Climategate! Obviously I found the brutal violence and the utterly absurd parachute escape, and inferno art climax more diverting, but y'all are being hard cases. Now I've got to do some work so play nice while I'm gone, and never say NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN again.


@ J.E. Dyer:
I use GW to refer to the broad policy issue. In my view there are, in theory, a wide range of possible combinations of actual-GW, possible-GW, actual-AGW, possible-AGW, in varying proportions. We could conclude or learn, for example, that there had been no recent AGW to the 95% confidence level (the widely mischaracterized Phil Jones "retraction" was of this character), but that at radically higher concentrations of CO2, AGW could kick in with a vengeance. We could conclude or learn that we were in a cyclical natural warming trend, but that human intervention could counteract whatever damaging effects, or that at some point AGW could make it worse. We could conclude that there was no GW, or even that there was Global Cooling, but that AGW was not just possible, but desirable. There are endless possibilities.

Certainly all participants in public discussion will sooner or later end up referring to authorities and their own logic - a fully qualified scientist refers to the "authority" of experimental results and the logic of analysis - but when citizen JED rises up to say that the Hockey Stick's a joke, she's always implicitly saying "authority A plus evidence B by way of logic train C has led me to conclude that HS is a joke." The power of her assertion is that, a free citizen of evident intelligence, she has become a full-blown skeptic. The political question is how much weight to give to the voices of skeptical citizens in the process - on all sides.

In the effort to add to that weight on our own side, assuming we have one, any of us is in a position to make, quoting Manzi's original Levin post, "a fundamental argument that proceeds from evidence available for common inspection through a defined line of logic to a scientific view." In the public dimension, quoting Manzi's reply post, where he imagines a political leader attempting to make a responsible decision in the face of disagreement on facts, the parallel process is "gather together a group of the leading subject-matter experts to produce a review of known science, and subject it to review by a standing body of leading scientists who are not directly in the field in order to minimize both groupthink and opportunities for self-dealing." He goes on briefly to describe the current process for achieving same.

It was to the second suggestion that McCarthy responded, in essence, "Go away, kid, you bother me." That won't be acceptable to all of the evidently intelligent citizens who have come out on the other side from you.


@ narciso:

the possibility of AGW is an important issue, well lets debate it,

I don't really care what someone like me - or you - thinks about GW. It's like asking me to go to bat against major league pitching. I know only enough about science to get things comically wrong and to be misled, pretty much.

I do know something about discourse, and I've learned a little bit about political science over the years, and, as an American I have as much right as anyone else, expert or doofus, to weigh in on whether the political process looks fair, and whether participants in the discussion are performing credibly.


@ J.E. Dyer:
I find you to be a Daniel Craig denialist.

Daniel Craig is the best Bond. CASINO ROYALE (2006) is the best Bond film. QUANTUM is better than the vast majority of other Bond films.

This is simply the truth, and that so many live in denial would sadden me if I wasn't used to that kind of thing by now.


But their argument is actually that we don’t face the alternative of either accepting that government or going up in the smoke of an overwarmed atmosphere.

Levin and McCarthy are saying that we haven’t established anything about what our climate’s doing that should trump the national-level guarantee of liberties. What is the evidence that we have?

And this is why it's an epistemological, or perhaps borderline epistemological question. The questions are a) how do or can they know that to be true?; and b) how can the public, we, come to accept that truth?

The first goes to what process for determining the truth they undertake and demonstrate. It can be criticized, and we are free to take or leave what they say, to consult other authorities or analysts of authorities, and form our own opinions.

As for the second, if the manner of argumentation and presentation leaves an unbiased observer with as much or more reason to doubt that process as to trust it, or to prefer someone else's process, then McCarthy or Levin's "truth" is the proverbial tree falling in the forest, no one being inclined to listen. Blown up to the level of public policy, that suggests an authority-gathering and -testing process with error-checking.

As Manzi points out in his "apology" post, we have such processes already in place. If they need to be improved, then improving or, in the extreme, replacing them - for the sake of a process that's more resistant to self-interest and other forms of corruption - is something that non-experts on the underlying scientific questions can fruitfully pursue. Let Lindzen, Lomborg, Muller, and Joe all give their skeptical inputs, but there is no reason for Weitzman, Mann, Jones, or Barack Obama to trust the process if it begins with a pre-determined result, and if all participants aren't somewhat assured that the "losers" will abide by the results, while retaining whatever agreed-upon future opportunities to amend.

You, JED, like Joe and others here are GW skeptics. I think you could be fairly termed "denialists," for the sake of discussion, once we remove any pejorative connotation from the term: You deny that GW is a problem. We can likewise define "alarmists" simply as people who are "alarmed" by what they have come to believe about GW. (Of course, the alarmists are also denialists in the sense that they deny the denialists, and the denialists tend to be alarmed about the alarmists, but we'll avoid moving on to such arguments on the second order and beyond, mainly because we accept going in that everyone has a right to deny or set alarms in a free society, without being pre-judged for his or her denial or alarm.)

McCarthy in one of his responses to Manzi presumes the denialist position when he says, essentially, "GW isn't a big enough deal for me to be bothered about it when we have wars to fight, an economy to rescue, and political sanity to restore." That's what prompts Manzi to ask, "How do you know it's not a big deal?" How can you or we know or come to accept that it's not a big deal? That's when this begins to become an epistemological or borderline epistemological question.

In the public sphere, the denialists can't be bothered, but the alarmists are super-bothered. A democratic system gives the alarmists a right to be heard without their claims being pre-judged. If they are successful in persuading enough people that the better course is to let them have their way, then they get their way.

Similarly, if a national consensus is reached that we need an income tax, that women deserve the right to vote, that alcoholic spirits should neither be sold nor consumed, that Communism is evil and must be fought, that underwear should be worn on the outside, and that the word "gravity" should never be uttered on prime time TV for the sake of public safety, then that's the way things are gonna go.

And if the losers on the underwear-on-the-outside controversy come to believe that it was a rigged game and that they and their children and their children's children will never have an opportunity to restore their briefs to where they belong, then the system becomes to that degree less credible and more vulnerable to eventual breakdown.

And that's why the political question isn't and can't be about GW per se, it's about how we decide issues like "the GW issue," including whether the GW issue deserves to be treated as an important issue, and whether that decision on the issue's importance needs to be reviewed, ad more or less infinitum.


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