A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Reverend Sensing, The Left, and Democracy

The vigorous, and sometimes conflict-ridden, contact with other minds through blogging is a pleasure, as well as a moral challenge. To keep my own communication strong, without being hurtful, vigorous without being overbearing, and tempered, without being lax and indifferent, is a constant gymnastic exercise. And to constantly remind myself that behind each blogger or commenter is a fellow human being, who deserves human respect and human doubt, is a good way to cultivate my own humanity and humane conduct.

To see through the illusion of our chronic projective fantasies, to respect concrete facts and seek them out for use at every opportunity, to measure every accomplishment by how it would appear with only a few days to live, and to be prepared for that conclusion to my stay here, secure in the knowledge that I have cultivated my own humanity and preserved my humane conduct, this is the moral challenge.

Such things have been my overriding concern--with greater or lesser intensity and clarity--from the first years that I began to truly think about who and what I was. The fact that such things need constant cultivating is one of the few truly wise notions which age has to bring you. Most other things age brings you are either major or minor annoyances.

In my post below, Democracy Begins At Home, one of the conservative bloggers whom I quote, Reverend Donald Sensing, was very kind to write a comment, since he is a far more widely read blogger than I. This is for good reason. Not only is the Reverend readable and entertaining, he also has a far better sense than many other political and religious bloggers of what is really worth writing about.

Reverend Sensing was dismayed, however, by how I quoted him out of context; so let’s recapitulate both my original quotation of him, and his response, to see if we can take the dialog further:

What Cicero seems not to realize is that the Left does not support democracy and in fact is inimical to it. So right off the bat the question assumes that the Left and the rest of us have a common regard for democracy that is not actually there.

Donald Sensing

Joseph, thanks for the link (as always), but you're being disengenuous in your quotation of me. I made a clear distinction in the post between the American Left and American liberals and how some liberals oppose the war on grounds other than those held by the Left. I am not the only one who distinguishes between an anti-American Left and a pro-American liberalism.

I posted about the distinction twice. If you wish to honestly cite my thinking you would have seen this distinction evident in my post. Besides, your own post misses the point entirely of what I was saying. Yes, I do say the Left is opposed to democracy anywhere. It seeks, as Michael Totten has written, revolution, not reform, and grasps for its own power.

But the American liberals who oppose the Iraq war (and not all do) basically do so from either an isolationist position or a partisan political position. Certainly I have seen no minimally competent strategic paper by a liberal opponent of the war. Hence, it is perfectly (though disappointingly) clear that a liberal such as yourself may be an active participant in American democracy while simultaneously opposing the war that brought it to Iraq.

Frankly, old friend, if "Hooray" is all you can say about Iraqi democracy, then your position seems pretty clear to me. As always, though, you move the discussion along without ad hominems or mere polemic, and that's always welcome!

Well, perhaps I should have put an exclamation point after “Hooray.” More seriously, I do not diminish the achievement of Iraqi democracy, nor the valor of the Iraqis who are determined to have it despite danger to their lives, nor the role of our military and our money in seeing that they get the chance. I really don’t.

What I do want, and what I think most of my political party wants, is to point out that our well is not bottomless in that regard. We can easily go to the well once too often. And a crusade to democratize everywhere in sight by force and by cash, is both futile and dangerous, because we cannot deliver on such a promise without far more military and monetary resources than even the world’s only superpower has at its disposal. So it is futile to say so and dangerous to try. This is not the sort of thing that really requires a "strategic paper" to see, merely clear principles.

This is why we cleave to the principle of don’t make war unless you have to, and not merely because you want to, or simply because you think a good war, followed by some peace, will materially improve the place where you want to make it. And this is so even if the improvement is named “democracy”.

For when you make war because you want to, you may easily not be able to make further war if you have to. I think the judgment of history will be that we made war in Afghanistan because we had to and we made war in Iraq because our leaders wanted to, and I hope the facts of history will not desert our favor in the matter of Iran, Korea, Taiwan, or any other nation, as a consequence. But that could easily happen.

Moreover, since the man responsible for starting the crusade for democracy by force and cash will not be responsible for the results any longer than four years, we should be responsible to the future by not biting off more than we can chew. The principle is don’t promise what you can’t deliver. That, I think, is my party’s point, and no more. In any event, it is my point.

As to my quotation, I took it from context to make another point implicitly that I will now make explicitly. Most of my conservative friends quite commonly use the term “the Left” or “Leftists”, and some use the term “Liberals”, in a way that resembles nothing so much as a cross between a Venn Diagram and a particularly squirmy amoeba. Who is “the Left” anyway? The Democratic Party? Michael Moore? Ralph Nader? Paul Krugman? Noam Chomsky? Hillary Clinton? Howard Dean? Ted Kennedy? Barbara Streisand? Joseph Marshall?

The answer is essentially any and all of them whenever it is convenient to make an accusation or a rhetorical point, but never any one of them, or group of them, in particular. There are distinct advantages to this. If I say Ted Kennedy is hostile to democracy, my reader can reasonably reply, “Hey, wait a minute! Where has he said so, or what else has he said which implies this?”

To answer such a question, you would actually have to read what Ted Kennedy has said, quote it or at least summarize it, and demonstrate how it supports your assertion. This is not only hard work, it also is the ground for great emotional dissonance if the person quoted inspires your personal contempt or disgust, as so many people, such as Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, or even Barbara Streisand, seem to do for a lot conservative commentators.

Of course, Mr. Toten names names, but he still doesn't make anything more than generalized assertions about all of them lumped together, and leaves us with nothing more in the way of evidence for those assertions than the implied suggestion that we go read The Nation and compare it with The New Republic and the difference will be "obvious." And, in the absence of evidence on the table, his analysis boils down to "liberals are kind of like me, even when I disagree with them and Leftists are not like me at all and I disagree with them totally.''


Now I, myself, really have very little contempt or disgust for anyone, and I have always liked to read and test views that are either unfamiliar to me, or that I think incorrect. Which is why I typically block quote and then analyze such views. For a block quote may alter or elide some of the components of an argument, but it can hardly be said to misrepresent what the person thinks about the subject of the sentences he uses.

So I assume when someone says, “The Left is anti-democratic,” they mean just that, and I am effectively blocked from saying, “Hey, wait a minute! Where did they say so?”, because I haven’t any solid notion of who or what is being talked about. Put another way, the quotation of someone’s views is a fact, the imputation of views to everyone who might fit a generic, one size fits all, label is a projective fantasy.

On my side, as a matter of literary skill and the graces of English prose, I try to write each sentence with the idea in mind that someone else may just quote it out of context, so I’d better really mean it as it stands, and be prepared to amplify it in response if they do. I also try to link sentence to sentence indivisibly in argument so that my quoter cannot, nor does not need to, cut parts away with elisions. Finally, I try to make each paragraph a full representation of each stage of the argument individually, which can stand on its own, if quoted, without elaborate amplification.

These are high ideals and I can’t claim to meet them perfectly, but I seldom am confronted with a quotation of my views that I will not stand behind, if I have a chance to amplify them. Indeed, I am seldom confronted by this sort of quotation at all. I think it is a tool in my box of literary style that many in the blogosphere could learn to use with profit.


Blogger The Anchoress said...

Hey, Joe - you posted in the wrong thread over at my thread. I responded, but just wanted to let you know.

4:09 PM  
Blogger The probligo said...

Joe, I agree and this is really behind my part in taking the Reverend to task aout both his words and his subsequent recanting on the meaning.

I think that we may differ in politics but we have in common the need to craft words for the meaning that we intend. I think that the original post from Reverend Sensing really does suffer from his repetition of the same ideas using the same tired rhetoric. I suspect that the usual tired old rhetoric was trotted out in a moment of writers block, without giving too much thought to what was being said.

It will be interesting to see if I get a reaction to my post here

6:41 PM  

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