Meta-Commentary

Drum

Posted in media, politics by Adrian Arroyo on January 27, 2011

Kevin Drum spills some ink about the differences between lefty anti-Bush rhetoric and wingnut anti-Obama rhetoric:

What I mean by this is that, generally speaking, lefties weren’t afraid that they personally were going to be rounded up in terror sweeps or sent off to war … Conservatives, by contrast, take this stuff very personally indeed. The government is coming for their guns, the government wants to kill their grandmother, the government wants to confiscate their money.

I’m not sure that’s a useful distinction. In both cases, the claim is that [X] is bad for America/democracy and the personalization or lack thereof is largely a consequence of the way that claim is made. The lefty argument was that Bush was perverting democracy at the level of institutions/norms, and that the effects of that would trickle down to Johnny Citizen. On the right, the claim is that Obama is subverting our freedoms and rights on an individual level and, in so doing, paving the road to [national] serfdom.

I think the core logic of the claims is all you need to focus on:

On the right, “radical socialism,” Kenyan anti-colonialism, anti-American-exceptionalism, secret-Muslimism and most other claims about Barack Obama are claims about his interiority. They’re fundamentally untestable and thus not subject to any sort of evidence-based debunking. To the extent that anyone can know what’s in Barack Obama’s heart, it’s the people who are closest to him. And those people are, of course, the people with the greatest interest in concealing his anti-colonialist secret-Muslim socialist core. The internal logic of these arguments revolves around the idea that, obeying the dictates of his true, inner self, Obama will do bad things (future tense).

Birtherism strikes me as the only rhetorical ploy where evidence might matter, and even then the goal is to cast doubt on both his legitimacy as President and his interior self–absence of exterior evidence construed as evidence of interior absence–as if there were no Americans dissatisfied with America (the irony here is rich) and no immigrants who deeply and truly love their adopted country.

Contrast that with the wild fringe of lefty thought, where the tropes are that 9/11 was an inside job, that Bush’s actions were taking us down the path to fascism, and so on and so forth. Note that, in theory, these are testable claims. In contrast to what someone feels in the core of their being, what someone has done is knowable/provable, and I as I recall most of the lefty crazy was rooted in the idea that Bush had done bad things (past tense).

As a closing note, both strains are, at bottom, ways to signal that the speaker doesn’t like [X]. They are to political speech what wearing a “DIE HIPSTER SCUM” shirt is to 20-somethings in New York. The people who wear it are communicating distaste for something nebulous–in that case, a subculture–not an actual desire to murder everyone wearing skinny jeans.

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  1. Arguments « Meta-Commentary said, on February 3, 2011 at 6:08 PM

    […] way of expanding on the point I made in my last post, I want to revisit the classic quote from Ron Suskind’s 2004 NYT Magazine piece: The aide […]


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