November 29, 2010

"There will always be a reasonably passionate opposition"

Ross Douthat writes in the NYT:
Imagine, for a moment, that George W. Bush had been president when the Transportation Security Administration decided to let Thanksgiving travelers choose between exposing their nether regions to a body scanner or enduring a private security massage. Democrats would have been outraged at yet another Bush-era assault on civil liberties. Liberal pundits would have outdone one another comparing the T.S.A. to this or that police state. (“In an outrage worthy of Enver Hoxha’s Albania ...”) And Republicans would have leaped to the Bush administration’s defense, while accusing liberals of going soft on terrorism.

But Barack Obama is our president instead, so the body-scanner debate played out rather differently. True, some conservatives invoked 9/11 to defend the T.S.A., and some liberals denounced the measures as an affront to American liberties. Such ideological consistency, though, was the exception; mostly, the Bush-era script was read in reverse. It was the populist right that raged against body scans, and the Republican Party that moved briskly to exploit the furor. It was a Democratic administration that labored to justify the intrusive procedures, and the liberal commentariat that leaped to their defense. ...

Is there anything good to be said about the partisan mindset? On an individual level, no. It corrupts the intellect and poisons the wells of human sympathy. Honor belongs to the people who resist partisanship’s pull, instead of rowing with it.

But for the country as a whole, partisanship does have one modest virtue. It guarantees that even when there’s an elite consensus behind whatever the ruling party wants to do (whether it’s invading Iraq or passing Obamacare), there will always be a reasonably passionate opposition as well. Given how much authority is concentrated in Washington, especially in the executive branch, even a hypocritical and inconsistent opposition is better than no opposition at all.

At the very least, the power of partisanship means that there will always be someone around, when Americans are standing spread-eagled and exposed in the glare of Rapiscan, to speak up and say “enough!”

Okay, but what happens when elites of both parties are in favor of a bad idea? To return to air security, President Bush campaigned in 2000 against ethnic profiling of Arabs and Muslims by airport security and Al Gore immediately said "Me, too!" Bush's Transportation Department had been running a big program in 2001 to crack down on profiling of passengers who look like Arab terrorists at the time that 19 Arab terrorists got on their flights on 9/11. (See my 9/11/2001 article for UPI, "Bush had called for laxer airport security.") Did the Democrats rush to denounce Bush for making it easier for Mohammed Atta to board? Did Republicans turn on Bush?

No, what happens is largely that the issue disappears down the old memory hole.

Similarly, how about Bush's push for more zero down payment mortgages in the name of fighting racist redlining?

I've largely devoted my career to raising unwelcome questions about bipartisan elite consensuses. It's not a wise career choice.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

See my 9/11/2001 article for UPI, "Bush had called for laxer airport security."

Two words: Grover. Norquist.

Mel Torme said...

"I've largely devoted my career to raising unwelcome questions about bipartisan elite consensuses. It's not a wise career choice."

Oh, c'mon, Steve, don't be so hard on yourself. We really appreciate what you do, though I guess "we" don't compensate you fairly (I mean, at all) for this. But, what else would you doing? Astronomy? actuarial statistics? Running a Putt-Putt course or trailer park? How 'bout a 2-way petting zoo?

Anonymous said...

When you hear leaders talking about "bipartisanship," hide the silver.

-- JP98

helene edwards said...

So racial profiling isn't just an issue at the local police forces. It's an issue throughout our society. And as we become a diverse society, we're going to have to deal with it more and more.

I never heard that quote. Jesus, what an idiot. I'm glad my vote didn't count.

Anonymous said...

What role does the Masonic order play in forming elite concensus on some issues?

I believe that many of the people that led the USA at the time of the revolution were freemasons.

I believe their loyalty was first to the USA, second to their religion, and only third to the Masonic Order.

As we all know, open warfare between Catholics and Protestants in Europe killed an enormous number of people. I believe that half the population of Germany died as a result of the thirty years war.

Is it fair to say that one of the reasons for a lack of open warfare between Catholics and Protestants in the USA was that both the most prominent Catholics and the most prominent Protestants were Masons and thus had shared respect for each other.

Finally, may I ask, what is the role of the Masonic order today in the mass immigration that is race replacing the usa? Are Masons notably more in favor of mass immigration than other Americans?

Dahinda said...

"Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right."

H.L. Memcken

Dutch Boy said...

"IN AMERICA, WE have a two-party system," a Republican congressional staffer [Sam Francis] is supposed to have told a visiting group of Russian legislators some years ago.
"There is the stupid party. And there is the evil party. I am proud to be a member of the stupid party."
He added: "Periodically, the two parties get together and do something that is both stupid and evil. This is called—bipartisanship."

none of the above said...

The big boys in both parties were 100 percent behind the Iraq war, most of the war on terror (especially the parts that justified big contracts and bureaucratic empire building), and the bank bailouts, as well. On those issues, like on immigration, free trade, affirmative action, unconditional support for Israel, and any number of other dumb ideas, there is dissent, but it's from the fringes--the Ron Pauls and Kustiniches and Buchanans and Feingolds protest, and the bipartisan consensus to f--k up rolls right past them.

Anonymous said...

"What role does the Masonic order play in forming elite concensus on some issues?"

It depends. Are the lizard people involved?

Anonymous said...

While I believe Douthat has numerous grievous flaws, I have to admire his ability to point out that all of his fellow conservative pundits are completely full of NSFW. It's almost enough to justify his presence in the Times.

Anonymous said...

At the very least, the power of partisanship means that there will always be someone around, when Americans are standing spread-eagled and exposed in the glare of Rapiscan, to speak up and say “enough!”

I see it the other way: no matter how awful the policy being pushed is, it will be guaranteed approximately 50% popular support at least.

Baloo said...

Now you're picking on the Lazard Frères. One anti-Semetic remark after another! Huh? Oh, lizard people... Never mind.

James Kabala said...

I don't like that Douthat knows you were a reader of his previous blog and sometimes interacted with you then, but he does not include you on his Times blogroll. He does include liberals that Times readers know anyway (Matthew Yglesias), people who don't have much worthwhile to say (Jeffrey Goldberg), or both (Good grief, is there ever any good reason to direct traffic toward Ezra Klein?).

Anonymous said...

America is effectively a one-party state - the Republicrats.

Anonymous said...

Mel - what exactly is "a 2-way petting zoo"?

neil craig said...

Because the media do like a fight what happens is that the fight gets set up between the reigning champion & the official contender. Thus the argument on the economy was between Obama's socialism & Bush's big governmentism. On global warming the official argument was between those who wanted to spend 100s of billions & those who wanted to spend trillions.

It may be that thje TEA Party are actually in the process of forcing themselves into the official debate (as official villains obviously) which would be a remarkable achievement.

Anonymous said...

"I don't like that Douthat knows you were a reader of his previous blog and sometimes interacted with you then, but he does not include you on his Times blogroll."

Ross Douchehat is trying to become the next David Brooks. He wants to be the sensible Republican that is beloved by the liberals. Therefore, he can't link to Sailer because of the hatefacts. Even Yglesias gets crap from his readers every time he criticizes Sailer. His readers would rather Sailer not be mentioned at all.

"Good grief, is there ever any good reason to direct traffic toward Ezra Klein?"

Yeah, he's boring but at least he knows what he's talking about unlike Matt Yglesias who bullshits on every topic. Even liberals are starting to notice that Yglesias is a worthless pundit whose knowledge base doesn't go beyond than Wikipedia. He's also fat and ugly.

Anonymous said...

Is it fair to say that one of the reasons for a lack of open warfare between Catholics and Protestants in the USA was that both the most prominent Catholics and the most prominent Protestants were Masons and thus had shared respect for each other.

Catholics can't be Masons. There were no prominent Catholics in national government in the US until quite recently. Now they're EVERYWHERE. Hide your kids, hide your wife.

Geo Orwell said...

"There will always be a reasonably passionate opposition"

To parse that correctly:

"The elites allow opposition that elites deem reasonable... to fool, control and inform proles by example exactly what kind of opposition is unreasonable, disallowed and a hate crime"

Dutch Boy said...

"Catholics can't be Masons. There were no prominent Catholics in national government in the US until quite recently. Now they're EVERYWHERE. Hide your kids, hide your wife."
Quite true; however, as they have settled into the system they might as well be Masons.

David said...

>Mel - what exactly is "a 2-way petting zoo"?<

I have a feeling we don't really want to know.