Knocking Down Another?

Myth, that is.

Obama as messiah. This is one I do not quite understand. Take a gander at any right of center blog and you’ll see comment after comment referring to some sort of liberal hero worship of Obama. I read a fair number of liberal/left blogs and simply do not find evidence for their (our) supposed cult-like reverence for the One. If anything, the major liberal blogs criticize the administration on a daily basis.

Is this just a case of projection? I do not think it’s inaccurate to state that conservatives/Republicans were especially enamored of Bush/Cheney. Any criticism of the previous administration was met with allegations of insufficient patriotism to outright treason. L’etat, c’est Bush, indeed.

Of course, asserting that the other side did it, too is no defense. But I really am at a loss for an example of Obamessiah.

The Power of Myth, Part Deux

This particular myth is a whopper. It is both pervasive and profoundly wrong. Although this myth is one of my pet-peeves, I will endeavor to treat it in the most dispassionate manner possible.

So called centrist Senate Democrats, such as Bayh, Landrieu and Nelson (both of them), are moderates.

Tune into any news broadcast, turn on any of the Sunday talking head shows, or read any major newspaper and you will see talk of “centrist Senate Democrats.” According to Merriam Webster, moderate means, “professing or  characterized by political or social beliefs that are not extreme.” In common parlance we might say that a moderate is someone who is relatively even keeled.

In the realm of public policy, a moderate would be someone who uses their rational faculties, as opposed to ideological beliefs, to determine appropriate policy outcomes. My argument is that so-called centrist Senate Democrats evidence a very strong ideological belief system, one that leads them to support, or oppose, any given policy based upon those beliefs rather than objective reason. Further, that their particular ideological system is center-right to conservative, depending on particular member.

It is only by some curious historical happenstance that these “centrists” are even registered Democrats. For some, that reason rests in historical patterns of voter registration in their particular region. In other words, they became voters prior to, or shortly after, it became permissible for Southerners to be Republicans. For the others the causes could be as simple as family party loyalty (Bayh), to the prevailing political party at the time of voter registration, to what they perceived as the best party for advancing their political careers.

I would argue that many, if not most, of these “centrists” hold very little of what would be considered core Democratic principles. * Most “centrists” supported the invasion of Iraq; supported the Bush tax cuts; supported the regime of systemic abuse of the Constitution and international law (torture, wiretapping, etc.); opposed, in some measure, the Stimulus; oppose, in some measure, health care reform; oppose card check. The list is quite a bit longer than this and most readers will know the contours of my argument.

In a less insane era for the GOP these “centrists” would have been Republicans. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Where this myth causes the most damage is in its framing of issues. If these right of center people are tagged as “centrists” or “moderates”, then the political dialogue is shifted towards the right. In so doing, views that are genuinely moderate are regarded as liberal and those that are liberal get shunted off the stage or (worse?) get the label of Far Left.

As an example, recall Marc Ambinder’s comment in August that the public option was a fetish of the Far Left (he and I tweeted about it, but I can’t find his original). Now, regardless of one’s views about the subject, the public option not only enjoyed overwhelming support from Democrats, but from independents as well. If we accept Ambinder’s proposition, all Democrats as well as most independents are Far Left. I’m quite sure that is not what he meant. He was speaking in Beltway conventional wisdom talk, which accepts the premise of Lincoln, Bayh and their cadre as reasonable moderates whose views represent some magical middle path between the extremes.

If we can dispel this horrible myth, we can have a much more robust and intellectually honest debate about politics and policy. It serves no larger purpose to miscategorize any politicians revealed, as opposed to proffered, ideology. The only end that it does promote is to circumscribe political debate within the narrow confines of center right to right. While conservative partisans might view this as a desirable end, it is not an objectively good one.

* I am willing to give credence to the argument that, in fact, these folks have no actual ideological principles. That the explanation for their behavior, voting and otherwise, is simple corporate whoredom.

The Power of Myth I

It should come as no surprise that American politics, and society in general, contains a great many myths. Myths are central to humankind, for their power to explain the supernatural to their normative power. However, the effects of myths are not always anodyne, and some actually exert a negative influence on our polity. In this series of posts, I set forth some of these myths and examine how their influence corrodes and/or cheapens our political discourse.

American Exceptionalism

This is the foundational myth of America. We are taught from a very young age of not only the unique nature of America, but of our national greatness. The struggles of the Pilgrims, manifest destiny, WWII, and other historical events are used to prove the rightness of America’s cause and her unique position vis a vis other members of the international community. At its most vehement, American Exceptionalism transcends patriotism to become something more like rabid nationalism.

My argument is that this type of rabid Americanism is bad for our polity. It leads otherwise reasonable people to discredit any idea that is somehow foreign. It rejects the notion that one country can learn valuable lessons from another. That somehow America is so unique that we alone have all the answers to any problems we might confront.

Listen to any political debate, in whatever medium, and you will invariably hear one partisan make the argument that the other”s ideas are un-American. Or European or socialist. For a large segment of our population, these words alone are a sufficient argument. The notion that ideas and policies may have value is simply not considered.

What is particularly amazing is that many of these same people did not bat an eye when a previous administration engaged in activities that were blatantly un-American, like torture or warrantless wiretapping. [I should note that there were many honest conservatives and libertarians who did raise their voices in those instances. ] I attribute much of the lack of outrage at actual foreign ideas (human rights violations are usually more prevalent in authoritarian regimes) to a strain of Exceptionalism mixed with the “Democrats/liberals are wimps” myth.

This particular variant of American Exceptionalism is this- because America is inherently good, our torture is therefore good. Or, repressive regimes torture merely for the spectacle or to assert their power, whereas the US only tortures to protect American lives.

Whatever the underlying reasons for its stability, American Exceptionalism has undermined our polity. It breeds a certain level of arrogance and myopia that is dangerous not only to ourselves, but to the world community. And, it really is a form of arrogance to believe that we alone have all the answers, all the time.

Democrats/liberals Are Wimps

I’d like to say that taking on this myth is a fool’s errand. But I really do believe it is important to examine and dispel this myth. However, for those who accept this myth as part of their core beliefs, no amount of argument or logic is going to change their minds. And, to those who think the myth is silly, there is no reason to engage in this exercise. Yet, there are many people somewhere in between the two extremes who are willing to buy into this myth. And, make no mistake about it, its effects are pernicious. But, I’ll leave this myth up to others (perhaps those more patient than me?).