Monday, December 11, 2006

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Mendacity and stupidity are not a party-specific phenomenon

As my previous post might suggest, I'm just a wee bit fed up with the deteriorating and costly U.S. position in the world. It's annoying because, at so many points in time, the Bush administration could have avoided so many of these costs. Instead, we've received ample doses of Bush-endorsed mendacity and stupidity.

However, it should be noted that these qualities are certainly present on the Democratic side of the ledger.

Click here for mendacity.

Click here for stupidity.

posted by Dan on 12.11.06 at 02:46 PM


Carter's positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be misguided, immoral, or flat out wrong, but they are not stupid. Stupid is "They hate us for our freedom", "Axis of Evil", or the idea that violently imposing democracy on a relatively anti-American region will lead to a blossoming of pro-American sentiment.

I do not claim that political stupidity is an exclusively Republican phenomenon: if you needed to present an example of bipartisan idiocy you could do far worse than this. At the same time, basic competence is within the reach of some republicans. I may consider Jeanne Kirkpatrick's policies misguided,immoral and wrong,but she wasn't stupid.

I assume you are familiar with Mr. Carter's positions outside the context of this article. If you indeed are, you will surely recognize that Mr. Goldberg is seriously mischaracterizing them: e.g. "In other words, Carter's title notwithstanding, Israel is not actually an apartheid state." Carter has made clear in multiple fora (including the aforementioned title) that he is considering Palestine, not Israel, to be the state in question.

This is rather an ugly article in many ways, but its most serious flaw is its misstatement of Carters position.

"Restrict, if not retract, Israeli segregation in the occupied territories, and thereby advance the I/P peace process" is a simplistic and arguably mistaken position.

"Invade and occupy Iraq, and thereby advance the I/P peace process" is a stupid one.

posted by: foolishmortal on 12.11.06 at 02:46 PM [permalink]

If you are trying to equate Democrats and Republicans on the mendacity front, I think you fall more than a little short.

The example you give of Democratic mendacity is an assertion by Rep. Rahm Emanuel. Was that assertion false? The only evidence to that effect is an assertion by a single anonymous source. Since CNN found the source credible enough to include in a story on its web site, it seems likely, but not certain, that the anonymous source is telling the truth.

Assuming that Emanuel's assertion was, in fact, false, was Emanuel in fact lying, or was his memory of events faulty? I'd say that the former seems more probable, but in the absense of any actual evidence we cannot say with any certainty either way.

The bottom line is that it rather looks like Emanuel lied, but you don't actually have solid proof that he did.

For comparison, let us recall Bush's repeated assertion during the 2000 campaign that his tax plan would cut the taxes of everyone who pays taxes. That was false (just ask anyone who pays the alternative minimum tax). It's quite possible that the assertion was initially a mistake, but Bush continued to make that assertion after reporters questioned his campaign about it, which clearly brands Bush's later repetitions of the assertion as lies.

The first thing to note is that Bush is the leader of the Republican party. Emanual, on the other hand, is one of a couple of hundred Democratic congressmen,

The second thing to note is that the Bush basicly ran a pro-mendacity campaign. He could have plausibly passed his lie off as a simple mistake, if he had wanted to do so. He could have easily inserted a small cut in the AMT into his policy proposals if he wanted to continue to promise to cut everybody's taxes without that being an obvious lie. Bush chose to let people to know he was a liar.

During the 2000 campaign I was in a job interview with a defense contractor, and the interviewer mentioned that a Bush victory would be good for the defense industry. He was right, of course. Bush's proposed defense budget was only $50 billion dollars over baseline, which is peanuts (Gore proposed $100 billion over baseline), but I haven't encountered any Bush supporter, on or off the internet who has said that they actually believed Bush was telling the truth about that.

If Emanuel lied, it was most likely to avoid political embarassment. He wasn't trying to present dishonesty as a virtue, and I think that makes a huge difference. Catching a Democrat in a lie--or for that matter, finding an honest Republican--doesn't mean that there is no philosophical difference between the parties on the value of honesty.

posted by: Kenneth Almquist on 12.11.06 at 02:46 PM [permalink]

How's that different from Kerry, who said he wanted to cut the deficit but at the same time also wanted to pass programs with costs that would make it impossible to cut the deficit? Was he too running a pro-mendacity campaign? More generally, it's my opinion that believing one's party is more objective honest (or in any way morally superior) than the other party is either unabashedly partisan or hopelessly naive.

posted by: Hei Lun Chan on 12.11.06 at 02:46 PM [permalink]

Failures of virtue in government? In people? Oh, the humanity!

posted by: Adrian on 12.11.06 at 02:46 PM [permalink]

Yeah, I have to agree Hei and Adrian: mendacity among politicians is present: the only question is the degree. There may be some philosophical difference between the parties in the value of honesty, but I beleive it to be strongly correlated to their estimate of the american public's intelligence.

posted by: foolishmortal on 12.11.06 at 02:46 PM [permalink]

Where Democratic Party politics are concerned, Emanuel is relevant, Carter is not.

Jimmy Carter represents no major constituency or interest within the Democratic Party, and his views on Israel and the Palestinians were repudiated by senior Congressional Democrats within days of his book's publication. To the views themselves I am unsympathetic, but it would be unfair to impute those views to politically active Democrats or to the party as a whole.

Emanuel is another story, and illustrates one aspect of a problem Democrats about to begin life as the Congressional majority face. They were helped immeasurably in gaining that majority by public perceptions of Republican corruption -- perceptions that if anything saw less than was there. Republican corruption was in many instances tied closely to the permanent campaign, to which many Republican Congressmen and Senators were much more devoted than they were to anything involving legislation or policymaking.

But to finally throw Republicans into the minority Democrats relied heavily on energetic fundraisers and campaign operatives like Emanuel, whose orientation is the mirror image of the most campaign-centric Congressional Republicans. They also had to rely on constituencies, like Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson's, who are tolerant of corruption and will resent attempts to limit (let alone prosecute) it. Minimizing the influence of those among their number who treat ethics as a matter of convenience is going to be a challenge for the new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. There are a lot of Americans who believe firmly that both parties in Washington are corrupt and dishonest, and it won't take too much for the Democrats to confirm that view.

posted by: Zathras on 12.11.06 at 02:46 PM [permalink]

The Carter argument deserves a better response. Obviously there is stupidity galore in both parties, but he's taken the trouble to write a serious book about serious situation.

posted by: surprised on 12.11.06 at 02:46 PM [permalink]

but he's taken the trouble to write a serious book about serious situation.

And has been pointed out elsewhere, Carter's brand of anti-Israel "stupidity" has resulted in increasing the security of Israel in his brokered peace with Egypt.

Kind of sad that a man who has probably done more for Israel single handedly than any of his critics have collectively is blasted by knee jerk reactionaries.

One might hear whispered on the wind: "what have you done for Israel, lately?".

posted by: Azael on 12.11.06 at 02:46 PM [permalink]

I don't mean to denigrate Jimmy Carter's holiness and heroism with respect to the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty at all, and I don't begrudge a President whose administration was such a disaster his moments of triumph. However, the treaty itself rested on a diplomatic foundation almost all of which had been built during the Nixon/Ford period, and probably would have happened sooner had Ford been elected in 1976. The decisive step that had not been taken when Carter became President was Sadat's decision to go to Israel, with respect to which Carter was a bystander just like all the rest of us.

posted by: Zathras on 12.11.06 at 02:46 PM [permalink]

How's that different from Kerry, who said he wanted to cut the deficit but at the same time also wanted to pass programs with costs that would make it impossible to cut the deficit?

It's hardly unusual for people to have conflicting desires. Kerry said that if he was unable to fund all the programs he wanted and still meet his deficit target, he would reduce spending.

During the campaign, some Bush supporters on the internet asserted that if you added up all of the costs of all of Kerry's spending proposals, they exceeded his proposed total spending. I suspect that that was a case of different people coming up with different cost estimates. (Also, Kerry scaled back some of his proposals during the campaign because the economy wasn't doing very well, which changed some of his campaign's projections.)

If Kerry deliberately underestimated the cost of his proposals, that would be dishonest, but I haven't seen any proof that he did so.

More generally, it's my opinion that believing one's party is more objective honest (or in any way morally superior) than the other party is either unabashedly partisan or hopelessly naive.

What you are saying, unless I'm misreading you, is that the only voters who take the relative honesty of the candidates into consideration when deciding who to vote for are voters who are either unabashedly partisan or hoplessly naive. In that case, isn't it a good thing that there are unabashedly partisan and/or hopelessly naive voters out there, in order to give politicians some incentive to be a little more honest?

posted by: Kenneth Almquist on 12.11.06 at 02:46 PM [permalink]

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