Tied to the mast
…but orange now and black

Adorno explains Palin’s tactics, but Obama’s?

Under the subject line “Adorno explains how Palin is able to deploy such psychologically sophisticated tactics…”, I recently sent Andrew Sullivan the following quote:

“The leader can guess the psychological wants and needs of those susceptible to his propaganda because he resembles them psychologically, and is distinguished from them by a capacity to express without inhibitions what is latent in them, rather than by any intrinsic superiority. The leaders are generally oral character types, with a compulsion to speak incessantly and to befool the others. The famous spell they exercise over their followers seems largely to depend on their orality: language itself, devoid of its rational significance, functions in a magical way and furthers those archaic regressions which reduce individuals to members of crowds. Since this very quality of uninhibited but largely associative speech presupposes at least a temporary lack of ego control, it may well indicate weakness rather than strength. The fascist agitators’ boasting of strength is indeed frequently accompanied by hints at such weakness, particularly when begging for monetary contributions – hints which, to be sure, are skillfully merged with the idea of strength itself. In order successfully to meet the unconscious dispositions of his audience, the agitator so to speak simply turns his own unconscious outward. His particular character syndrome makes it possible for him to do exactly this, and experience has taught him consciously to exploit this faculty, to make rational use of his irrationality, similarly to the actor, or a certain type of journalist who knows how to sell their innervations and sensitivity. Without knowing it, he is thus able to speak and act in accord with psychological theory for the simple reason that the psychological theory is true. All he has to do in order to make the psychology of his audience click, is shrewdly to exploit his own psychology.”

From p. 18 of “Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda

It’s an amazing and shockingly current essay considering it’s almost 60 years old.

To my delight, he responded with the following:

wow. chilling.
thanks so much
andrew

Which led me to post the following status update to facebook:

ANDREW SULLIVAN REPLIED TO MY E-MAIL!

Open discourse in good faith

I reposted the Adorno quote, and soon a debate with “G”, a conservative-minded (I think I’ve heard him describe himself as a “paleo-Con”) friend about the applicability of the tactic Adorno describes to Obama. Though frustrating and sloppy at times, this debate was also, I think, illuminating (at least to me). I edited  the following only to eliminate the red-squiggly lines. I didn’t include a couple of the more procedural posts. And I merged multiple, consecutive posts into one (which may or may not have added clarity).

G:

While your statement re: Palin is correct, couldn’t one make precisely the same statement about any leader whose power is derived from charismatic oratory?
i.e. couldn’t one say precisely the same thing about Obama?

Me:

Watch, for example, Palin’s resignation speech. Then watch any of Obama’s speeches. And then read the essay linked to above. It pretty effectively lays out why the two are different…

…The difference, in Freudian terms, is that Obama has a super-ego. Palin doesn’t.

G:

That’s a pretty bold statement, B – I’d suggest that both show signs of ego dominance and superego deficiency – but I suppose superego is in the eye of the beholder.

Me:

I wouldn’t have thought it would be so in the eye of the beholder until you just created that equivalency. Saying that the ego dominance that Obama displays is within even distant orders of magnitude of that displayed by Palin seems patently absurd to me.
Maybe we’re not defining ego in the same way. I’m not talking about ego in the pop usage (in which case you might be more right), but in terms of its definition within Freudian theory.
G:
I’m using it in the Freudian sense – now, I will admit there is a difference of degree between the two, and that they are not equivalent per se- but I would suggest that the general mechanism of appeal is the same in both cases – though expressed with more subtlety in the Obama case.

What I find interesting is the need to pathologize the traits of the “other” – when the same traits are present in both camps to a large degree.

Me:
On the flip side, the pathology of false equivalency in supposedly high level discourse is something I find incredibly frustrating and pernicious. People play stupid because they don’t trust their own ability to defend their own opinions, so to avoid embarrassment, they try to hide them beneath a facade of pseudo-even-handedness.
G:
lol – nice rhetorical move, really.
Does Obama then drive you crazy with his rampant use of false equivalencies, which is one of his favorite rhetorical devices? I’d love to know.

But in a serious response to your point: (1) noting the presence of a common trait is not the same as arguing equivalence – I assume you understand the distinction.

(2) B, I don’t think I’ve ever hesitated to defend my opinion, but to make it clear, it is: Both Palin and Obama employ the psychological technique described above, albeit with different tones and levels of subtlety – he has been trained in a less direct style of it than her.

However, supporters of both, if asked, would likely ascribe the tactic solely to the other, for the simple reasons that
(a) they would resent the idea that the two leaders could have anything in common and (b) no one likes to think of themselves as being willingly manipulated.

Now, none of this is a normative condemnation of the tactic itself or its use by either public figure – popular politics is fundamentally the business of deception, in many respects.

On an unrelated note, I’m happy that Sullivan replied to you – I’ve been a fan of his for a while, particularly re: his views on same-sex marriage.
Me:
What Obama does in his speeches is seek to recognize and articulate both sides of an issue, and then evaluate the arguments on their merits as he seeks to build what he finds to be a compromise. He slips up in this at times (that famous tape from San Francisco about gun clinging being a case in point), but he’s exemplary as a politician for rising above the practice of sloganeering as a means of distorting his opponents. He uses slogans, but as general and vague as it is “Yes We Can” doesn’t misrepresent anything. It doesn’t pretense to describe his position on an issue (in contrast to to “Drill baby Drill”). When he’s talking about issues in his oratory, his articulations of the relevant positions are supplied with real content that people can recognize themselves in. It’s a false equivalency to say that that’s the same as, for example, when CNN pits a climate scientist against an Exxon mobile-paid weatherman, or when you point to the fact that both Obama and Palin have egos as a reason dismiss the larger argument being made (which is considerably more nuanced). Yes, narcissitic reflection, as a technique, is not the exclusive domain of the right. But Obama, who [has plenty of other faults], is hardly the exemplar of the left’s use of it (Olbermann would be the name that comes to my mind).

You don’t hesitate to defend your opinions, which is admirable.

I also think that Obama is smarter than me, and think that most of his most ardent followers do too. By contrast, I don’t think that Palin’s followers actually think that she’s smarter than them. They like her because she’s so much like them.
G:
Quote:

“What Obama does in his speeches is seek to recognize and articulate both sides of an issue, and then evaluate the arguments on their merits as he seeks to build what he finds to be a compromise.”

B, with all due respect, you can’t be serious.

Obama has never, in a single speech that I have seen, “articulated” both sides of the issue – his dominant argumentative technique is that of the straw man.

You can tell when he’s doing this by the use of the phrase “some people say” – in truth, usually no one has argued the “other side” that he presents. He pretends to give an account of both sides, but only treats one side seriously.
Now, it may be the case that he hasn’t heard the opposing case argued seriously, but I doubt it.
This is why the “compromises” he presents invariably consist of mainstream liberal arguments – because a true compromise position would require taking both sides seriously.

Now, I will give Obama credit – this is a nice technique, in the sense that allows him to play moderate while being essentially a doctrinaire conventional (though not radical) liberal – but I would have more respect for him if he were honest about his reasoning rather than adopting a patronizing pose of listening.

So yes, he DOES distort the position of opponents, constantly, albeit in a manner that lets him play moderate.

And I find that you are a bit credulous regarding the “real content” of his rhetoric – his campaign approach was exceptionally vague, even by mass political standards, and was more reliant on sloganeering than nearly any campaign in recent memory.

Indeed, the statement you quoted above, that:

“The leader can guess the psychological wants and needs of those susceptible to his propaganda because he resembles them psychologically, and is distinguished from them by a capacity to express without inhibitions what is latent in them”

…sounds almost as though it were a specific description of the Obama campaign rhetoric – playing to a sense in the audience that they are innately virtuous and that their virtues are both the answer to major problems (“this is the moment when the oceans stopped rising”) and that their innate virtue is what separates them from the “other” (“we shall put aside political cynicism…” “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”).

My point is not that Palin and Obama are similar because they both have egos – what national politician doesn’t? – but that they both use rhetorical techniques to appeal to the ego of the listener and by attempting to display an embodiment of the qualities which the audience values, but are unsure they have themselves.

In this sense, they share a common trait – they are both practitioners of the politics of self esteem.

Actually, B you’ve just articulated the similarity quite well.

Here’s why:

The typical Obama supporter (a generalization, I know), or at least the typical young/white/educated Obama supporter, prides themselves on being smart, open to nuance and diversity, urbane, and idealistic – or at very least, they HOPE they embody these things.

Obama emphasizes these qualities in his rhetoric and style, thereby strengthening the self-esteem of the listener.

the typical Palin supporter prides themselves on being practical, down-to-earth, devoted to family and traditional virtue, straightforward, and patriotic – or at very least, they HOPE they embody these things.

Palin emphasizes these qualities in her rhetoric and style, thereby strengthening the self-esteem of the listener.

In short, the major appeal of both (outside of policy wonks like us) is that by supporting them, the voter receives self-esteem and identity support.

So while emphasizing different qualities, they are similar in a sense.

Now, I want to make it clear that while I see similarities in technique in Obama and Palin, I do not consider them to be equivalent.

Let me put it this way:

I find Obama to be condescending, disingenuous, egotistical, cynical, and usually wrong on matters of policy…. See more

I find Palin to be histrionic, disingenuous, egotistical, cynical, nasty, and not only usually wrong, but profoundly unserious and ill-informed on matters of policy.

So I’ll give Obama credit for being serious, better informed, and not nasty.
But I still consider him insufferable and usually wrong.

Oh well- lesser of two evils, I guess.

Me (I think I responded before reading the last section of G’s post, it having been broken into three to comply with facebook’s stupid word limits):
We evidently haven’t been watching the same political discourse (“Obama has never, in a single speech that I have seen, “articulated” both sides of the issue”) or campaign history (“his campaign approach was exceptionally vague, even by mass political standards, and was more reliant on sloganeering than nearly any campaign in recent memory.”)

Let’s go to the tape: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8A8NaB9x8WM

What in that speech does Palin say coherently that’s not an articulation of an empty trope completely void of any understanding of the issue she’s touching on with it? Can you point to anything that Palin says coherently at all? That’s not just a raw expression of her id?

Now let’s take what’s probably the most slogan-y speech people remember Obama for:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWynt87PaJ0

This speech /is/ relatively light in hard content, because it’s about the “idea” of America, but even when he’s describing his opponents’ positions in rhetorically loaded ways, he’s making clear claims that have clear relevance to the larger claims he’s making, that can be verified, that are themselves founded in principles which I think he genuinely thinks should be persuasive to those who might otherwise be alienated by the “Democrat” perspective. I don’t think it’s a stretch to interpret him as genuinely seeking to persuade the voters alienated by people like Olbermann by appealing to real principles and stories that both can agree to.

Of course he’s appealing to the identity of his listeners, but in seeking common ground on a strong vision of what America is, he’s appealing to what’s best and most open in that identity, not to what’s most base and cynical (“…like a community organizer except with actual responsibility”).

And if you want substance: compare Palin in any interview where she doesn’t have control over her questioner to Obama’s recent powwow with the Republicans (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwMeGzCaHbM). Palin’s go-to is all slogan all the time. Obama’s go-to is largely substantive.

To reiterate, it’s completely ridiculous that you would try to set up any equivalence at all between these two figures.

G:
B, I’m sorry, but it seems we are talking past each other here.

(1) AT NO POINT did i suggest that Palin was a politician of substance. Read my description of her above.
Posting clips of dumb things she’s said is irrelevant, since neither of us like her.

(2) I stand by my statement that Obama has never articulated both sides of an issue – he only ever gives simplistic, straw-man versions of the opposing case.

(3) Your showing of the 2004 DNC speech (one of his least objectionable) actually reinforces my point – Obama uses this technique over and over again- conciliatory rhetoric, but entirely conventional liberal policy solutions, and a subtle denial of any virtue in the political opposition.

The message to conservatives in his rhetoric is “I’ll sound respectful to you, as long as you completely surrender on policy issues, and if you refuse to do so, then it’s clearly because you aren’t interested in getting along.”
He cynically equates civility in tone with total concession on substance. This is a disigenuous, and frankly, disrespectful technique.

So OF COURSE he is trying to appeal to voters disaffected by the tone of modern politics – but it does so in tone, with false moderation in substance.

(4) Quote:
“he’s appealing to what’s best and most open in that identity, not to what’s most base and cynical”

What is “Best” in voters depends upon one’s values. If you share Obama’s political values, then of course you consider an appeal to those values to be “what is best”. If you share the values Palin articulates, the same could be said for her.

Also, as I have said above, his “openness” is in matters of style only, not in any issue of substance.

Finally, I must note the rhetorical implication of that statement- if I oppose Obama in substance, are you suggesting that I am motivated by “what is base and cynical”?

(5)”Obama’s go-to is largely substantive. ”

You mean like when his first response was to say “the campaign is over, John”? Or when he flat-out lied, and then completely ducked, in response to Paul Ryan’s question?

Now, I will concede that Obama has 100 times more depth on matters of policy than Palin, but his respect for the substance of opponent’s views, and his interest in them, is superficial and condescending.

(6) Noting a similarity in technique is not the same as setting up a general equivalence. We’ve been over this.

Me:
I used the 2004 speech specifically because it seems to be the one that most reinforces your point. Why would I do that? Because I’m actually interested in the intersubjectively recognizable substance of the argument and not just in winning (however much my ego wants to push me in the latter direction, I want you to know that trying to fight it, and stay in the former camp… i.e. I’m trying to be guided by my superego). And what I’m objecting to, and arguing against is not whether or not you think Palin is a politician of substance. What I’m concerned with is your original claim:

“While your statement re: Palin is correct, couldn’t one make precisely the same statement about any leader whose power is derived from charismatic oratory?
i.e. couldn’t one say precisely the same thing about Obama?”

No, the above does not apply to Obama, and the differences between Palin and Obama are exactly illustrative of why it doesn’t apply to Obama.

“What is “Best” in voters depends upon one’s values. If you share Obama’s political values, then of course you consider an appeal to those values to be “what is best”. If you share the values Palin articulates, the same could be said for her.”

You’re making the profoundly cynical assumption that values are these insurmountably basic, catagorical things. The difference between Obama and Palin is that Palin shares a similar position to you about values. She takes hers to be categorical and self-evident; to her values are not things that need to be reflected critically on. Hers are good, and people who don’t share her values are, logically, bad. By contrast Obama has evidently reflected on his values, on how they relate to the broader cultural/political discourse, on how other peoples’ values relate to the broader cultural/political discourse, and on how to communicate with those others on their own terms.

“The message to conservatives in his rhetoric is “I’ll sound respectful to you, as long as you completely surrender on policy issues, and if you refuse to do so, then it’s clearly because you aren’t interested in getting along.” ”

That’s what people who are, as Julian Sanchez labeled them, “epistemically closed,” read from that speech. When any conciliatory language is interpreted as an expression of bad faith, the battle is over and democracy is done. Since we’re on the healthcare topic, he could have taken the Clinton / Trudeau approach and rammed a far more hostilely liberal (in the way that the Patriot Act was hostilely neo-conservative) bill that he wrote himself into law. You may say that Clinton’s failure suggests he would have failed had he tried, and maybe you’re right, but I don’t think so. Obama, when the healthcare debate started, was in a far more powerful position politically than Clinton was in the early 90s. He won a majority of the country’s votes, and the democrats were (and are) in a relatively more powerful position in the Senate. He didn’t. Instead he let congress do the sausage-making, and tacitly pushed them in the direction of the Republican ideas for health reform that had informed what Romney passed in Mass. Then he ran into the bipartisan paradox (http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2010/03/the-partisanship-paradox.php). Honestly, do you think the healthcare bill that passed was the bill that Obama would have written if he didn’t believe in the democratic principle?

“You mean like when his first response was to say “the campaign is over, John”? Or when he flat-out lied, and then completely ducked, in response to Paul Ryan’s question?”

Obama ain’t Jesus. And I think McCain reminding everyone that more transparency for the process of crafting health reform was promised than delivered was, well, an important thing to remind everyone of. It probably would have been nice, from the perspective of deliberative openness, for Obama to verbalize a justification for the lack of transparency, but I don’t think any other politician would have tried to do that either. And you’re going to have to give me more specifics on the Ryan / Obama exchange you’re talking about. Is it this one? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJ_QshAn2Gs What’s the flat-out lie? What’s the duck?

Once again, he’s not Jesus, and what he’s doing by going in there and opening the floor to questions from a hostile audience over which he has no control is a hard thing to do. And I think that by any objective measure, while he tripped up and got defensive at times, he did it far less than any other major politician i can think of would have.

The Cato Institute on Obama’s openess to republican ideas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IJsiBHYTFg&feature=player_embedded
But to take things back to the basics: “The famous spell they exercise over their followers seems largely to depend on their orality: language itself, devoid of its rational significance.” <- is where Palin and Obama most starkly differ.
Exceedingly clever third party:
Who’s Sarah Palin?
G:
(1) I fundamentally disagree with you on the following statement:

“By contrast Obama has evidently reflected on his values, on how they relate to the broader cultural/political discourse, on how other peoples’ values relate to the broader cultural/political discourse, and on how to communicate with those others on their own terms.”

No, he doesn’t.

He doesn’t even come close. In fact, he does the exact opposite.

Obama’s fundamental message to those who disagree with him is : “I’ve been reasonable and tried so see things your way – and you’re wrong. Now, since I’ve played nice, go along with me or you are a cynic.”

He doesn’t “reflect” on values – as far as is apparent – because he never expresses the opposing argument in honest terms. He has either never heard the other side expressed seriously (hardly likely) or he is deliberately misprepresenting it to make it appear that he is the only “reasonable” one.

He has shown nearly zero ability to “communicate with those others on his own terms” – poll after poll shows him to be the most divisive president in modern history.

Now, he pretends to try – for the consumption of his own base- so that his supporters, who base their self-worth on being smarter than “the other” (by and large), can say “see, he tried being reasonable with those rubes, but they just won’t listen- good thing we’re smarter”.

Pretending to be conciliatory in order to paint the other guy as unreasonable is not reflection.

Frankly, I’d respect Obama more if he were direct – if he simply flat-out said “liberal ideas are better because liberals are smarter” , it would be a more honest statement of principles.

(2) “When any conciliatory language is interpreted as an expression of bad faith, the battle is over and democracy is done.”

Talk is cheap. If Obama were serious about compromise and respect for opposing ideas, he could demonstrate it by adopting at least one substantive conservative idea (the ones included in the HC bill were insulting in their tokenism).

Conciliatory language is nice, but if it’s not accompanied by action, I’m going to call BS on it.

(3) Re: Health Care –

Don’t confuse a bug with a feature.

Obama had shown minimal interest in either legislative processes or policy minutae during his entire political career – if he had started suddenly doing so for the health care debate it would have been shocking.

Now, do I think he would have preferred a more expansive bill? Sure.
But he accepted, with good reason, that a more radical bill would not have passed. Any pressure he put on more liberal members of congress was done (reasonably) with an eye to getting the bill past the senate.

Any claim to dedication to the democratic process was lost when he and Pelosi strong-armed the passage of the Senate bill.

I’m not saying he was wrong to do so – I would have done the same thing- but it undercuts your claim to him being a great conciliator.

(4) My initial point on the Obama/Palin comparison stands – the appeal of both of them is based on projection.
Both attempt to reflect the aspirations of their respective bases, giving their supporters a reward in terms of self-image.

Now, I will concede that there are stylistic differences – Palin mocks her opponents directly, while Obama relies on indirect condescension. And as I said above – Palin strikes me as histrionic – but that’s a matter of style, not substance.

Do you really think those students at the Denver convention were cheering Obama because they thought he’d be nice to republicans?

Self-esteem based politics of this sort is unfortunate to watch, but it is how the game is played in our time.

“The famous spell they exercise over their followers seems largely to depend on their orality: language itself, devoid of its rational significance.”

You mean like “yes we can!” “we are the ones we have been wating for” or “this is the moment the oceans stopped rising” ?

Obama, like Palin, speaks in a specific sociological code – tipping off supporters the he is “one of them” – i.e. shares the same values, therefore enhancing the voters self-concept. Now, he is taking to a different values tribe, so the appeal sounds different (and frankly, less jarring), but it’s the same technique.
Me:
“Yes we can” isn’t language that makes claims to significance that it doesn’t fulfill. It’s not-that-implicit claim is that the cynicism of political culture can and should be overcome. And it’s just as plausible as that he intends the “we” to alienate you, G— —–, as that the “we” is intended to be inclusive of everyone except the cynical (so including those who may disagree with him on the specifics of policy, but still want to improve the country’s political culture). Again, if you read every gesture at conciliation as an implied attack, you’ve essentially given up on the idea that progress can be made in the political discourse. By contrast “Drill-baby-drill,” “Tax-and-Spend Liberal,” or any of Frank Luntz’ bullshit is language that implies broad claims about policy but doesn’t present them in any rational order that can be substantively challenged without a tremendous amount of interpretation by the challenger. And in actually creating an interpretation, the challenger is vulnerable to the claimant simly saying “that’s not what I mean at all, and frankly, I’m offended you would even suggest that.” And to say that Obama doesn’t present more substantive claims in language that follows a rational order [is belied by] your substantive criticisms of him (and [is further belied by] almost every speech he’s given since assuming office). That’s the great thing about being tied to reason: it makes you vulnerable to reasoned disagreement.
As for Obama as the most divisive President in history. Those polls are an artifact of America having been left more polarized than it ever was by Bush’s disastrous and Frank-Luntz-infused presidency (yes I’m blaming George Bush, the guy was an asshole that never even made empty gestures towards conciliation to “blue america”), terrible and  frightening economic circumstances, and of residual white-man resentment among much of the right’s constituency of a black man in power. You may disagree, but listening to an Obama SoTU, next to a Bush SoTU, the polarization is not a result of Obama’s particularly pronounced use of the technique of manipulation described by Adorno.
G:
(1) actually, I’d argue that his sloganeering DOES make claims of significance it doesn’t fulfill – it is a generalized promise that faith in a particular leader will be a magic solution to the nations problems – elect Obama, and the “oceans will stop rising” – a quasi-fascist piece of leader worship if there ever was one.

Both Obama and Palin base their appeal on faith – and that faith is dependent upon the leader demonstrating the values of a particular base – which is why both are profoundly divisive.

(2) if you want

“implies broad claims about policy but doesn’t present them in any rational order that can be substantively challenged without a tremendous amount of interpretation by the challenger”

listen to any Obama speech where he talks about:

“Green jobs that can never be outsourced”
“a world free of nuclear weapons”
“the world acting as one”
“things would be even worse without the stimulus”

Is a blind faith in offshore drilling worse than a blind faith in green jobs? if so, why?

These are statements of faith.

(3) B, I’m sorry that you can’t see this, but maybe it’s because you fall into Obama’s ideological camp.

Obama’s talk about “cynicism” is EXACTLY the same thing as the Frank Luntz “Tax and spend liberal” label.

Obama does NOT offer anything to “those who disagree with him on policy” – he offers straight down the line liberal options – and then labels anyone who disagrees with him a “cynic”.
His inauguration address – in which he directly stated that concerns over the size of government were “cynicism” is a perfect example of this.

In Obama’s language cynic = anyone who disagrees with his policies.

(4)”That’s the great thing about being tied to reason, is that it makes you vulnerable to reasoned disagreement.”

except that Obama’s technique is to deliberately over-simplify and misconstrue anything said in opposition.

Obama, in his actions, rejects reasoned debate because he deliberately misrepresents opposing arguments in order to argue that any reason must be on his side.

The same way for Palin, opposition = “tax and spend liberal”.

Quote:

“Those polls are an artifact of America having been left more polarized than it ever was by Bush’s disastrous and Frank-Luntz-infused presidency (yes I’m blaming George Bush, the guy was an asshole that never even made empty gestures towards conciliation to “blue america”), terrible and .frightening economic circumstances, and of residual white-man resentment among much of the right’s constituency of a black man in power.”

(1) Now, I was no fan of W, and I will concede that he was a deeply divisive president.

However, you are falling into a very Palin-esque and frankly Obama-esque trap here.

It is a common trait of both to turn their failings into criticisms of the “other” – therefore playing to the self-esteem of their base.

When it happened to Bush (or Palin), it was the “gotcha liberal media” or “elitists” -thereby repeating the message that only Palin/Bush supporters were “real America”.

When it happens to Obama, it’s “Bush’s fault” or “racism” or “fox news” – thereby repeating the message that only Obama supporters are open-minded and reasonable.

It’s the same bit of base-in self-esteem driven politics which denies the possibility of reasoned opposition and plays to the ego of the supporter.

(2) Finally, your criticism that Bush made only “empty gestures” is questionable – what was medicare expansion? or immigration reform?

These were substantive policies which did not play to the red-state base.

Bush was hated in “blue” America because what he represented (i.e. Who he was) was antagonistic to their values and undermined their self-esteem with his support for a different value set. (he lost large swaths of “red” America only after he turned out to be a screw-up as well).

I’d argue Obama’s current support in “blue” America (and current unpopularity in “red” America) can be explained the same way.

Me:
Will look at your comment in more detail tomorrow, but:

“It is a common trait of both to turn their failings into criticisms of the “other” – therefore playing to the self-esteem of their base.”

Either both can be discursively closed, or one can be closed and one can be open. In either circumstance, the result is the same (what we’re seeing). Without making references to the content of what they make a habit of actually saying, there’s no way of even guessing whether its one or the other. Luckily, we have access to the content of what they say; and based on taht content, if you think that Obama’s politics is even remotely near Bush or Palin in terms of being discursively closed, I have no idea what planet you’re on. And Obama’s been a dick to the liberal “base” in a way that Bush never was the conservative base.

I genuinely don’t think that Palin understands what ascribing to democracy entails, and I think that the Bush administration was actively trying to subvert it (with a tremendous amount of success). I think Obama could be doing much more than he is to repair the damage done by Bush, but I also think that he’s demonstrated much better faith and presented his positions in much less, relatively, coded language. And yes, I tend to agree with him more than I would tend to agree with, perhaps, his republican equivalent. But I can’t do more than say that I genuinely want to recognize good faith on the part of my ideological opponents, and think that I can. What more can anyone say?
“Green jobs that can never be outsourced”

What isn’t clear about that? How is it misleading? It’s an aspiration. And it’s one that most people can agree is desirable (they might disagree about how realistic it is). He’s not eliminating options from ideological opponents for how to achieve this end. By contrast “drill baby drill” is a specific means to an end (energy independence?), and is exclusive of ideologically difference in the pursuit of the larger goal.

“a world free of nuclear weapons”

Same logic applies.

“the world acting as one”

Same logic applies again.

“things would be even worse without the stimulus”

This is a clear claim again, that can be disputed on rational grounds with reference to evidence. It invites debate. It doesn’t exclude it.

By contrast, explicitly accusing critics of anti-Americanism (not rare from the likes of Palin and the Cheyneys)… that doesn’t invite debate. It shuts it down.
G:
” explicitly accusing critics of anti-Americanism (not rare from the likes of Palin and the Cheyneys)… that doesn’t invite debate. It shuts it down.”

Right. And accusing critics of “cynicism” or claiming that only your side has access to “reason” does the same thing.

“Obama’s been a dick to the liberal “base” in a way that Bush never was the conservative base.”

With all due respect, you wouldn’t say that if you had been a conservative during the Bush years, and had to hear that “deficits don’t matter.”

“But I can’t do more than say that I genuinely want to recognize good faith on the part of my ideological opponents, and think that I can”

B, I would never deny that you recognize good faith in your opponents.
I just doubt the sincerity of your favorite leader i that regard.

Now, if you want something measurable, I’d suggest the following:

If Obama presents something like say, an education reform plan that doesn’t bear the stamp of the teacher’s unions, or a budget that doesn’t double the debt over the next 10 years, or an energy policy that actually considers nuclear power seriously, I’ll concede that he actually is discursively open and actually listens to opposing arguments seriously.

But if his version of “openness” is to pretend to listen, then dismiss every non-liberal idea and call the opposition “cynics”, then his actions will have spoken.

Me:
Accusing opponents of anti-americanism in cases where it’s obviously false unless you define it in a very particular way which isn’t specified, and claiming that opponents are cynical, which, as defined commonly and by supporters of the left and of the right, is a rampant trait in politics, are in different ballparks. To put them on a level with each other seems like an obvious false equivalency.

And regarding your link: weigh “continuous bailout” or “higher taxes would create a “bleak future for our kids and grandkids”” against the claim supported by clear and clearly disputable reasons described here:

“Obama touted several provisions of the bill as much-needed reform, including a consumer protection agency, new restrictions on the shady and unregulated derivatives market, and a clear system for dismantling failing banks. “Simply put, this means no more taxpayer bailouts”

Again. Different ballparks. The former are vague cliches (for being vague, highly resistant to intelligent response) reliant on gut impulses conditioned into the American public by endless repetition (see the Adorno essay).

G:
Well, B, I don’t think calling someone “cynical” is any less dismissive than calling someone “anti-American” – but I suppose this is where we part.

And you’re quoting unevenly- only showing the simple parts of the GOP position and all of Obama’s. It’s a very Obama-like move – deliberately over-simplifying the opponent’s position.

and btw, how is promising “green jobs that can’t be outsourced” or saying that “the stimulus saved the economy” any a less vague, inarguable, blanket statement than “continuous bailout”?

You are drawing false distinctions b/c you happen to agree with one position.

Moreover, I think you are missing what my initial criticism of Obama is:… See more

(1) at no point did I say that he didn’t AT TIMES provide substantive arguments for his policies – that’s why I said that unlike Palin, I consider him “serious” – but wrong – on policy.

(2) HOWEVER, his primary appeal, as with Palin’s, is his catering to the self-esteem of his base – which comes not from substance, but from sociological cues and demonization of the “other”.

The difference on this point is that Obama treats his opponents as cynical and lacking reason- whereas Palin treats hers as elitist and Un-American – which merely reflect the differing content of the self-esteem of their various bases.

In both cases, the idea that the “other” could have any merit is fundamentally closed.

Me:
“And you’re quoting unevenly- only showing the simple parts of the GOP position and all of Obama’s.”

Send me the speech in which Sarah Palin substantively unpacks the reasoning for Drill Baby Drill; what its comparative benefits are, why these benefits outweigh the environmental costs (actually, bonus points if you can find a speech that acknowledges environmental costs as actually existing).

I want to be clear that from the start I haven’t been saying that /conservatives/ are prone to these manipulative tactics while liberals are not. To remind you, this debate is about your claim that Obama is somehow just as or somehow remotely close to as subject to Adorno’s criticism in the quote above as Palin is.

I do think though that the apparently strongest examples you’ve been able to throw at me of Obama relying on meaning-distorting sloganeering have, while undoubtedly sloganeering, not particularly meaning distorting; especially in contrast to the GOP positions expressed in juxtaposition to what Obama has been saying. Granted the example was in a stub describing a larger article. Again, to actually discern the comparative open substance of the way Obama vs. the most prominent GOP voices articulate their politics, you need to go to the substance which doesn’t lend itself particularly well to out-of-context quoting in 200ish word facebook quotes. But if you can listen to either of Obama’s States of the Union (I know the first one was technically only an “address to congress” but whatever) and then listen to any of George Bush’s states of the union and think that they’re even close in terms of deliberative openness and coherence, well… I’m incredulous. And I think that Obama’s states of the union were among the worst examples from his oeuvre of addresses to the public square, and Bush’s, some of his best.

Regarding your accusation that Obama is cynically accusing people of cynicism: I’ve said this twice already, but you’re hoisting yourself on your own petard since you’re just as subject to that line of criticism as he is. So either we just accept incoherence and write off democratic deliberation, or we do what we can to rise to the occasion and call Obama’s bluff by providing substance. There are right-wingers that are trying to do this: David Frum being one. The brother horde, however, ain’t to happy with him right now.

“btw, how is promising “green jobs that can’t be outsourced” or saying that “the stimulus saved the economy” any a less vague, inarguable, blanket statement than “continuous bailout”? You are drawing false distinctions b/c you happen to agree with one position”

You’re taking three quotes that aren’t in conversation with each other: The contrast I actually pointed to was the one made in the stub you linked to:

“And regarding your link: weigh “continuous bailout” or “higher taxes would create a “bleak future for our kids and grandkids”” against the claim supported by clear and clearly disputable reasons described here: “Obama touted several provisions of the bill as much-needed reform, including a consumer protection agency, new restrictions on the shady and unregulated derivatives market, and a clear system for dismantling failing banks. “Simply put, this means no more taxpayer bailouts””

I actually think claiming that the legislation provides for continuous bailouts isn’t entirely devoid of substance, though, you’re right, I think it’s an unfair characterization since the “bailout” is money funding the process of dismantling “too-big-to-fail” banks. At least, on paper that’s what it is, I need to read more about it to know. The baggage that the term “bailout” has, and that McConnell is trying to cue up in peoples minds, is that it connotes that the banks will get away unscathed on the tax-payer dime. Do you disagree? This is expressly the opposite of what the money is intended to for. = a perversion of language.

Give me the context for the quote “green jobs that can’t be outsourced.” Where I found him using something close to that phrase was the following:

“our economy – if it’s dependent on low-wage, low-skill labour, it’s very hard to hang on to those jobs because there’s always a country out there that pays lower wages than the US. And so we’ve got to go after the high-skill, high-wage jobs of the future,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important to train our folks more effectively and that’s why it’s so important for us to find new industries – building solar panels or wind turbines or the new biofuel -that involve these higher-value, higher-skill, higher-paying jobs. So what we’ve got to do is create new jobs that can’t be outsourced,” Obama said.”

Where’s the perversion of meaning?

G:
(1) “or we do what we can to rise to the occasion and call Obama’s bluff by providing substance.”

I did that earlier – by providing examples of what Obama could do to show he actually was listening to some of the better conservative ideas out there – I’ll stop considering Obama a manipulative cynic when I see him try one idea outside of his own camp.

And by the way, I’d call myself considerably less cynical and more open to opposing ideas than the president – why?

Because I have a few ideas that aren’t straight down-the-line mainstream conservatism – whereas I have yet to hear the president advocate a position that isn’t conventional liberalism.

You can’t claim to be “open” to ideas and implement a doctrinaire agenda. (albeit not an especially radical one, in his case)

(2) the perversion of meaning in “drill baby, drill”. Now, I’ll obviously agree that it isn’t a nuanced policy statement, but it’s hardly a distortion- it’s completely straightforward.

(3) The distortion in the “green jobs” quote (which you reflect accurately) is the equation of “green jobs” with “high wage” jobs (when in fact “green” industries pay no more than traditional manufacturing) that “can’t be outsourced” (really? why not?).

How is the “can’t be outsourced” comment any more of a reach than the “bleak future” one?

(4) If even you, who will admit (I assume) to being somewhat to the left of the president, will concede that the “bailout” statement is not without substance, then (a) it’s hard to see how it’s a distortion and (b) you are conceding more substance to it than the president does

(5) Obviously, if you want a more complex articulation of the GOP’s position on anything, you don’t go to Palin (which is possibly why the media likes to focus on her).
I’d suggest looking at anything from Paul Ryan or Mark Kirk – you know, people who actually hold GOP offices.

But frankly, we agree on her lack of complexity- which I though we also agreed was entirely beside the point.

(6) We shouldn’t get into comparing SOTU’s for the simple reason that there is too much in those to really discuss here.
Suffice it to say that I found Obama’s addresses to be as devoid of content and full of bald assertions as anything Bush did. oh well….

(7)”actually, bonus points if you can find a speech that acknowledges environmental costs as actually existing”

Find me a spot where Obama gives an honest accounting of the fiscal consequences of his policies, rather than just saying something like “well, it won’t be easy” or “it was all Bush’s fault”.

Modern politics is basically about ignoring the downside of one’s policies – Obama is no exception on this – he only ever makes the most vague allusions to any drawbacks.

(8)”So either we just accept incoherence and write off democratic deliberation”

Actually, I did that a while ago.
Since at least 1980, and arguably 1968, American democracy has been about appealing to the collective ego of various values groupings, rather than the actual merits or costs/benefits of policy positions.
2008 was no exception- but in that cycle, one tribe was demoralized and dejected while the other was energized.
Elections haven’t been meaningful conversations about ideas, in a Lincoln-Douglas sort of way, for a very long time, and I doubt they will ever be again.
Which is why I’m not an unqualified fan of mass democracy in the post-modern age anyway.

But that, my friend, is a whole other discussion, no?

Caveat: Let me be clear on the following: I consider Obama to clearly be superior to Palin on matters of policy substance. I consider both of them to be wrong, but only her to be unserious.
However, I do view both of them as… See more communicating in intentionally vague terms and misrepresentations which are often expressed in coded language designed to appeal to the self-image of respective base groups.
I plan on responding to G’s final response when I get the chance (look in the comment section probably tomorrow), but the new development is that Sullivan actually used the quote I sent him as his “quote of the day” for today. 😀 I asked G if he would mind if I transcribed our conversation into a public forum so that I could share it. So here it is.

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