2009/04/27

Conversation with a conservative: political behavior comparable?

I challenged a conservative on an online discussion board following an article on which lefty sources he was familiar with as he kept complaining that I wasn't well informed and that I kept making old, discredited arguments.

rich 2056, I have read Saul Alinsky's "rules for radicals". What else is there to read. It lays out Obama's campaign stratagy and defines the moves he is making since taking office. As far as I am concerned any progressive is just someone that can't make it on his own. Got a job yet? He talks about how he will change the universe for the better, but what he really means is that he will stifle debate, defame excellance and reward mediocrity. He does not know how to make money but is very good at taking it from those that have it. The progressive movement is probably the greatest threat this country has ever faced. No, Rich, I am familiar with "your kind" and I would hope that you would go somewhere else with your drival.

My answer:

Here's a summary of "Rules" Nothing here about radicals being dishonest or deceptive. Alinsky even advocates that radicals have alternative solutions available for the problems they call attention to. [The discussion board generally doesn't allow links, but they allowed my follow-up with the link to be posted as it was clearly relevant to the discussion]

Now, folks in the traditional media like to assume the attitude of "A pox on both your houses" and many, many times it's completely inappropriate. Here's a piece on two sets of political ads. In the first set, former PA Senator Rick Santorum makes factually incorrect suggestions, the other set of ads are entirely accurate. Both sets of ads are "tough," but otherwise are quite different. The problem that the piece points to is that the reporter treats them as equivalents, which they very clearly aren't.

But it seems to me that reading the quickie summary of Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" and reading the frames within which a typical Daily Kos post looks at a public meeting (at which the issue of gays is discussed) that "A pox on both your houses" is a pretty good way to look at the issue.

On points, the hearings were a resounding victory for the pro-equality side. There's simply no other way to judge it. Our side was on-message, tightly-focused, full of emotional and often-heartbreaking stories, and at the same time respectful of religious groups, who will be affected not a whit by the bill.
The other side came off as a ragtag bunch of whiners and fearmongers and faux-experts citing crappy science. Crappy, crappy, crappy science. Listening to audio only, I had to occasionally check to make sure I hadn’t time-warped back to the 1960s. By late afternoon, the anti-gay crowd could barely muster the energy to clap for their own speakers. It was...kinda pathetic, really. [emphasis in original]

This post views politics in much the same way that Alinsky suggests. Words are viewed as useful tools with which to persuade people. Both sides present their positions with all of their agonizing and debating in the past. For the activists, all of the pertinent questions have already been answered to their satisfaction. The purpose of the debate is not for us all to sit and reason together, but to sell a position to the public at large.


It's of course pretty ludicrous to suggest that the party of Richard Nixon's chief political dirty tricks strategist Donald Segretti, Ronald Reagan's William "October surprise" Casey, the elder George Bush's Lee Atwater and the younger George Bush's Karl Rove is in any way a moral paragon that liberals compare at all badly to. But manipulating information in order to present it in the best, most politically effective light is not necessarily a bad thing. Let's recognize that there's absolutely no necessity, whether we're using Saul Alinsky or not, to be dishonest. The current debate over torture is an instructive case. Former VP Cheney gave an interview in which he claimed that there were still-secret documents that exonerated the Bush Administration on torture.


The Bushies want this question — “did torture stave off terror attacks and save lives?” — hovering in the air. There’s plenty of evidence that torture hasn’t worked at all and has done more harm than good. Even some former Bush administration officials have conceded it hasn’t done anything to stop terror attacks.
But it’s easy for the Cheney camp to muddy the waters and turn this into a matter of debate by citing unspecified classified info that supposedly supports the claim that it has saved lives — info that we’ll never see.

So no, the former VP isn't precisely lying. He's just making misleading statements that are difficult to disprove. This was a tactic used constantly during the Bush years, the continual referencing to information that very few people had access to. "Yeah, yeah. The info's solid. Just trust us!" Of course, all of the secret information turned out to be just so much nonsense. Do groups on the political left have that option? No, such groups don't have the option of keeping crucial information on national security threats inaccessible to the government of the United States. If they have important information and don't share it with the government, they're then criminally liable if an attack occurs. "Radical" groups don't have the same option to get away with being able to mislead the public as groups in charge of the government do. It's also useful to keep in mind the fact that the government has become much more close-lipped with information since Alinsky's book was written and that the internet has made it much easier to double-check partisan claims.

Is there anything to the idea that if "radicals" take over the US, that the US will experience a repeat of Cambodia 1975, with the cities emptied and intellectuals forced to work on farms in order to punish them for being snobs? I don't think people on the left are naturally or inherently superior to those on the right, but something very crucial happened between the time Alinsky wrote his book and today.

The Soviet Union collapsed.

One of Karl Marx's ideas was that states could transform. That a state could start out as capitalist, become socialist and proceed to being communist. Not only did capitalism prove to be far more durable than Marx thought, but the Soviet Union started out being a centralized, militaristic and tyrannical system. What was it when it collapsed? It hadn't changed a bit. It was still a centralized, militaristic and tyrannical system.

What lefties, liberals and progressives concluded from that was that political systems, as they grow from being small political groups to running whole states, don't change. They change scale, but they don't change their essence. If we want to end up with a system that's egalitarian, that takes advice from all quarters, that respects the contributions of everyone and allows even opponents to make the occasional contribution, then we have to begin that way. It has to be built that way from the ground up.

Obama "talks about how he will change the universe for the better, but what he really means is that he will stifle debate, defame excellance (sic) and reward mediocrity." Of course all of that is merely guesswork, a presumption that our president will ever be so powerful that he can simply disregard the desire of the people that form his political base. Sorry, but after working with progressives for several years, I just don't see us as "stifling debate." The right-wing pundit and occasional Bill O'Reilly guest Michelle Malkin used to work as a reporter under the editorship of the highly respected progressive writer David Neiwert and refers to him as a "free speech absolutist."

Yes, the website Daily Kos (DKos' "Vision for America") deletes the comments of people they call "trolls." These are comments that are simply disruptive. Comments that a moderator disagrees with politically can only be combated by making a disagreeing comment after it. We as moderators for PhillyIMC and the IMC community in general observe much the same set of rules. So no, the left community in America does not quite come up to Neiwert's standard, but I don't think we fall much short of it and I don't think there's much risk of our copying the Khmer Rouge upon taking control of America.

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