Loose Talk About Politics

I’m on a bit of a campaign about certain kinds of sophistry that infect public discourse and casual conversations about politics and politicians.

One might be called the “good guy” fallacy, whereby because we believe in the personal integrity and good intentions of the person — or simply like him/her– we tend to overlook or trivialize his or her errors. As recently as yesterday I got an email from someone who should know better, defending Bush on the explicit grounds that he as a “decent man” who “agonized” over the compromises of the Constitution he and his administration indulged in. To which I reply: his decency makes him no less a violator of the Constitution.

Likewise, we can’t approve in Obama that which we wouldn’t tolerate from someone of less dignity, intelligence, or good intentions. I got another email yesterday from someone tut-tutting my rant below about Obama’s less-than-perfect appointment processes. Taken to its extreme, this “personalization” of our judgments confuses means and ends, where we believe in the ideological goals of the perpetrator, and so forgive what’s being perpetrated.

Then there’s sheer relativism: what your guy (Bush, Cheney) did was so much worse than what my guy (Obama) did that we should not fuss over what my guy did. I indulge in this sort of thing all the time, but it leads nowhere but on a race to the bottom.

I really do think that many of the horrors of the last 8 years were allowed to unfold because the electorate and “the media” were largely asleep at the switch. We just don’t have the luxury of assuming anyone’s greater wisdom anymore. For all its flaws, the internet does allow the people to be more on top of things than ever before. Wonderful though he is, we need to keep on top of Obama and become a more active, vocal electorate, no matter who’s in office.

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