Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The New Stupid passes it on. Conservatives are outraged that members of the Service Employees International Union were allowed to attend Representative Russ Carnahan’s town hall, but conservatives were turned away. Similarly, liberals were outraged when they were denied entry to Representative Kevin Brady’s town hall, but the ninety conservative doctors whose hospital sponsored the event were allowed in. I would link to those outraged liberals, but I invented them. While I’m sure many liberals would complain if the sponsor of an event had seats reserved for its members, I can’t find them. I can, however, find many conservatives who know that the SEIU is sponsoring these town halls, but still write that “the [SEIU] union thugs had already been quietly ushered in through the back door, and had already taken seats that were reserved for them in the front.” They are upset, first, that the sponsor of an event reserved seats for its members; and second, that when protesters prevented members of the group that sponsored the event from reaching the seats reserved for them, the group sponsoring the event might resort to ferrying its members to their reserved seats by an alternate route. Even without the excessive italics, that much should be obvious—only it isn’t, and while the quality of mainstream political discourse has never been that high, rarely has it been this low. My standard for quality is not based on civility so much as the that of forensic debate. The rule to which all debaters abide is, plainly but multitudinously, “Never say anything they can use against you.” If you lack the reflexivity required to know whether your words will return to haunt you, you will lose often and spectacularly. That’s why, when the stakes are high, it’s best to be attacking what you believe or defending what you don’t. Your beliefs only impair your argument, because what matters is not what you know, but what you can prove. The last thing you want to do is hand your opponent the ammunition they need to accomplish your execution. In the 1990s, mainstream conservativism understood this well enough: it distanced itself from the Foster dramatics and focused on an affirmative offensive, be it about a Contract with Certain Americans or marital infidelities. Absurdity mattered less than strategy, because as frustrating as those absurdities were, they sat well in the stomach because we knew that they were merely strategic: the machinations of Newton Leroy Gingrich were clearly machinations, and although we could and did call the man who married his high school math teacher two days after he turned eighteen a hypocrite, we never doubted his ability to excuse our dear Aunt Sally, nor did we care how exactly he pleased her, because we understood that no matter how or where he chose to do so, he knew order of her operations—uterine surgery in ‘78, another in ‘80, and four-hundred and forty dollars a month to provide for an ailing woman, his two children, and a dry cleaning bill for one. Whether or not...

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