Quick Thoughts on the Obama Interview

You know, the one that ran on 60 Minutes last night.

1. The dude’s got seriously wacky ears. I mean, I knew before that they were large and stuck out from his head — you can’t miss that — but during the interview I found myself unaccountably fascinated with them. They just, you know, don’t look normal. And I’m fine with that, since I didn’t vote for him on account of his shapely pinnae. Still wacky, though.

2. One thing I find interesting about Obama is that he seems perfectly happy to say “that’s something I’m not going to talk about” when he’s asked a question about something he doesn’t want to talk about. He did that at his first president-elect press conference (on the subject of his security briefings) and he did it again last night on the subject of cabinet appointments. He doesn’t hem or haw or dance around the fact he’s not talking about something, he just says he’s not talking about it. I wonder how long it’s going to take before the press gets really tired of that; they’re used to presidents not saying anything, just in a really long-winded way that gives them something to quote. Obama’s terseness is not to their advantage.

3. I got a big, goofy grin on my face when Obama mentioned that he used to live near Harold’s Chicken Shack. Since he’s in Hyde Park, I know exactly which Harold’s Chicken Shack he’s talking about because I used to live near it too, although not at the same time Obama did (he started teaching at the U of C the year after I left). It’s a little weird to have a president who lives in one of your old neighborhoods and eats at the same fast-food chicken place you did. Also, for the rest of you: Harold’s is the bomb. If you’re not in Chicago, you really don’t know what you’re missing.

4. As I type this I’m having an IM conversation with a friend of mine who is noting that the Obamas are very much like we are, “we” being the polyglot generation of well-educated, relatively affluent 30- and 40-somethings who are the first post-boomer, post-yuppie set of grownups out there. With the caveat that I’m not silly enough to say that I feel like I know Obama or that we share a special bond (a Chicago bond! w00t!), I think my friend is right, and watching the interview last night I certainly got that vibe as well. It’s why — among other reasons, to be sure — I desperately hope he doesn’t screw things up. When you look at your president and for the first time see someone like you, it makes a difference.

Also, I suspect it means I’m getting old. But never mind that now.

124 thoughts on “Quick Thoughts on the Obama Interview

  1. I hate needless ignorance.

    I used to live downwind of Harold’s. The smell of Harold’s chicken brings back memories of…

    deep fried, crispy, tender goodness drenched in pure vinegary fire;

    my first experience with bullet-proof plexiglass in restaurants; and

    the smell — so evocative, so rich, and so powerful. (We limited Harold consumption in the dorm lounge so that the smell didn’t become permanently embedded in the carpets, furniture and drapes. You could always tell when someone ate Harold’s in the lounge anytime in the prior 36 hours.)

  2. When you look at your president and for the first time see someone like you, it makes a difference.

    And when you look at the guy who is going to be your president very, very soon now, and you think, “He’s a smart guy,” it’s a damned reassuring thing.

  3. By the bomb do you mean the explosion of fat that detonates every vein in your body? Harold’s has so much grease that it soaks through the fried chicken, onto the piece of white bread, saturates the napkin underneath and finally oozes out of the carryout box. Mmmmm, study break.

  4. Chez Waltz, we’re just excited there is no list of failed business ventures on the President-elect’s resume.
    We’re also (oxymoron alert) irrationally superstitious about referring to him as anything but “President-elect” just yet.

  5. I suspect that you’ve just made yourself unelectable in a dozen states. You admit to 1. living in the same neighborhood and 2. going to the same restaurant as a man who has palled around with terrorists.

    You have palled around with someone who palled around with terrorists.

  6. To yet again echo the words of my wife, who was Hillary Clinton all the way, then voted Nader, “Okay Barack, convince me!”

    Rubber meets road, January 20th.

    I would like for the country to do well under Obama.

    Whether it does or not will be the result of many, many things, not always under Obama’s control.

    Two things to watch:

    1) How willing will Obama be to defy the Hard Left as he tackles economic issues?

    2) How willing will Obama’s most loyal followers be to overlook the mistakes all Presidents invariably make?

    3) As Obama matures into his role, towards the end of his first term, how different will his re-election rhetoric be, compared to his first campaign rhetoric?

    If I were Obama, I’d be obssessive with economic issues, because a poor economy in 2012 will kill Obama. No question about it. It might not kill the Democratic majority, but it will kill Obama’s chances for a second term.

  7. My wife and I said the same thing yesterday evening, that the Obamas seemed a lot like “us”. One of the things that struck me about the interview was how “unscripted” both Barack and Michelle’s answers seemed to be compared with most politician’s responses in interviews like these. (Maybe I’m just gullible). I’d also like to second Christopher’s point that it’s nice to have an intellectually interesting President.

  8. I like the “I’m not going to talk about that” response. If memory serves (not mine personally — memory of what I’ve read), Truman got plenty of mileage out of that, and Clinton would have been well served to use it more.

    After all, regardless of what the press thinks of him in terms of the convenience of his sound bites, when it’s all said and done . . . he’ll be the POTUS, and they won’t.

  9. Tim Walker:

    “Clinton would have been well served to use it more.”

    Clinton’s problem is that he liked to hear himself talk. I think Obama’s less self-regarding in that particular direction.

  10. Harold’s!

    Although, really, if you’re in that area of Hyde Park, the smell to beware of (if you care at all about your weight) is the one from Ribs ‘N Bibs.

  11. I agree with all of the above, except for the chicken-related bits since I have never lived in Chicago and am now feeling like that is a very sad thing.

    I started to discuss how I feel about Obama, but it turned into some sort of warm fuzzy fest and really there’s no need to inflict that on y’all. Let me just say it’s so /nice/ to have someone up there that I can relate to, on so many levels.

  12. I totally agree.

    When I listened to his speeches and interviews during the campaign, they reminded me of the conversations I have with my friends about issues. For years, people bandied about this idea that Bush’s success was in seeming like a guy you’d like to have a beer with. But the folks I share beers with are not inarticulate, uneducated-seeming boobs who speak only in platitudes. The folks I like to drink and chat with are shrewd, well-spoken, and capable of giving thoughtful analyses of various situations. For at least eight years, our society made being educated something to be ashamed of–much to our loss. Those godless liberals and their evolution and their global warming and their blasted *facts*.

    We *finally* have someone in office who seems up to the challenges he will face.

  13. My wife still raves about that Harold’s, and we moved out of Hyde Park years ago (ah, the UofC diaspora). There are drugs in that chicken, I swear.

    I lived over by Mellow Yellow, so I don’t have quite the bond with the Shack as some do.

  14. “that’s something I’m not going to talk about”

    I noticed that from the first press conference, too and I wanted to stand up and cheer. It’s an honest answer that can be used in any number of situations ranging from “if I say anything, I’m limiting my options” to “None of your fucking business, thanks for asking”.

    And it beats the crap out of Reagan’s selective deafness.

  15. For his first two years of undergraduate, before he went to Columbia, Obama went to my alma mater, Occidental College.

    It’s a very slender connection, but I’m inordinately proud of it.

  16. I had my first Obama-related dream last night: I dreamt that Michelle Obama and I were co-workers and she was wrapping up stuff at the job so she could prepare to move to Washington.

  17. Scalzi

    the polyglot generation of well-educated, relatively affluent 30- and 40-somethings who are the first post-boomer, post-yuppie set of grownups

    Well, he may be that, but that’s only going to make it particularly difficult for him to give up his blackberry

  18. 1) How willing will Obama be to defy the Hard Left as he tackles economic issues?

    Hopefully, quite willing if they say something stupid, and not willing if they say something smart.

  19. 1) How willing will Obama be to defy the Hard Left as he tackles economic issues?

    Hopefully, quite willing if they say something stupid, and not willing if they say something smart.

  20. It was also rather nice to be reminded of just how poor Obama was when he was courting his wife, and about the crappy apartment he rented for his weeknights in the Senate. I really wonder what will now happen to that place – I could see a lot of people wanting to rent Obama’s former apartment, but not wanting to pay extra for a dump.

  21. Also, I suspect it means I’m getting old. But never mind that now.

    For the first time in my life, I am older than my President (elect).

    And the ground shifted ever so slightly beneath my feet.

    Kris

  22. Mmmm … Howards. (I lived in Chicago for 13 years.) Of course what I miss more is Carson’s Ribs. The location that was in my old Edgewater neighborhood seems to hvae closed down, unfortunately. (I’m in Wisconsin now, but I still visit friends there once in a while.)

  23. I guess I’m an outlier, everything fits except the 30-40 age group. I’m 50 but I DON’T like being considered a boomer.

    My wife is more conservative than I but after listening to his acceptance speech in the park, she turned to me and said “He knows how we look at things doesn’t he” and I said “he’s a very smart and capable guy, for sure” and she answered, “Yes he is, but I didn’t get the pretentious snob reflex that I had been expecting. I guess the elitest label was crap. I think he’s going to do fine” This from a women who:
    1. votes generally Conservative and
    2. never says “crap” out loud

    Needless to say the unspoken tension about votes canceling and all that went away that night. She’s feeling pretty upbeat

  24. I actually used to date a combo meal from Harold’s for about 6 months until it became too serious. The combo meal got over me well before I got over it. (The sauce and grease soaked white bread at the bottom of its lovely Styrofoam container still has me waking up in the middle of the night calling out for it.)

    The trick is to get BOTH sauces on your chicken. Mmmm.

  25. I was most impressed with the “not gonna talk about it” response. I’m so sick of candidates who don’t answer the question asked *cough cough, Palin* and instead use every question to further their own agenda.

  26. OMFSM. You lived near the 53rd street Harold’s???

    I was at the U of C for a year (I dropped out/transferred, since it’s where fun goes to die). I ate at Harold’s about 40 times while I was there. Ah, memories: the hot sauce, the uncomfortable shortcut through the park wondering if you were going to get mugged, the bullet-proof glass, the fry cook with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, ash falling into the grease, the indescribable ecstasy of a quarter sandwich dark with fries.

    I knew Obama was cool. Now I know why.

  27. As a member of the press, I honestly prefer it when a public official says, “I’m not going to discuss it.” Because that’s not what they usually do. They waste my time and ink with endless back-and-fill, they dodge and obfuscate and they think I’m such an idiot that I’m not going to notice he didn’t answer my fugging question and it’s an insult to my intelligence and professionalism.

    And then, when he’s done with the whole tapdance, I get to ask the question again. And again. And again. Because I’ve been doing this for eleven years and I know when I’m being tapdanced. And he gets annoyed with me, and I’m annoyed with him, and I wish to God he’d just say, “I’m not going to answer that,” and even better would be to say WHY he can’t answer it, but I’ll settle for a complete sentence.

    Sometimes there are questions we ask that we know damn well they can’t answer, but we have to ask it anyway because that’s the job (i.e. security briefings), and we have to be able to tell the public, “He wouldn’t tell us because he’s not a fugging idiot and he can’t give us the exact location of the undercover team because DUH and we wouldn’t print it anyway because DUH but we have to ask anyway just so I can write this sentence.” The pros know this, but they tapdance anyway, which is just a colossal waste of time.

    I can’t speak for the hairdos on TV, because their priorities are not mine. But I can definitely say a REAL reporter is much happier with a source who answers questions in complete sentences, even if that sentence is simply stating he’s not going to answer. That, I can respect. The tapdance, it is OLD.

    ekd

  28. 1) How willing will Obama be to defy the Hard Left as he tackles economic issues?

    I’m noticing everyone is sort of taking this as a Zen-Koan like question, i.e. a question with no right answer. I would have to agree with that approach. My specific answer to this question would be:

    grilled-cheese sandwich

    Ahhh…. Satori served up deep-fried, steaming hot, with a side of fries.

    Nice.

  29. I liked the evident thought about and concern for the long term implications of what the kids experience of the WH could produce. This bodes well as it shows evidence of an habitual attempt at wisdom rather than just answers.

  30. I was more surprised at how tired and grey he looks. The campaign really took a toll on him. He looks like he aged a good decade in a single year. Wonder what he’ll look like in 8 years.

    I *like* that Obama told Steve Kroft that he wasn’t going to get anything out of him that he wasn’t prepared to discuss. Much better than listening to Palin go on like a retarded bobble head. Kroft, however, seemed less than pleased.

  31. “Hard Left”?

    Excuse me whilst I bust a gut (I believe that’s the idiom) over that question.

    Over the other side of the pond, the Obameister is regarded as middle of the road swinging to the right (btw, I’m a Tory). Sometimes, on this forum, I am sure posters ask questions, and have no intention of using any answers to inform their viewpoint (imho).

    Sub-Odeon, you so funny……

  32. I noticed that he picked up a lot more gray hairs. Seriously, looking at the 60 minutes screen shot, it almost looks like he has salt and pepper hair now. I know the presidency ages you, but he hasn’t even taken office yet. I honestly think those are “holy crap!” gray hairs. As in “Holy crap, I won, and look at this friggin’ mess I have to clean up!”

  33. The ears just prove that he’s related to Prince Charles of Great Britain, that’s all. If one is capable of leadership, so is the other. (I suppose that cuts both ways…)

  34. I know the presidency ages you, but he hasn’t even taken office yet.

    Presidential campaigns are if anything *more* exhausting and aging than being president, it’s just that they don’t last as long.

    It’s one of the reasons I was less worried about McCain than many. Yes, in one sense he was the most likely of the primary candidates to be able to reach independents, but he was *old*, and there are few things more unforgiving of that than a presidential campaign and its audience. Ask Bob Dole.

  35. When I first started going to conferences as an academic, my mentor gave me great advice. She said, “practice saying I don’t know.” Because you can’t know everything, but you can find things out (the follow up the the I don’t know is “I’ll look into it”). I like when Obama is forthright about what he won’t talk about (as opposed to Palin’s not talking about anything in her debate, but that’s another subject). He seems purposeful about it, if that makes sense.

  36. Well-written article. Connected to this is the fact that many influential experts have been saying recently that Obama is part of Generation Jones, born ‘54-‘65, between the Boomers and Generation X. If Obama’s generational identity is of interest to you, you should definitely click this link…it goes to a page filled with lots of articles and videos of famous people discussing Obama’s identity as a GenJoneser, and the importance of this to his Presidency: http://www.generationjones.com/2008election.html

  37. I for one welcome this sixteen-year all-time-low of “Good Ol’ Boyness” of the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania. Yay for scholarly calm.

    (Says he who has but trace amounts of cool that he blows at the drop of a hat. Any hat).

  38. I am very conscious of the fact that there’s never going to be another first couple that I “get” as well as I get this one. Barack and I even shared a job title. As a friend said to me recently, it is almost as unlikely that America would vote to make a Hyde Park intellectual president as it would be for it to vote for an African American. Maybe more unlikely. Or maybe the secret was being both at the same time.

  39. Agreed re Clinton’s high regard for the sound of his own voice.

    My grand hope is that Obama keeps carrying himself with the composure & discipline that he’s shown so far. That + policy acumen *might* put him in a class with Eisenhower — who was, IMO, the most *skilled* president we’ve had since WW2.

  40. “I was more surprised at how tired and grey he looks.”

    I had the same reaction, can you imagine what he and McCain have been through in the last 90 days? Only with McCain, you can’t look older than dirt, so he is OK.

    Remember how the office aged Carter?

    Good luck and God bless to our new President. I hope he does as well as most of you believe that he will. Here is raising a glass to success.

    Trey

  41. I also wonder if part of his demeanor comes from knowing much more now than he did two weeks ago concerning security briefings.

    Trey

  42. I voted for Obama because he represents me.

    And I seriously hope they’re not going to take away his Blackberry. I mean, come on! Why do we need to cripple him? Don’t we want him to be efficient and effective?

  43. Like others here, I like the forthrightness of his flat refusal to either answer questions he doesn’t want to talk about, or to pretend to answer them. Refreshing.

    As someone else said, being older than the POTUS is going to be a first for me. I expect to suddenly start shouting “you kids get offa my lawn” the minute he takes the oath of office.

    waltzinexile 7: We’re also (oxymoron alert) irrationally superstitious

    Isn’t that a redundancy, more than an oxymoron? ‘Rationally superstitious’ would be oxymoronic.

    As opposed to just moronic, like Dubya.

    This correction brought to you by PedanTech, a company that Knows What’s Right and Insists On Telling You.

  44. Jennifer @ 43

    Thanks, as I said earlier, I hate being associated with the boomers. Now I’m not, I’m a Joneser, born in “58

    Yaaaaaa me.

    P.S. does gen jones have anything to do with keeping up with the Joneses? 8D

  45. I was born in 1960, and never felt like a boomer either. I used to call us Gen W, since it came before X and reminded me of Who? What? It’s nice to see that others felt the same. I’m only slightly older than the next president, so I won’t start yelling “Get off my lawn” until later in his term.

  46. I think the problem with the ears is not that they stick out, but that they are different sizes. His left ear is noticably smaller than his right.

    I voted for him because I thought he was intelligent enough to do the job. I found myself interested to see what he would do, whereas most politicians just leave me afraid of what they’ll do.

    He’s the first president that I’d be glad to have a beer with, but that’s not a qualification for office. I’d be happy to have a beer with some pretty wildly unqualified people, and there are many able and effective politicians that I’d not find congenial companions.

  47. I didn’t think the ears were all that bad. I’m wondering if your widescreen TV is set so as to stretch them out?

  48. I don’t think the ears are THAT huge, dance. Obama is tall, but even he couldn’t stretch his ears from one corner of a tv to…

    What? Oh.

    Never mind.

  49. Also, for the rest of you: Harold’s is the bomb.

    It depends on which Harold’s you eat in. Some of them aren’t quite the bomb. The ones that do things right….

  50. Since he doesn’t have a typical politician comb over or anchorman wig, and I am so very glad of that, his ears stand out a little more.

  51. Hugh @ #38,

    I didn’t say Obama himself is Hard Left, I said I wondered how willing he’d be to ignore the Hard Left on economics? Two different things.

    Everyone @ everywhere,

    The “politics grew him older” phenomenon is interesting, isn’t it? I remember how bushed (no pun) Clinton looked, when he was done. So much to think and worry about, before and after winning office. So much pressure. And so few people who can talk candidly with, for fear of press leaks, etc.

    One imagines Michelle will be Obama’s top counselor, going forward. At least if their marriage, as represented on the tube, is accurate.

  52. I’m noticing everyone is sort of taking this as a Zen-Koan like question, i.e. a question with no right answer. I would have to agree with that approach. My specific answer to this question would be:

    grilled-cheese sandwich

    Shouldn’t that be BACON Lettuce Tomato sandwich?

  53. Is no one willing to admit to really being jazzed when Clinton won?

    OK, I was! I started voting as soon as I turned 18 in 1975. I voted in every general election, and Clinton was the first president I ever voted for who won. Twice even! I felt like we were part of the same generation. Yeah, he disappointed me at times. Yeah, he went on at times. Still…I can’t hate Bill even though he disappointed me.

    I’m really fond of Obama. Like some of the rest of you, he’s the first president who’s younger than I am. I thought he looked older at his first press conference, and had relaxed a little by the time 60 Minutes got to him.

    I think some of his responses may be a little canned, but he’s sharp enough that he sounds like he thought about his answer rather than just reciting sound bites.

  54. George W. Bush says “I’m not going to discuss that” all the time. In fact, he’s been pissing off the press corp for years by flatly refusing to answer questions. Great to know it’s cool when Obama does it. I wonder how long that will last.

  55. Mmmmm, Harold’s! It’s been a really long time since I lived in Hyde Park, but I remember it as the best fried chicken ever. Graduated in ’82 and worked on campus for a few years after. My roommate and I had a routine, I didn’t have a car and we lived on Ellis, so we’d go to the Coop for groceries once a week, load up on groceries and then pick up Harold’s.
    I’m glad to hear that I’m not a baby boomer, either, though it is disconcerting to be (only slightly) older than the president.

  56. Sub-Odeon@63

    From the perspective of anyone who did not grow up in the United States, the issue is not will he ignore the “Hard Left” on economic policies, but can he even find them. By most standards even the left wing of the Democratic Party is right of center.

    No one is going to put forth any truly left-wing policies for him to accept or ignore.

    I did like the refusal to talk about subjects: candor is refreshing.

  57. Xopher @51
    Pi Star Ampersand. That was an egregious mistake on my part and I welcome the correction.

    Do I have to give my Pedant badge back…? I earned it fair and square before I was asked to resign from the GSA.

  58. Sub-Odeon – who IS the “hard left” you’re talking about? Some straw-men you’re creating, or real people?

  59. I wish we had decent fired chicken here in south australia :<

    All we have is kfc and fried chicken from country town roadhouses, which really is just nasty stuff.

  60. Just to make all of you old Maroons totally jealous, I was down in Hyde Park today and got a reuben at Morry’s (hold the egg and onion).

    NOM NOM NOM.

    Although on the whole, I was always more of a Salonica girl myself.

  61. Somewhere in my blog is a sentence something like, “A politician carrying a fucking pumpkin at the end of October. Holy shit, there’s someone representing the real America in this race.”

    I mean, it’s not just that, but the fact that the Pres-elect is a big nerd, a writer, and in so many critical ways just like me (aside from being male, black, Christian, in a traditional family, and all the normal identity politics stuff) is a really big deal to me.

    I mean, I heard that the big thing he did the day after the election? Parent-teacher conferences. He’d asked them to postpone until after the election so he could attend.

    REAL PEOPLE PRIORITIES. Holy shit.

  62. waltzinexile 70: Do I have to give my Pedant badge back…? I earned it fair and square before I was asked to resign from the GSA.

    I think we can let you keep it…provisionally. And why would a Gay-Straight Alliance ask you to resign? Or was it the Girl Scouts of America? I don’t imagine it was the General Services Administration.

  63. I’m going to need to see a list of provisions before I accept this, so consider this conditional acceptance of the terms. And it was the Girl Scouts. But thanks for reminding me I should go ahead and join/donate to the Gay-Straight Alliance. Re: the other, I have to wait until I finish my MPA to get accepted and then I can get forced out.

  64. the Obamas are very much like we are, “we” being the polyglot generation of well-educated, relatively affluent 30- and 40-somethings who are the first post-boomer, post-yuppie set of grownups out there.

    I feel that way too; it’s probably a large part of the reason that Obama is the only politician whose speeches I’ve ever actively sought to listen to, instead of running away to the transcript in embarrassment.

    And then I remind myself that this is really in no way different from people saying they liked George W. Bush because he was the guy they wanted to have a beer with. We see ourselves reflected in these people, even if their trajectories in life were really nothing like ours. A large component of my own voting behavior is probably purely tribal, no matter how hard I try to judge people on merit, and it bothers me.

  65. Is no one willing to admit to really being jazzed when Clinton won?

    I decided early on in the primary process that I didn’t like Bill Clinton at all, and by November I was still jazzed when he won. Of course, I’m already wondering how analogous that is to the present moment, and whether the Republicans will come roaring back in the rage-filled 2010 midterms in preparation for total dominance of the government in 2016 or 2018.

  66. Maureen @73:
    I was far more a Salonica guy than Morry’s, even when I lived at the Shoreland or 5200 S. Stony Island. Harold’s was great, although I think the original storefront on the corner of 53rd and Kenwood(?) was better than the one in Kimbark Plaza. Or at least that’s what I was saying after the move and my 5 year absence from Hyde Park. But maybe I was just being nostalgic or needed to assert some sort of superiority over the 1st and 2nd Years I was rooming with.

  67. Chicken was good, but what, no mention of The Pub in the Union? Wings and beer, and trivia night….ah, that was some good times.

  68. Like Carrie V @ 20, I feel slightly connected with Obama because we went to the same college (yeah, Occidental). I left the year before he did, but we overlapped a little. It’s weird to think that someone with whom I went to college is presidential material. That’s almost stranger than the age thing, although that is there, too.

    My kids (16 through 26) have embraced Obama as THEIR candidate; I have to keep pointing out that he’s actually from MY generation.

    Aside from that, I am reassured by his intelligence and strength of character. Not to mention his oratorical skill — I teach public speaking, and it’s going to be wonderful to have a positive example in the White House again!

  69. Xopher @51 et ali., on being older than the PelectOTUS:
    Guess you must be living right. Make sure your insurance is paid up. :-)

    CJ @56: Is Maryland still for Beægles?
    ____

    “It is a sobering thought, for example, than when Mozart was my age he had been dead for two years.”
    – Tom Lehrer

  70. subo@63: I didn’t say Obama himself is Hard Left, I said I wondered how willing he’d be to ignore the Hard Left on economics? Two different things.

    Sorry subo. The problem isn’t that people misunderstood your question. Everyone understood your question. They just understood how loaded it was and refused to dignify it with an answer. Instead, they attacked the loading.

    Your question is packed with a right-wing propaganda that there is some kind of economic “Hard Left” in the US that needs to be worried about. But it is nothing but a boogeyman. And you’re not asking the question to get an answer. You’re asking it because loaded questions act as camoflage for the “loaded” part. And you want to get the loaded part out into the conversation.

    And so far, every response you’ve gotten here has called you on how your question is loaded.

    David@22 said he hoped Obama wouldn’t defy the Hard Left. (i.e. what you are trying to invoke as a Hard Left “boogeyman”, he is not afraid of)

    gwangun@24 said he hoped Obama would defy something stupid and not defy if they say something smart. making your “hard left” label irrelevant.

    hugh@38 laughed at your question, and mentioned people asking questions who aren’t lookign for answers.

    Dave@69 doubts the existence of your Hard Left boogeyman.

    Josh@71 points out the nonexistent boogeyman as well.

    And when people call you on this, you ignore the fact that they point out the loaded part fo your question, and instead act as if they simply misunderstood you, that they didn’t understand that you weren’t calling Obama a Hard Left guy.

    No, we understood. It’s just that nobody here is buying into your propaganda loaded within your question. There is no “Hard Left” boogeyman that has us quaking in our beds at night. That particular monster doesn’t exist.

    That particular monster, however, does exist in the propaganda machine that is the right wing as a way to invoke invoke fear. ZOMG! OBAMA IS A SOCIALIST! BE AFRAID!

    It’s not too unsimilar from the way people might demonize their enemies during war.Like the way American neocons told us that when Iraq invaded Kuwait in Gulf 1, Iraqi soldiers went into hospitals, took babies out of incubators, left them to die, and shipped the incubators back to Iraq. Or that certain relatives of Saddaam put political enemies through an industrial shredder. These were stories that were repeated by members of US Congress before votes for Gulf 1 and Gulf 2/Iraq Invasion. And these stories were all completely fabricated.

    The incubator story was started by a young woman from Kuwait who testified before congress sayign she was a nurse who saw whole incubator thing happen before her eyes. Turned out she was a relative of the Kuwaiti royal family.

    So, you’re question is little different than if you had asked:

    “how willing will Iraqi soldiers, currently being trained by US soldiers, be to resist the temptation to throw babies out of incubators once US pulls out of Iraq?”

    And everyone tells you, Iraqi soldiers never threw babies out of incubators.

    To which you reply: “No, I didn’t say US soldiers threw babies out of incubators, I said Iraqi soldiers”.

    Yeah. We got it. It’s still bullshit. That boogeyman doesnt’ exist.

  71. Greg == wind(loc:beneath my wings)

    To be fair, Greg, SubO may not be aware that the “Hard Left” is an invented right-wing hobgoblin. He may have bought into it himself.

    Sub-Odeon, Greg is right: there is no “Hard Left” in this country. Our furthest-left national politician (that would be Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders) would be considered a moderate in much of Europe. To the extent there are leftist extremists in America (and I’m not sure there are any…um, left), they have no power and Obama will cheerfully ignore them.

    Obama’s real challenge will be keeping the right from mischaracterizing him as “left” just because he’s left of THEM; that means preventing them from selling the idea that they’re the center.

    For some perspective: you’re considerably left of your neighbors, from your reports, and yet you’re far to the right of most commenters here. I don’t actually remember whether you live in Utah at this point, but Utah overall is far, far to the right of center even for American politics, yet I’m sure they think of themselves as mainstream moderates.

  72. When I think of the Hard Left, in regards to U.S. economics, I think of the people I’ve met in the academic and public radio world, who truly believe that we have to scuttle capitalism in favor of a statist, centrally-controlled economy, complete with abolition of inheritence, artificially capped (or inflated) salaries, super-stiff progressive taxation, and whole-piece nationalization of various industries, namely healthcare.

    Perhaps these are the “moderates” in comparison to traditional Euro Socialists, but on the U.S. field they are the Hard Left. That they have relatively little actual political power is not what concerns me. That Obama styles himself as a “changer” who is going to “change America” has me concerned. At least if he’s listening to people who have come up through Hard Left silos of economic thought.

    Greg says these people do not exist, or at least they do not exist as any kind of coherent entity. I have to disagree, if only because I have met enough of them — and enough of them are active voters — that I don’t think it’s foolish to wonder whether or not Obama will defy these kinds of people; especially when some of his campaign rhetoric seemed explicitly designed to please them.

    One thing I will say, about the “mainstream” of American political thought: wherever you happen to live, and however your friends and neighbors happen to think, is the “mainstream” in your perception.

    Up in Seattle, the “mainstream” is far, far to the left of the mainstream as perceived by the denizens of Utah. Down here in Utah, the “mainstream” is far, far to the right of the mainstream as perceived by the denizens of Seattle. That both Seattleites and Utahns insist on “claiming” the mainstream — and characterizing the other as the Outsider or the Fringe — tells me that both Leftists and Rightists have a lot of emotional investment in seeing themselves as “normal” such that the other guy is always the “abnormal” in the equation.

    When Reagan was sweeping in 1984 it was common for Rightists to claim that “normal people” were speaking and that “the normal man” had won something substantial, versus the “abnormal.”

    I’ve seen and read a lot of similar rhetoric about Obama: that his victory is a victory for “common people” and that somehow “normal Americans” were the force that drove Obama to victory, thus the “abnormal” were all the McCain voters and everyone else who didn’t jump on the Obama bandwagon.

    My suspicion is that there is no real “center” per se, just a graduated spectrum from Left to Right, with some narrow tipping point directly in the middle at which a person’s aggregate political persuasion tilts either one way or the other.

    Yet, both liberals and conservatives (I have lived with, lived around, and worked with both) are very much attached to the idea that they — and they alone — represent the true “heart” of the country, and that any time our elected leadership does not reflect this perceived “heart” then it’s a clear sign that something “abnormal” is going on, and that spells trouble for all the “normal” people in the country.

  73. Important caveat: I personally don’t pretend to be “liberal” anymore. Maybe there was a time in my early 20’s when I might have called myself a liberal, of the very moderate variety. But not now.

    All I will say is that I’ve spent half my life living in a very conservative place, surrounded by very conservative people, and the other half in a very liberal place, surrounded by very liberal people. And neither of these places has felt particularly “comfortable” for me, as if to say, “I feel totally at home here!!”

    When I lived in Seattle, it brought out my conservativism a lot because I found myself so often opposed to the conventional wisdom of many of my friends, co-workers, fellow students, other radio people, etc.

    Now that I live in Utah again, it brings out a lot of my liberalism because I am always rolling my eyes at a lot of the conventional wisdom that passes in these parts, too.

    Perhaps this just means I am a hapless contrarian?

  74. While subo is telling ghost stories around the campfire, replete with “wooohoooooohoohooohoo” sound effects, someone really ought to break out the marshmallows.

    (hands marshmallows to Xopher)

    subo, I might have bought into your attempt at justification at #88, if but for one little problem:

    You didn’t tell ghost stories about the Hard Right too.

    You try to play the “unbiased speaker” by chastizing both left and right for trying to claim they are the “heart” of the country. But your ghost stories only talk about the Hard Left boogeyman. You’re slip is showing.

    You’re terrorized by the opinions of people you’ve met in the academic and public radio world, but the John “Just call me Galt” McCain, with years as a Senator showing a long history of deregulation, who was actually running for president didn’t bother you at all?

    both liberals and conservatives (I have lived with, lived around, and worked with both) are very much attached to the idea that they — and they alone — represent the true “heart” of the country

    both left and right want to claim they’re the center, but you rise above that, correct?

    Seriously, dude. You have to drop the “I’m the unbiased middle here.” shtick. It’s silly. Even if you’re not a right-wing religious nutjob, that doesn’t mean you’re not solidly in the far-right-wing territory.

    when you say they are “very much attached to the idea that they — and they alone — represent the true “heart” of the country”, you might want to check the mirror on that one.

  75. Greg, over the last week you’ve stuffed enough words into my mouth to fill a pocket dictionary.

    Go read #89 and get off my back.

  76. Perhaps this just means I am a hapless contrarian?

    My guess is that you’re not quite as religious as the extremely religious zealots you’re living around now.

    Which makes you just to the left of religious leaders like Pat Robertson who want to put their religion into everyone’s politics. But not by much because you defend your religious zealot neighbors as having the right to put their religion in everyone else’s politics. As long as they follow the process.

    But being just to the left of Pat Robertson means you’re still far, far, far to the right of center.

    Here’s a real, objective test for you:

    http://www.politicalcompass.org/test

    Take the test and report your score. here is my predictions:

    gur L nkvf vf vf fbpvny fpnyr. K nkvf vf rpbabzvp fpnyr. fnl gur rkgerzr cbvagf ner “1” naq gur bevtva vf “0”.

    Zl thrff vf gung lbhe rpbabzvp fpnyr jvyy or nebhaq cbvag fvk naq lbhe fbpvny fpnyr jvyy or nebhaq cbvag sbhe.

    v gbbx gur grfg naq ynaqrq ba Tnaquv.

  77. I don’t speak ROT 13 or “disemvowelese” or whatever cute code you’re using. But I will take the test at the link. Those are always interesting….

  78. OK, I took Greg’s test.

    Interesting questions, the phrasing of which was not always to my liking.

    My scores:

    Sub’s political compass
    Economic Left/Right: 1.00
    Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -1.49

    My red dot was just off the intersection of the x and y axis, in the purple box.

    Make if it what you will.

  79. “…the Obamas are very much like we are, “we” being the polyglot generation of well-educated, relatively affluent 30- and 40-somethings who are the first post-boomer, post-yuppie set of grownups out there.”

    I feel a very strong identification with the Obamas on this basis as well (i’m 43). I assume, though, that the feeling is not new. The Greatest Generation must have strongly identified with, and taken a certain pride in, Kennedy, baby boomers with Clinton, the Civil War generation with Grant (or perhaps Garfield). Nothing is new under the sun – it’s just new for us!

  80. around abouts here, I take it?

    I predicted you’d land about here

    Well, I guess you really are just a hapless contrarian. Cause what you keep saying on this blog sure doesn’t line up with that coordinate you say you landed on.

    As for the “cute code” I’m using, it’s called ROT13, and you can get a decoder ring here if you want to unscramble the last half of my post.

  81. just off the intersection of the x and y axis, in the purple box

    around abouts here, I take it?

    I predicted you’d land about here

    Well, I guess you really are just a hapless contrarian. Cause what you keep saying on this blog sure doesn’t line up with that coordinate you say you landed on.

  82. As for the “cute code” I’m using, it’s called ROT13, and you can get a decoder ring here if you want to unscramble the last half of my post.

  83. Ahhh, ROT 13. Back when I had a Fortress-PC BBS running in the basement, we used to play with that.

    Greg, yes. The first link is where I landed.

    I would argue that the thoughts I post here a) cover a very small slice of my overall worldview and b) skew to the right, if only because Scalzi’s blog tends to tilt left, and half the fun of posting to blogs (in my warped opinion) is stating an honestly-held contrary view that runs contra to the zeitgeist of the thread.

    My wife says I’m like the guy on the old Schoolhouse Rock cartoon, on interjections, where the crowd is grousing about how their team just blew the game, and the nerdy guy stands up and says, “Hooray, I’m for the other team!”

    I think this is correct.

    =^)

  84. Sub-O

    When I think of the Hard Left, in regards to U.S. economics, I think of the people I’ve met in the academic and public radio world, who truly believe that we have to scuttle capitalism in favor of a statist, centrally-controlled economy, complete with abolition of inheritence, artificially capped (or inflated) salaries, super-stiff progressive taxation, and whole-piece nationalization of various industries, namely healthcare.

    Ah, yeah. Those people will have unfettered access to Obama, right? So surely you can actually name some names of people who’s pernicious influence he’ll have to fend of.

  85. Sub-O:

    Yes, Obama lives in a poncy University neighborhood filled with idealists and absent-minded professors.

    BUT: It’s also a neighborhood which brought the world the Chicago School of neoliberal economics (Friedman et al) and the law-and-economics school (Posner and friends). Cass Sunstein, who’s likely to get nominated to the Supremes, prefers “nudging” people into beneficial things like buying health insurance instead of mandating it.

    I’m sure the Hard Left exists somewhere. I’m just not sure it exists much in Hyde Park.

  86. FYI, this is the “Hard Left”. Also, this Please note – they don’t influence actual economic policy in the US.

    Here’s what the World Socialist Web Site has to say about Obama : The generally favorable media attitude toward Obama reflects the fact that decisive sections of the American ruling elite have swung behind his candidacy. This is not because they share popular illusions in Obama, but because they regard these illusions as a valuable political asset in a period of deep crisis for American capitalism. They have come to believe, accepting the candidate’s own assurances, that Obama will be a thoroughly reliable and conservative defender of the interests of the financial aristocracy, both at home and abroad.

    You think these people will have any influence over him? Please. They don’t see him as substantially different than George W Bush. To actual hard leftists, Democrats are even more loathsome than Republicans. Actual hard leftists are people to the left of Ralph Nader, who I can assure you will have no influence over Obama’s economic policy.

    Who will? People like Warren Buffet. People like Michael Froman. You know. People with experience. Not leftists. There aren’t any real leftists in the Democratic Party outside of Dennis Kucinich.

    It’s time to put the myth of a far left influence in the Democratic Party to bed. It’s not true. It’s a scare story created by conservative jerkwads like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. It’s the same stupid thing they did to feminism – they created a straw-feminist to scare people with, while ignoring the real issues of feminism.

    Conservatives create a straw-liberal of communism while ignoring actual economic issues.

  87. subo@91: you’ve stuffed enough words into my mouth to fill a pocket dictionary.

    No, I haven’t. I’ve mostly quoted you, paraphrased you, and so on. And then usually what follows is an explanation along the lines of “if you say this and this, then you must also say this”.

    Ah. Ah. Ah. Wait a second.

    Actually, that might explain some things. You seem to have an interesting relationship to language and logic. You make round-about statements that leaders of GBLT organizations are issuing fatwas against LDS people. When I ask you a direct question about it, you ignored it. When finally pushed on that statement, the entire evidence you supported was nothing more than a guilt-by-association thing that some people at marches vandalized LDS property, therefore that condemns the entire organization and its leaders. When I point out guilt-by-assocation is a logical fallacy, you generally ignored that as any sort of issue and held onto your notion that GBLT leaders issued fatwas.

    And then there was the time I said you worshipped the process. To which you replied rather angrily that I was goddamn right you worship the process because the only other option is world of people cudgeling each other. So then I pointed out a worship of the process over whatever result it produced leads directly to the notion of “I was just following orders” as a valid defense for the most heinous crimes. If the process comes to the conclusion of putting people in internment camps, so be it. And again, you ignored that issue as well.

    And then you just said that I was putting words in your mouth, enough to fill a pocket dictionary. But the thing is, I’m not. I’m taking whatever you’re saying, applying logic to them, and extending them to whatever conclusion they produce.

    You didn’t say “I was just following orders”, but if you worship the process to the point that you defend taking rights away from people because that’s the result of the process, well, then you are advocating a thing that is called “legalism”.

    The thing about legalism is that if one worships the process to the point of subverting morality or ethics or even logic, then the process embodied in the law becomes arbitrary. It becomes bureaucratic. Rather than the law operating as specific implementations of basic principles, if the primary principle that “law” serves is the “law” itself, then you get tautologies, circular logic, self-fullfilling prophecies. Taken to an extreme, law for law’s sake becomes random and parts of the law can even conflict with other parts, and legalists will defend it on the grounds that that is the law that the process of law produced.

    The legalist doesn’t look for deeper principles like “all humans are equal” or such and decide whether the law implements that principle. Law is justified for it’s own sake.

    A legalist ends up operating on rote memorization. This is legal. That is illegal. and they could be identical actions separated by the smallest, irrelevant detail.

    So, I haven’t put words in your mouth. I’ve taken what you said and quoted it back to you. I’ve taken what you said and extended it logically to its conclusion, and asked if that’s what you believe in. And every time I have done that, your first reponse is to ignore it. And I’m starting to get the distinct impression that it’s because on some level, you’re a legalist of sorts. When I extend your “worship” of the process to it’s logical conclusion of “I was just following orders” becomes a valid defense for any legal orders, you probably think “I didn’t say that, he’s putting words in my mouth” rather than seeing that one is a logical extension of the other.

    A legalist can think “I worship the system, without it we will all cudgel one another” while simultaneously thinking “I was just following orders isn’t a valid defense for following lawful orders”. Because the legalist holds that the process doesn’t generally produce immoral laws. They argue that maybe the process produced bad laws in the past, like slavery for example, but we now know that slavery is bad, so we rote memorize “slavery is bad” and ammend the process so that it doesn’t approve slavery.

    And this produces the “whack a mole” experience for people who are talking with a legalist, because it becomes a matter of rote memorizations rather than being based on fundamental principles or logic. THe process legalized slavery, so the logical conclusion of worshiping the process is that slavery would be OK tomorrow if that’s what the process produced. But the legalist somehow holds in his mind a moral ammendment of sorts, a legal declaration that slavery is bad and holds that in the same space as his worship of the process.

    Worship the process. Slavery is illegal.

    Logically it makes absolutely no sense, because the legality of slavery is a function of process. therefore this “slavery is illegal” thing is not principly connected to “worship the process”. logically, these two points directly conflict with one another.

    To a legalist, though, who operates from rote memorization of rules, it is perfectly fine. Even if the rules are arbitrary, they see them having a fundamental connection as all being part of the process of rules, and the process is good.

    And if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years that I’ve interacted with legalists, it’s that there is almost no progress to be made talkign with them from a logical or principled point of view. Whatever rules they happen to hold as valid, they hold as valid. Their logic is circular and therefore immune to logic.

    I”m not entirely sure your some form of a legalist, but it would explain quite a bit. You’ve ignored every question I put to you that extends somethning you said to its logical conclusion. (because a legalist is bound by rote memorization of rules, not a consistent logical system) In my experience, you change the point from which you argue almost randomly. (which a legalist would do when one rule like “worship the process” needs to be overridden by another rule like “slavery, though legal at one time, is wrong”.) And just recently, you complained about me putting all these words in yoru mouth. I haven’t put any words in yoru mouth. I’ve quoted you several times and then said something like “If you believe (this) then logically you would have to support (that). Do you support (that)?” And others have pointed out the seemingly random “whack-a-mole” thing going on where you seem to come from completely different, and sometimes conflicting, principles and act as if it’s all interconnected somehow. A legalist would feel they’re all interconnected as part of his memorized list of rules.

    It would also probably explain why your political compass test result put you as more socially liberal than John Edwards, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hilllary Clinton, but yet the specific positions you’ve stated here around gay rights and around your “Hard Left” right wing voodoo would place you somewhere much closer to John McCain or Mitt Romney. Because a legalist can have arbitrary rules for different topics such that some topics would put them on the far left, and other topics would cast them as far right. Because a legalist is driven by the primary principle of “worship the process” above any other principle like “all men are created equal”, therefore where they land on the political compass depends very much on the exact wording of the questions.

    Hm, and you complained about the wording of a number of questions too, if I remember.

    Anyway, this post isn’t really to declare you a legalist or convince you to give up your legalist ways if you were one. It’s more me trying to wrap my head around what I’ve been experiencing as this whack-a-mole thing with you and others I’ve run into in the past and try and make some sense of it. Either this will sound like gibberish to you, or maybe you’ll recognize some of yourself in some of what I’ve said here. I don’t know. If you get something of value out of this, great. BUt I think I’ve gotten a better understanding of a certain class of person, whether you specifically land in that class or not.

  88. Greg, that’s a huge glass of water to drink in one gulp.

    Gimme some time to read and re-read, and I will post a thoughtful reply.

  89. Greg,

    I’d say you’ve paraphrased me like it’s going out of style.

    But I don’t want to spend paragraphs arguing about how you argue about how I argue. I’ve been married long enough to see that kind of merry-go-round when it’s happening, and I don’t want any, thanks. If you think I suck at arguing or that I don’t make sense… Oh well.

    Your extensive notes on Legalism (new term to me) were interesting.

    One of the reasons I am so very much a defender of our system — flawed as it may be — is that morals and ethics are a moving target.

    Examples:

    1) According to the morals and ethics of the Right, our current system sucks because it permits abortion, something the Right considers highly immoral.

    2) According to the morals and ethics of the Left, our current system sucks because it permits voters to deny gays marriage as currently doled out to heterosexuals, and the Left considers denial of personal rights for gays to be immoral.

    If we assume that the system is “broken” or otherwise irrelevant every time it returns a result not to our liking, then what’s to stop us from just ignoring the system and using our personal sense of Higher Moral Authority to do whatever we want, in spite of the law?

    Regarding abortion, I know people who would scream bloody murder if everyone who is morally opposed to abortion, took action and destroyed abortion clinics or otherwise denied women access to them. Yet this seems to be the “logical end point” of the anti-Legalist stance; that when a person of conscience finds his or her ethics in conflict with the law — or the process by which we make law — then the process and the law are both wrong and therefore ought to be ignored or otherwise circumvented; because they have returned a result someone finds to be immoral, amoral, or otherwise wrong.

    Once we open this Pandora’s Box, I am not sure where it stops. Other than one side cudgeling the other into oblivion. Because once both sides in a given legal dispute decide the law is no longer required — that they’re going to take matters into their own hands, because their Higher Moral Authority demands it — it’s back to the bad old days of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and one side trying to silence the other through force of will.

    It is true that the U.S. system has permitted evil. But then, the U.S. system has also been an enforcer of a great deal of good. It’s all hinged on how the U.S. people have used their system. Once, our system permitted slavery. And escaped slaves were returned to slave states under the law, in spite of the outcries of the abolitionists. Eventually the system was ammended to ban slavery, and later, was instrumental in legally barring discrimination which lingered for a hundred years in the wake of the Civil War.

    Currently, the system permits a majority of heterosexuals to vote in state ammendments that bar or restrict gay marriage. However morally offensive this might seem to some, it’s merely a reflection of our society; a society that clearly does not seem prepared as a whole to grant gays marriage as it is currently doled out to straights. This might make the system morally bankrupt, if you’re a gay person or a gay rights advocate. For those on the other side — in the traditional marriage camp — the system is valid because it permits a majority to stand up for what it believes to be logically or morally correct in spite of legal or legislative attempts to the contrary.

    I’d say the system is neither valid nor invalid because of the outcome of gay marriage. This single issue does not define the system. Rather, the system’s validity is derived from the fact that the topic of gay marriage can be addresses through the system, without violence, bloodshed, armies marching against armies, war — the “traditional” way of settling disputes.

    If and when gay marriage is protected widely in America, it will be done over the protests of many, many, many Americans. But barring an isolated bunch, those who protest will not consider the law — or the process of the law — bankrupt. Most of these same people are opposed to abortion too, and as much as they see abortion as evil, they do not (for the most part) consider the system itself at fault; but rather consider it a matter for ongoing contest within the structure of the system, where battles of this nature can be handled without violence or the proverbial “cudgel” I named originally.

    Which cuts to the heart of my love affair with the U.S. system.

    Yes, it’s not perfect.

    No, it doesn’t get it right every single time.

    But the system is worth supporting and defending — remember that I’ve personally sworn an oath to protect and defend this system with my life, if necessary — because it allows all Americans a relatively peaceful conduit for the addressing of grievances and the deciding of complex and weighty moral and ethical issues. Permanent decisions or solutions, may not necessarily be inevitable in such a system. Abortion rights are forever under attack — given the stance by many Americans that abortion is akin to murder of children — but so far, enough pro choice voters (and their legal representatives) have stayed the course to protect abortion. And very few anti-abortionists beyond the militant fringe have decided to rise “above” the law and take matters into their own hands. They know it’s better to work through the system, than against it.

    Could things like the ban on slavery be revoked? Legally, it’s possible. If enough voters and legislators were behind it, and not enough court action could be sustained in the face of this two-pronged assault, then yes, it’s possible. Is it probable? No. Because the U.S. population has long since concluded — in the vast majority — that slavery is immoral, and whatever the KKK might think, no American majority will ever see the country returned to slavery.

    I personally believe that abortion is now all but unassailable, because so many Americans have come to accept it as commonplace, and the religious opponents of abortion are too few to overturn abortion’s protected status. Which is not to say the matter is dead. It’s not. People will continue to contest it strongly. It’s just that these people don’t have the numbers to effect change. They might some day. But given the U.S. populace’s slow trend towards secularism, I doubt it.

    Ultimately our system is designed to reflect the people who must abide by it. Not the whims of a monarchy or oligarchy or a dictator. Our system is also designed such that the rights and freedoms of the individual are often set against the wishes of the majority, as is the case with gay marriage. And if gay marriage proponents want to win the day, it’s a question of winning enough skeptics from the conservative side that numerical support for things like Prop. 8 erodes and gay marriage becomes like abortion: a thing forever contested, yet never overturned.

    And this is true of virtually all “rights” issues.

    So I can see why the Legalist position often seems arbitrary because it places process over outcome. And if that lands me in a certain segment of society, in your mind, well then I guess I can’t help that. I do think that, overall, as our society has grown and liberalized, this has been reflected in the kinds of things we’ve been able to do within our system; things unthinkable in the late 18th century, such as the ending of Slavery or women having equal rights and the vote. And that this is to the credit of both our populace and the system.

    And I fear the day, if ever it comes, when a majority of Americans have decided the system is no longer worth supporting, or ought to be ignored, because that’s when the United States of America ceases to exist, and we return to a collection of competing feifdoms and camps, quarreling — through violence if necessary — over who gets to impose their will on whom. With no peaceful recourse for the address of grievances, besides the “cudgel.”

  90. Damn. Format boo-boo.

    Scalzi, preview button?

    (ducks as Der Scalzinator swings fish)

    Greg,

    I’d say you’ve paraphrased me like it’s going out of style.

    But I don’t want to spend paragraphs arguing about how you argue about how I argue. I’ve been married long enough to see that kind of merry-go-round when it’s happening, and I don’t want any, thanks. If you think I suck at arguing or that I don’t make sense… Oh well.

    Your extensive notes on Legalism (new term to me) were interesting.

    One of the reasons I am so very much a defender of our system — flawed as it may be — is that morals and ethics are a moving target.

    Examples:

    1) According to the morals and ethics of the Right, our current system sucks because it permits abortion, something the Right considers highly immoral.

    2) According to the morals and ethics of the Left, our current system sucks because it permits voters to deny gays marriage as currently doled out to heterosexuals, and the Left considers denial of personal rights for gays to be immoral.

    If we assume that the system is “broken” or otherwise irrelevant every time it returns a result not to our liking, then what’s to stop us from just ignoring the system and using our personal sense of Higher Moral Authority to do whatever we want, in spite of the law?

    Regarding abortion, I know people who would scream bloody murder if everyone who is morally opposed to abortion, took action and destroyed abortion clinics or otherwise denied women access to them. Yet this seems to be the “logical end point” of the anti-Legalist stance; that when a person of conscience finds his or her ethics in conflict with the law — or the process by which we make law — then the process and the law are both wrong and therefore ought to be ignored or otherwise circumvented; because they have returned a result someone finds to be immoral, amoral, or otherwise wrong.

    Once we open this Pandora’s Box, I am not sure where it stops. Other than one side cudgeling the other into oblivion. Because once both sides in a given legal dispute decide the law is no longer required — that they’re going to take matters into their own hands, because their Higher Moral Authority demands it — it’s back to the bad old days of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and one side trying to silence the other through force of will.

    It is true that the U.S. system has permitted evil. But then, the U.S. system has also been an enforcer of a great deal of good. It’s all hinged on how the U.S. people have used their system. Once, our system permitted slavery. And escaped slaves were returned to slave states under the law, in spite of the outcries of the abolitionists. Eventually the system was ammended to ban slavery, and later, was instrumental in legally barring discrimination which lingered for a hundred years in the wake of the Civil War.

    Currently, the system permits a majority of heterosexuals to vote in state ammendments that bar or restrict gay marriage. However morally offensive this might seem to some, it’s merely a reflection of our society; a society that clearly does not seem prepared as a whole to grant gays marriage as it is currently doled out to straights. This might make the system morally bankrupt, if you’re a gay person or a gay rights advocate. For those on the other side — in the traditional marriage camp — the system is valid because it permits a majority to stand up for what it believes to be logically or morally correct in spite of legal or legislative attempts to the contrary.

    I’d say the system is neither valid nor invalid because of the outcome of gay marriage. This single issue does not define the system. Rather, the system’s validity is derived from the fact that the topic of gay marriage can be addresses through the system, without violence, bloodshed, armies marching against armies, war — the “traditional” way of settling disputes.

    If and when gay marriage is protected widely in America, it will be done over the protests of many, many, many Americans. But barring an isolated bunch, those who protest will not consider the law — or the process of the law — bankrupt. Most of these same people are opposed to abortion too, and as much as they see abortion as evil, they do not (for the most part) consider the system itself at fault; but rather consider it a matter for ongoing contest within the structure of the system, where battles of this nature can be handled without violence or the proverbial “cudgel” I named originally.

    Which cuts to the heart of my love affair with the U.S. system.

    Yes, it’s not perfect.

    No, it doesn’t get it right every single time.

    But the system is worth supporting and defending — remember that I’ve personally sworn an oath to protect and defend this system with my life, if necessary — because it allows all Americans a relatively peaceful conduit for the addressing of grievances and the deciding of complex and weighty moral and ethical issues. Permanent decisions or solutions, may not necessarily be inevitable in such a system. Abortion rights are forever under attack — given the stance by many Americans that abortion is akin to murder of children — but so far, enough pro choice voters (and their legal representatives) have stayed the course to protect abortion. And very few anti-abortionists beyond the militant fringe have decided to rise “above” the law and take matters into their own hands. They know it’s better to work through the system, than against it.

    Could things like the ban on slavery be revoked? Legally, it’s possible. If enough voters and legislators were behind it, and not enough court action could be sustained in the face of this two-pronged assault, then yes, it’s possible. Is it probable? No. Because the U.S. population has long since concluded — in the vast majority — that slavery is immoral, and whatever the KKK might think, no American majority will ever see the country returned to slavery.

    I personally believe that abortion is now all but unassailable, because so many Americans have come to accept it as commonplace, and the religious opponents of abortion are too few to overturn abortion’s protected status. Which is not to say the matter is dead. It’s not. People will continue to contest it strongly. It’s just that these people don’t have the numbers to effect change. They might some day. But given the U.S. populace’s slow trend towards secularism, I doubt it.

    Ultimately our system is designed to reflect the people who must abide by it. Not the whims of a monarchy or oligarchy or a dictator. Our system is also designed such that the rights and freedoms of the individual are often set against the wishes of the majority, as is the case with gay marriage. And if gay marriage proponents want to win the day, it’s a question of winning enough skeptics from the conservative side that numerical support for things like Prop. 8 erodes and gay marriage becomes like abortion: a thing forever contested, yet never overturned.

    And this is true of virtually all “rights” issues.

    So I can see why the Legalist position often seems arbitrary because it places process over outcome. And if that lands me in a certain segment of society, in your mind, well then I guess I can’t help that. I do think that, overall, as our society has grown and liberalized, this has been reflected in the kinds of things we’ve been able to do within our system; things unthinkable in the late 18th century, such as the ending of Slavery or women having equal rights and the vote. And that this is to the credit of both our populace and the system.

    And I fear the day, if ever it comes, when a majority of Americans have decided the system is no longer worth supporting, or ought to be ignored, because that’s when the United States of America ceases to exist, and we return to a collection of competing feifdoms and camps, quarreling — through violence if necessary — over who gets to impose their will on whom. With no peaceful recourse for the address of grievances, besides the “cudgel.”

  91. I’d say you’ve paraphrased me like it’s going out of style.

    Taking your statements and applying logic to them doesnt qualify as paraphrasing. For example:

    If we assume that the system is “broken” or otherwise irrelevant every time it returns a result not to our liking, then what’s to stop us from just ignoring the system and using our personal sense of Higher Moral Authority to do whatever we want, in spite of the law?

    This is called a slippery slope argument. It is exactly the sort of argument a legalist would make. Without the law we regress instantly to cudgels.

    Now, I’m not a betting man, but I am willing to wager you fifty dollars to the non-profit of your choice if you can find a single instance of me advocating that anyone break the law.

    Saying a law is immoral is not the same as saying we must revolt against our government.

    But a legalist has a very hard time seeing that distinction becuase to them the law is something to be worshipped.

    Now, back to the first statement about paraphrasing: I didn’t paraphrase you there in any way. I’ve quoted you, and then I’ve pointed out various issues about what you said. Slippery slope is a logical fallacy. It doesn’t matter what the topic is or who said the slippery slope thingy, it’s a fallacy.

    You might understand slippery slope to some level, but you seem to have an exception to that rule when it comes to the law. When it comes to the law, you argue that it’s either law or cudgels. You said it. I quoted you. And then I pointed out that it’s a logical fallacy called slippery slope.

    Once we open this Pandora’s Box, I am not sure where it stops. Other than one side cudgeling the other into oblivion

    I quoted you there. And now I’m going to point out that this is another example of slippery slope. Once we “start”, where will it “stop”? It stops nowhere other than with Cudgels.

    Until you understand that me quoting you and applying rules of logic to your words isn’t the same as “paraphrasing” you or “putting words in your mouth”, you’re not going to actually hear anything I say to you as anything other than words in your mouth.

    Yes, it’s not perfect. No, it doesn’t get it right every single time. But the system is worth supporting and defending

    Defending it doesn’t mean you don’t subvert your own personal moral compass. You either support gay rights or you oppose them. The morality or immorality of prop 8 isn’t decided by the process, it is decided by the individuals.

    If you defer the decision of morality to the process, then you are an absolute legalist.

    remember that I’ve personally sworn an oath to protect and defend this system with my life,

    No, you didn’t. If you’re in the military, you took an oath to defend the constitution. But you still have a responsibility to live by your own personal moral code. If your superiors order you to kill civilians, the immorality of that doesn’t change because it was an order. There are orders that are moral and legal that might require you to kill someone or might cause you to put your life on the line. But not all orders are automatically legal or moral.

    And I fear the day, if ever it comes, when a majority of Americans have decided the system is no longer worth supporting, or ought to be ignored, because that’s when the United States of America ceases to exist, and we return to a collection of competing feifdoms and camps, quarreling — through violence if necessary — over who gets to impose their will on whom. With no peaceful recourse for the address of grievances, besides the “cudgel”

    Have you ever read the US Constitution? Section 2 of Article I states that apart from free persons “all other persons,” meaning slaves, are each to be counted as three-fifths of a white person for the purpose of apportioning congressional representatives on the basis of population. Section 9 of Article I states that the importation of “such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit,” meaning slaves, would be permitted until 1808. And Section 2 of Article IV directs that persons “held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another,” meaning fugitive slaves, were to be returned to their owners.

    If the process of constitutional ammendments ended up reverting back to this basis of laws, would you defend the system unequivocally? Or would you stay true to your personal moral compass and declare the system to be immoral?

    A legalist would argue that any flaw in the system no matter how severe can be fixed from within the system.

    The same man who wrote the Constitution you defend also wrote that: When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them

    While a lawyer and a statemen and a great national leader, Jefferson was clearly NOT a legalist. He was not willing to subvert his natural rights to the system or the process.

  92. Oh sweet six pound four ounce baby Jesus. I didn’t get any further than the defense of the process. Greg is defending the charter; policy/processes that are ANTITHETICAL to the freaking Constitution are the problem. Not the process. Abuses of power that work within the process are STILL ABUSES.

  93. waltz: Oh sweet six pound four ounce baby Jesus.

    :)

    I think it’s fairly safe to say that as long as subo believes in his heart this:

    Yet this seems to be the “logical end point” of the anti-Legalist stance; that when a person of conscience finds his or her ethics in conflict with the law — or the process by which we make law — then the process and the law are both wrong and therefore ought to be ignored or otherwise circumvented

    Then he will forever be a legalist defender of the system. To not be, for hiim, is absolutely no different than picking up a cudgel.

    subo, all I can say is I hope for the world’s sake that you never find yourself in a military situation where your superiors order you to do something immoral.

  94. Greg – I believe you’ve confused James Madison with Thomas Jefferson in #111. It’s a minor point and Madison expressed a preference for revolution over a corrupt system imposing abuses from the outside, so the basic point probably stands. TJ has enough laurels, let’s not deny Madison his.

    I think there’s also a fundamental confusion on S-O’s part about how civil disobedience is supposed to work. When Thoreau refused to pay taxes to support the Mexican war, he expected to be imprisoned and was angry at his friends for paying his fine. Remember that scene from Ghandi, where the Indians are being beaten for collecting salt from the sea in violation of British law?

    If you feel that the system is wrong, and a higher moral law compels you to disobey it, then part of that process is to accept the consequences. If you aren’t willing to accept those consequences, then that’s just lawbreaking and not civil disobedience.

    I’ve seen this crop up a few places recently. Muslim cabdrivers in Minneapolis refused to carry alcohol or guide dogs from the airport – they got to go to the end of the line and miss their chance at a fare. Some complained – tough. Pharmacists who wrongly believe that Plan B and the pill are abortifacents want to be able to keep their jobs while denying patients health care. The price of their beliefs is not being a pharmacists – much like the price of being a Jehovah’s Witness is not being an emergency room doctor.

  95. TJ has enough laurels, let’s not deny Madison his.

    it’s a pleasure to present a laurel and hearty handshake to …

    (looks up)

    James Madison

  96. waltinexile,

    It’s my impression that anyone who doesn’t get their way, via the system, will scream, “ABUSE OF POWER!”

    Easy to do. Especially if you’re emotionally wrapped up in your cause being totally, absolutely right, yet the system keeps defeating you anyway.

    Just ask pro-life zealots.

  97. Greg,

    I hope that too. Though there are rules within the system that permit me as an NCO to countermand an unlawful order.

    An “immoral” order is a subjective animal. According to some people, even deploying to Iraq at all is obeying an “immoral” order, hence all the loud defense of LT Watada at Ft. Lewis when he refused to deploy.

    Would I disobey an order from a superior that said I should go rape an Iraqi girl?

    You bet. And I’d use UCMJ to try and get the guy who gave the order tossed out on his ass.

    Loving the system doesn’t mean being blind to the world.

  98. subo: It’s my impression that anyone who doesn’t get their way, via the system, will scream

    That doesn’t change your own issue around worshipping the system. You cannot view a challenge to the system as immediately reverting to cudgels and not have a submissive relationship with the system, or, with people who rightfully challenge the system.

    If you worship it, you must submit to it. And if you worship it, anyone who does not is some form of heretic.

  99. Sub-Odeon,
    While I’m sure that for you, “my impression” is a valid premise, it doesn’t really hold sway with me. I understand that you probably felt I was derisively dismissive when I said I couldn’t get past your defense of the process (this is an impression that coincides with my intent.) Your “impression” does not preclude the actuality of there being abuse of the system. And in the case of a valid process producing results that are counter to the ideals of the charter, that is the reality.

  100. subo: Would I disobey an order from a superior that said I should go rape an Iraqi girl? You bet. And I’d use UCMJ to try and get the guy who gave the order tossed out on his ass.

    First of all, the system won’t always be so blatant as to just come out and order you to rape someone. And it will always have some justification for you to follow orders other than “because I said so”.

    Would you force someone into a stress position for several hours to get information that might stop a ticking bomb? That’s the justification given for subverting the Geneva Convention these last 8 years. And look where that’s gotten us.

    Secondly, and I cannot stress this enough, do not think the system will simply allow you to correct the system. How many US soldiers who committed crimes in Abu Graib have been convicted under military law? The answer is here.

    Short version? “The only officer charged in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing” This was from January of 2008.

    Shorter version? None. And probably no one ever wil.

    I just have to point back to something I said earlier:

    me@111: A legalist would argue that any flaw in the system no matter how severe can be fixed from within the system.

    Do not fall for the myth of the infallible system.

  101. All I can say is, if the Bush-Cheney administration doesn’t convince someone that abuses of the system are possible, and even that they happened, they’re…not able to look at facts and draw rational conclusions from them.

  102. I like the U.S. system. I think it’s worth working within, and I think it’s worth supporting, as a citizen. It doesn’t always yield results that I’d like (ask me sometime about when my truck got stolen in 1996) but overall, it allows all U.S. citizens to enjoy a reasonable umbrella of protection and it permits us, as citizens, to “battle out” our disagreements in a mode that does not involve actual, physical confrontationalism.

    I am uncomfortable with the idea that just because a given individual feels the system has returned a morally wrong dividend (morally wrong in their estimation…) that this means the system isn’t worth much, or that they now have a moral “license to ill” which includes all kinds of tactics and/or antics which are, essentially, unlawful.

    “Civil disobedience” seems like it can include all sorts of minor (and sometimes major) legal offenses, and what one man considers to be justified, in defiance of the law, another man considers to be miscreant or otherwise law-breaking for the sake of law-breaking.

    We saw a lot of this in Seattle during the WTO riots. I was working downtown at the time, and it was a real eye-opener seeing how “civil disobediance” blended right over into mob mentality and all the damage that followed on. And in the end, what did all that “civil disobedience” actually do? Or change? Or effect? Not a damn thing, so far as I can tell. Just a whole bunch of people getting pissed off, marching, breaking shit, shutting down freeways, and preventing the rest of us from doing our jobs for a week. It cost the city tons of money, incurred lots of damage and lost man-hours for lots of businesses, and got a lot of people hurt and/or sent to jail.

    I look at the Seattle WTO riots and I see the proverbial tale of the idiot, full of sound and fury, which accomplished nothing.

    Which is not to say that *ALL* civil disobedience is unnecessary or has not, in fact, produced great good. The Civil Rights efforts of the 1960’s were an overdue response to Jim Crow and the persistent racism of white America. However, the Civil Rights movement was fortunate to have some very strong leadership which was canny enough to know the difference between making a direct moral appeal to the heart of America, and in sympathetic defiance of the system, and reckless confrontationalism for its own, angry sake.

    Now, regarding the military, this is an entire topic all its own: the morality of obeying orders versus the morality of disobeying orders. If we want to debate it, OK. I suppose I could find the time. I am not sure we’d ever reach an agreement. I will say that if a person has never served in the U.S. Armed Forces I am not sure they will understand the pro-military argument. Especially if they’re inclined to consider the military Chain of Command (CoC) a morally-blind or corrupt instrument. It’s true that when you sign up for the military you’re entrusting your superiors to make certain choices for you. But you might be surprised at how much freedom is still allowed, and how much “talk back” is possible, when those lower down the CoC have a problem with what’s coming down from higher up.

    I suppose the bottom line for me is: what circumstances would need to arise for me to openly declare the U.S. system “broken” and fight actively against it, outside the law?

    I almost think that’s impossible to answer because as angry as I’ve gotten at the law (it’s happened on occasion) over injustices that I believe have occurred, never has it been my opinion that the tipping point was reached — or passed — at which the U.S. system became irredeemably corrupt, immoral, not worth using or working within, etc.

    Would I march in street protests? Raise a fist?

    Depends on what the issue was and whether or not I felt like I had enough of a dog in that particular fight to warrant such activity — and also whether or not I thought marching or having a fist in the air would do any lasting good?

    My personal stance is that a lot of marching and “civil disobediance” that goes on in the U.S. these days is of a self-referential, self-congratulatory nature; not necessarily designed to effect a result as much as provide a “shouting place” for people who just need to get up on a box with a bullhorn and scream something at the world.

  103. I am uncomfortable with the idea that just because a given individual feels the system has returned a morally wrong dividend (morally wrong in their estimation…) that this means the system isn’t worth much, or that they now have a moral “license to ill”

    A little revolution now and then is a bad thing? I looked it up, TJ was the one to say that.

    I will say that if a person has never served in the U.S. Armed Forces I am not sure they will understand the pro-military argument.

    The question was rather direct and simple: Would you force someone into a stress position for several hours to get information that might stop a ticking bomb?

    Even if it takes years of torture?

    Even if it involves hundreds or maybe even thousands of people being tortured?

    Even if years of torture produce absolutely zero actionable intelligence?

    Even if it produces bad and misleading intelligence?

    Even if it produces false intel that becomes the cause for an invasion of an uninvolved nation?

    You don’t have to provide the “pro-military” argument. I’m far more familiar with it than you can explain on a blog post. I’m just asking some yes/no questions.

    To keep it fair, my answer to all of them is “no”.

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