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Bloomberg, and Bush’s Post-Modern Presidency

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I really don't see how anyone can look at the overwhelming blizzard of abuses, crimes, and foolhardy errors that have constituted the Bush years and then decide that what they're really sick of is partisanship.

Maybe I'm wrong in thinking that voters are sick of what I'm sick of, which is the actions of the current executive, and the actions of Republicans in the House and Senate (and now apparently the Supreme Court). If pressed, I could draw up a specific, and fairly inclusive, list of grievances against BushCo and against the GOP and other enablers. But maybe that's just because I'm on the high side of the news-awareness bell curve.

I can see how, in someone who doesn't spend a fairly significant portion of their waking life reading and digesting news information (this is a class issue as well, by the way; a good portion of the population doesn't have the leisure time or spare energy), my fairly specific dissatisfaction could manifest in a general 'screw the government' sort of feeling.

That it's so difficult for a casual news observer to distinguish between radicals and anti-radicals is also a damning comment on our broken media discourse. After all, most politicians sound the same as one another, they all yell and point when they get angry, and mostly they only are seen on television disagreeing with one another.

Too often, our politicians are quoted side by side making mutually contradictory claims, and too often the media fails to point out factual falsehoods (because to point out a negative about a candidate or official without pointing out a symmetrical negative for the other side would be 'biased' and 'partisan,' perhaps).

I recall a commentator on CNN who, after the Bush/Kerry debates said that it would take a team of Kennedy School of Government fact checkers a week to verify or refute all the truth claims made in the debate. And in terms of substantive discussion, that was apparently it for CNN. All that CNN was prepared to do was identify truly glaring factual inaccuracies. The rest was about who was more effective in their message delivery, the little tics, the gaffes. Coverage shifted over to 'Spin Alley,' a name suggesting fluctuation between two poles, existing simultaneously without cancelling each other out, matter and anti-matter.

It's understandable for people to get sick of it. The lack of attention to substantive policy difference makes mainstream political discourse a cross between a beauty contest and a shouting match. The media itself isn't the least bit interested in changing the dynamic; it makes for good television (Crossfire! Liberal, conservative–debate!). It took Jon Stewart making his own good television to get the show off the air.

There's ambivalence to objective truth; theirs a post-modern feeling that the truth is unknowable and that things can be two mutually exclusive ways at once. Maybe it's best just to call it doublethink. And Bush and his supporters have been disconcertingly open about their post-modern thinking:

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

That's a post-modern stance (in the sense where post-modern can mean "counter-enlightenment". There are so many senses of post-modern that it's best to specify). When Bush and Cheney say, as they often do, that only History will be able to judge their Administration, they are really concurring with the above. The unnamed aide quoted is just, you know, articulater.

Post-modernism made some sense when applied to literary conceits like Justice, Virtue, Love, and all the rest, but it is a terrible paradigm under which to build a functioning government, composed of bureaucrats and cops. It's nonsense to say that truth is unknowable in the context of governance. The government must operate under the premise that truth is knowable, or government policy is governed by nothing but competition to see which narrative is the most compelling.

There are a few issues where one side or the other is objectively correct, and they can prove it. There are a great many other issues where an objective observer would say that the preponderance of the evidence tilts one way or the other.

I don't know that anyone (except maybe that Bush aide) would disagree with that assertion, and yet our media often seems to operate on the premise that all viewpoints are created equal. That stance, more than anything, creates the conditions that I think will consistently allow a sufficiently visible third-party candidate who can "bridge the divide" to claim ten to twenty percent of the vote.

The main way to be 'visible' without joining a party is to have tons of your own dough to pour into television ads. That's what Ross Perot did in '92, and that's what Bloomberg will do if he ultimately decides to make a run. Hell, he may get more than 20%. Perot got 18, and he sure wasn't a popular and effective city administrator with a record of effective compromise.

The question, if Bloomberg runs, is who he will pull more votes from, the Republican or the Dem. To me, it looks likely to be a negative for the Democrats. So what Bloomberg needs to consider, if he's conscientious, is whether he wants to help someone like Giuliani or Thompson ascend the throne of George the Second. I hope he doesn't run. If it looked like he would help the Democrats, I would be pulling for him all the way. I say this because I am not a political post-modernist — I think the Democrats have superior ideas and positions, and as a result, I want them to win.

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  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    Don’t you think we can be sick of doublethink AND sick of Partisanship? The partisanship you show in this article by not acknowledging that both sides engage equally in both doublethink and chicanery is certainly as sickening as anything I’ve seen lately.

    But on the upside, you do ALMOST manage to get to the real heart of the doublethink issue – the key fact which negates it as a real concern for most of it, when you say:

    “There are a few issues where one side or the other is objectively correct, and they can prove it. There are a great many other issues where an objective observer would say that the preponderance of the evidence tilts one way or the other.”

    Hinting that you are at least somewhat aware – were it not for your partisan inclinations – that what’s going on isn’t REALLY doublethink, but rather the reality that truth is NOT always clearcut, and that two people operating from the same set of basic facts can come to two equally truthful but not necessarily identical or even similar conclusions.

    Truth, as we use it, is most often subjective, and the result of our interpretation of evidence which is often ambiguous or difficult to fully define. THAT is what creates the phenomenon which you mistakenly call doublethink, and a large part of what makes it so difficult for opposing groups, both of whom think they are the sole possessors of the ‘real’ truth, to understand each other.

    Dave

  • Doug Hunter

    “Truth, as we use it, is most often subjective, and the result of our interpretation of evidence which is often ambiguous or difficult to fully define.”

    Excellent analysis Dave. Logic, as it applies to politics, is meaningless when you start with differing basic assumptions and values. I’m not sure whether everyone realizes this fact and ignores it for the purpose of proselytizing and propagandizing or the popluation actually is made up mostly of moronic lemmings.

    The basic left-right split comes down to freedom w/ responsibility versus security /w control. You and me probably favor freedom along with it’s inherent dangers over government backed security with it’s control and manipulation. Others disagree, a few satellite issues get thrown in the mix, and all the sudden everyone is at each other’s throat screaming their opponent’s values spell doom for all mankind. The danger lies not in the ideologies themselves but in the hatred and dehumanizing of those who disagree with you r politics.

  • Baronius

    “Too often, our politicians are quoted side by side making mutually contradictory claims, and too often the media fails to point out factual falsehoods (because to point out a negative about a candidate or official without pointing out a symmetrical negative for the other side would be ‘biased’ and ‘partisan,’ perhaps).”

    Yes! Yes! I don’t agree with you about anything in the world of politics, Sam Jack, but this observation of yours is dead-on. I think media laziness plays a part. But a lot of it is false objectivity.

    If you run a story with your personal opinion, that’s bias. If you run a story with both sides represented, that’s neutrality. If your story has both sides represented, and the facts clearly stated, that’s objectivity. Most stories have both sides represented, along with the reporter’s personal opinion. That’s the worst of all worlds.

  • http://conservativebastion.com Media Tycoon

    I am sick of democrats and fake republicans. btw, since you are on “high side of the news-awareness bell curve” then you must realize that the Clinton regime was more corrupt than Bush’s…statistically speaking.

  • Zedd

    Sam

    Well done. I think you should expand on this topic further because it may be missed.

    Post modernist politics is not just lying but inventing a reality and campaigning for that reality knowing that it doesn’t exist. However what has happened is that the current generation of politicians don’t know that the issues that they stand for were made up (Republicans). The new breed of “reporters” also do in-depth coverage of none existent issues, creating the issues. We end up with a less inform public, producing less viable candidates for office and less competent reporters with every new generation.

    Dave

    The reason that this is more relevant for Republicans is because they invented and abuse this approach. Newt’s contract with America was in essence an invention of problems that didn’t really exist and a promise to fix them.

    However, Hilary learned from her experience with the “vast right wing conspiracy” (the reality makers), and is now behaving as they do.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    A Bloomberg candidacy would be great – for Republicans.

    Let’s see. The man was a life-long Democrat, and a life-long liberal. He only joined the GOP in order to win the mayor’s office after Rudy left. Since then, he has been a typical nanny-state liberal. And now he’s not even pretending to be a Republican anymore.

    So: Hillary vs. Bloomberg vs. Anonymous Republican. Hillary and Bloomberg would likely split the liberal and moderate vote (about 60% of the public). And the GOP candidate would get the other 40%.

    Hillary and Bloomberg would split the New York vote. The GOP candidate probably wins New York (especially if it’s Rudy).

    The GOP wins in an electoral landslide, even if a right-winger like Brownback or Gingrich somehow got the nomination. And if a “moderate” Republican like Romney or Rudy gets the nomination? It’s not merely an electoral landslide; it’s complete domination: 49 or 50 states, with Hillary and Bloomberg fighting over DC’s 3 EC votes.

    So, I certainly hope Bloomberg runs as an Independent, and spends several hundred million of his several billions in his lost-cause candidacy. It would be the best news possible for the national Republican Party. And conservatives. ;-)

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    “Newt’s contract with America was in essence an invention of problems that didn’t really exist and a promise to fix them.”

    ROTFL!

    Yes, and that’s why the American people supported it so much, because it was “non-problems” the GOP promised to fix (and mostly did).

    After all, the only reason the GOP won back both houses of Congress in 1994 is because of endless pro-GOP media bias, right?

    ROTFL!

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    The Contract With America promised that a Republican Congress would do the following things (which Zedd thinks were “solutions” to “non-problems”):

    On the first day of the 104th Congress, the new Republican majority will immediately pass the following major reforms, aimed at restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government:

    * FIRST, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress;
    * SECOND, select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse;
    * THIRD, cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third;
    * FOURTH, limit the terms of all committee chairs;
    * FIFTH, ban the casting of proxy votes in committee;
    * SIXTH, require committee meetings to be open to the public;
    * SEVENTH, require a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase;
    * EIGHTH, guarantee an honest accounting of our Federal Budget by implementing zero base-line budgeting.

    Thereafter, within the first 100 days of the 104th Congress, we shall bring to the House Floor the following bills, each to be given full and open debate, each to be given a clear and fair vote and each to be immediately available this day for public inspection and scrutiny.

    1. THE FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT: A balanced budget/tax limitation amendment and a legislative line-item veto to restore fiscal responsibility to an out-of-control Congress, requiring them to live under the same budget constraints as families and businesses.

    2. THE TAKING BACK OUR STREETS ACT: An anti-crime package including stronger truth-in- sentencing, “good faith” exclusionary rule exemptions, effective death penalty provisions, and cuts in social spending from this summer’s “crime” bill to fund prison construction and additional law enforcement to keep people secure in their neighborhoods and kids safe in their schools.

    3. THE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT: Discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy by prohibiting welfare to minor mothers and denying increased AFDC for additional children while on welfare, cut spending for welfare programs, and enact a tough two-years-and-out provision with work requirements to promote individual responsibility.

    4. THE FAMILY REINFORCEMENT ACT: Child support enforcement, tax incentives for adoption, strengthening rights of parents in their children’s education, stronger child pornography laws, and an elderly dependent care tax credit to reinforce the central role of families in American society.

    5. THE AMERICAN DREAM RESTORATION ACT: A S500 per child tax credit, begin repeal of the marriage tax penalty, and creation of American Dream Savings Accounts to provide middle class tax relief.

    6. THE NATIONAL SECURITY RESTORATION ACT: No U.S. troops under U.N. command and restoration of the essential parts of our national security funding to strengthen our national defense and maintain our credibility around the world.

    7. THE SENIOR CITIZENS FAIRNESS ACT: Raise the Social Security earnings limit which currently forces seniors out of the work force, repeal the 1993 tax hikes on Social Security benefits and provide tax incentives for private long-term care insurance to let Older Americans keep more of what they have earned over the years.

    8. THE JOB CREATION AND WAGE ENHANCEMENT ACT: Small business incentives, capital gains cut and indexation, neutral cost recovery, risk assessment/cost-benefit analysis, strengthening the Regulatory Flexibility Act and unfunded mandate reform to create jobs and raise worker wages.

    9. THE COMMON SENSE LEGAL REFORM ACT: “Loser pays” laws, reasonable limits on punitive damages and reform of product liability laws to stem the endless tide of litigation.

    10. THE CITIZEN LEGISLATURE ACT: A first-ever vote on term limits to replace career politicians with citizen legislators.

    Further, we will instruct the House Budget Committee to report to the floor and we will work to enact additional budget savings, beyond the budget cuts specifically included in the legislation described above, to ensure that the Federal budget deficit will be less than it would have been without the enactment of these bills.

    Respecting the judgment of our fellow citizens as we seek their mandate for reform, we hereby pledge our names to this Contract with America.

  • Doug Hunter

    “The reason that this is more relevant for Republicans is because they invented and abuse this approach.” Zedd

    In what alternate reality? Propaganda has been around for centuries and is practiced just as much by your team as ours. It looks like you fall for it a bit more than most though, I think you actually believe the juvenile shit you type.

  • http://lowether.blogspot.com Sam Jack

    Dave

    I have trouble responding to the rest of your comment, because the statement, “Both sides engage equally in both doublethink and chicanery” seems so manifestly untrue. Either you’ve been ignoring quite a bit, or we’re viewing the world through profoundly different filters. The Bush administration has been one big rolling scandal for quite a while now. How do you come to the conclusion that they’re all equally rotten?

    And let me be clear, I think that it’s perfectly possible to use a common fact set and come to a radically different conclusion. I’m not saying that ‘double-think’ applies to something like, say, conservative versus liberal economic theory or international political strategy. I don’t think that conservatism is intellectually dishonest; that’s a straw man.

    What I’m talking about are the myriad instances where those in power–who over the past few years have been Republicans–distorted or simply ignored objective facts and invented their own. Witness Terri Schiavo. In fact, Schiavo was a bipartisan instance.

    More recently, military brass and civilian leadership have taken to calling everyone they kill in Iraq Al Qaeda. And apparently media has picked up on it with little questioning. That’s the problem: that government keeps doing it, and the media keeps rolling over. There’s a list of similar abuses and distortions going all the way back through the pre-invasion build-up; there are people that spend all their time cataloguing the abuses.

    And yes, I know there’s a counter-list, I’ve seen them, and obviously the minority Democrats were doing some of their own post-modern alternate reality building, much of it in support of the war effort, but it’s just not the same magnitude and it hasn’t had the same devastating consequences. Plus, a lot of Democrats acknowledge that there’s a problem with our national discourse, and they seem to care.

  • Zedd

    RJ

    Go deeper. There is more substance at a deeper level than were you are right now.

    If I was talking about what you responded to, it would be pointless for me to post, you are right, but I am not.

  • Zedd

    Doug

    I take it that you think that this article is about propaganda. You are missing it.

  • Doug Hunter

    “I take it that you think that this article is about propaganda. You are missing it.”

    It not only is about propaganda but it is propaganda as well. I don’t see discussion of issues I see personal attacks regarding the rationality of those presenting opposing viewpoints.

    I hate to overuse the P-word but it is literally everywhere, because it works. Being able to recognize it’s common existence, or in the case of so called post-modernism, realizing it’s effectiveness at creating reality is essentially useless knowledge.

    Propaganda creating reality is reality, post-modernists are simply realists.

  • Zedd

    Doug

    I would say that “postmodernism” may be the least descriptive word today. It is applied to any and everything and as of late the fashion is to attribute it to all annoying current behavior.

    You are correct, the issue is about a type of propaganda but a specif method; a type of distortion that is new. Creating serialism if you will. The method comes as close to reality as possible and distorts it just enough to affect the most believability and thus changes society. Once this has been done over several decades, we end up with a “non society”. The “music” is an odd, diluted regurgitation of past music, the war is a war over nothing (no principle, or goal), industry is not pushing in any particular direction, workers are told to shift their area of expertise, religious leaders are vacant and unfocused, academia is ridiculed, government is the manifestation of the confusion that was created. Its not just propaganda.