Sunday, November 8, 2009

The subtle nihilism of horserace politics

This pissed me off enough to come out of my blogging sabbatical:

The extremes of the anti-war left before Iraq were every bit as inflammatory and loopy as the Tea Partiers today. Now, they were opposing a war that turned out to be a catastrophe for all involved, while the Tea Partiers are just opposing the working poor having a chance to buy health insurance. But if Godwin's Law is the point, many (but not all) on the left currently do not have a leg to stand on.

Putting aside for the moment the accuracy of the statement, the assumption that "Godwin's Law is the point" is astounding, but unfortunately altogether too common among the Washington commentariat. Most of the punditocracy has come to view politics as some sort of a game: form is analyzed while substance is ignored. The question is never "who is right?" but always "who won?"

Viewing politics as some sort of game in which there is no good, bad, right, or wrong, only winners and losers, is nihilism, pure and simple. Equating one side's employment of ad hitlerium arguments in service of denying people health care with employing those arguments in service of avoiding a disastrous foreign policy misadventure is akin to equating killing someone in self defense and killing someone because the sun was in your eyes. Politics is more than a game. The wise use of the power and resources of the State can lead to freedom, prosperity and enlightenment. Misuse of the State can lead to tyranny and misery. Politics, in many cases, really is a matter of life and death.

Now the obvious rejoinder to my point is that the Teabaggers sincerely believe that the health care plan will lead to tyranny and misery. However, this argument is again, rooted in nihilism, albeit a form of nihilism that has found a home in the major news networks. While in a pluralistic society all points of view should be tolerated, it does not follow that all points of view should be given equal respect. The Teabaggers' arguments have no foundation in evidence or logic and are not deserving of any more than a thorough debunking. The news media's insistence on reporting the controversy rather than analyzing the facts underlying that controversy is an implicit statement that there is no truth and that all points of view are equally valid. In sum, focusing on balance and tone to the absence of facts and substance says that a person's opinion on issues of war and peace is no more consequential than whether he or she likes Pet Sounds more than Rubber Soul. I will speak against this sort of nihilism at every opportunity, and if I sound shrill while doing it, that's a risk I'm willing to take.


David said...

"While in a pluralistic society all points of view should be tolerated, it does not follow that all points of view should be given equal respect."

Yes, thank you!

And, the reason the media won't just debunk the factless arguments of the Teabaggers is because the media is no longer in the game of being a moderator between the people and the political process (as it has historically been) but is instead a thoroughly capitalistic and utterly popular institution that relies on ratings as a the primary measure of quality.

Charlie said...

I couldn't agree more. Do you remember the news in "Idiocracy?" It looks like we're already headed in that direction. "Brawndo! It's got what plants crave!"

Micah E. said...

Welcome back! I hope we get to hear more and more from you.