Monday, October 29, 2012

Ideology or Tribalism?

Paul Pillar speaks of people grouping into political ideological patterns, “not because they are all going through the same coherent thought process -- or any coherent thought process. It is because they are taking cues from groups with which they identify.”

That strikes me as about right, given the number of “talking points” used by both political parties, and the commonality of arguments used by both sides even when those arguments are wrong; various arguments about Medicare for Republicans, for instance, or the endless claims by Democrats that Obama ended the war in Iraq.

“It is essentially a form of tribalism,” he says. “People identify with either the Republican tribe or the Democratic tribe and shape their views on matters of public policy accordingly.” He goes on to say that having adopted the main basis of the tribal position, the person then adheres to all positions advocated by that tribe and rejects all positions not advocated by the tribe, and does so pretty much without thinking about it.

The other thing it does is make them take an uncritical view of the leaders of the tribe, focusing on their good points and essentially blind to their bad points. They will read an article regarding that leader and will accept as entirely truthful anything that is said within the article is complimentary or worshipful in nature, no matter how badly it may be in conflict with the facts. At the same time, they will happily remain unmindful of any and all uncomplimentary facts about that leader, simply because the article is not mentioning them. When it comes to faults and bad actions about their leaders, ignorance is bliss.

A friend of mine sent me a reference to an editorial in the New Yorker Magazine. He is a very smart person, and he and I have had many enjoyable discussions. He has been as critical of some of the flaws of our present government as I have and I would not consider him to be a typical “Obamabot,” and yet he “highly recommended” the editorial. I found it to be a typical piece written by overly partisan liberal tribalist, misrepresenting Obama’s positions and his accomplishments.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009—the $787-billion stimulus package—was well short of what some economists, including Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, thought the crisis demanded. But it was larger in real dollars than any one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal measures.

Which is a completely useless and misleading fact. The New Deal was a comprehensive policy that included a panoply of measures and was, in total, vastly larger than the paltry half measure represented by Obama’s “stimulus” which constituted the entirety of his functional contribution toward recovery for the middle class and the poor in this nation.

His insistence on the pipe dream of "high speed rail" is a typical distortion of what was included in this act. A large amount of that money went for land acquisition, which provided no jobs at all, and another large portion included long range projects and is money which has not yet been spent even now. Our local paper just featured a another project of the act; military barracks being built on San Clemente Island, almost four years after the act, on an installation which has no permanent manning to use them.

Obama has, however, engaged in repeated and vastly larger measures which contributed to the recovery of Wall Street and corporatism, and under him the gap between rich and middle class has grown rather than shrunk.

Five Presidents since the end of the Second World War have tried to pass legislation that would insure universal access to medical care, but all were defeated by deeply entrenched opposition. Obama—bolstered by the political cunning of the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi—succeeded.

And there we have an utterly false statement. At best the act assures universal access to the ability to purchase health insurance, which is not even close to “universal access to medical care” which the author claims. In actuality it does not even do the former, since even the White House admits that it leaves some fifty million Americans uninsured.

By ending the military’s ban on the service of those who are openly gay, and by endorsing marriage equality, Obama, more than any previous President, has been a strong advocate of the civil rights of gay men and lesbians.

At best he provided tepid support for ending DADT. It was Congress that finally actually made the change, and it did so without any significant impetus from Obama, whose strongest statement was along the lines of “we will work to end DADT at the right time,” and he permitted the military to drag its feet for two full years on implementation of the change even after Congress passed its repeal.

He has finally, due to the pressure of a reelection campaign, admitted that he “believes in” gay marriage, but he has specifically not endorsed it as a matter of law and has made no claims that it should be made legal at the federal level. As a matter of fact he has said that it is a matter for “states to decide for themselves.”

In the modern era, we have had Presidents who were known to seduce interns (Kennedy and Clinton), talk to paintings (Nixon), and confuse movies with reality (Reagan). Obama’s restraint has largely served him, and the country, well.

He finally provided one with which I cannot argue. We do have a President who is morally sound, other than his fondness for Tuesday meetings in which he lists people to be killed without due process, and is not demonstrably insane. On the other hand, I don't think anyone has accused Romney of running around boinking his staff or has claimed that he talks to paintings, so I'm not sure what his point is here.

About the only thing that this piece of hackery does not claim for Obama is that he walks on water or that he ended the war in Iraq.

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