Thursday, November 19, 2009

Honoring the Opposition

I used my lunch hour to (finally) watch the Book TV broadcast of Howard Dean at Politics and Prose last August promoting his book on health care reform. While I did not disagree with any of his major points, I found myself disconcerted by his worldview of political practice, which reflected a naïveté that may ultimately be his undoing. In a nutshell he is willing to show too much honor to the opponents of health care reform, assuming that differences of opinion can be resolved through reasoned conversations. This seems to disregard the likely premise that those who oppose health care reform are more interested in winning for the sake of building political capital than they are about what happens to the American people, both those in their electorate and the population at large.

Thus, in commenting about how problematic the opposition has been, all Dean could say was, "We didn't realize they would go that low." His worldview simply could not imagine that someone like Sarah Palin could turn arguments about health care into arguments over death panels. Dean's admission reveals an interesting principle, which should serve as a warning to all who try to engage in argumentation in the present day:

Rationality defines is limits through fundamental principles of logical reasoning; irrationality knows no bounds.

The very concept of a death panel was so far off the map of just about anyone in the Democratic Party that they simply could not anticipate those who live by fear-mongering putting it on the table.

There was another instance of naïveté that might be a bit more forgivable, since it was basically a matter of wishful thinking. This was Dean's prognostication that fear-based irrationality had run its course and would begin to decline. His reasoning was that the younger generation who turned out in such great numbers to vote for Barack Obama simply would not put up with the bill of goods that the fear-mongers have been selling. Admirable as Dean's aspiration may be, we are now three months on from his book talk; and we may be witnessing its refutation. The warrants for that refutation are to be found in the public response to Going Rogue and the book tour Palin has organized to promote it. This morning Kevin Connolly posted a report from Grand Rapids to BBC News on the "couple of thousand supporters" waiting in the Woodland Mall for Palin to sign their copy of Going Rogue; and what Connolly felt was most important to report was that quite a few of those prepared to wait hours for this opportunity were young people. One of them had a simple reason for being there:

She's cool.

Think about that. Eighteen months ago Obama was cool. Young people were drawn to him for a variety of reasons; but that "cool" factor cannot be ignored. Now that he occupies the White House, he is no longer cool. Cool people don't do things like that to their friends. So, having found this whole new base of the electorate to mobilize, it turns out that what mobilizes them is the cool factor; and, for now at least, Palin has it. (Remember, irrationality knows no bounds!) Think of it this way: The generation that grew up on the "What's Cool" button in the Netscape browser is now participating in the electoral process. What, if anything, can this tell us about next year's congressional campaigns and the presidential race in 2012?

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