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August 11, 2009

Krauthammer vs. McCarthy on Pure Angry Venting At Town Halls

Krauthammer:

The Democrats are pulling a rabbit out of a hat, and the Republicans (or conservatives) are handing the Democrats the rabbit. The Democrats have no argument. They have no facts. They don't even really have a bill.

And if people were just to stand up and quietly and civilly raise questions — "the money doesn't add up," "the CBO has said that you say it is going to control costs, but it increases it by $1 trillion," all of this stuff, it's really out there — they would be winning this debate as they were before the town halls.

What's happening is this is causing a backlash. It's completely unnecessary. It is shooting yourself in the foot. If you want to demonstrate, you want to shout, you do it outside carrying signs. When you walk inside [the town hall meeting], you ask questions.

This is going to have two effects. Public opinion will make people, if anything, rather unsympathetic to those who oppose the bills.

And secondly, it's going to give a great excuse for the Democrats, when Congress returns, to push a partisan bill with no Republican support and say it's because the opposition is not — is simply oppositionist without any arguments and is acting in an irresponsible way.

McCarthy:

With due mountains of respect to Dr. K, his suggested approach of "quietly and civilly raising questions," politely pointing out that the numbers don't add up, etc., is exactly how we have come to be stuck with the stimulus, the bailouts, and obscene trillions in budget deficits.

This is not a nice, ivory tower, Oxford debate. This is gut-check time about whether we are going to maintain the bedrock American relationship between the citizen and the state. We are in the battle against ruthless, radical ideologues who have the media and the daunting numbers on their side. On our side, we have the further burden of wavering moderates and in-Washington-too-long types who define success as making a deal — any deal — that they think they can sell as a bipartisan compromise that staved off something extreme (but what in reality would be a sell-out that is 3/4 extreme, with Obama simply coming back in 2010 or 2011 to get the remaining 1/4 ... plus).

If our side's approach lacks passion: (a) the brass-knuckled Rahmbo/Pelosi/Reid leadership will easily succeed in showing the potential Democrat convincables (without whom we cannot win) that they better stay on the team if they know what's good for them, and (b) the GOP moderates and old Washington hands will interpret civility as a greenlight to do the dealing they're dying to do.

I agree with Krauthammer, more, but not fully. Public spectacle does have a bit of usefulness. But only a bit. In the end this is an attempt to persuade the persuadables, not preach to the choir, not try to top each other with how super-duper ragey-angry of a YouTube moment we can produce.

Where Krauthammer is wrong, though, is that if we're "perfectly civil," we basically allow these guys to stage-manage the events and offer tissue-thin platitudes instead of answering tough questions. It's only the jeering, and hooting, and yelling, and refusal to be fed pablum that results in the questions Krauthammer approves of being asked at all. Otherwise these jerkoffs would take our "civility" as a license to steamroll and ignore us.

But the more florid, Shouty McShouterson stuff?

I thought the guy screaming about his son with CP getting "no care" came off as an uninformed boob, and not the sort of person whom I, were I undecided in this matter, would listen to.

And the guy today screaming at Specter that God will judge the Democrats in Heaven?

What? This is the sort of thing that helps? Telling people Jesus will get payback?

Good arguments do not persuade people.

Bad arguments persuade people.

When someone hears a bad argument, they run from that person. Bad arguments shape opinion far more than good arguments.

I bet if I asked you guys why you support capitalism, or American exceptionalism or conservativism, 90% of the answers would be about the dog-food nonsense of the other side. You have been driven to the conservative side largely by how absurd the liberals' arguments are.

We can either have these idiots providing dogfood evasive answers and outright lies, thus getting them to drive voters into the opposing camp through their bad arguments, or we can have a self-indulgent can-you-top-my-anger-YouTube-"celebrity" contest and drive people to the other side with our bad arguments, such as "God will take care of you, buddy."

I like the hooting and jeering after evasive answers, as we saw in Claire McCaskill's town hall. That's a great way to let her know "We ain't buying it" and put her on the defensive.


Frankly, I've long admired the rudeness of the British jeering and hooting responses in Parliament, and have thought US democracy could use a little less sheepish passivity and acceptance.

But while hooting and jeering are useful -- forcing someone to offer more than platitudes, letting them know they are not trusted, but ultimately letting them speak -- simply getting all Shouty McShouterson is counterproductive.

Shouting people come off like angry assholes who don't know a damn thing about anything.

Rudeness and open scoffing and jeering is fine. But I see a lot of angry people, whose anger far outstrips their persuasiveness, getting their YouTube moment and turning what is a critical debate into an all-about-me fame contest.

It's a bad move.

I do get the reason for that one guy's anger -- Specter lied to him about letting him speak, choosing only to read friendly questions. But while his anger was real and warranted, yelling out dopey things like God is sending you to hell makes the con side look like emotion-driven anger-bots.


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posted by Ace at 03:26 PM

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