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August 19, 2014

The Political Value of Saying Stupid Crap You Don't Really Believe

That's a joke headline. I actually do mean what I'm talking about here.

Via Hot Air, writer Arthur Brooks makes the case (in the NYT) that it's a winning political strategy to talk up the other side's political priorities.

Without outright endorsing this claim -- and certainly without endorsing any implication that a party must "move to the center," away from its priorities, to win -- let me at least speak up for some basic truth in the general idea.

Each party tends to champion a limited number of priorities from a larger list of public goods.

For example: There is little doubt that the Democrat Party is devoted to prioritizing equality... at the expense of freedom.

And there is little doubt that the GOP prioritizes freedom higher than equality.

However, I think it's good politics for the GOP to frequently acknowledge that the value of equality itself is a very worthy thing.

The GOP's dispute with "equality" isn't with equality per se -- the GOP's problem with equality as a political good only comes when equality is being prioritized in such a way as to reduce freedom. That is, equality, all other things being equal, is a good thing to strive for (or, at least, hope for); the problem is a push for equality above all else, resulting in the contraction of citizen liberty (and, of course, the aggrandizement of the state).

I often feel like people -- politicians, us, everyone -- are speaking over the heads of your average LIV.

Your average LIV probably has not even considered that legislation to create "more equality" almost always requires less freedom.

We, as conservatives, know that. LIVs don't.

The LIV probably just assumes that equality and freedom naturally come hand in hand. And I think the LIV wonders about a party that doesn't speak up more about equality, as if they're opposed to the concept.

I keep saying this like inviting the LIV directly into the ninth minute of a ten minute argument. In the first eight minutes come the statements like "oh of course equality is a worthy ideal, but there are many cases in which equality can only be achieved by criminalizing people's choices-- making them less free."

But the public walks into the ninth minute, when positions have hardened, when all those "to be sures" have been abandoned, and just hears us not making any rhetorical nods towards equality at all.

I think this happens in a lot of situations. Conservatives do not hate trees. Conservatives, who tend to be more rural and suburban folk, really like trees. In fact, conservatives tend to be the people actually out in nature as part of their weekly routine.

But in disputes about the proper limits of environmental protections, I don't think the public hears us saying it loud enough: "No, we really like trees. We're looking for solutions that protect both trees and actual human beings, too."

Again, I think there's an invitation to the ninth minute of a ten minute argument thing that happens, and the LIV only hears us saying "Jobs are good" and not saying much at all about the trees.

The LIV is not a politically serious creature. The LIV just wants to hear that someone "shares his values." And if his values include "Trees are good," well, it's a foolish thing not to say that too -- especially when you actually do believe that Trees Are Good, but aren't saying so, just because a progressive won't shut up about The Gentle Trees.

Another thing I think happens is this:

Many political disputes -- hell, all of them -- involve a clash of two competing values.

In almost all cases, both of the values in conflict are actually good values. The dispute is usually not about whether one value is good and the other evil (or lacking any merit); usually it's about which value should be prioritized.

But I think very often in argument it becomes useful -- in the very, very, very short-term -- to simply deny that the other value (the one that you don't favor prioritizing) has any merit at all.

After all, if two good values are in conflict, resolving the conflict may require a messy balancing test open to all sorts of challenge.

But if you just deny that the opposing value has any merit -- or merely refuse to acknowledge it has any merit -- the argument is more easily made: This is good, the other thing is not-good, the good thing wins.

But this is a terrible political argument as regards the broader public, the LIVs, because the LIVs don't know much, but among the things they do know is that Trees are Nice and Equality is Nice, and, indeed, many things the progressives talk about are Nice Things, and to go out to speak with them denying the Niceness of These Nice Things they'll wonder how Nice you really are, and, of course, whether you Share Their Values (about Nice Things).

You'll notice that every red-state senator is currently talking up a blue storm about all the Nice Things conservatives like talking about. Indeed, they're talking almost exclusively about our own List of Nice Things (freedom, etc.), and not so much about the progressive List of Nice Things at all.

I say this a lot, but the one thing that truly defines an LIV is that he defines himself as nonideological, and he's proud of that. (He's proud that he doesn't bother with much thinking about politics or general political philosophy -- any human being, given the choice of thinking less of himself for a trait or flattering himself for a trait, will chose the latter nine times out of ten.)

So when an LIV hears a bunch of ideologically-convenient premises -- like the idea that Equality Isn't Nice and Maybe Trees Aren't So Nice either -- from a party, he gets the idea (correctly) that they are Ideological, and thus Not Like Him, and, probably, Also Crazy.

The left, I think, is usually a bit better about talking up GOP Nice Things. We actually get annoyed when they do, because we know they don't mean a word of it.

And they don't.

But the LIV does want to hear that Democrats actually care about freedom, growth, national strength, public order, and so forth.

And so they talk up these Nice Things, before voting down the line against them.

Something to think about, I think.

Don't get me wrong: Judge Smails is a g-damned hero. His ideology is sound and his heart is pure.

Judge Smails is everything that's Right about America.

Still, were he running for office, and were I his campaign manager, I'd advise him to Share the Values of the kid who wants a hamburger, no, a cheeseburger.

Or at least acknowledge the Hamburger No a Cheeseburger Agenda to have at least some limited merit. In the abstract. All other things being equal.

Sort of.

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posted by Ace at 07:50 PM

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