Monday, February 21, 2005

They Still Don't Get It

To me, the mark of a serious argument is not how well you state your case, but how fairly you characterize the other side. That's why I'm so often astounded when I read certain academics who, for whatever reasons, make anti-Bush arguments that amount to little more than taunting.

Exhibit A, the response in The New York Review Of Books to a Mark Danner piece entitled "How Bush Really Won." Since so many left-leaning intellectuals thought this election so important, and since Bush won by a clear (if not overwhelming) majority, one would think it's in their interest to truly understand why they lost. Thus, the unfair and essentially clueless way they characterize Bush voters is all the more puzzling.

Professor Andrew Hacker states average Americans voted Republican because it gave them "a chance to feel superior." He notes the "Bush candidacy was framed to make a majority by giving some 60 million people a chance to feel good about themselves." In not unexpected logrolling, Mark Danner agrees, stating this theory is correct, "for 51 percent of [the voters] at least."

Continuing the orgy of backslapping, Professor Paul Cohen agrees with Danner that Bush won because "the Republicans...constructed a narrative" of Bush's strength versus Kerry's vacillation. Cohen goes on to claim this is an old Republican conceit--they are strong while Democrats are weak. They pushed this "theme and subtext" so well as to "effectively override the plain facts [which Danner noted]—the nonexistence of WMDs in Iraq, for example, and the disconnect between Iraq and September 11."

In other words, people voted for Bush by the desire to be morally superior and to feel like "real men." This is not serious analysis, this is name-calling.

Apparently, it doesn't occur to these three academics that anyone could vote for Bush without being fooled. Let's look at their two arguments, moral superiority and masculinity.

While it doesn't factor much into my vote, I don't deny many vote for the side they consider morally superior (and thus feel morally superior themselves--I would be glad to show the Professors thousands of Democrat attacks on innate Republican immorality if they doubt it). To most of these voters, of course, the morally superior side is also the side that will run the country best. I'm confused as to why the professors claim only Republicans vote for this reason. I have little doubt that Hacker and Danner think the Democrats' agenda is morally superior to the Republicans'. Does this mean they've been fooled? No, it's an honest difference of opinion. How can academics, biased or not, be so blinkered as to not see this?

As to "toughness," I'll admit my vote did turn on it. I considered national security the overriding issue of the election, and listened closely to what Bush and Kerry had to say. (The "plain facts" of missing WMDs and the disconnect between Iraq and September 11 that matter so much to Cohen and Danner did figure into my analysis, but not, apparently, in the way the two thought they should--as if they discredit the Bush administration's war on terror and that's that; I've argued about this so much in the past that I'm not going into it here, except to note that the Professors seem to have such strong views on certain facets of the war on terror that they miss how others may see it.)

There are many different strategies one may take, and no one can be sure how any course will turn out, but based on my belief that the threat is real and serious, I preferred the candidate I thought would conduct the war on terror more aggressively (this doesn't just mean fighting wars, of course) and it seemed clear to me Bush was the one. The "narrative" that Bush put out was not about making me feel more like a man, it was simply a way of signifying how he would fight a serious war, just as Kerry put out his "narrative" as to how he would fight it (including his belief that the war on Iraq was mistaken). My vote, then, was a considered judgment call, not a test of my masculinity.

I suggest the Professors go back to the blackboard and start again. But first write "I will not assume my position is the only reasonable one and that those who disagree are dupes" a hundred times.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

l.a. guy,

what do you mean by "clear (if not overwhelming) victory" in paragraph 2?

7:44 AM, February 21, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

l.a. guy,

what do you mean by "clear (if not overwhelming) victory" in paragraph 2?

7:45 AM, February 21, 2005  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I'm not sure which part--"clear" or "not overwhelming"--bothers you, so let me explain both.

"Clear (if not overwhelming) victory" simply means Bush won the popular vote by approximately 51% to 48%--and the electoral college vote by, in essence, one state.

The "clear" part is the 3 percentage points and a majority of the voters--after three elections where the winner didn't get a majority, that seemed clear enough to me. However, compared to some blowouts in recent Presidential history--1984, 1972, 1964--the numbers were hardly overwhelming. All the more reason, it seems to me, that academics who wished to see Bush defeated would want to study closely and without prejudice the actual reasons for his victory.

8:55 AM, February 21, 2005  
Blogger LAGuy said...

One more thing. I checked the second paragraph and please note it actually reads:

"Bush won by a clear (if not overwhelming) majority"

9:39 AM, February 21, 2005  
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