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Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Jester Stole His Thorny Crown

Matt Bruce wrote a somewhat provocative reply to my post of a few days back entitled Finite Jest. I'm not that "boils down to 'F*** You' is quite the right - or indeed, a particularly fair, way to read what I wrote.

I do admit that some of the response give me pause, as quoted below:

Really, who's the intended audience when you write a line like that? You can't really claim to be trying to show people themselves the error of their ways; if you won't give them the benefit of any doubt, then they owe you nothing in terms of trying to justify their existence or beliefs to you. What's left over is essentially preaching to the choir, and if I'm not part of that choir...

There are some fair questions in there.

Who was I talking to with "Finite Jest?" There is, to be sure, more preaching to the choir than usually engage in there, and a little blowing off of steam, at a higher level than I normally prefer to do. But that was far from the only thing I was attempting to do there.

The person who firmly believes that we are being run by wise and prudent and brave leaders in America could indeed probably skip the entire essay, since he or she is quite unlikely to care about what I have to say anyway. But neither the world nor the country can be divided so neatly into the "choir" and the "barbarian horde," and so I primarily had another group of people in mind.

I had conceived of a hypothetical person who votes Republican marginally more often than Democratic, and the point of the whole essay was to shed a little light on what I think is something rotten at the core of what is called "movement conservatism."

For this purpose I took three quotes, none of them from the fundamentalist Christian camp, since that wasn't exactly my target for this post. One of them was from a major figure in movement conservatism going back decades, another from a ruling President at the absolute minimum adored by movement conservatives, and a third by an entertainer whom it is reasonable to conclude was hired by movement conservatives. Little's comedy routine is pretty mean-spirited, and I think it says something unflattering about those who approved of it. Bush's line inadvertently speaks volumes about the priorities of his administration; it can't really be an accident that his policies have favored his paymasters to the detriment of everyone else (both inside and outside the United States.) Norquist's sickening comments largely speak for themselves. (And this is no isolated gaffe, either - you could spend an evening reading similarly appalling stuff he's said or written.)

Implicit in my post, I think, is asking the question of that hypothetical person: Is this where he or she really wants to be casting their lot? Depending on your perspective, this may in some sense qualify as "showing people the error of their ways."

As for the benefit of the doubt line that spurred Matt's was probably the worst line in the entire essay. It meant something more specific than I think Matt perceived. There are essentially no honest policy debates taking place in what passes for the political dialogue these days, and the tone is set at the highest levels. There has been a "my way or the highway" approach to governance coming from the Republican Party since the early 1990s, and it has served them well electorally. You can hear eliminationist rhetoric from the ranks of movement conservatives and even from some of their opinion leaders on a regular basis.

All I'm saying is that my guard is up.


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