When Passion Becomes Madness

Peter Berkowitz has an excellent piece looking at the anti-Bush vitriol that’s become commonplace in American political culture. He reminds us of why such unbridled hatred is bad for American discourse:

In short, Bush hatred is not a rational response to actual Bush perfidy. Rather, Bush hatred compels its progressive victims–who pride themselves on their sophistication and sensitivity to nuance–to reduce complicated events and multilayered issues to simple matters of good and evil. Like all hatred in politics, Bush hatred blinds to the other sides of the argument, and constrains the hater to see a monster instead of a political opponent.

That’s why so much of the left-wing blogosphere is unreadable. It’s not about analysis of policy or understanding issues, it’s about turning the other side into demons. It’s not that conservatives are wrong, it’s that they’re evil. Once you go down that route, you’re no longer engaging with the real world. Once you start painting the opposition as emblematic of all that is wrong you’re not being objective, and you’re not making arguments.

Of course, the right side of the blogosphere isn’t immune from that sort of thing—not by a long shot, but when one looks at the list of the top center-right bloggers like Glenn Reynolds, Ed Morrissey or the Power Line crew you see a group of people who are taking sides, but not trying to constantly tear down their opposition. It’s about ideas, not attacks.

Contrast that with Atrios/Duncan Black, firedoglake or Think Progress. For one, notice one thing about the content of these sites: all of them are almost entirely about President Bush. Every political issue seems reducible down to one individual. In fact, the term “Bush” appears 38 times on the homepage of Think Progress. Every issue, from Iraq to taxes are personalized.

The problem with all this anti-Bush hysteria is that it degrades the quality of discourse in American politics. If everything boils down to either hating George W. Bush or supporting him, then there’s no room for reason, compromise, or discussions of underlying values. Why bother investigating the shades of an issue when it all comes down to disliking one individual?

Berkowitz is right: this obsession is an unhealthy one. The world is bigger than a referendum on any one person, and to reduce every issue down to personal attacks is to put ideological blinders on. Such a thing is deeply corrosive to democratic discourse.

As the old saying goes, great minds discuss ideas, medicore minds discuss events and small minds discuss people. What does it say about the state of American political discourse when so much of it seems so small-minded?

One thought on “When Passion Becomes Madness

  1. Unsurprisingly, I see things quite a bit differently, peering over from the left. While your own blog is reasoned and constructive, and openly biased (far from a criticism), your selection of blogs on both sides reveal your enthusiasm to demonize and generalize the entire left leaning blogosphere. Firedoglake, while I admire their recent organized crusade against the impending telecom immunity bill alongside Chris Dodd, is mostly unreadable. Think Progress, likewise, is pretty difficult to swallow for a lefty like me. I read these sites on occasion (along with OpenLeft, which would also fit into this category), but with the knowledge that they’re more fanatic than most. Media Matters could also be thrown into the mix of sites that seem to openly refuse to report on Democratic scandals, or regularly engage in debate of the Democratic party/liberal rhetoric. I don’t think they’re hiding this fact. Like Fox News, we have to approach biased reporting with the understanding that they’re not a fair representation of both sides of the argument. If you want good examples of well researched, left-leaning reporting with more tempered and constructive tones, refer to the excellent talkingpointsmemo, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, or The Atlantic’s Matt Yglesias.

    Simply put, President Bush is a divisive leader. The same might be said about President Clinton (and Senator Clinton), which would explain the strikingly similar vitriol provided by the conservative media during the 1990s. Besides No-Child Left Behind and Immigration Reform, I can’t think of many major policies that reached out for bi-partisan support. Bush’s neo-conservative foreign policy, cronyism, and the policing that dominates his policy decisions (see Alberto Gonzales, Brownie, Karl Rove) simply infuriates liberals. Glen Greenwald made an excellent post in response to the WSJ opnion piece you’re referring to, reminding readers of the Journal’s own reprehensible, unsubstantiated attacks on President Clinton during his administration. The right is far from blameless in this regard, and has hardly earned the right to point fingers.

    From our point of view, President Bush has been an unmitigated disaster. The atrocious state department handling of security contracting in Iraq (blackwater), politicization of the Justice Department, continued unwillingness to debate a failed strategy in Iraq are, and should be, frequent topics of discussion for the lefty blogs. If we want the next administration to improve these situations, or avoid electing another similar leader (Guliani), it’s important that this reporting continue. At the same time, I think a more constructive, sensitive tone (again, see TPM) might improve the lefty blogosphere’s image, opening up the possibility for debate with the right.

    For examples of right-leaning blogs I would consider as unhelpful as FDL/TP/OL, refer to Redstate.com, Hotair.com, and MichelleMalkin.com, to mention just a few. Each are blatantly biased (nothing wrong with that alone), and assume the sort of vicious tone that find so unsavory at FDL/TP/Atrios. That said, from what I’ve read at Power Line, they seems relatively constructive. I’m not familiar with Glenn Reynolds or Ed Morrissey, but I’ll be sure to check them out.

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