On Fluoride, The Civil Rights Movement, and the Future of the Tea Party : Updated


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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174 Responses

  1. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I think this misunderstands where the strength of the Democratic Party comes from. It is in large part because, despite the fact that they have a significant anti-fluoride contingent, the party itself doesn’t actually spend very much time indulging them. There are folks on the right and folks on the left that are anti-vaxxer, but there is a huge difference in the stature of Republican that will give voice to that argument and the stature of Democrat that will. Obama made a comment, once, I think, but quickly backtracked. As did McCain. But the Democrats lack somebody like Bachmann.

    The Democrats aren’t just the party-of-choice for the Google Bus Blockers, but also the people on the bus that they are blocking. So they can’t indulge it in quite the same way.

    Whatever else I will say about the Democrats, they don’t indulge that sort of thinking like the Republicans do and I think that’s great. As such, I think that the chances are pretty minimal that Tea Party populists will actually any sort of place with the Democrats. Even if the Republicans did stop indulging them.

    Also, since you didn’t start this post with six paragraphs about how terrible Republicans are and that Democrats are nigh-flawless, let me be the first to declare “False equivalence!”Report

    • Avatar North says:

      I’m gonna agree with this because Will worded it better than I could.
      I think this phenomena comes about primarily because the Democrats have an extremely strong contingent of wonks and also of raw bloody minded political cynics (I think Bill and the DLC imported the latter group in over the 90’s) and it serves them well. It does make them prone to drifting though and in time I could see it hollowing out the Party’s soul and one day maybe opening up enough space on the left for a competitor to emerge (though the far left has some serious ideology problems that they haven’t solved yet).Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        What do you make of the rise of Elizabeth Warren and Bill De Blasio over Christine Quinn types?

        I agree that both Warren and De Blasio are smart and capable and maybe even a little wonkish but they also seem to have some old liberal-populist fire to them. Warren and De Blasio would go after things in ways that seem to make Matt Y nervous. There are also people like me who are proud Democrats who are willing to push back against wonky types from time to time when I feel like the wonks are missing the point.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I would argue that it’s hard to extrapolate what’s happening in NYC to the national party. (Or SF or Portland, for that matter.)Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        That’s why I included Elizabeth Warren who is from Massachusetts.

        Perhaps but I think NYC (more than Portland, sorry Tod) can act as a fore-caster for the national party.

        SF and NYC could be called the Tale of Two Democratic Parties. The SF-Bay Area is seeing tech try and flex its muscles and make a more technocratic Democratic party. They are going after Mike Honda’s seat in congress. Ed Lee was elected with the help of the tech industry and is a bit of a Mayor Bloomberg type here in the new wars. Bill de Blasio represents a more traditionally liberal Democratic party. There is something old-school about him. Same with Warren.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I… resent that? Warren’s as much a technocrat as anyone else (and I count her as an ally, and I’m a technologically minded person…).
        I don’t think that simply because someone can give a good firebreathing sermon, that it’s any indication of their wonkishness, or tech-mindedness.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        NewDealer, I would not consider Warren to be a winger to be honest. She’s to the left end of the mainstream party establishment but I don’t consider her that far to the left. It may be because she’s wonkish. Also sometimes folks like Matt Y (of whom I am one) need to be made nervous by people like Warren, if only to make sure they do their homework and don’t get complacent.

        De Blasio is too new. We need to see what he does now that he’s in office and what the results are before I can form an opinion. Lord(lady?) knows that New York could really really use a big dose of Matt Y style liberalism (preferably one with an industrial strength shredder).Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:


        I also don’t think she is a winger but she does remind me more of an old school New Deal or midcentury liberal than she does of the Clintonesuqe triangulating, technocratic policy wonk sets who are more okay with Bloombergian leave Wall Street alone policies.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I’m actually amazed at the liberal goals Obama seems to be accomplishing. Talking about the long view, remember the speech that brought Obama to the top of the pack? Wasn’t it about the War in Iraq, and a very liberal take on it?

        Well, he ended it. And he’s getting out of Afghanistan. And now they’re seriously discussing downsizing the entire military. 80,000 people, whole programs scrapped. I’m overjoyed.

        I have this theory that defense spending is one of the best economic development levers the Executive Branch has; it’s much easier to get passed then safety-net spending, because we can pretend it isn’t for the moochers. And I’m pretty certain that Obama sees this, military spending buttressed a lot of local economies that would have been left out otherwise due to the stimulus too small. Happened all over my state, defense/stimulus worked together to help keep things going; particularly in the face of local government cutbacks and stalled lending to reasonable borrowers. That he’s willing to suggest this big a cut suggests he had faith that the economy doesn’t need this kind of support. Best news I’ve had in weeks.

        It’s looking like SSM will be the law of the land.

        We have the beginnings of a national-health care policy that might be sane.

        Women have access to contraception as a basic health care right.

        The EPA is actually following through with the Scotus and regulating carbon.

        Just sayin’Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Thank you Will. The Far Left exists in America but they either see the Democratic Party as way too conservative and don’t vote for them at all or only begrugindly identify as Democrats and vote for Democratic politicians. There are or were some out there Democratic politicians like Kucinich but he was margianalized in way that out there Republicans aren’t.

      The dominance of Out There conservatives in the GOP isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself. I think its a testament to the organizational strength of the Far Right that they were able to take over the GOP in away that the Far Left wasn’t able to do with the Democratric Party. The Far Right has a better knowledge of how the American political system works and recognizes the importance of all local, state, and government offices. The Far Left or even Center Left tends to only have their sights on the Federal offices rather than state and local ones to our detriment.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Agreed Lee, the far left has also seen their old ideals crushed on the rocky shoals of reality in a way that the far right hasn’t (or can’t)*.

        *With the exception of neocons, who are mostly trying to deny that they’ve been utterly discredited somewhat like the Titanic’s ship builder screaming about its’ unsinkableness as the cold Atlantic rises up around his legs.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        There are more than a few dyed in the wool Marxists and Anarchists that the believe that their ideas can really work despite all evidence to the contrary. They are more common in Europe than the United States and Canada, which tended to have less of radical presence anyway, but they are still there. Never under-estimate the ability of peopel to ignore evidence they don’t like.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Oh well sure, hell there’re Japanese who haven’t absorbed losing World War II. Policy wise, however, you need masses and you don’t get masses with discredited ideas, you just get the kooks.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        The American Far Right has plenty of failed policy ideas behind and they seem to be able to get masses just fine.Report

  2. Avatar North says:

    An interesting premise, my Tod, I note that you don’t seem to be making the Liberals/left=Democratic Party connection (a wise choice I’d say). For your prediction to come true would the GOP pretty much need to implode as a party first? I mean the Tea Party seems in zero danger of loosing their stalwarts to Democratic Party outreach right now. They share nothing in common with them.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      I’ll try to discuss this more in my longer post, but in fact in the South libs and dems are already reaching out to Christianists who are feeling disenfranchised by the GOP.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Very interesting, but at the same time the Dems seem to be embracing social libertineism with increasing confidence.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Huckabee’s contingent?Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        D’s have always had plenty of deeply religious people in the coalition. That they are reaching out for more them now may be true but AFAIK its based on a growing interest in environmental issues, health care and immigration. In other words the religious left is reaching over to the religious right on issues where there is substantial agreement and mutual concern.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        what’s fun is the democrats CAN do this. Tester and his guntoting friends can coexist beside the guncontrol advocates.
        Big Tent.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:


        in fact in the South

        I’d argue that’s specific to the region, though. That is to say that Democrats in the South need to do such things to win. So long as the Democrats are winning nationally, though, they don’t have much reason to reach out. Yes, there’s the Portland example, too, but that’s more “The Left” rather than “The Democrats” in a way that’s not interchangeable.


        Very interesting, but at the same time the Dems seem to be embracing social libertineism with increasing confidence.

        Selectively (sex specifically), and in my informal observation are becoming more scold-y about some forms of libertinism.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Trumwill you thinking along the lines of speech restriction/political correctness/racism stuff?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @north I was thinking along these lines. Verifying the given definition of libertinism, though, my initial comment may have been off-base. (And I know that you are good on the linked issue. I just find myself getting piqued.)Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Hell Trumwill, I find myself getting piqued! But politicians are always snuffling after things to “accomplish” le sigh.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      I think Tod’s point is that they do share things in common.

      One is the social safety net (social security and Medicare in particular).
      Food is another. When Palin was governor, she did a turkey pardon, and had stood speaking in front of another turkey as it bled out. The video went viral on dKos and other lefty sites. But I read it completely different: two politically opposed views who both have grave concerns about the industrial food chain.

      A third is actually fiscal responsibility; a quick look at deficits over time demonstrates this.

      A fourth might be medical marijuana, and with that, marijuana in general.

      A fifth might be the military and foreign policy; I don’t see much evidence of neo-con hawk tendencies in most of the tea-party member I know.

      I can see swaps on policy like accepting gay marriage in exchange for more protection of religious conscience, for example.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        The TP tends be concerned about their own social safety net. he TP in general seems to buy into the “lazy moochers are draining the country dry” idea. I can’t see how that would ever fit into the D push for uni HC or a stronger safety net.

        The turkey was , as a i remember, more just a weird thing. I don’t remember anything about food chains or some such. Govs do that turkey pardon thing a lot, its just a silly photo op/tradition.

        On deficits the TP seems to go more with the standard R line that we need massive cuts in social spending since it is destroying the country and bankrupting us. Again i can’t see how that fits in the D coalition.

        The TP may not be neo-con/interventionist, which is good, but i don’t really see them wanting a sharp decrease in military spending.Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Eh, I am not completely convinced. The far-left and far-right have always had more in common than they would want to admit. Specifically, they both tend to be anti-urban and have a kind pastoral view of utopia.

    Plenty of my liberal friends were gob-smacked at anti-fluridation in Portland as well as the anti-Vaxxers (who seem to also be left and right). The truth is that the far left is rather diminished in number in the United States and often tends to shoot themselves in the foot by speaking in a highly academic language that most people find off putting or at least confusing. I’ve worked with far-left orgnanizations. They had absolutely no power or influence over Democratic party policy.

    There are populists in the Democratic Party. The two most visible ones are Elizabeth Warren and Bill De Blasio. Their populism is much more economic than about fluridation and such. They do tend to make some neo-liberals like Matt Y nervous but they are proposing standard liberal fixes and regulation to inequality and financial crisis excess like bringing back Glass-Steegaal and raising the minimum wage and taxes on the wealthy for universal pre-K.

    I don’t think the Tea Party is becoming Democratic any time soon because they are still very socially conservative despite what they say.Report

  4. Avatar greginak says:

    There have always been assorted fringe groups in the US. I don’t think there is anything different about now then in the past. That people on the fringes end up going so far to one side they meet people coming around from the other side seem true. Most of the fringe groups seem to have quite a bit of paranoia and conspiracy theory tendencies. Those two things tend to end up self-limiting most groups from getting wide and lasting influence.Report

  5. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Wow. We really look at these types of things differently.

    You start from the premise that a bill to eliminate flouride from water is obviously and demonstrably insane and wonder how a rational person could believe such a thing. Just noting the fact that they do is evidence enough of their derangement.

    With that out of the way, onward to an analysis of why these ignorant lunatics hold such obviously false beliefs…Report

  6. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    Since everyone seems to have the essentially the same objection to my piece — that the Dems are strong and robust and fixed on certain ideals that they’d never waiver from and are very different from the GOP and these things are timeless and so what could possibly go wrong — I’ll just say this as a blanket response:

    You should really all go and have a heart-to-heart with Karl Rove. Because there ain’t nothing I see anyone saying here that wasn’t accepted as The Gospel Truth about the GOP by pretty much everyone a little over a decade ago.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      Well, I’m not part of that ‘everybody.’

      Just sayin’.

      Because I think you’re probably right, in some way we can’t necessarily see the outlines of. Because I’m sure Rove’s enjoying his permanent Republican Majority in some alternative world, but he sure didn’t get one in this world.Report

      • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

        Well, I’m not part of that ‘everybody.’

        Ditto. Team Tod!

        I think the way most of us come to know whether a policy is on the right or left is to see whether a Republican or a Democrat is supporting it.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Oh, I expect the Dems to break up, or us to have a third party one of these years.
      Until then, I’m munching popcorn.Report

    • I’m waiting for the longform essay before assessing your argument.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      “You should really all go and have a heart-to-heart with Karl Rove. Because there ain’t nothing I see anyone saying here that wasn’t accepted as The Gospel Truth about the GOP by pretty much everyone a little over a decade ago.”

      If one looks at the polling from the 2006 midterms, Iraq (and the debacle therein) was the number one issue on peoples minds and the one the people put a new Congress to do something about (which they never did). Every election since then has been about turnout, who can bring most of the footsoldiers into the booth.

      It hasn’t been the fringe that has moved, just the middle, who have always been courted by professional political operatives on both sides, while being held in heavy disdain by the base (on both sides).Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      It’s not that the Dems are strong and stable and based in common ideals.

      It’s that the Republicans are insane. Birtherism, trying to shut down the government, wanting to start a new war with Iran and be belligerent to everyone else for the heck of it, thinking that shovelling money at the military is magically not going to increase the debt. There’s not a left and a right party any more. There’s a (centre-right) fairly-rational party and a crazy party.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      You should really all go and have a heart-to-heart with Karl Rove. Because there ain’t nothing I see anyone saying here that wasn’t accepted as The Gospel Truth about the GOP by pretty much everyone a little over a decade ago.

      What the hell are you even talking about bro? Karl Rove explicitly talked about a permanent Republican majority. How is that equivalent (hah!) to anything a liberal or Democrat has said? I mean, I’m a liberal so you’d think I’d be aware of all this gleeful “permanent liberal majority” stuff, but I haven’t seen any of it. What I do see is a bunch of conservatives and centrists arguing that if the GOP doesn’t get it’s act together on immigration and women’s issues they’re gonna be outa power over the long haul.

      If a non-liberal talks about the long term prospects of the Dem party can we still attribute those views to liberals? Sure, cuz they think they’re superior anyway.Report

  7. Avatar Patrick says:

    Lee says upthread: “The Far Right has a better knowledge of how the American political system works and recognizes the importance of all local, state, and government offices. ”

    I don’t think that’s quite right.

    The Far Right, such as it is, however, has more extra-political community organization than the Far Left does.

    The most obvious extra-political community is organized religion, but there are lots and lots of long standing cultural organizations that skew conservative. There aren’t quite so many that skew liberal.

    You’ve got your Catholic old boy social network organizations, Protestant old boy social network organizations, nonprofits with largely nonpolitical missions who nonetheless are made up largely of social conservatives (The Salvation Army, Catholic Charities).

    Even when those organizations are strictly nonpolitical in mission, I suspect that a goodly number of the folk who participate in them are still much more closely tied by multiple ties in a social network analysis than random folks on the left.

    Go to small town U.S.A. and you may find that the folks who are pushing to get a conservative on the town council go to church together, volunteer at the parish yearly fair together, maybe they’re linked by also being members of the local VFW chapter, maybe they’re both NRA members, etc. The folks most likely to be politically active are probably also most likely to be social-network-active, and have multiple ties.

    Select two random liberal in Big Town U.S.A. and about the only thing you might have in common with each other is that they both listen to NPR, or get their news from the BBC instead of the NYT. Maybe they both watch The Daily Show.

    I have no idea how well this theory stands up, but it feels right.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      While reporting, I found that people on the right (I won’t say far right) tended to include business owners, etc., who had to interface with government in ways that a lot of other people didn’t, and as a group, tended to belong to the GOP because of the anti tax/regulation policies. Getting the permits and permissions for a business, the approvals of planning boards for real estate development, and dealing with regulators is a good way to become informed with how government systems function. Attending the local town meeting and an occasional school board meeting and reading the local paper simply do not provide the level of detail on system function required to use the system.

      Additionally, business owners tend to hold a lot of social capital in their communities, and their opinions and views on things tend to be widely adopted by people within the community who want social stability.

      That expertise and social capital are invaluable in leveraging the political process effectively.

      A lot of the tea-party organizing veers away from this model; it actually looks more like what I think of as traditional liberal organizing to my eyes.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I think you are leaning towards something that might be part of the issue. Lots of liberals refuse to participate in Salvation Army stuff because of their homophobia stance. There are also the Rotary Club, the Elks Lounges, the Junior League (it still exists and that surprises me, I was a bit shocked when a female co-worker told me she was leaving work a bit early one day because of a Junior League event).

      People on the left also tend to mock when they get together. One of my examples from the Park Slope Food Co-Op debates:


      I think you are right that conservatives tend to gather more and be like-minded. I get together with my liberal friends all the times but not in rotary club or church type functions and we often don’t discuss politics.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      I would also like to point out that the far right gets more money than the far left.

      Rick Perlstein’s work is invaluable about this especially Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the unmaking of American Consensus. The far right movement which started in the post-WWII era was largely funded by midwestern midlevel industrialists like Kohler who hated the Rockfeller wing of the GOP as much as they hated liberalism. These were old school and unrepentent American Firsters.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      This is a good point. As my wife and I start to look more at the community with which we associate, we were somewhat dismayed to find that most such organizations were either A) conservative, B) religious, or C) both. And none of that appealed to us for one reason or another. Now, some of that is the unique situation in our current town. But I also think it comports with broader trends. It has actually led us to consider strongly what is the next school I teach at, as we may choose to have our children attend that and use that as our “community”. Some schools are much, much better at doing that than others.

      This also plays out politically. I often hear conservatives complaining about liberal calls for boycott. Thing is, I never get those calls. I’m not even sure who I’m supposed to look to to hear those calls. Meanwhile, conservatives seem to have a bevy of networks through which they can organize such efforts.

      None of this should be read as a critique of conservatives, mind you. Just an assessment of my own experience in this regard.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      The Far Right has been able to make a lot of inroads by trying to get control of whatever political institution they can from the local school board to the Presidency. They were also willing to play a long game for control of the Republican party by participating in the local party meetings and making sure that the most viable or even sometimes the least viable conservative got nominated. Thats why Republicans tend to fear primary challengers more than Democratic politicians. The Far Left or even ordinary liberals have demonstrated less patience for politics as attrition than the Far Right has.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I agree with this totally.

        I live in a county that had no long-term vision or planning on the part of Dems. One person, one woman who I admire tremendously, stepped up and began working on that, and she’s done so for the 16 years I’ve lived here, and was doing it before. She’s put the effort into helping Dems understand the need for long-term goals; for getting people to run for office, for every office, and helped them realize the benefits of that process in producing viable candidates for higher offices. (A lot of good people do not have the ability to be a good politician.)

        As a result of her efforts, this county has gone from being almost totally run by Republicans to a pretty good red/blue mix.

        There are many places that are blue and that vote blue that do not have such a long-term visionary, and there is a state/local trending red that bodes poorly for the future. When the school board is stacked with creationists, I’ve got a problem. My entire community has a problem.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        True. I remember Michael Moore trying to encourage liberals to attend local Democratic party meetings. It didn’t seem to work.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Michael Moore may be a great guy (and an asshole), but he’s got the totally wrong platform for encouraging people to go to local meetings.
        I think kos has a better success rate on that…Report

      • Avatar zic says:


        I once interviewed this guy, worked for Haliburton, about how, as a small business, to contract with them to do business in Iraq; my audience were veteran business owners. There’s a lot of them.

        So I did the interview. He was going to send me photos to go with the story. Weekend comes, and I go see Fahrenheit 9/11 with my elder sprout over the weekend. Monday comes, I write the story up and re-write it, get the picture and open it up. And there’s this guy staring at me from the movie; the scene with the guy from Haliburton at the conference organized by Microsoft.

        One of my journalistic moments of serendipity.

        After I filed the story, I dropped him an email and told him how disappointed I was he hadn’t told me he was a movie star, playing in major box offices all over the country.

        He was absolutely shocked that I’d seen the movie; the voice for the company, and nobody else he was talking to seemed to have noticed. So yeah, who listens to liberals? Certainly not the liberal elite media he was talking to.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        Much obliged if anyone rescue the league eyes with a tag fix.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        A lot of small-d democratic politics involves some very boring grunt work like attending party meetings so you can get your preferred candidates nominated. Many leftists and liberals seem less enthusiastic about this grunt work. We like the sexy world of protests and civil disobedience, the high drama of Congress and the Presidency, or the cerebral world of policy think tanks but they can’t seem to marshall enthusiasm for the grunt work of politics. Thats one of our, American liberals and leftists, fatal flaws.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        @leeesq That’s an excellent point, though I wonder how much of that is being part of a democracy (as opposed to being left/lib).

        I also wonder if there is a laziness factor that kicks in when your ostensibly in power. The left seemed to be willing to do way more grunt work during the Regain and Bush admins, and the right seems more willing to do it now as well as during the Clinton years.

        I concede that might well just be my perception, but it seemed that way.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @tod-kelly I suspect perception here is probably more geographical, and has to do with the presence of what Bernstein calls the party elites, people like the woman I described above. Given one or two people willing to put the effort over time to create a party structure and vision, it will thrive. Without that, it risks faltering. (Too rabid, and the risk of falter grows; a knife edge.)

        The edge for conservatives/Republicans has been bringing in the growing Evangelical fringe — the organizational potential of churches that already existed and were also sprouting up — in the late ’80’s through the 1990’s, culminating in the 2000 election, and now, decaying into the tea party.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        @tod-kelly, the grunt work that the Far Right/Conservatives did to take over the GOP began shortly after World War II ended and didn’t come into full fruition until Reagan’s election. After the Depression, conservatives felt just as isolated from politics as a lot of Leftists do now. They saw FDR and the Democratic Party as being little better than Communists and the GOP as a me-to Democratic-light party. They were in despair, especially when Eisenhower didn’t use his Presidency to revoke the New Deal. Thats when the conservative really began to fight for the GOP. There first success was the Goldwater nomination even though that ended in a landslide defeat.Report

  8. Avatar Shazbot11 says:

    “I would argue that today’s liberals have learned as little from that history as today’s conservatives.”

    More both sides do it.

    A few hippies begin to get too enamored with the erroneous idea that natural and fluoride free is better than artificial and fluoridated, thus they are or will soon be as bad as conservatives who deny anthropogenic global warming, believe people on welfare have it too easy, believe reverse racism is the real problem, gay parents are bad parents and more likely to molest, the government wants to take your guns to institute totalitarianism, etc. etc.

    Here’s a hint at the difference. Both liberals and conservatives have members who can fall for kooky ideas like fluoride being dangerous. (All of us can from time to time.) But conservative kookiness is driven by the fact that it is tied to pernicious social forces like homophobia, racism, Islamaphobia, sexism, a belief in the moral and psychological inferiority of the poor as a cause for poverty, etc.

    Hippy kooks will remain mostly harmless and kept in check by their own -sometimes ill understood by themselves- commitment to eliminating oppression, ending racism, lifting women’s rights, treating gays as equals, etc.

    Indeed, the kookiness of the conservative kooks isn’t the problem. The problem is that the kookiness is their way of avoiding confronting the fact that they are effected and motivated (perhaps outside of their conscious awareness, perhaps not) by the worst and most toxically pernicious forces in society: racism, sexism, bias against the poor, etc.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Shaz, the BSDI theory is just so damn compelling and elegant it has to be true. But you can only see it if you’re above the fray!!Report

    • Avatar Shazbot11 says:

      In fact, hippy kooks have been kept in check by these forces for decades. They could have spiralled out and started becoming hate mongers and a pernicious voting block, but that hasn’t happened. It obviously won’t happen anytime soon.

      Look around for international comparisons, too. That could make this interesting.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      “More both sides do it. A few hippies begin to get too enamored with the erroneous idea that natural and fluoride free is better than artificial and fluoridated, thus they are or will soon be as bad as conservatives who deny anthropogenic global warming, believe people on welfare have it too easy, believe reverse racism is the real problem, gay parents are bad parents and more likely to molest, the government wants to take your guns to institute totalitarianism, etc. etc.”

      You get that I’m not talking about fluoride there, yes? That the lesson of history that liberals don’t see isn’t that you should put fluoride in water, but that just because your party looks like X today doesn’t mean it’s going to look like X tomorrow? Seriously, there’s nothing in my post that argues “liberals are just like conservatives because they have kooky people too!”

      It’s like the “false equivalence” defense has become so monolithic that you now just read everything that isn’t “yay team blue” as “both sides do it” reflexively.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        but that just because your party looks like X today doesn’t mean it’s going to look like X tomorrow

        Who gives a rats ass about what it looks like tomorrow, Tod? You apparently think that liberals should because of all their claims to superiority and all. If that’s your argument, you can have it. What I want to know is how you can construct an entire analysis of liberal thought based on the idea that liberals views are determined by their sense of superiority.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        It’s like the “false equivalence” defense has become so monolithic that you now just read everything that isn’t “yay team blue” as “both sides do it” reflexively.

        And what would settle the issue? One way is to view liberal’s rejection of the BSDI thesis as a confirmation that BSDI.

        That’s tidy, no doubt. It’s also circular.Report

      • Avatar zic says:


        I don’t get that from Tod’s post at all.

        I do get that people like to be on the winning side; and if you can find some kind of common ground, they’ll happily switch to the side the perceive to be winning. And in so doing, they change the winning side in unpredictable ways.

        tldr: we become our own enemy over time.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Let me put it this way, Still. Why is the GOP — and the right — such a mess these days? Have they always been this way, or are they this way because of a path they’ve chosen — and if the latter, what was it about that path that made them so lose their way?

        My guess is that you and I disagree on the larger issue of where the left is headed because we disagree on the answers to the questions I posed in the paragraph above.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        zic, what I’m objecting to is an analysis of people’s views based on adopting an ideological framework and then analyzing individual thoughts and beliefs in terms of that framework irrespective of the reasons people might actually have for holding the beliefs. That’s fundamentally different, and I want to make this clear, than hearing what people say and disagreeing with it. Disagreement is fine, in my book. Attributing views to people based on the theory you hold of them due to their political identification is compete and utter bullshit.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        It’s like the “false equivalence” defense has become so monolithic that you now just read everything that isn’t “yay team blue” as “both sides do it” reflexively.

        Rather, it’s that it’s a marvelous panacea against cognitive dissonance.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @stillwater I don’t disagree, but I do think that the reasons people hold many political views are rooted in the social structures, not their politics. The politics, for most (certainly not all) are often a reflection of their social structures.

        I also think this discussion tends to conflate party ID with ideological spectrum, that is R=Conservative, D=Liberal, and those things do change over time. Right now, D=Centrist, and I hear that a lot from Liberals™. There is no public option in ACA, and a single-payer was never on the table. I expect a trend of fiscal conservatives/social liberals to become obvious having moved from R to I to D over time.

        So it’s important, to hold this particular discussion where we’ve got a number of things happening (remember it’s a process here, not a state) that state’s change due to the pressures of the process. The change that Tod’s pointing out is that the presumption that D will continue to embrace Liberal and exclude Conservative should be challenged. And I believe he’s suggesting the Permanent Republican Majority discussions from the early 2000’s as evidence.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Rather, it’s that it’s a marvelous panacea against cognitive dissonance.

        Just as it is a panacea against the dissonance created by realizing that people don’t hold the beliefs that they’ve been attributed with.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        Well, that wasn’t directed at you. Not at any named person in particular.

        My point is that self-critique is hard, and it can be unsettling. So humans tend to avoid it. But those who are intelligent enough to know they really ought to do it need to justify (to themselves) not doing it. “False equivalency” is an excellent justification.

        It’s not that every claim of false equivalency is mere justification. But the more often it’s used–and particular when used as a conversation stopper–the more we should suspect it’s being used as an avoidance mechanism.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot11 says:

        Why is the GOP — and the right — such a mess these days? Have they always been this way

        They have been believed kooky and pernicious things at least since Buckley was against the civil rights movement.

        Their track record of kooky and pernicious beliefs and preferred policies is pretty old.

        But, hey, southern Dems, and Marxists. Both sides do it!

        Does the side that says “both sides do it” also do it?

        Meh. I’m out of this conversation for a while. Good luck.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Look, I hear what you’re saying about that. Self-reflection is hard. But for starters, why should I care if someone isn’t engaging in self-reflection? I mean, I can just disagree with them about what they’ve said or that the reasons they’ve given justify their view. But how am I justified in going the next step in attributing to them a defensive posture of rationalization? It seems to me the only way I can do that is to attribute a different reason for the views they hold than they’ve expressed. That is, I apply a model or framework to them to account for why they don’t agree with me about the judgment I’m making of them. To me, that’s just a big ole fat circle.

        Disagreement is fine. Imposing an analysis on them to account for that disagreement isn’t fine, even tho it’s something we are naturally inclined to do. And folks who view liberals resistance to the BSDI equivalence seems to me exactly an example of that attribution: liberals deny the equivalence because their liberals and not because there is empirical evidence (or whatever) demonstrating otherwise.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        And to fill that out a bit: there is a reason liberals object to the general use of BSDI – Broder, Brooks, et al have made careers out lumping both sides into the same group and reducing those groups to ravenous, frothing, irrational masses of emotionalism while they – from they’re unique position above the fray – can properly diagnose problems and propose objective, reasoned solutions to our societal problems.

        It’s all bullshit, if you ask me.

        Given that, liberals on this site anyway are very amenable to legitimate criticisms of the nonsense liberals or Dems engage in, but that never seems to get any attention from the commenters who think of themselves as above-the-fray types themselves. So the focus is always on the specific instances where liberals deny the equivalence.

        Personally, I think Tod’s looking for evidence to fit his theory rather than the other way around. But that’s just one guys opinion, so whatever. Plus, I’m a liberal, so I’d say that anyway, right? 🙂Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        But for starters, why should I care if someone isn’t engaging in self-reflection?

        For starters, it can be really hard to discuss things and behaviors if the person simply doesn’t see it, doesn’t believe it exists, or isn’t relevant when their own side does it. And some of the time, it doesn’t matter if you say one side does it worse than the other or that one party is worse than the other. Mentioning that the other side does it at all becomes BSDI and false equivalence, even if no actual equivalence in frequency or tendency is being stated.

        Tod writes a post about the Republicans being completely ridiculous and that the Democratic response to it actually isn’t very productive. False equivalence.

        The Washington Post writes an article crunching numbers on gerrymandering and determines that it’s not enough to account for the House being in GOP hands. But since a part of the calculation is that Democrats do gerrymandering – albeit less – it’s “Both Sides Do It.”

        Tod has written post after post after post after post on the deficiencies of the Republican Party. What happens when he writes something that is vaguely critical of the Democratic Party? Well BSDI, of course. Because Tod (Tod?!) can’t admit that the parties are actually different? Or because he simply believes one party is much worse than the other but that neither are perfect? Or that the latter is sometimes worth mentioning?

        This is, I should add, on a post in which I wrote the very first commenting expressing disagreement with his thesis. But not every expression – including wrong ones – that the Democrats sometimes behave like Republicans or might at some point do so in the future is actually a case of assuming that the parties are even remotely equally bad. Especially when coming from an author who has written a series of posts on the absolute clutterbuck that is one (and only one) of the two parties.

        It’s honestly unclear to me what, short of talking solely about bad Republicans and Republican misdeeds, isn’t BSDI.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        I think your approach de facto privileges the claim of false equivalence as a substantive argument. I disagree. I suspect that this is an area where our different intellectual approaches make productive discussion impossible, so I’ll leave it at that. YMMV.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        James, I’m happy to disagree about it and leave it at that.

        Will, I think most people here agree that BSDI is not literally true, in degree or amount. So most people think the thesis is false. Why isn’t that the end of the story? Because people view liberals rejection of an equivalence defensive posturing when they deny any specific example proposed. Maybe the liberal is right about that, maybe wrong. But here’s the part I dont’ get: why the f*** does it matter one way or the other? What point is being made by proposing the equivalence in the first place? Right away, we’re at the level of meta-analysis – some comparison between “both sides” – which lumps every member of the group into two clearly defined categories which apparently share one intrinsically relevant property: partisanship. Each member of each side will defend their side even if it means looking like an irrational fool to do it. The whole point is to expose something that begs the question to begin with: that individual beliefs are caused by, motivated by, determined by, an irrational defense of “their party”.

        Fine. Have it. How well does this model explain the individual behaviors of liberals and conservatives? Well, clearly, taken to its logical limits, it accounts for all of it, since every single belief a person holds can be attributed to their being a member of a party. So why even ask them the reasons why they believe what they do? It’s just a useless exercise, a silly conversational game.

        OK, that reductio ought to bring in relief what I’m talking about. It’s always possible to account for a person’s political beliefs by attributing to them an institutional logic derived from their partisan loyalties.

        What’s gained by doing so? From my pov, nothing is gained. I also think it makes real political discussion impossible since the person who attributes an institutional logic to an L or C will account for their views and beliefs a priori (so to speak) rather than based on anything that person has said. So it’s not that they disagree with the person, they view the person as irrational. Which is a bad way to engage in political discussions and resolve political disputes.Report

      • @stillwater I think you’re missing the point, which is that the majority of the accusations of “false equivalency” or “this is just BSDI” seem to occur in response to posts or comments that aren’t even attempting to draw an equivalence. It can come across as saying that any criticism of liberals with which liberals disagree is a “false equivalence” or a case of the writer just saying BSDI. If no equivalence is being made, throwing out a response of “false equivalence” works as a dodge.

        Even if an equivalence is being drawn, just saying “false equivalence” isn’t an argument – to have any weight, the claim needs to (a) identify where, exactly, the equivalence is supposedly being drawn; and (b) explain why that equivalence is wrong.

        All that said, I’m not sure how big a problem this is around these parts – until the last few days*, I don’t recall it being raised that frequently in the recent past. I’ve seen it raised plenty of times elsewhere, sometimes correctly, sometimes not, but how it’s deployed elsewhere isn’t really my concern.

        *In the thread on the Google Bus protests, I’ll certainly cop to drawing an equivalence; I just haven’t seen it explained why the equivalence is false.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        On this post here, Tod is talking about partisan allegiances. You know what matters when talking about partisan allegiances? Partisanship matters, that’s what. It’s not an argument that all parties are created equal – there is virtually no indication that Tod actually believes this to be the case and a lot of indication that he does not – but is an argument about the nature of parties.

        His belief is predicated on the argument that partisan affiliation affects thinking and behavior. So that this is the case is rather important. Partisan coalitions are an important subject. So how does one approach this subject without mentioning the behavior that party affiliation often inspires?

        How can he write about what he views as the likely shift between the parties without it being BSDI? How can he write about Democratics responding poorly to Republican stupidity without it being BSDI? Can you write about gerrymandering without either pretending it is entirely one-sided without it being BSDI? It’s clearly insufficient to be on record as stating that one party behaves worse than the other.

        BSDI and false equivalence are real things. It actually means “You are presenting things things as being equal when they are in fact not equal.” But in my view it has become a catch-all for someone without a party affiliation criticizing Democrats or running any sort of comparison between the parties that pertains to behavior that isn’t “Democrats good, Republicans bad.” That’s not what it actually means, but that’s increasingly how it comes across. No matter what the speaker has said previously, no matter whether or not they actually argue that the things are in fact equal, and regardless of previous context.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        I did explain that: star lobbyist for the GOP and frequent guest on Fox News vs. some local yutz’s with no clout whatsoever. It’s exactly the same BSDI as “So what if Rush called her a slut? Some anonymous commenter at DKos called my president ‘Chimpy McHaliburton’!” and it’s tiresome.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        @mark-thompson It occurs in fits and starts. It’s been occurring in recent weeks, but was driving Tod Kelly crazy as far back as 2012.

        I will say in the defense that the accusation usually is followed by an explanation for why this is totally different from that. Sometimes it is. Though it’s often in response to something that wasn’t actually saying “this is totally like that.”

        Sometimes, to be fair, it is in response to something that is implying that this is like that without explanations that they differ in frequency, intensity, or type. Which is why I do think that BSDI and FE are worth reporting on. When they are occurring.Report

      • @mike-schilling If that comment’s directed at me, I honestly don’t have a clue which thread/comment you’re referring to.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Given that, liberals on this site anyway are very amenable to legitimate criticisms of the nonsense liberals or Dems engage in,

        You know, there have been several critiques made of liberals and/or Dems on this blog in the past few days, and each has produced a very quick response along tne lines of “no we don’t,” “you can’t lump liberals as a group,” “that’ a bad analogy,” or “false equivalence.”

        Maybe every single one of those critiques was illegitimate, but I’m skeptical. Hence I’m skeptical of your claim. Oh, some do, no doubt. But all of them? Well, I suppose if we let them be the sole determiners of what is a legitimate critique, but that’s got some conceptual problems, doesn’t it?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        I thought you meant this, since it was just yesterday and was about Google buses and false equivalence.Report

      • @mike-schilling I missed that comment of yours. I’ve got no problem with making that point.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        I think you’re missing the point, which is that the majority of the accusations of “false equivalency” or “this is just BSDI” seem to occur in response to posts or comments that aren’t even attempting to draw an equivalence.

        Well, Will was the first one to say FE on this post, so I guess he was just being irrationally defensive. 🙂 Honestly, on this site I see liberals criticizing Dems and other liberals all the time, and I see lots of people claim that BSDI based both their above the fray, non-partisan position as well as provide an institutional analysis entailing that both parties are *identical* so far as it goes. (Criminy, I write about this stuff all the time at this site.) Furthermore, when liberals claim FE about something someone says I generally agree with them. Am I irrationally defensive when I do so? I mean, I criticize Dems and liberals all the time. I’ve got street cred. Why in just *this* particular instance would you judge me as being irrationally defensive?

        Now, if you’re just talking about a reflexive desire to defend oneself from a perceived criticism (here or more generally) then I agree with you completely. Certainly, people will react that way. Which brings us right back to my strike zone: analyzing and interpreting peoples beliefs and justifications based on an institutional model you impose on them just because of they have a D or R after their name makes them pretty fishing defensive. And that’s what the equivalence game is all about, it seems to me: establishing that liberals and conservatives beliefs are irrationally determined by partisanship. Not that they’re wrong, but irrational.

        Also, how is the claim of a FE a conversation stopper? If the initial claim wasn’t meant to establish an equivalence then it would be really easy to clear the confusion up, no? Especially at this site? Seems to me that the purpose of an equivalence is to analyze the parties from non-partisan perspective by attributing irrational institutional partisanship to the targets of the proposed equivalence, no? I mean, what other purpose does it serve? Are people justified in getting defensive about that? maybe we disagree about that.

        Re: the equivalence on the other post: sure, I think those can be viewed as equivalent to some degree. I don’t think conservatives are irrational in advocating against birthright citizenship. They think it furthers their goals.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Maybe every single one of those critiques was illegitimate, but I’m skeptical. Hence I’m skeptical of your claim. Oh, some do, no doubt. But all of them?

        If true, what follows from that? Do the sins of my brother ans sister liberals pass on to me? can we construct an entire analysis of liberals as a group because of that? is it possible for liberals to have disagreements with each other consistently with a monolithic conception of liberals as a group?

        I mean, sure. I’m willing to concede that some people might be defensive about criticism. (Who isn’t?) What does that show? That they’re irrational? That they have a double standard? That they don’t even understand they’re own views?

        I really don’t know what it shows, myself, so I don’t understand why it really matters in the context of political debates. Well, I do, actually: it’s because as a Liberal I’m my thought processes and beliefs are indistinguishable from every other liberal.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Do the sins of my brother ans sister liberals pass on to me?

        Where did I suggest any such thing? I wasn’t even talking about you in that sense.

        So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m exiting this suddenly very uncomfortable discussion.Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        @stillwater “Also, how is the claim of a FE a conversation stopper? If the initial claim wasn’t meant to establish an equivalence then it would be really easy to clear the confusion up, no?”

        I think you just answered your own question, at least in regards to my own posts.

        I do not claim an equivalence between the GOP and the DNC — at all. Not in this post, and not in any post. And the reason I don’t is because the parties are in no way equal using any conceivable metric: They aren’t equal in effectiveness, they aren’t equal in integrity, they aren’t equal in good faith, they aren’t equal in competence, they aren’t equal in loonies-per-elected-officials ratio.

        I have to say, I don’t know how you can be a regular reader of this site and come away with a “Tod says there’s no difference between Dems and the GOP” without rather willfully deciding not to bother reading anything — anything — I write.

        And so when you take an observation that is critical of your side (and let’s be honest, one that’s not even that critical) and immediately dismiss it as being “BSDI” or “FE” — when that criticism makes no claim of any equivalence whatsoever — then you’re pretty much using BSDI and FE as a conversation stopper.Report

      • @stillwater I think something’s seriously getting lost in translation here, to the point where I’m not even sure anymore whether I understand what’s being argued over. So that’s probably a good indication that I should duck out of the conversation until I’ve got a better handle on it.

        But I will say that it seems like part of the problem here is that the nature of writing on politics requires using shorthand for, and making generalizations about, broad, relatively diverse groups. This is particularly true when discussing coalition politics. There are a lot of obvious drawbacks to that, even though it’s a necessary part of writing about the subject; but most obvious of those drawbacks is that people who don’t fit the generalization are going to object to it, as they should, and may well get offended by it. The legitimacy of that offense is surely something that writers need to better keep in mind, even if it be unavoidable.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        James, sorry about that. I forgot that we agreed to disagree. My bad.
        That comment was unfocused anyway. Double bad.

        Tod, you actually have indicated that you’re interested in defending something like the BSDI theory,

        But I think it’s yet another scrap of anecdotal evidence that U.S. liberals are slowly remaking themselves in the right’s Ratings-First-Governance-Last image.

        I never attributed either BSDI or a FE on this thread, so I don’t know what the specific criticism is. I busted you last night for viewing the BG protestors thru a particular lens which concluded that those protestors are just as mock worthy as mockable conservatives, and therefore that a liberal is irrational (I guess, was that the point?) if he didn’t express equal mockery all around.

        To reiterate, my complaint had nothing to do with mockery, it had to do with the lens you view things thru which the GB protestors and certain types of conservative foolishness were obviously equivalent. I don’t think they’re equivalent, myself. As Chris said, if that’s the most mockworthy example of liberal behavior to establish an equivalence, then the game is over. But furthermore, those protests were motivated by concerns I completely understand and in part agree with. I also agree with some of counterarguments against the appropriateness or efficacy of those actions. Heck, I expressed those arguments myself on an earlier thread here.

        That was the point of the discussion last night. The equivalence stuff is an example of the type of thinking I’ve been explaining here. It’s not the point, of the arguments.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @stillwater do you mean you see folks shooting the messengers (the GB protesters, for instance) instead of getting the messages (growing income inequality and gentrification)?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        Intellectually shooting them, yes.

        I’ll try this again: the view that the GB protestors are obviously mockworthyonly makes sense in an intellectual context where those types of behaviors are obviously mockworthy, but given that that framework is the one embraced by person A, A therefore concludes, given the obviousness mockworthiness of the GBers, that anyone who disagrees holds an (obviously) false belief. And the only way a person could hold a false belief is if they’re either ignorant or irrational. Leaving ignorance aside, the way the irrationality is accounted for via attributing some other thought process to the person in question: partisanship, signalling, etc.

        But, and here’s the point, in a political context, the attribution of ignorance or irrationality about beliefs only follows from accepting some preferred theory to justify and account for political beliefs to the exclusion of other theories or systems of belief or thought processes, etc.

        What’s missed is the actual issue that the protestors and anyone who defends them are concerned about is left as justifiably mockable or irrational or whathaveyou.

        So the criticism is the circularity of the whole process whereby people aren’t simply disagreeing, they’re accounting for and thereby negating the validity of the initial views views in question.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @stillwater I pretty much stayed out of the GB bus debates because I completely understand the symbolism of it.

        In politics, they talk about building the ‘narrative;’ one of my least-favorite of the babble heads, John Dickerson (he totally ruins Washington This Week for me) is constantly dithering on about it. But symbolism, narrative, these things matter. For a really long time, society here has done a lot of dirty hippie punching; the GB bus was an instance of it — but I totally agree, the symbol has huge potential to backfire, too; and it did in many ways in this instance. The rock throwing didn’t help; we expect peaceful non-violence from our protesters or else they are dirty hippies or commies or whatever. (Remember, this was one of the big talking points about the difference between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall St.) I think in very many ways, the ignorant fox-watching tea party meme is pushback against the dirty hippie meme.

        But symbols, meaningful symbols that convey a good narrative are master strokes; a lot of not-so-great symbols rise up and fall, it’s a very organic process, a viral process. So I would expect a lot of things to happen, to be discarded because the narrative doesn’t work.

        This week is the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (SP?). 103 years ago. If you go back through the records, there were ongoing labor abuses. But that fire was horrific enough to become the narrative that moved workplace safety along. I’m guessing there were other protests, letters to the editor, the whole nine yards, before society internalized the need for change; a whole history of shot messengers.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Actually, in my experience, conservative opposition to fluoridation is rooted in a mistrust of corporations and the government and has little to do with racism and homophobia. Unless we want to go whole hog and just argue that any mistrust of the government by conservatives is evil in nature and thus on any given issue where they express mistrust of the government it should be dismissed as racist or homophobic in nature.Report

  9. Avatar Kazzy says:

    As soon as I see fluoride mention, I can’t help but think of the episode of “Parks and Rec” that deals with it. Please tell me you’ve seen it, @tod-kelly .Report

  10. I dunno – I think it vastly more likely that the far left lumps on to the rump GOP than that the Tea Party lumps on to the Democratic Party, which, as Will pointed out, is much more dominated by its staid institutionalists. There’ve been a lot of rumblings over the last year or two about the GOP’s traditional business base heading more to the Democrats, though Boehner seems to have successfully stopped the bleeding – for now.

    But it’s fairly evident that Rand Paul’s strategy right now – just as it was for his father – is to build a long-run coalition that welcomes elements of the current left; hell, the guy is now pushing for the restoration of felon voting rights (and good on him for that, by the way). There’s a battle coming for control of the GOP, and the traditional establishment’s preferred banner carriers (Christie and Walker) have been taking a beating over the last few months from which they will have a hard time recovering.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      I actually think both you and I are correct: chunks of the tea party will drift over to the Dems AND parts of the Dem’s coalition will go over to the GOP, especially when the right’s civil war is over.

      My larger point is that parties, coalitions, and even what we identify as being inherently “liberal” and “conservative” are ever changing.

      Seriously, if you were to go back in time and tell people from, let’s say the 70s through the 90s, that a liberal Democrat President was pushing for public schools to teach their kids to learn to be good citizens and conservative Republicans were freaking out because that was the road to fascism, everyone on every side of the aisle would have looked at you like you were from the Bizarro universe.Report

      • To be clear, I think you and I are in agreement that the Right is currently where the Left was in the 1970s and 80s, and vice versa. I also fully agree that alignment is hardly static.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        If your entire argument is that coalitions and parties change then that is certainly true. People on all sides seem to forget that. As you noted in the post, R’s scooped up many D’s after the civil rights area. Also what people call progressive 100 years ago is a quite a bit different from the usage of the word today.

        I believe teh TP is an older demographic so they are less likely to move, being set in their ways, have long standing ideological allegiances which aren’t going to change and will be a lessening part of the electorate over the next 10-20 years. The TP isn’t moving, the R’s will change and how that works out is still way up in the air.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        “A liberal Democrat President will push for public schools to teach their kids to learn to be good citizens and conservative Republicans will freak out.”


        “He’s a black guy.”

        “Still weird. I mean, that they ever calmed down enough to freak out again.”Report

  11. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    I’m skeptical on this, because “anti-fluoridation” doesn’t strike me as a sizeable voting block in the way that “southern white racists” was/is.

    I’ve hear many, many times the claim that communism [in practice] and fascism – the extreme left and extreme right forms of state power – produce largely-similar forms of totalitarianism. I’d speculate that something equivalent is true of the farthest-left and farthest-right anti-government ideologies: as you reach the extremes, they merge into a sort of generalized paranoia and welter of conspiracy theories.

    But I’ve seen no indication that the Democrats as a national party have any interest in welcoming this form of paranoia into their midst. In contrast, it’s taken over large segments of the Republican Party (birthers, ‘death panels’, and the like).Report

  12. Avatar Kolohe says:

    “the Democrats will find an excuse to absorb big chunks of the Tea Party, and liberals will go through mental gymnastics convince themselves to support tomorrow the people they now mock and despise today.”

    Nah, we’ll continue on the trend we’re on now. People derisively called ‘gentrifiers’ – who 50 years ago, were Republicans, due to class and occupations – today nonetheless pull the lever for Dem candidates at the state and national level. It’s in municipal elections (and where applicable, Democratic Party primaries) that this mockery happens (on both sides of the intraparty debate) in what are now mostly evenly matched battles.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      There was also room for social liberalism in the Republican Party fifty years ago. You are basically saying that the gentrifiers are what we used to call Rockefeller Republicans.

      That being said, plenty of my middle class gentrifier friends who live in neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights and Boreum Hill voted for De Blasio and were enthusiastic supporters. He is seen as a liberal populist but he lives in that ne plus ultra gentrified neighnorhood known as Park Slpope.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        It’s not just the city centers (though they get the press due to their population density and legacy). The purpling of various American states is more about inner ring suburbs , rock-ribbed middle class bourgeois Republican a generation and two ago, going for the Dems now as long as tax increases are mostly off the table.

        And in contrast to New York, you have both the last and the next Mayoral race in DC, overtly battles between the old guard and the relative newcomers. (and west and east)Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Plus, regarding Warren (mentioned above) and De Blasio

        Senator Warren is a liberal Senator in a liberal state, and thus has lifetime job security, and yet as one voice in a 100 in one half of the one third of the federal government, won’t actually accomplish much. A modern Senator’s power is in negation, not action, but in any event there is not yet sufficient evidence of Senator Warren actually leading the charge for any changes. Not to say that she can’t, just that she hasn’t been there long enough to demonstrate any evidence of effectiveness. (a cursory glance at her sponsor history shows her mostly pushing for legislation in the role of consumer financial regulation, as commensurate with her previous experience)

        De Blasio too is brand new. Let’s see how he manages all the moving parts of the NYC bureaucracy and political factions before we anoint him the wave of the future.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Kennedy wrote a good deal of the No Child Left Behind laws.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Kim, an accomplishment that occurred after a lifetime in public office and one that has been mostly disavowed by the both education wonks and education political machine in the Democratic party.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        I guess what I’m trying to say is that senators do specialize, and they are effective within their domains. At least a good deal of them are, even if they’re from really weird places.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      Because the tale of the GOP in the late 20th century is not just about the Southern strategy. And the Southern Strategy wasn’t just about racism. Plus, the South didn’t completely flip until the first years of this century.

      The GOP nationwide took advantage of suburbanization and home ownership to break apart the economic parts of the New Deal political coalition, and then took advantage of the high crime rates in the urban cores to cement its position in the mind of suburban voters, who became a plurality in the 70s and 80s. All this cumulating, of course, in the 49 state near sweep of Reagan in ’84.

      In addition, there was the reverse Great Migration as the Sun Belt exploded, bringing a slwer of new people into the body politic – and who were probably just a substantially racist as the good ol boy Southern Dem, but didn’t wear it on their sleeve (and didn’t let it define their politics) But at no time during this ascendency, did the GOP have control of the House of Reps. The ‘Solid South’ stayed substantially Democratic, albeit conservative Democratic, especially in state legislatures, until the Baby Boomers were entirely in the workforce and the WW2 generation were beginning to retire in large numbers.

      In any case, the drift from Democrat to Republican and back again was never the fringe, it was always the muddled middle.Report

  13. Avatar Chris says:

    I suspect that before we get to the point of the kookier left joining either major party, we’ll see them attempt a larger coalition with groups that don’t fit nicely into either party (I don’t think that’s true of the Tea Party). In other words, they’re going to look to join up with libertarians first. And since there’s already a growing overlap between the kookier left and the Alex Jones-type libertarians, and since some elements of that coalition are increasingly enamoured with the hyper-masculine anarchist left, I suspect the push for a broader kooky left-libertarian coalition will come pretty soon (like in the next major election cycle). When that fails a couple times, as it inevitably will, we might see the various groups disperse and form loose associations with both parties.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      The kookier left and the libertarians are both very small groups, though; if they formed a party it still wouldn’t have any more impact than – at maximum – Perot in the ’90s. And probably a lot less impact than that.

      There are good policies, neglected by the Ds and Rs, that such a party could push – marijuana legalization, ending overseas military adventurism, scaling back the security and surveillance state – but there’s also lots of crazy stuff: the gold standard, fluoridation, conspiracies, fear of international institutions. Even if there’s an alliance, the Nutbar Party isn’t going to become a crucial factor.Report

    • Avatar veronica dire says:

      @chris — This matches my experience with such people. Their attitudes to politics and gender are so faaaaar from my to be unrecognizable. And they drank pretty deep from the Ron Paul Kool Aid. I expect to see them go.

      (Won’t miss then, quite frankly. They were never any fun at parties.)Report

  14. Avatar NewDealer says:


    There is plenty of research that shows how the beliefs that you think are currently driving the GOP apart are nothing new and have been around for 50 years or more. Read Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Hoftstater or The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Rick Persltein’s book also show how these beliefs are nothing new under the sun and you can see a good progression from the Liberty League to America Firsters/Bob Taft to the Jon Birch Society to the Tea Party.

    Nothing lasts forever and all political parties go through periods in the wilderness. The Democratic Party was in the wilderness from 1892-1912 and then from 1918-1930. They also spent the 1980s and 90s in the wilderness. Now it might be the time for the GOP to spend their years in the wilderness like they did from roughly 1930 until 1968 for the most part with the exception of a few years of controlling Congress in the late 40s and early 50s.

    Research seems to show that political identity is forged young and that people born in 1980 or after are much more likely to be Democratic than Republican and liberal than conservative. Paul Ryan is not that much older than me but we are generations apart politically. His young adult years were spent when Reagan controlled all and could do no wrong. I was alive for the entire Reagan revolution but too young for it to impact my political consciousness. I was an adolescent and young adult in the Clinton to Bush years and this among many thing created many a liberal.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      The Democrartic Party controlled the Presidency from 1892 to 1896, that was Cleveland’s second term. I’d argue that the Democratic Party was more or less in wildnerness besides some periodic control of the Presidency and Congress from the end of the Civil War to the Great Depression. It was the Great Depression that really allowed the Democratic party to leave the wilderness.Report

  15. Avatar Scott Fields says:

    Tod –

    I think your premise that an reshuffling of the coalitions in the two US parties is inevitable at some point, but I’m having a hard time seeing the TP knuckleheads as the group that ultimately jumps party lines.

    If you look at the historical precedent you’ve raised with the Dixiecrats, they found a home in the Republican coalition because the Republicans needed them badly. The Democrats had been running the electoral victory table on the GOP since the New Deal. (I’d venture the break in the Presidential string by Eisenhower was a blip enabled in part by Korea.) So, for history to repeat itself, I’d think a Republican resurgence would need to come about first. That means the Republican Party would need to peel off some block of the Democratic coalition to build their numbers in order to gain dominance. I don’t see populist Democrats going there, so what’s that leave? Corporatist Democrats?Report

  16. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    Tod, you live in a part of the country where fluoridation is a very important issue to many people, and where racial tension is not (because Portland doesn’t have a ton of black people, to be blunt). In most of the country, neither of those factors apply. As long as the liberal movement is the champion of racial minorities–which it has been since at least the ’40s, and which shows no signs of slipping–then most of the tea party simply won’t be willing to join up to be part of the liberal coalition, no matter how much they agree on getting rid of water fluoridation or common core.Report

  17. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    FYI: The post is updated — and I hope better clarified — above.Report

  18. Avatar trizzlor says:

    What you’re describing is reminiscent of the short-lived Jane Hamser / Grover Norquist alliance as well as her subsequent work against the ACA mandate. If we’re talking 10-20 years, I could see a situation where the ACA and gay marriage no longer being controversial would mute two big fights between the parties: economic redistribution and social change. Then, it seems much more likely that the parties would re-align to one social-lib/econ-lib contingent and one social-con/econ-prog contingent. In particular, I can see a lot of liberals getting behind small-government/welfare-reform policies once near-universal healthcare is assured.Report

  19. Avatar Kazzy says:

    FWIW, Tod, it surprises me that people didn’t see the point the first time and are pushing back against it so strongly. What you said in the update seems pretty darn true to me.Report

  20. Avatar James K says:

    I think you’re on t something important here Tod. I look forward to seeing the full essay.Report

  21. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    So, a liberal can’t believe in good governance and also believe that occasionally, you have to throw the first punch and not always be above the fray? In other words, can’t I publish a white paper _and_ destroy my Republican opponent with an ad that maybe an NPR listener or two might clutch their pearls over?Report

  22. Avatar veronica dire says:

    @stillwater — Down here!

    I want to respond to this: “…But how am I justified in going the next step in attributing to them a defensive posture of rationalization? It seems to me the only way I can do that is to attribute a different reason for the views they hold than they’ve expressed. That is, I apply a model or framework to them to account for why they don’t agree with me about the judgment I’m making of them. To me, that’s just a big ole fat circle.”

    I think I get what you’re saying, and it probably a good approach of a person-to-person discussion with someone (as I have learned). But I don’t see how it works for the big picture, since if followed in its full measure it would preclude any structural analysis.

    I take the following as a given: People’s dispositions, beliefs, and (this is most) preoccupations are not rationally chosen, but instead arise from a whole host of sub-rational stuff, and much of this stuff is really ugly, and exploring it can be unpleasant, so we rationalize.

    We humans can be amazingly clever rationalizers.

    But that said, I think we can see a big picture of what drives beliefs and behaviors. We can name these things — in my own analysis I of course see privilege and kyriarchy.

    Which should not suggest that I have the one-single-true analysis, but I think these things are real, insofar as they name actual patterns of human behavior, and those behaviors are important to me, as they affect me, and I hope I can convince others to see them also.

    To do this I have to occasionally look beyond what people say about themselves.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:


      You’re right that what I’m talking about is mostly applicable to person-to-person communications, and it’s in that context that what I’m saying is relevant (it seems to me!). I mean, suppose I disagree with you about a certain political issue, P. You think P and I think not P. What are the possible ways I could account for this disagreement? Well, one way is to hear your arguments for P, say that I disagree with them for *these* reasons, listen to your responses, conclude that I can see why you think that, etc., all the while continuing to simply disagree with you.

      Another way is to view you as a member of a political party (liberal, say), impose an analysis on your beliefs and justifications consistent with my preconceptions of how liberals determine their beliefs, try to show you why I’m correct about this, then criticize you for sticking your head in the sand when you don’t agree with my judgment of you. I think you’d conclude that I wasn’t actually engaging in a dialogue with you, but was instead trying to establish why you’re wrong to think my views of you are actually correct. (To put a finer point on it, suppose I were to do this wrt an issue that you’re much more familiar with than I am: say, transgender issues.)

      Which of those is the better strategy? I think there’s a bunch of ways to evaluate that, but the one I’ve been focusing on in this thread is both the prevalence as well as the circularity of the second option. And I’ve been suggesting in this thread is that the whole “equivalence” game is an example of the second option since the framing of the issue by those that propose them already attributes to the targets of the equivalence an (ideologically motivated) incoherence and accounts for that irrationality – circularly – by appealing to ideological motivations.

      Given that and getting back to your whether or not the type of thing I’m objecting to is useful – or even necessary – when it comes to larger political analyses or even consistent with those types of analyses… I don’t see how it would be, myself, since those analyses don’t require attributing any particular rationale to the choices people make and instead focus on the choices they do make. I mean, it seems to me I could account for Obama’s victory in terms of differences in coalition building and the role of grass roots canvassing played in GOTV and micro-targeting of liberals and moderates and fundraising and whatnot, without taking a stand on the rationality or lack thereof of liberals or claiming that BSDI or any of that.

      At a deep level of analysis, somewhere in there, when we try to account for why people consistently act in ways that baffle us or are seem to be obviously counterproductive, I think we would be inclined to attribute irrationality to those folks. But again, we don’t have to, and the justification for that irrationality would presuppose a certain particular conception of what constitutes rational behavior. I mean, I used to analyze conservative’s behavior pretty much according to this model: since I disagreed with their views and their arguments made no sense to me I concluded that they were irrational. Now I generally don’t. Tho birtherism and the like are a stretch for me. It’s a process.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

      A. This.

      B. Kyriarchy…I now know a new word.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        “Kyriarchy” is pretty easy to understand. It emerges from third-wave intersection feminism, as they struggled to extend ideas of patriarchy to social patterns outside of gender. “Kyriarchy” becomes that umbrella term.

        It is a useful concept, if a bit obscure, but suffers from the same analytical problems as patriarchy, namely that folks are prone to overly reify the idea and then talk about it as if it were a substance rather than re-occuring patterns of behavior.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      One other thing:

      To do this I have to occasionally look beyond what people say about themselves.

      Could you elaborate on this? I’m not sure I get it. It seems to me that you could disagree with someone’s beliefs or actions without attributing any particular analysis to them whatsoever. That is, you don’t have to crawl in their heads to determine whether you agree with them or not. You do have to crawl in their head if you want to say that they’re irrationally motivated by partisanship, cultural signalling, etc.Report

    • Avatar veronica dire says:

      @stillwater — Thing is, you are coming at this from the model of “polite debate,” which is a particular sort of privileged discourse, one highly prized around here, but one which I believe overvalued.

      There are times to talk; there are times to engage in a quiet sit-in; and then there are times to throw rocks at cops.

      For people like me (and more importantly for folks even less privileged than me), this whole “debate as equals” thing is often pretty useless, as our opponents believe us subhuman. We do not enter the room as equals. Our opponents outnumber us and control the discourse.

      When we enter these debates, we get the grand privilege of “debating” our humanity, from people whose humanity is not in question. We must confront constantly their preoccupations while our interests are swept aside.

      In these situations, different discourse strategies are needed.

      Know this: an analysis of privilege is often the only thing that keeps us sane.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Ironically enough, that’s a pretty good summary of what I’m getting at here. My failure to communicate that clearly, coherently and succinctly tells me that I’m either expressing myself very poorly (which wouldn’t be surprising) or that the thoughts themselves are jumbled (ditto).

        But the main point is that judgments of – as opposed to disagreements with – other people arise when one conceptual framework is prioritized (preferred, etc) over another to such an extent that conflicting beliefs are viewed as insane. The concept of cultural privilege and how that plays out in practice would be just one example of this.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        “Thing is, you are coming at this from the model of “polite debate,” which is a particular sort of privileged discourse, one highly prized around here, but one which I believe overvalued.”

        Have you seen the documentary “Resolved”? It follows a group of African-American high school students breaking into the debate world, in part by challenging the form and structure of debate. They argue that debate has become more about how you talk than what you say and favors people trained in the former (particularly a method of speed talking known as “spreading”) rather than who actually constructs better arguments. A good watch.Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @kazzy — I have not. Clearly I should. 🙂Report

      • Avatar veronica dire says:

        @kazzy — Please tell me there is a scene where a bunch of strong-as-iron, bendy-as-a-willow black girls “debate with song,” while some fusty old white folks gaze on disapprovingly.

        ’Cause I would watch the fuck out of that.Report

  23. Avatar notme says:

    Sorry, I think the point if there was one has been lost in the absurd hypo about the tea party joining the DNC.Report

  24. Avatar nyscof says:

    Actually, the fluoridation issue is leading us to a good place and political leaders should take note. We are republicans, democrats, independents; pro-life and pro-choice; gun-toters and anti gun; Obama voters and haters. We have come together, put our differences aside, to focus on fluoridation which government reports and scientific evidence proves has failed America, harming our health and wasting our taxdollars..

    Now if only Congress could follow our lead and do what’s good for the country and not what’s best for themselves or their own political party

    Many people, such as this writer, assume fluoridation fighters are wrong; but, if they took the time to actually review the evidence, they wouldn’t be writing articles like this one.Report

    • Avatar morat20 says:

      I swear, crazy people must LOVE google alerts.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer says:

        How else can they spread the crazy?

        Fluridation is one of the effective and most cost effective public health measures in human history.Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        I was born with rather soft teeth. (Drove my orthodonist crazy. Stuff didn’t stick to it well, so I popped off orthodontic equipment like crazy). Fluoridated water pretty much entirely why I still have ALL my teeth. (Admittedly, I’ve got more fillings than I’d like, but I haven’t — knock on wood — required more than fillings. Although some of them are old enough to have to be replaced, and I pretty much panicked the first time one fell out — I was staring at a tooth that had a sudden, and very jagged, looking hole in it and had no idea when or how or what had happened).

        That stuff’s been helping me since I was born. That stuff is great.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

      I’m trying to figure out why the hell they’re talking about Congressional action on a local issue. Doesn’t anyone remember that the U.S. is a federal country?Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        @J@m3z Aitch

        Too funny! You can’t be serious with that comment can you?Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        You mean seriously suggesting that Americans might understand their own political system? No, I’d never do anything as crazy as that.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        No, I mean that talking about congressional acdtion on a local issue. Congress has deigned to insert themselves into many a local issue, so much so, that there effectly is no limit to how much they can insert themselves.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Well, they can’t just pass a law requiring municipalties not to fluoridate. They could bribe/extort them into it, yes.

        But seriously, you’re going to have a lot higher chances of success if you target a majority of your city council.Report

  25. Avatar Chris says:

    I just want to note, way down here, that last month a couple guys went on a hunger strike in front of city hall, over the fluoridation of the water supply.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Of all the hills to die on, they pick this one …Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        In this case, they were at least threatening to actually die on it.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        “Early in the Year of the Fruit Bat (Pratchettian calendar; the Year of Depends Adult Undergarments, Wallacian) disparate forces aligned to wage a battle over Flouridation Freedom. Governmental Forces, backed by Teh Scientists and American Dental Association, bolstered trenches long established and awaited the inevitable attack with the full strength of its standing army. While the attacking army coalesced, bringing together disparate and previously antagonistic groups – signalling, as some observers noted, the eventual dissolution of traditional US political identifications – Teh Scientists dug in with trepidation and fear that their fighting skills, learned from playing video games, wouldn’t be sufficient to repel the encroaching enemy. The battle had yet to officially begin…Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Has anyone told them their water also has chlorine in it, and that chlorine was used to poison enemy troops in WW1? That’s the real horror story behind this corporo-government conspiracy.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Fluoride caused the Spanish flu.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        That’s the part of the story I found sorta *incredible* when I read up on it a bit: the big complaint is that flouride was used as to pacify (non-euphemistically!) the enemy in a war fought long ago somewhere. That seems like a pretty … uh … thin argument to me.Report

  26. Avatar Barry says:

    Todd: “I’m working on a long-read essay right now that talks about how the left is following in the easy and seductive footsteps of the right, and how this is a bad thing for both the country and the left itself. I don’t really have room on it to discuss this story, forwarded to me be reader Krista, but I think it’s important enough to highlight on it’s own. It also sets the table well enough for my longer post.”

    I’m sorry, but ‘both sides do it’ is simply dishonest. The whackjobs and crazies on the left don’t carry any weight in the Democratic Party. The Tea Party has successfully intimidated the GOP. There’s a whole slew of billionaires funding the most insane people on the right; on the left there’s maybe a couple funding ideas which old-fashioned New Deal Democrats would have found rather commonsensical[1].

    [1] Updated for racial and gender relationships which would have shocked the piss out of them.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      The right’s propaganda hasn’t changed since shortly after the French Revolution…Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      The purpose of pointing out that both sides engage in dishonest political maneuvering has nothing to do with “the whackjobs.” This is the fundamental misunderstanding among the “false equivalency crowd. Yes, the right has the present franchise on a particular kind of lunacy right now. Congratulations, all you left-leaning partisans can pat yourself on the back because you are not one of them.

      Meanwhile, we have a Democratic president who broke deportation records, defended the practice of terrorizing various third-world countries with cruise missiles, and oversaw a government involved in illegally spying on its citizens and allies. That can only happen because of this absurd red team-blue team system where people defend their side no matter what. This can only happen because people seem much more concerned with engaging in ideological warfare with the other guy than with making sure that they’re guy isn’t doing horrible things.Report

      • Avatar RTod says:

        False equivalence!!!!Report

      • Avatar zic says:


        Distractions abound.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        That can only happen because of this absurd red team-blue team system where people defend their side no matter what.

        The only way? I don’t think that follows. Isn’t this just a consequence of representative democracy irrespective of how many parties we have and what the individual “loyalties” of “partisans”? In our system, representatives are accorded the power to make legislative decisions on a very fine grained basis which our votes cannot reflect.

        The only solution to you’re worry would require fundamentally changing our system of governance.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        we have a Democratic president who broke deportation records

        Ironically (or not), conservatives are considering suing Obama for failing to deport illegal immigrants. As the law requires.Report

      • Avatar RTod says:


        Or — and I know I’m reaching here — actually valuing competence and condemning corruption.

        I mean, as a thing to do in it’s own right, as opposed to just floating as a sound bite.

        I know, I know… A stretch.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @stillwater for an assured outcome, yes, I suspect your right. But baby steps away from distractions, recognizing them as such, would sure be nice.

        And much of that begins with expecting our news to provide actual information and point out distractions. For instance: given how much time we (as a nation) piss away complaining about federal expenditures (for or against); you’d think we’d be informed about them. You know, that pie chart of them?

        Ha. That would distract us from our distractions.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Or — and I know I’m reaching here — actually valuing competence and condemning corruption.

        People apparently disagree about what those words mean, Tod. You and I probably overlap quite a bit what we think they mean and the types of practices that actual, forrealsies valuing would entail. At bottom, we’re both pretty much pragmatists about policy and only dabble a bit into the Wonky or Full Metal Principled. But if someone doesn’t agree with our conception of those words and practices are they *crazy* or do they just have different priorities, goals, beliefs, etc?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:


        I totally agree. If a pie chart is on the board and we’re all armed with scissors, the whole process will degenerate into meta-squabbles before a single real proposal could be considered.

        One of the things about this whole dynamic I haven’t really talked about is that while the purpose of critiquing parties or partisanship is supposed to reveal hypocrisy to the individual critiqued, it creates the exact opposite outcome by reinforcing those partisan loyalties. It does so by putting the target of the analysis on the defensive two times over. The first is by criticizing that person’s rationality (or justification process, whatever). The second is that the judgment presumes a pov which is better than and above that of the so-called “partisan”, an elevated position by which to judge and critique what *that* individual’s thought processes are. This strikes me as a fundamentally offensive practice and pretty obviously so.

        Instead of critiquing or judging the coherence of other people’s view (which are both fundamentally a judgment of their person, of who they are), the better strategy – it seems to me – is to merely disagree with other people’s beliefs (without any accompanying analysis of why they’re held!) and explain what the specific disagreement is.

        I mean, this is clearly an unattainable ideal, obviously. But continuing on with the other method seems to me like it perpetuates the mode of thinking it’s intended to eliminate.Report

      • Avatar j r says:


        You are right and I am wrong about one point. It is a mistake for me to say that this can only happen because of partisanship. Lots of things can happen under lots of different circumstances. However, the point remains that partisanship exacerbates a problem that lies at the heart of representative democracy.

        I don’t pretend to have solutions. Democracy is the least worst system that we have for governing a large and pluralistic society. And if people take significant utility from engaging in ideological warfare, then who am I to tell them not to do it? I just wish that people would be a bit more honest about it and less dismissive of the other possibilities.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        One of the things about this whole dynamic I haven’t really talked about is that while the purpose of critiquing parties or partisanship is supposed to reveal hypocrisy to the individual critiqued…

        Aren’t you doing the exact thing that you accuse others of doing: trying to read into people’s motives as opposed to dealing with their views outright?

        Personally, my critique of partisanship has almost nothing to do with revealing personal hypocrisy. Or rather, revealing hypocrisy is just a step in revealing the overall dysfunction of the hyper-partisan system.

        Think of it this way. Democracy functions as a kind of market. Politicians put forth policies, people choose between a set of policies and the winner is enacted. Once enacted, people can observe the results and the next time they have to choose they are better informed. In order for that process to work well, there needs to be a clear understanding of how a policy performs. However, politicians do everything that they can to obscure that observation, mostly by doing everything they can to blame the other guys when things go wrong or take credit themselves when things go well.

        The red team enacts a policy and it doesn’t work. Instead of admitting that failure and refining the position, they say, “it failed because the blue team sabotaged us. Now it’s even more important that we beat the blue team.”

        The real problem with partisanship is that it allows failure to become just as big a political selling point as success.Report

      • Avatar RTod says:

        Forgive me for saying so still, but now it sounds like you’re the one saying everyone does it so what does matter.

        Corruption is corruption. And the kinds of corruption I’m talking about aren’t the things that sit that the razors edge. There are the kinds of things that we all know are corruption, regardless of what side of the fence we sit on. You actually can make a decision to be against it right left or in between.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        No my Tod. I’ll explain it again, or further, if you’d like, but I think we’re all tired of me talking about this. Especially me.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        j r,

        Aren’t you doing the exact thing that you accuse others of doing: trying to read into people’s motives as opposed to dealing with their views outright?

        No, but I’m willing to disagree about things. 🙂

        What I’m doing is describing a process – an non-partisan attributes a belief matrix to a person based on their political ideology then accounts for those false beliefs (or irrational beliefs, whatever) by attributing to them partisanship-above-all, or signalling, or whatever. You do this all the time, by the way, which is why I’ve responded to you particularly in some earlier threads. What I’m saying is just as much a critique of someone who adopts a liberal belief matrix to account for why other people hold what they believe to be irrational beliefs as well. The view knows no limits.

        Personally, my critique of partisanship has almost nothing to do with revealing personal hypocrisy. Or rather, revealing hypocrisy is just a step in revealing the overall dysfunction of the hyper-partisan system. OK, fair enough. But that process of hyper-hypocrisy presumably resides in the actual individiuals who you identify as “being partisan”, so I’m not sure my earlier comment doesn’t still apply.

        As for the second part, I’m completely aware of those critiques of our political system, yet despite ’em I somehow maintain my contributory role within that process as a fully functioning liberal. Personally, I don’t think it’s any more or less justifiable than the one you accept and identify with. But that takes us pretty deep in the weeds.Report

  27. Avatar Barry says:

    veronica dire

    ““Kyriarchy” is pretty easy to understand. It emerges from third-wave intersection feminism, as they struggled to extend ideas of patriarchy to social patterns outside of gender. “Kyriarchy” becomes that umbrella term.”

    Note that feminism was dealing with issues of class and race for quite some time (although one wouldn’t know it from listening to right-wing critiques). ‘Intersectionality’ is not a new word – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersectionality.Report

    • Avatar veronica dire says:

      Thank you @barry for telling me about intersectionality.

      You even provided a link! On Wikipedia. (I often have trouble finding things there. A link is very useful.)Report

  28. Avatar Roger says:

    “All we can really say for certain is that these parties, issues and ideologies that we think of as being etched in stone aren’t. They are always evolving, for good and for bad.”

    I agree, Tod. My take on it is that politics is a way of accomplishing certain things that requires coalitions of views. Over time, factions are embraced by either party, such as bigoted southerners. The party then adjusts to make some haphazard sense of the new and slowly evolving coalition, while the intellectuals and Mandarins spin reasonable rationales and narratives. The foot soldiers hear the stories and believe them. An essential part of this narrative is that no matter how bad we are the other side is much, much worse.

    It is funny sometimes to watch the process prior to the foot soldiers getting the rationale. Sometimes I still remember the Newsweek articles on how smart it would be to privatize social security (before it became a right idea and stupid/evil), or how Romney Care was the model to solve health care concerns.

    The concern with Government pensions was another. When it first started being in the news, people from both sides of the political spectrum were outraged. Then one side got the speaking notes that they were not supposed to be upset with this. They got the rationale. They got back in line, not really aware that the line changes over time.Report

    • Avatar RTod says:

      As is so often the case, excellent comment Roger.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      In the end there are only two sides.
      The people who believe everyone is human…
      and those who don’t.

      They do switch parties though. And sometimes they attempt to coopt both parties.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        no, I mean the Kochs and their ilk. Folks that believe that inequality isn’t just natural, but that laws and society should be inclined towards creating and stabilizing it.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Against my better judgment, I will respond….

        Of course inequality is natural and arguably not just good, but necessary. Perhaps you meant to say equality in the eyes of the law, or equality of institutional opportunity or something (a better term for this might be fairness). My guess is even the hated Kochs would be for that though.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        hasn’t been my experience.

        There are folks out there that think
        that our national treasures ought to
        be theirs, and theirs alone, simply
        because their great granddaddy owned
        them once.

        Ah, listen to me, I astound myself!
        I managed to be polite, and choose
        something that wasn’t completely and totally egregious.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        there are people out there who are hell bent on dissembling the middle class, and turning American into a land where say, 5% have jobs, and 10% have money (numbers pulled out of my ass), and the rest have jack shit all.

        Yes, some inequality is necessary, and good. Creating a society that enforces and cements it is bad.Report