Against Endorsements – The Atlantic


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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50 Responses

  1. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Well, that’s just it. An “endorsement” carries with it a presumption that the endorser not only IS in a position to tell other people how to vote, but that they believe (rightly or wrongly) that their endorsement will encourage support from that person’s (twitter!) followers. TNC rejects the logic employed, at least in his own case, but apparently more generally as well. I agree, actually. As just one example, the fact that Jeb! came outa the box with a bunch of endorsements struck me (I mean me personally) as a real detriment to his candidacy since it was apparent that those endorsements weren’t based on a careful evaluation of policy proposals he and others had presented to the public, but were made in advance of any public presentation of policies whatsoever. Which is sorta anti-democratic in exactly the way TNC suggests.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Judging from personal conversations about someone’s moral character is also a way people decide. It’s not all policy. One conversation with Obama told my friend a ton about the guy.

      TNC is neither a psychologist, nor probably a recipient of privileged information. He’s just a dude. Even if you respect him, does it really matter how he votes?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Well, to CK’s point, for lots of folks it probably DOES matter how he votes since he’s well known and respected, is much more politically aware than other folks, and has expressed a vested interest in certain types of policies and norms that elections can influence or change.

        (But that doesn’t mean TNC cannot coherently express (in public!) that he’s voting for Sanders while denying that he’s “endorsing” Sanders, goldangit!)Report

  2. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    I’ve already commented at length on the other thread about TNC’s superficial understanding of “endorsement” and his usual cake-eat-it-too-ism. To summarize the matter in the form of paradox: If he isn’t capable of giving a credible endorsement, he’s not capable of giving a credible endorsement of non-endorsement. If his views are to be considered of no weight in the former instance, then he they have no weight in the latter. He is not interested in guiding our intentions politically. He is irrelevant. He comes close to saying explicitly that politics for him is the aesthetics of his personal anguish and nothing else besides.Report

    • He is not interested in guiding our intentions politically.

      Which is exactly what he said, so after some amount of superfluous analysis, you’ve succeeded in understanding him perfectly.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      To summarize the matter in the form of paradox: If he isn’t capable of giving a credible endorsement, he’s not capable of giving a credible endorsement of non-endorsement.

      In my view, that’s not a paradox since the meaning of “endorsement” is ambiguous between the two uses. In the first use, “endorsement” means “support a candidate (&etc)”; in the second use it means “support the concept of endorsing candidates”. The second one is not only one level up the meta-chain, but it’s also a corruption of the meaning of “endorsement” in that it collapses the distinction between merely expressing a view (eg, because one was asked about it) and trying to establish public support of that view.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

        There is no final distinction between “merely expressing a view” and “trying to establish public support of that view.” To ex-press a view is to share it with others with the intention of affecting them in some way – or it is not ex-pression at all: It’s talking to yourself in secret. Every act of dialogue already implies and in itself founds or re-founds the political, the state, religion, even if only as the provisional theocratic republic of I and Thou. You may be gratified to learn that for Levinas, that puts you in the superior or sovereign position, above me and in between me and the divine – which is why I shield myself, for fear you will misuse your power over me. Peirce demonstrates or believed he demonstrated that logic itself is always already “social,” which in his usage contains what we call “political.” Coates wants (at least today or for the sake of his note) to believe otherwise, and will find, as ever, many people happy to pretend along with him.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          There is no final distinction between “merely expressing a view” and “trying to establish public support of that view.”

          Your view requires that to be the case not as a matter of fact, but analytical necessity. That is, your analysis requires that it’s not possible for a such distinction to exist. Empirically, that strikes me as simply false for all sorts of speech acts. But also it seems entirely possible to construct an analysis of speech acts in which that isn’t the case.

          {{But this is old ground for us…}}Report

        • Avatar Zac says:

          I find it a little odd to hear from someone I understand (perhaps mistakenly, I’ll of course admit) to be a libertarian to not understand the attitudinal mode of, “Hey, this is just me thinking out loud, you do you, man.” Coates isn’t trying to establish a “dialogue”; he’s doing the political equivalent of what Louis CK does. He’s working out his thoughts about the world and doing it in a public way, and we can respond to that or not. And if that’s not for you…hey, you do you, man.Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

            Not sure why, @zac, you “understand [me] to be a libertarian.” I think we’re all libertarians here, and I don’t think any of us are libertarians here. I just got through agreeing, in the thread under my recent post on libertarianism and its praxis problem, that the only truly self-consistent libertarians were anarchists, while noting that the only truly self-consistent anarchists were nihilists, and the only truly self-consistent nihilists were dead.

            So, if you care, you tell me what you mean by “libertarian,” and I’ll give you my best guess as to whether it fits me, but, to be clear, I am not now nor have I ever been a member of the Libertarian Party or of any party, actually, and I have never been a member of any “Libertarian” group or organization, or taken money from a “Libertarian” group of any kind.

            As for the difference between “I endorse Bernie Sanders” and “I’m voting for Bernie Sanders, but I’m just a diffident aesthete who hardly even means what he says even when he means to mean what he says,” the difference is the difference between a typical endorsement and a weak endorsement, not between a typical endorsement and a non-endorsement.

            What makes TNC’s weak endorsement stronger than your or my or Louis CK’s weak endorsement is that TNC is a celebrated and beloved writer on political matters who at the time he gave his very weak endorsement, consisting of little more than his grudging admission of a voting preference, was appearing on Democracy Now!

            If TNC meant what he is now saying, he would have said it on Democracy Now! and left it at that. If TNC meant to be consistent about what he is now saying, he might retract his very weak endorsement, and, as I suggested before, endorse not voting or announce his intention not to vote.

            Instead, he attempts to criticize those who took his very weak endorsement as an endorsement rather than as a non-endorsement or a refusal to endorse. His explanation relies on a (very un-democratic) theory of democracy that would require every individual in public life to steep him- or herself in every issue of possible significance before deciding on a preference and credibly urging others to join along. By that theory, if TNC is not qualified to “endorse,” how are any – or most – of the candidates qualified to run, and how could the vast majority of the voters be qualified to contribute (another form of endorsement), shout a slogan, sing a song, or speak up to their betters – the wise, informed, gentlepeople, or perhaps the qualified technocrats – at all?Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      A couple of problems:

      To summarize the matter in the form of paradox: If he isn’t capable of giving a credible endorsement, he’s not capable of giving a credible endorsement of non-endorsement.

      This is not quite right. I’m not a mechanic. I cannot tell you how to fix your car when it breaks. I will tell you that, when you go to mechanics, be wary of them inflating the bill with unnecessary work. By your logic, my admission of not understanding how car engines work means that my assessment of mechanics lacks credibility as well. I guess, but ignore the advice at your own peril.

      Every act of dialogue already implies and in itself founds or re-founds the political, the state, religion, even if only as the provisional theocratic republic of I and Thou.

      This makes even less sense. There is no general will. There is no one true way that maximizes the good and the true and the beautiful. There is only the basket containing the sum of aggregate individual preferences. For TNC’s individual collection of political preferences, he has judged Sanders as the most appropriate candidate. Perhaps in his publicly voicing that choice, he is signalling to others who share his preferences that Sanders might be their man as well. That’s where it ends though. Different people want different things from a candidate. The idea that every time we voice our own preferences, we must be automatically implicating everyone else is deeply flawed.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Well said.

        We might say that the paradox CK describes makes criticism (e.g., of art or literature) impossible, or at least one can only criticise that which one can do.equally well or better.Report

        • Avatar CK MacLeod says:


          Not really sure what either of you are arguing, or to what end.

          j r selects two quotes out of context, and it seems possible to me that both of you are, like Mike Schilling above, taking my interpretations of the implications of TNC’s position as statements of my own position.

          Did either of you read the linked piece – specifically the part indicated by ellipsis in the quoted portion? Says TNC:

          I have thought quite deeply about the problem of racism in American society. I have thought somewhat deeply about inequality and the social safety net. I have though only modestly about foreign policy and the environment. And I haven’t thought much at all about net neutrality.

          Maybe Chris meant to agree with me, even while praising a comment offered in disagreement with mine. I don’t know. As I said, I find his statement confusing. Coates is the one embracing the notion that not having “thought much at all about net neutrality” and having though[t] “only modestly” about the other issues somehow ought to disqualify others from viewing his weak endorsement of Sanders as meaningfully an endorsement of Sanders for their purposes (the purposes of the group that, unlike TNC himself, considers TNC’s opinions or statements of intentions to be possibly politically relevant). TNC is the one adopting the anti-democratic position that only the experts should play in the serious business of governance, a position that also might be taken to imply that “one can only criticize that which one can do equally well or better.”

          One more time, to expand upon what I called a paradox: TNC rejects the notion that his statement of some kind of purely personal, apparently entirely arbitrary and empty intention to vote for Sanders should be taken as an “endorsement.” The reason he gives is that he lacks the required comprehensive expertise. He is, in his view, to be considered politically incompetent in the matter of endorsements. If he is politically incompetent on the question of endorsements – because he is too focused on sharing his night tremors – then who is he to presume what conclusion someone who is competent on the question of endorsements might reach about his statement on Sanders, or about his pseudo-retraction of it via an unqualified “endorsement of non-endorsement”? It seems quite possible to me that TNC has not “thought deeply” about voting, democracy, and the definition and function of endorsement, so why should I trust his endorsement of non-endorsement?

          I know relatively little about car engines – I’m certainly not an expert mechanic – but someone once told me it’s probably better for your engine not to drive around with the tank near empty all of the time. I could be completely right about that. I’m not in a position to judge, by my own admission. Take my advice with a grain of salt, but the grain is a real grain, not a non-grain, and feel free to use it as an example of the kind of thing that people who are not car mechanics but want to preserve their engines are thinking.

          According to TNC, TNC is a political weakling whose endorsements should not matter. He is such a weakling, politically, that his statement of voting intention should be viewed as not even trivial. It’s not even the endorsement of an ant. It is absolutely no endorsement at all. If a qualified expert in all things said the same thing, then presumably it would count as an endorsement, by TNC’s reasoning. Yet the admittedly profoundly inexpert TNC could be wrong about how he and his opinions are and should reasonably be viewed politically (by all those deluded believers in the possible rationality of mass democracy), and the Democracy Now! interviewer who asked him about his voting intentions might very well have been more right than he is. Given TNC’s admitted political naivete and asserted incapacity, it’s quite possible that the interviewer was a better judge of the political significance of the revelation, and that Mother Jones’ Pema Levy is a better judge than TNC or than other TNC sympathizers here as to whether his un-retracted statement of voting intention deserves to be considered an endorsement. Maybe the qualified expert on net neutrality, foreign policy, and the environment will reasonably determine that Sanders and Clinton are a wash or close enough so that the feelings of diffident intellectual aesthetes focused on race-related night tremors carry the day.

          I also addressed the matter in my reply to zac above – A weak endorsement may still quite conceivably count as one data point among others in the depiction of a trend that might be important.

          If this all seems like something of an absurdity – or at least an absurd waste of time, and we’re hardly even started as far as this comment is concerned – that would be because TNC’s position is something of an absurdity, yet we continue to insist on treating TNC seriously in relation to politics, whatever he says about the wisdom of doing so.

          And that’s the last I hope to say on the matter of TNC’s not-yet-retracted weak endorsement of Bernie Sanders.

          The second quote that j r extracts from my comment replying to Stillwater is far removed from practical democracy or the state of the 2016 campaign. It concerns a very general question about verbal expression that happens to be raised by TNC and those defending his position, and whether the theory of communication or language they are adopting on his behalf can be considered sound. The reference to the republic of “I and Thou” that j r quotes happens to be partly borrowed from Emmanuel Levinas following Martin Buber, but no one should have to know that fact in order to understand that my statement has nothing directly to do with a concept of the “general will.” I don’t see why j r and introduces the concept here (and in order to deny its existence). The only “generality” to which my statement specifically refers to is the one constituted by two ideal discussants, the speaker and the listener, at the crucial moment of ideal dialogue at which the roles may reverse.

          Going back, as Stillwater points out, to an old, aborted discussion – 2013 or so, in the prior incarnation of this site – Stillwater was addressing the question of whether one may be though to speak at all without an intention in regard to others. The question from my point of view would be whether, if we are to imagine the occurrence of such a saying, it would qualify as “speech” at all. Stillwater seems to imagine words falling in the forest without anyone to hear, but, unlike trees, words in this inquiry don’t divide neatly into suppositions regarding empirical reality: To define speech as inclusive of saying-without-intention is, among other things, to take one perspective on the nature of speech, on what we can or should mean when we speak of “speech” (and that question is different but connected to the question of what we mean by the word “word” and the word “mean”).

          I recall that at the time of that aborted discussion, we ran into some confusion, no doubt entirely my fault, over the use of the word “speech act,” since the term is a term of art in a discourse on language in which in fact I have little interest (and whose premises are more on the side of the discussion I oppose). Otherwise, I would have referred to TNC’s revelation of his voting intention on Democracy Now! as a particular kind of speech act, one that amounts, as I have explained at length, to a weak endorsement.

          If you wish to investigate the larger but more abstract question on the nature of “acts of speech,” we can try sometime, but I’m thinking we should probably leave TNC and other quotidian political matters out of it at least until we have agreement on terminology and a shared understanding of the purpose of the inquiry. Otherwise, I don’t think I have anything more to say on this subject at this time.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

            “According to TNC, TNC is a political weakling whose endorsements should not matter. He is such a weakling, politically, that his statement of voting intention should be viewed as not even trivial.”


            Suspect your disagreement here with others — and why that disagreement confounds you — can be river-sourced from this misunderstanding.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              In CK’s defense (or not, as may be!!), it’s not that he’s misunderstanding TNC in that quoted passage. It’s that he’s applying a theory of communication and (for lack of a better term) speech acts to TNC under which TNC’s actual words are incoherent, and he’s applying that theory correctly!! (We’re talking about a metametaMETA theory here.) So the question (to me anyway) is a) how is that meta-theory justified and b) is it descriptively accurate.

              My response up thread was that it’s only circularly justified (insofar as it’s embedded in a LARGER meta theory which analytically requires it to be the case) and that it’s just descriptively (ie., empirically) inaccurate anyway.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Thank you, Stillwater. Though I disagree, obviously, with some of your assumptions and conclusions, I think you are at least aware that I am not arguing arbitrarily or on the basis of simple misunderstandings, but consistently on the basis of a perspective.

                I consider that perspective, or “meta-theory” as you call it, certainly to be justifiable, and furthermore I consider it implicit in the statements of everyday observers and participants in the political process, as, for example, in the original observation of veteran reporter/analyst Pema Levy, who treated calling TNC’s statement an “endorsement” as a simple statement of fact.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Hey, you’re welcome again!

                I think when the discussion gets this high up in the ethers there’s a tendency to account for your views by assuming you don’t understand normal English, and I’m happy to contribute to the dispellation of that view. You unnerstan English as good as the restuvus.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                It’s your theories of language that are wrong. 🙂Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                It’s your theories of language that are wrong. 🙂

                As I was out walking it occurred to me that part of our problem in making ourselves clear to each other also has to do with precisely this assumption that my description of TNC’s “speech act” has to do with a theory of language.

                I am not attempting to describe or employ a linguistics. I am referring to a theory of communication, or a phenomenological theory or framework within which acts of speech or verbal conduct are treated as one type of intentional action.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                (…and many of my difficulties here at OT and previously the LoOG have always had to do with the problem that most OGs who are interested in philosophy at all are anals, not conts, and are too anal about that fact even to recognize the other options as potentially legitimate options.)Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                Or we’re so far cont that we don’t even register as philosophers to the rest of you anymore…

                (can’t help thinking that an ethics of ambiguity leaves plenty of room for TNC’s type of discourse, for eg)


            • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

              “Nope” is not an argument. As far as I can tell, and have any reason to conclude, you’re just highlighting your wish to support TNC, rather than addressing his statements specifically, and, if you’re interested in discussing this question with me, addressing my critique of them as I have given it.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                I am not making an argument. I am telling you that you are misreading something someone has said.

                You show me something — anything — where TNC has ever put forward that only ruling class people deserve to be part of the democratic system and I will listen to your argument of why that is a poor conclusion for him to come to. But since everything he’s ever written has argued pretty much the opposite, I am telling you that you are reading it incorrectly.

                If you want to dig in and insist that you have somehow cracked a verbal code that means that everything Coates has written is a lie that only you have been able to parse, then hey, knock yourself out. I don’t really need to be part of that conversation, you’ve already got that dialed in.

                If you want to take a step back and ask yourself what Coates was trying to say that everyone else seems to be understanding but that you’re not getting, then that’s a different kettle of fish. Quests for empathy and understanding others’ POV is something I always have time for.

                But if we’re just playing Debate Club here, I will let you have that sandbox to yourself and whoever else wants to playReport

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                I supplied the relevant quote from TNC’s pseudo-retraction of his weak endorsement above. The implications are indeed counter to “everything” TNC’s supporters think TNC stands for, and counter to what TNC probably thinks TNC stands for, or agonizes resplendently over whether he really thinks.

                As I’ve said elsewhere, I think TNC’s politics, or his political philosophy, is fundamentally incoherent, as can also be seen in his conclusions, which are, typically, pseudo-conclusions. His endorsement both is and isn’t an endorsement in much the same way that his “case for reparations” both is and isn’t a case for reparations. As soon as you begin to address it as a “case for reparations,” both he and his supporters explain that it isn’t really a case for reparations, but a case for a discussion of reparations, and not really a case for a discussion of reparations, but a case for a discussion of reparations as TNC’s re-defines reparations, which isn’t really as much about actual reparations, but about the reparative qualities of a discussion of the case for reparations, etc., etc. As soon as you think you have settled which of the selection of targets to aim at, the supporters explain that what we’re really talking about and should be talking about, and that everyone knows we really should be talking about, is something else.

                Indeed, on the same subject, part of the reason that TNC’s endorsement/statement of voting intentions was striking is that TNC’s most recent previous noted statement regarding Sanders was that Sanders didn’t appear to understand “the argument” for reparations. It was, reasonably I think, taken at the time as a statement against Sanders. Since he singled out Sanders in the middle of a presidential campaign, and since the preferences of a particular segment of left-liberals – those greatly concerned about the topics which TNC believes he has “thought deeply” – has been a significant concern in the (zero sum) Democratic contest, that statement was taken as effectively an endorsement of Clinton, because potentially a problem for Sanders (following his past problems with BLM activists).Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Different sandboxes, then.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:


                I think I’ve found the divide…

                I think it hinges on the claim you quoted, and in particular, a single word. The quotation is this: “According to TNC, TNC is a political weakling whose endorsements should not matter.” And the key word is “should”. As a matter of fact, TNC’s words WILL effect other people: they’ll vote for or against based on things he’s said about certain candidates.

                But it’s entirely consistent with TNC saying who he’s going to vote for that he also rejects that they “should”.

                So, two facts out there in the woild: that people will be influenced by TNC’s choices, and that TNC rejects that people should be influenced by his choices.

                Which seems completely coherent to me.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:


                It also bears noting that, unlike a lot of writers of politics that get linked to on this site, Coates is not someone who uses political writing as a springboard to celebrity. He’s never been someone who has thought of a column or blog as a springboard to a Fox or MSNBC gig, but rather e’s someone for whom writing is the end goal in an of itself. I think he loves having something he’s written be put in the spotlight; I think that having Ta Nehisi Coates the human being have to be in that same spotlight freaks him the hell out.

                He is, really, an incredibly reluctant celebrity. When I read him say in the piece in question that he would be horrified that someone one change their vote just because he voted differently, I think that is an entirely honest and specific confession. It is not an argument that no one should be able to make public recommendations on candidates, or that no one but a recognized expert should; it’s that he has no desire to be that person.

                I see zero wrong with this position.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                If I can sorta dive back into this from the other side without unleashing the beast, I think what you’re getting at up there is relevant to CK’s analysis re: TNC’s words and claims. To wit(!!): if TNC puts himself in front of a larger audience for the purpose of changing those people’s views/actions/beliefs/etcs, then his refraining from “endorsing” Bernie, even while he’s expressed a vote for him, appears to be contradictory with his intended purpose of getting in front of people to etc etc etc.

                So it’s not like CK’s position on this issue comes outa nowhere, yeah?

                As CK has said (at least in terms of how he views it) a component of any speech act is that the expression is meant to be heard by other people, so it’s inherently political (in one sense of that term) by definition. And if so, then TNC’s failure view the public vocalization of his vote-choice as an endorsement constitutes not only an inconsistency contained within that expression, but a rejection of the act of voicing that choice in public. Contradictions abound!!

                I say that only to convey that CK’s not coming at this stuff from outa left field, and that there really is an issue here regarding speech acts and such that he’s getting on about.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                Oh, I get the direction he’s coming from. I just think it lacks empathy, and that its perch purposely seeks a battle in the threads rather than an attempt at understanding.

                To bring things to a smaller level that they might be explored without wading into the baggage many have with Ta Nehisi Coates…

                I write a lot of stuff for other people to read. Those things I take time with, research, and put out there in detailed, long form are things I might well have strong opinions about, and which I likely put out there in the hopes of changing others’ opinions.

                I will also likely have an opinion about who Florida should elect as its next governor whenever that time comes. However, there will be no question that I will have very little to say on the matter. I will also not endorse one candidate over the other on the pages of OT, because I don’t really feel qualified to tell people in Florida who would be the best person to run their state. If asked, I will likely give my opinion, but I would object if it was touted by a commenter here that I was endorsing that person.

                The fact that I want to change your opinion about, say, Fox News, or sex offender laws, or scientology does not mean that I want, expect, or have a desire to change your opinion about every other topic you can think of, even if you are really, really hoping I will try to change opinions about it. Similarly, the fact that Coates wants to use his writing to get me thinking about reparations or white supremacy does not bind him to telling me who I should vote for in the next primary, even though he certainly has a personal opinion about such.

                My not endorsing a candidate for governor of Florida is not a shirking of my duties, as a writer or as a member of this blog, because that is not what I write about. Coates’ not endorsing a candidate for POTUS is not a shirking of his as a writer or a staff member of the Atlantic, because that is not what he writes bout.

                This, I think, is pretty straightforward. It is not confusing, or at least it shouldn’t be. It is certainly not “anti-democratic.”Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                We might think of this in terms of universality, or more specifically, universalizing. TNC wants to make public figures answering uncomfortable questions a universal standard, so he, as a public figure, answered one. He didn’t do it with the goal of convincing us to vote as he plans to, but to convince people in positions similar yo his not to avoid difficult, uncomfortable, or awkward questions. That is, he’s not promoting Sanders, he’s promoting transparency and honesty.

                What CK has done is assumed that the only object of answering the question, the only self-consistent goal he could be hoping to achieve in doing so, is the promotion of the answer, rather than the act of answering itself.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Not to diminish that excellent justification of TNC’s underlying logic (which is quite nice!), we might also say that he holds two beliefs which prima facie don’t appear to be contradictory and await our interlocuter to provide an argument explaining why they are. And if that argument fails to be like Mr. Chesterfield and satisfy, then we go back to the beginning with the presumption in TNC’s favor.

                So yeah, there are philosophically defensible as well as commonsensical reasons to think TNC is doin alright on this.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Stillwater: So, two facts out there in the woild: that people will be influenced by TNC’s choices, and that TNC rejects that people should be influenced by his choices.

                In other words, to put the matter simply, though reductively, one might say that TNC objectively or effectively endorsed Sanders, even if TNC did not rise to his feet and exclaim “I endorse Bernie Sanders and you all should vote for him!” Another way to give an objective or effective endorsement would be to offer an argument whose implication was obviously that one candidate was superior to another. We see that kind of thing frequently with individuals who either are trying to maintain an appearance of non-partisanship or are even barred from making political “endorsements.” So, they winkingly comment about what a great person candidate X is or what a great argument candidate X has, etc., or about how horrible candidate Y or candidates W, Y, and Z are.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Wrt the winkingness of TNC’s “endorsement”: that’s an entirely different analysis of political expressions and actions than you’ve been advocating here in these threads, seems to me. The first relied on an analysis of language and speech acts; the second relies on an analysis of politically motivated deception. The second could surely be the case, tho TNC has given no indication in his words or actions of anything less than sincerity regarding that issue (unless he’s engaging in 11-dimensional logic here!!! Which is always logically possible!!).Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Didn’t say even for a second that TNC was winking. I used the example of a winking endorsement as an illustration of “[a]nother way” to give an endorsement that doesn’t involve saying “I endorse him, I endorse him, I endorse him, etc.”Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Ahh. Yeah. Sorry about the confusion there. I agree . If cynical behavior wasn’t already overdetermined we’d have to invent politics just to release the backpressure which drives it.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            TNC is the one adopting the anti-democratic position that only the experts should play in the serious business of governance,

            No, he’s not, as he’s said repeatedly.Report

            • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

              Chris: No, he’s not, as he’s said repeatedly.

              He can say it as many times as he wants and it will still be in contradiction with the others things he also says. That is the point of criticizing a position as incoherent and self-contradictory.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                He’s saying he hadn’t thought and researcher it enough to feel confident telling other people for whom they should vote. That’s responsibility, not a technocratic aristocratism.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                And he can say that as many times as he wants, and in the meantime produce other statements whose implications are counter to what he would like to think about himself and his beliefs. And so on ad nauseam.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                “This is what I think. You should not think it because I do, but should decide for yourself.” The ultimate statement of deference to expertise!

                Honestly, I think you’re doing a srangely incoherent sort if gymnastics here, which, if we took your statements here seriously (ignoring their own contradictions), would result in a rather ugly discursive and even political theory. We might even use another’s words to describe it: Will to Power.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                That last thought has occurred to me. It may be that in an analysis whereby all speech acts reduce to self-serving political discourse the only residue left is a will to power.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Do you know who else used to make political statements about political candidates in political contexts to political journalists?!

                Now, Nietzsche did indeed seem to think at one point that the whole wide world reduced to will power and nothing else, as he famously stated. He seemed quite persuaded of the argument. It can be addressed or we can choose to set it aside as too ugly to contemplate. Without going too uncomfortably far down the ugly road, we can note that the will-to-power concept is highly problematic for concepts of the self, and therefore of the “self-serving,” as it seems to have been for Nietzche’s very own self.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I think we’re still talking passed each other. My comment above was a criticism of deriving empirical conclusions from an analysis. I think that’s been a problem for (some) philosophers and intellectuals for a long time. So long that you’d think the evidence would persuade them to revise their beliefs. 🙂Report

          • Avatar j r says:


            Not really sure what either of you are arguing, or to what end.

            This is a tough one, man. It’s pretty obvious to most people participating in this conversation that the argument Chris and I and others are making is a pretty straightforward claim that we should take TNC’s statement at face value, unless presented with other evidence that implies he really is being coy or unconsciously signalling or playing n-dimensional political spades. You are the one putting forth an esoteric argument based on a particular theory of human communication. And that’s fine. Maybe your model is superior.

            The one thing that I cannot figure out is if you are making a falsifiable statement about Coates’ behavior or you’re just playing some sort of word game. So, let me ask you this: what evidence, if any, would convince you that Coates’ was in fact not making any endorsement and that he was simply, and perhaps absentmindedly, answering a question about his own preferences?Report

            • Avatar CK MacLeod says:


              Regardless of the “thread count” of those who endorse TNC’s position “against endorsements” as TNC offers it, there’s nothing “esoteric” about my interpretation either of his initial statement or of his subsequent statements.

              Just last night on CNN, around the time you made your comment I believe, a panel was discussing South Carolina: The Sanders-supporting veteran commentator Bill Press referred to Coates’ “endorsement” of Sanders. Another participant mentioned TNC’s stated desire that his statement not be taken as an endorsement, and Press asserted forcefully that (quoting from memory) “If you announce that you’re voting for someone, you’re endorsing that person!”

              My point isn’t that you should be persuaded because Bill Press was insistent. My point is only that the argument I’ve been making as it bears specifically on Coates’ statement and his statement about his statement isn’t some peculiar result of an unusual theory. As I’ve noted repeatedly, the Mother Jones reporter Pema Levy and presumably her editors were also operating on this assumption. Even Coates, in struggling to produce reasons why his statement of voting intention should be interpreted in some other way or shouldn’t be interpreted at all, implicitly acknowledges that Levy’s and Press’s and the rest of the political world’s reaction to his initial statement was the normal or conventional reaction.

              Your question regarding falsifiability presumes that, if I’m not “playing some sort of word game,” I must be criticizing “Coates’ behavior,” as previously you wonder if I think he “is being coy or unconsciously signalling or playing n-dimensional politicial spades.” I’m not saying any of that. I’m saying that his position and supporting argumentation “Against Endorsements” are inane.

              The position “against endorsements” is the outlying, esoteric, word-gamey position. The position against endorsements is a position against positions, or the endorsement of non-endorsement: It is a quietist position. (o announce the quietist position is already to contradict it. Coates’ fallback position in favor of asking questions or being disturbing and provocative is an endorsement of asking question and being disturbing and provocative, but Coates describes his position differently, apparently unaware of the contradictions. To be “against endorsements” would be to be against polity itself. A democratic culture specifically is a culture of endorsement: The vote is an endorsement. We select candidates and positions, give them our backing (our “endorsement” or not), and seek to attract other citizens to add their endorsements, while supporters of other candidates and positions likewise gather, until in a final sorting and tallying of formal endorsements – votes – we determine which candidates and positions have accumulated the strongest backing (endorsement).

              I respect the position in resistance to the political as a philosophical position, but what Coates and his supporters are offering does not rise to that level.Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                The purpose of my last comment was to find out if there is some falsifiable set of facts that might be responsible for the disagreement here. I have my answer. Our disagreement is at a more fundamental level. That’s fine, we can agree to disagree.

                I will only say that, for me, Coates’ against endorsements position is not only possible, but preferable. I am not one of those people who think that we would be automatically better off with a parliamentary system, but that system does have one notable advantage. An election is called and voters go to the polls usually within a matter of weeks, sparing those voters the ever-expanding travelling scorched-earth sideshow that our election season has become.

                Democracy works best when people have the opportunity to hear all sides, vote their preferences, observe the results, and make the necessary adjustments the next time around. The politics of endorsements is unavoidably tied up in the drive to wrangle all individuals into some ideological herd that professional partisans can drive this way and that for their own ends. This style of politics has delivered, and will continue to deliver, less than optimal outcomes. And my prediction is that this will only get worse.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                You imagine that parliamentary democracies function without endorsement? We seem to have very different ideas about how to use the word.Report

              • Avatar j r says:

                No. I imagine that the short election cycle and absence of primaries greatly reduces the negative impact of endorsements and ideological wrangling in general.Report

  3. Avatar Manfred the Wonder Dog says:

    To ex-press a view is to share it with others with the intention of affecting them in some way – or it is not ex-pression at all: It’s talking to yourself in secret.

    Is there a difference between ‘I’m thinking candidate A’ when directly askt and ‘I’m encouraging you to think Candidate A,’ (particularly when followed up with ‘I want you to to the work to make up your own mind’)? Own your decision. Don’t base it on Epistemic Social Media (ESM®). I’d guess TNC feels fine with folk considering his body of work when they do their own work to inform themselves; but I can’t imagine him suggesting leaving out the work of others and trusting him; he’s on a quest questioning; and I think he gets that how he views things will shift and change as he learns more in that quest.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    As weak endorsements go, it’s a weak endorsement.

    That doesn’t prevent it from being an endorsement, though. But the fact that it’s an endorsement doesn’t change it from being a weak endorsement to a more meaningful one.Report