Monday, January 23, 2006

Democrats' Quilting Bee and Debating Society meets here

Many moons ago, I was a high school debater. My partner and I were the #2 team among Department of Defense Dependent Schools competitors in the U.K., which, with $4, will get you a pretty decent latte. I note here, for real debaters out there, that the DoDDS system, convinced (and correctly so, at the time) that we dependents overseas would not be able to research our questions at all adequately at base or post libraries, created packets of "fact cards" for us. All we had to do was to sort and organize them, and become sufficiently familiar with them that we could whip 'em out during a debate to good effect. So DoDDS debate teams started with exactly the same bodies of fact, and a team won by dint of its rhetorical fancy footwork.

But when the spokespeople of one of the United States's dominant political parties embrace high school debate as a tactic, well, forgive me if I tend to roll my eyes. For instance:

So, when the extremist nutcases in our country start comparing patriotic Democrats and Progressives with Osama bin Laden, welcome the opportunity to point out that the present incarnation of the GOP is controlled by the religious right, the Theocons, who bear disturbing parallels to the most wanted man in the world. And you don’t have to be able to whip out a bunch of quotes, all you need to remember is a simple soundbite and they will open the door for you.

The religious right is Osama bin Laden light.

That’s how easy it is to turn the tables.

H/T to Jeff Goldstein at ProteinWisdom, a terrific and often terrifically funny blog I've spent a lot of time on lately. (Not necessary work-safe, and definitely not kid-safe! Jeff's observations are clear and frequently hilarious, but couched in sometimes-inappropriate language for these audiences. However, civil discourse is the general rule. This is no Kos or DU.) The above is from a Kossack who goes by the moniker DarkSyde (whatever). His comments refer to what he perceives as similarities between Osama bin Laden's fundamentalist Islam and the beliefs of fundamentalist American Christians... without the barest acknowledgement of the completely different approaches each takes to the cultural norms of which they disapprove. Hint: one supports stoning and beheading of violators of religious law. The other, in its worst socially acceptable incarnation, supports aggressive, sometimes irritating, but ultimately non-physical conversion attempts. (If this DarkSyde's intent is to convince the great American center that all fundamentalist Christians are on the same page as the monsters who drag people to death behind pickup trucks or leave them wired to fences to die in the cold, good luck to him.)

Point being, DarkSyde, who is a "diarist" on DailyKos (which means he actually gets a "column" rather than just the opportunity to comment), appears to believe that the important thing here is winning the debate, rather than determining what is in the nation's best interest and going about creating a plan to achieve that goal.

Back in high school debate, it was a truism that the negative side was the easy side. If you won the coin toss, you chose to be the "con" side, because all you had to do was to poke enough little holes, or a sufficiently large single hole, in the "pro" side's arguments to weaken it; you didn't have to present an alternative. It was absolutely the opposite of the Perry Mason courtroom, in which Perry not only always got his client off but did so by revealing the real killer; instead, the debate was decided more like a real criminal trial, with a "reasonable doubt" standard. If the cons could elicit the equivalent of a reasonable doubt, they won. The pros, on the other hand, had to present their argument and then defend it vigorously, hoping that they could poke sufficient holes in the con-side's hole-poking attempts that their reasonable doubts would be revealed to be unreasonable.

But high school debate ain't what we're doing here. Does it matter whether the NSA program, summed up as "eavesdropping on the conversations of known al Qaeda members with others, some of whom may be US citizens," is legal or not? Of course it does - but if it's not legal, isn't the important question how to make it legal rather than how long the high-fiving should go on? What is the goal here? Is it important that the Shi'ites, many of whom are followers of a conservative brand of Islam, won a majority in Iraq's recent elections? Of course it is - but is it not at least as important that they didn't win enough seats to control to ["the" - sheesh!] Iraqi government and must form a coalition government? Should we consider whether military commanders in Iraq ought to have asked for more troops on the ground in the days immediately following Iraqi liberation? Naturally we should - but as an exercise to feed into the next conflict, rather than a "gotcha" moment with no follow-up.

I hope to get my hands on L. Paul Bremer's new book, My Year In Iraq, soon. I've heard parts of two interviews with him lately, and not only does he utterly destroy arguments from "the other side" about whether, for instance, the Iraqi Army "should have been" dissolved and more Coalition troops "should have been" used in the early occupation period, but he stays brilliantly focused on the goal of bringing about a stable, peaceful, allied-with-us Iraq as a means to greater American national security and, not incidentally, a better world. He ain't doing high school debate either.

Update: Well, color me surprised. Apparently Blogger doesn't support trackbacks, and besides linking to sites I read (and emailing the authors, which I usually don't do because of the pretension factor), I don't actually know how to indicate to their authors that I've been reading them. Yet who shows up in the comments but DarkSyde him/herself and... Jeff Goldstein! Wow. I'm honored, Mr. Goldstein. Mr./Ms. Syde, well, thanks for the appearance - can't say as how I'm honored.

Mr./Ms. Syde, you continue to confuse a general similarity (ask yourself what orthodox Jews believe about women clergy, for instance - I bet it's "eerily similar" to what Osama bin Laden believes) with equivalence, and believe that by doing so you "win." My point is that with methodology as flawed as yours, your conclusion is invalid.

But even if we elide your method, your conclusion is still specious. You say, in the Comments, "In toto, both ["the extreme religious right" - as opposed to ordinary American Christians or even most fundamentalist Christians, as Mr. Goldstein points out - and Osama bin Laden] wish to force feed their specific version of religion, with all the associated Fatwas acting as a veto on the behavior of others, regardless if others share that view, with the full power of the state and law behind them." You make this assumption, fail to back it up, and ignore the really indisputable fact that while Osama bin Laden has (or perhaps "had" is a better word, these days, thank you Mr. Bush) real power and influence over policy in the real world, the "extreme religious right" has precisely zero power and influence. By "extreme religious right," I must conclude you're talking about an apparently invisibly tiny group of fundamentalist Christians who would actually seek and support the setup of an American theocracy, rather than the larger group of fundamentalist Christians who are content to work through the electoral process; otherwise your equation of this group with Osama bin Laden makes no sense. Anticipating your counter that an American government that includes any number, however small, of fundamentalist Christians is in fact a "theocracy," let me point out the important difference between a theocracy, or government based on religious offices and run by religious leaders - such as, for instance, Rev. Jackson or the Archbishop of Boston - and a government in which some leaders are devout in their religions, and share their devotion (or maybe just their cultural aims) with enough voters that some of their policy goals are able to be voted into law. Since you come from the "nuanced" side of the aisle, I'm sure you have no trouble understanding that difference.


DarkSyde said...

Jamie TY for the link. I noticed you sidestepped the actual comparison analysis though and chose instead to focus on methodology either uses to attain their goals. But I brought up nothing whatsoever to do with methodology. My point was far more fundamental: The social policy goals of the extreme religious right and Osama bin Laden and related Wahhabist social philosophy are eerily similar in many cases and far outside the mainstream of American values or American majorities. That's not at all surprising and it's beyond dispute: It's an inevitable consequence if sharing an authoritarian, theocratic outlook based on similar underpinnings such as the Old Testement

In toto, both wish to force feed their specific version of religion, with all the associated Fatwas acting as a veto on the behavior of others, regardless if others share that view, with the full power of the state and law behind them. This is why the right is more similar to fanatical Islam than more secular political factions and that's the point my friend: WHO is more similar, left, middle; right, progressive, centrist, or conservative. In the current dynamic the right wins that contest hands down over the center or the left. Thanks for the interest!

protein wisdom said...

If darksyde moves the goal posts anymore -- we're now at the "extreme religious right" (whoever they are, and which, conveniently, is defined by its similarities to the Taliban to show how it is, well, similar to the Taliban) -- we'll be playing on a field the size of New Hamshire.

And the reason methodology is being discussed is because it was the point of my post, upon which YOU interjected your risible thought experiment.

Several things are clear from our exchanges, DS.

1) you are singularly unable to separate out the pertinent terms of an argument

2) you find yourself far more clever than you have any right to believe yourself to be, and you believe that you are "challenging" conservatives by raising analogies that are inapt and, when looked at closely, completely undermine the claims you make for them


3) You were confident enough to post about your foray into wignuttia, but you feared linking to the exchange in question, because you came across looking like the worst king of fool -- one who doesn't even have the common sense enough to beat a gracious retreat, but rather who instead claims a victory he hasn't earned on a field of battle he has yet even to understand.

I'm through with you.

Gahrie said...

Ah, High school debate. I once won a debate tournament at least partly due to a ridiculous argument I made4 about nuclear tipped bullets........