The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Our Political Fights Are Bad Because We Don’t Agree on the Rules

Anti-Brett Kavanaugh demonstrators chant before being arrested on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 24, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

This is the last Jim-written Morning Jolt for a week. Enjoy the week leading up to Easter Sunday, and if you’re going to be driving on I-95 South in Virginia, North Carolina, or South Carolina this afternoon, please stay out of the left lane.

Our Political Fights Are Intense Because We No Longer Agree on the Rules

Matthew Walther, writing about Julian Assange in The Week, lists how many Democrats and Republicans changed their minds about Assange depending upon whose secrets he was exposing and concludes:

[if Assange exposes Trump’s secrets], we can expect to see both sides revert once more to their circa 2010 defaults. Once more Assange would be the bugbear of the national security right and a liberal icon. It’s almost as if his own utter lawlessness were a mirror of the nihilism at the heart of the modern Western democratic imagination, a danger far greater than any given leak.

That’s a hard truth. One of the reasons our politics is so contentious and angry is that we can’t agree on what the rules are. Some of us want to argue that certain policies are good and certain policies are bad. But a vocal chunk of Americans don’t really care about what the policies are; they would much rather argue that their side is right. They don’t care if these are the same policies or comparable to those they denounced earlier. The system is clogged with bad-faith arguments, hypocrisy, and flip-flopping.

What do most Americans and most American policymakers think of running trillion-a-year deficits? It depends upon whether their party’s president is the one running up the debts. When the other guys are in power, it’s reckless endangerment of our children’s future. When their own guys are in power, it’s a necessary step to ensure economic growth.

When someone prominent is accused of a crime, is the bigger concern the rights of the accused and the burden of proof, or the rights of the victim to have her account heard and for the crime to be punished? For many people, it depends upon the partisan status of the person accused. Some people believed the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh instantly and adamantly insisted his confirmation to the Supreme Court was a great injustice; some of those same people take little interest in the women accusing Virginia lieutenant governor Justin Fairfax — and some people reversed their responses in the other direction.

The antiwar movement around Iraq and Afghanistan proved to be an anti-Bush movement; once Obama was in office, the protests grew more sparse and less covered. When one side’s leaders take military action, it’s protecting Americans in a dangerous world; when the other side’s leaders take military action, it’s irresponsible warmongering.

For many Americans, when the side they like uses heated rhetoric, it’s speaking truth to power. When the side they don’t like uses heated rhetoric, it’s hate speech and dangerous incitement.

There’s a funny video going around, contrasting House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler’s views on disclosure of reports investigating the president. He adamantly opposed the release of the Starr report to the public and cited the need to protect the privacy of the individuals mentioned in it; now “the entire Mueller report, with no redactions whatsoever” must be released immediately.

Is the desire to make more money inherently greedy? Or only conditionally greedy? For years, the mantra of Bernie Sanders was that the wealthy were driven by an intensely selfish desire: “How many yachts do billionaires need? How many cars do they need? Give us a break. You can’t have it all.” Sanders has three homes and is now a millionaire. He achieved this through selling books. Apparently selling books is a legitimate path to wealth, but other paths are somehow inherently exploitative.

If you’re partisan enough, you can convince yourself that Ralph Northam’s blackface is forgivable, that Michael Avenatti is a crusader for justice, that Jussie Smollett is exposing dark bigotry manifesting in the late-night streets of Chicago, that the Southern Poverty Law Center is reliable and careful, and that the reporting about allegations of Trump colluding with Russians to hack the 2016 election were well-sourced and even-handed.

If you’re partisan enough, you can convince yourself that Donald Trump is here to restore Christian values, clean up Washington, and provide a better role model for our political leaders; that Steve King is simply a misunderstood patriot; that the presidential summits with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un represented wise and cautious diplomacy; and that Paul Manafort and Roger Stone are well-meaning operatives that any good campaign would hire or choose as partners.

Lot of Interest in 1970s Busing Fights Lately, Huh?

Boy, Joe Biden’s efforts in the fight about forced busing and desegregation sure are getting a lot of attention these days, aren’t they?

I like going back over a politician’s career as much as the next guy, but doesn’t anyone in the media feel awkward that this issue received no attention during the eight years Biden was vice president? If this is worthy of public discussion and debate, why wasn’t this an issue in 2008?

There’s a simple explanation for this: The mainstream media’s level of interest in stories that could make Biden look bad is inversely proportional to how closely he’s standing to Barack Obama.

 It’s a lot like Biden’s wandering hands — fodder for jokes in the past, a topic for a serious national conversation now.

Can We Now Stop Using Kids as Political Spokesmen?

Ryan Petty, who lost his daughter Alaina in the Parkland shooting, wrote an op-ed for USA Today that echoes what a lot of us were saying last spring — that whatever you think of gun control, it’s probably not a good idea to take teenagers who have just been through a national event and put them in the spotlight as spokesman for a highly charged legislative proposal.

While the sense of political urgency from students was understandable and in some ways admirable, it came at the cost of a focus on the health and healing — for the families of the victims, students, teachers, and the community at large . .

The politicization and media-frenzied response to the murders overwhelmed and eclipsed the real, personal needs of the survivors and their loved ones. To be blunt, the cacophony of voices on gun control drowned out and suppressed a needed conversation on the mental-health needs at the school and in the community. For that failure, our community is paying a heavy price.

At the time, the motivation for spotlighting the teens was clear: to disagree with their often-heated and sometimes factually wrong assertions about gun violence amounted to “attacking children” in the eyes of their pro-gun control allies. It wasn’t about bringing new voices to the debate, it was about shutting down the debate.

ADDENDA: Hillary Clinton, with a sort-of funny line about Assange last night: “I do think it’s a little ironic that he may be the only foreigner that this administration would welcome to the United States.”

Ha-ha-ha. Say, who’s the president married to again? How many xenophobes marry immigrants?

In case you missed it yesterday, Tulsi Gabbard seems to think the Assange arrest was meant to intimidate journalists and Americans; it’s possible that no Democratic candidate wins enough delegates to clinch the nomination before the convention in 2020; and I, for one, am getting tired of hearing Terry McAuliffe tell the alligator-wrestling story.


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