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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Monday, June 12, 2006


asymmetric rhetoric

posted by Aziz P. at Monday, June 12, 2006 permalink View blog reactions
I've got myself enmeshed in a bit of an argument at Swords Crossed with Ender, one of the new front-pagers. Ender lumped Michael Savage and Ann Coulter alonng with Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan, as examples of equally corrosive elements poisoning the sphere of public debate. I took exception to this. I'll reproduce the exchange thus far below the fold.

(updated with a response to Ender's latest comment - read on)


My first comment in reply to Ender's post:

Ender, I think that there is a difference. Moore insults the President, but does not as far as I can tell rely on characterizing exactly one-half of the american electorate as traitors or worse. Same with Sheehan - she is a tragic figure but her ire is directed solely at President Bush.

Coulter and Savage however are not just saying equivalent things about Al Gore or Clinton or Howard Dean. They are saying it about ME.

And therein in a nutshell is a world of difference. It’s all the difference in the world.

to which Ender replied,

Mike Moore goes to foreign countries and calls more than half of all Ameicans stupid, ignorant, or bigoted. Cindy Sheehan lies about American policies (example: “We are waging a nuclear war in Iraq right now. That country is contaminated. It will be contaminated for practically eternity now.”), takes stands with communists and other radicals at home and abroad, and at the same time manages to influence American politicians (even as recently as threatening Feinstein).

No matter how despicable some of Coulter and Savage’s quotes might be, they surely are not influencing anyone in our government.

So who is more dangerous? There is a big difference between being personally offensive and influencing the country with a radical leftist ideology.

my reply:

Ender, I dont think I’m going to accept your claim that Moore characterized “half of all Americans” as “stupid, ignorant, and bigoted”. Please clarify with an exact quote. As for Sheehan, she is misinformed on basic physics - I assume she refers to use of depleted uranium (and not claiming that we actually have dropped nukes).

But you throw about the word “influence” with great abandon. How exactly have Moore and Sheehan “influenced” the country? By any measure, Coulter and Svage have “influenced” the country far, far worse, as their platforms are immeasurably greater. Savage alone has 10-15 million listeners a day. I know - he’s on during my drive home on the second largest radio station in Houston (KPRC 950 AM).

And then you say that “surely” Coulter and Savage are not “influencing” anyone in our *givernment*. Whyare you changing the metric? Moore and Shheehan you accuse of influencing the *country* but the righties are not influencing the *government* … I think you’re getting mixed up here. Its really due to the sloppy definitions of influence you are relying on.

Theres only one defensible definition of influence you can apply, and that is influence on indovidual citizens’ minds. Via media, publishing, and internet platforms. By that score, Moore and Sheehan are lightweights.

Ender replies, pointing to my assertion that Moore and Sheehan are lightweights, with the questions:

And is that why we have Bush at his lowest approval rating ever? Is that why we have only about 30% of US population approving of the way things are going in Iraq? Who won the influence war? Doesn’t look like Coulter or Savage.

and also gives some examples of Moore being an ass while on tour in Europe. My reply:

Ender, is it possible that Bush’s approval rating and the general disapproval of the war are related to - you know - the President’s own performance? Why do you need to invoke bogeymen to account for the obvious?

Overall, the President has hoist his own petard. He could have made a principled case for war without even mentioning WMD. He could have staged a few less photo ops. He could have stopped his representatives from crowing about “cakewalsk” and roses-strewing jubilant crowds, which make the climbing death toll even more dissonant with expectations. He could have simply communicated hisvision to the American people and actually asked Americans to make a sacrifice rather than tell us we can have our cake and eat it too.

I mean, Ender, when you’ve lost Greg Djierjian, you’ve really hit bottom.

As for your quotes from Moore, I see some preaching to the anti-American choir, but nothing that I’d count as “influence” - especially of the US citizenry or the giovernment - and nothing that has any direct bearing on the Preident’s job approval numbers (unless they are polling residents of Munich, which would be odd indeed).

I'll update this post as warrants.

UPDATE: Ender replies here. Ultimately I think that his opinion rests on the assertion that media coverage is uniformly negative, which I fundamentally disagree with. If anything the media is far too concerned with "balance" and thus gives extreme views on the right equal play as serious and sober analysis on the left.

Sure, there is positive news out of Iraq, which the media doesn't really focus on. But that is because such news - painted schools and incremental improvements to shattered infrastructure - are not important metrics. As Tim Saler asked pointedly, "Have thousands of Americans and Iraqis died and continue to die every day so that we can secure flushing toilets?"

What REALLY matters is actual progress on security and democracy's infrastructure, and the media has done an *excellent* job in covering that fairly and rigorously.

And Ender's point that the WMD justification was defensible is also simply wrong. Again, as Tim said:

As any person knows, it is nearly impossible to prove a negative. Put yourself in the same situation: demonstrate, under penalty of physical harm, that you have never stolen anything in your life. Surely it cannot be done. You could document every day of your existence and note that on none of those days did you steal anything, and yet your interrogators can simply say that you have chosen to omit an instance of theft. You cannot prove that you never did something, nor can you prove that you are no longer doing something. In the criminal justice system, we cannot charge a man with murder and demand that he and his attorneys prove that he did not commit it. Instead, the prosecution must make the case beyond a reasonable doubt that the man committed the crime. Iraq, by the terms of Resolution 1441, could never prove that it was in compliance.

The bottom line is that the media is a convenient bogeyman to pin the blame upon, but the buck stops at the Oval Office, and the failures of the Adminstration are their own. What is needed is not reflexive defensiveness but rather a willingness to look critically at the mistakes thus far so that we can fix them and ultimately attain our desired ends.

As I said in a previous comment to Ender, if you've lost Greg Djierjian, you must have really snafued the situation. I highly recommend Belgravia Dispatch as a prime example of someone who supported the war in Iraq but did so out of genuine commitment to the ideals - and therefore has no blinders about the execution of that goal.


For crying out loud.

I'll speak to Coulter. Can't address Savage because I don't know what he's said.

The difference between Cindy Sheehan and/or Michael Moore, and Ann Coulter, is the following.

Neither Sheehan or Moore have called for, jokingly or otherwise, the silencing or intimidation of their political opponents through violence. Coulter has.

That is the difference between any and all pundits, commentators, comedians, satirists, and (mostly) bloggers on the left, and Ann Coulter and folks like her.

Are we, finally, clear about this now?

Thank you -


Aziz P,

Thank you for an interesting discussion. I think we have moved fairly far from the discussion of Coulter's follies to the failures of George Bush and reasons for his abysmal ratings. That is a separate topic that I would like to address on Swords Crossed and hopefully I will post on that in the next few days so we can continue this discussion.

Mike Pridmore, the new front page poster there, decided to address Ann Coulter's relation to the republican party in a new post which also relates to our discussion and I replied in a comment here:

"Neither Sheehan or Moore have called for, jokingly or otherwise, the silencing or intimidation of their political opponents through violence. Coulter has."
But doesn't all the difference lie in "jokingly or otherwise"?

There are much bigger differences between the three of them. I think we've gone through a lot of them in the discussion on SC.


Ender -

"But doesn't all the difference lie in jokingly or otherwise?"

No, it doesn't.

Here's Ann:

"We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too"

I don't care if that was a joke or not. You shouldn't either.

I'll leave it at that.

Thanks -


Look at front page. An ad by Ann Coulter is prominent there. Now, imagine the outcry were it an ad by Ted Rall at Dailykos.

Oh, there is indeed a difference - one gets held to one standard, the other to another.

I don't recall anyone saying "Hey Ted Rall was joking/just an entertainer and that makes all teh difference.". In fact I am not even clear as to how anyone can actually divine thta Coulter was not serious or that Rall was.

The willingness to make excuses of this type is what has led to the deterioration of the public discourse. And we are not well-served by trying to sugarcoat the fact that the poison is being driven primarily by the right.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.