Partisanship and Empty Rhetoric

It seems in recent week that an ever-increasing focus has fallen on Rush Limbaugh and his radio show.  Not only have the usual suspects worked themselves into a frenzy over him, but we’ve even had President Obama command Congressional Republicans to ignore him.  And the White House has yet to let up on speaking against him.  White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has even taken a few stabs at Limbaugh.  Even more amazingly, Republican Chairman Michael Steele has voiced disapproval of Limbaugh’s talks.

Now, I don’t personally care much for Limbaugh–he bloviates worse than O’Reilly–and if he’s the de facto speaker for the Republican party, then conservatives are in a world of trouble.  But I think there’s something interesting to look at in something Gibbs has said:

“You know, I’d like to think, and I think most people would like to think, that we can put aside our differences and get things done for the American people. We’ll say, in watching a few cable clips of Mr. Limbaugh’s speech, his notion of presidential failures seemed to be quite popular in the [CPAC] room in which he spoke,” he said.

This, of course, refers to the comments Limbaugh made about hoping that President Obama fails.  And on that note, I feel Limbaugh actually had a decent response in his talk at the CPAC:

This notion that I want the President to fail, folks, this shows you a sign of the problem we’ve got. That’s nothing more than common sense and to not be able to say it, why in the world do I want what we just described, rampant government growth indebtedness, wealth that’s not even being created yet that is being spent, what is in this?  What possibly is in this that anybody of us wants to succeed?

And this gets to the heart of my thinking here.  We want America to succeed.  I would hope that covers the board for anyone who reads here, even those who hate what America has done and has become.  I know we want America to succeed–because we all have an idea of what that success is.  For me, that idea of success is a whole-hearted embrace of Catholic teaching; a return to industry, responsibility, and compassionate care for its citizens; and a renewal of true freedom.  This idea also includes a thousand or more sub-details that I won’t bore you with here.  But to speak to the idea that we have different notions of success, let me throw this out.  I want Iran to succeed.  That doesn’t mean I want them to acquire nuclear weapons and wipe Israel off the face of the earth, because in my mind, that is failure.  Success for Iran is, in my mind, much like the success I described for the United States.

However, we don’t all speak that language.  If we restrict our discourse to particular events, such as Iran’s threats to annihilate Israel, I pray to God that Iran fails.  Similarly, I understand quite well what Limbaugh is talking about.  In terms of President Obama’s plans to revamp our economy, which I view as dangerous and destructive, I pray that he fails.  I pray that he either fails to enact his agenda, or that if his agenda is enacted, that it fails so spectacularly that no one can doubt why he failed.  Because then we can pick up the pieces and try something that has a better shot at success.  But even this prayer for failure is contingent on my own knowledge.  If I am utterly wrong about how economics work, in what the source of the current problem is, and how President Obama’s plan will affect everything, then my prayer is void, based on faulty understanding.  What I cannot do, though, is pray for the success of something I feel is a grave wrong.

But this leads us to a dilemma.  We don’t have much in the way of infallible teachings on how to proceed economically.  We have goals that we are to strive for, and there are particular attitudes and philosophies that can be scrapped as morally evil.  But in general, we have to sort these things out ourselves.  So if I am wrong, what am I to do?

Certainly the last thing I want to do is what Gibbs wants:

You know, I’d like to think … that we can put aside our differences and get things done for the American people.

No.  No and no.  Putting aside our differences is the last thing we should do.  That is reneging on consciences, and once we’ve done that, we can allow anything to slide.  We need discussions.  We need arguments.  We need knock-down-drag-out fights to the bitter end.  Views need to be heard.  Ideas need to be voiced.  The more we put aside differences, the more we are willing to allow suggestions pass unchallenged, and mediocre plans that could have been refined into brilliant ones remain mediocre.  Worse, bad plans slip through, and then we’re stuck in a blame game.

If I’m wrong about something, I have no problem with people telling me so.  I’m not going to cave, however, because undoubtedly I have good reasons for being wrong, and those reasons need to be addressed.  I need convincing.  I need evidence and arguments.  Because, even if I’m wrong, I’ll probably have some right ideas that would have otherwise been scrapped if I simply conceded.

On the other hand, I don’t need empty rhetoric.  I don’t need slogans shouted in my face, because they are devoid of any intellectual content.  I don’t need little snarky comments about my hypothesized upbringing, my friends, or my dog.  Sure, bring them up, but there had better be a relevant reason for doing so, and it had better be made clear.  If we’re debating the merits of a philosophical ideas, if you choose to bring into conversation my former drug use and trafficking in prostitution, then those had better directly affect the philosophical idea itself.  Sure, those are reasonable things to bring up if we’re discussing my trustworthiness, my honesty, my integrity, but that’s a different topic.

So.  Partisanship, wielded properly, is a necessary thing.  Keeping the debates alive and lively is why we even bother having a two-party system.  Of course, if partisanship degrades into ploys that seek political points over sound governing, that’s a different matter.  But no, I don’t think we’ll benefit by setting our differences aside.  And I do want President Obama to fail. And to succeed.  You know what I mean.

52 Responses to Partisanship and Empty Rhetoric

  • Lambasting Limbaugh serves two purposes for Obama: (1) icing the Republicans who have emerged as the more serious party in the debates surrounding the stimulus bill and (2) making a grotesque caricature of him the poster boy for the Fairness Doctrine.

  • And a very stupid move it is for Obama. Mud wrestling with a pundit is never a good move for a President, especially someone who reaches 20,000,000 listeners a week. Other than driving up the ratings for Rush, I can’t think of anything positive that Obama will accomplish by this. It is all downside for him.

  • I am baffled by the Limbaugh discussions raging through the blogosphere. Limbaugh has been around forever and his schtick is wearyingly familiar. I suppose Republicans don’t have much else going for them, and Democrats would rather not talk about the stimulus because it’s not particularly popular. But who cares about Limbaugh? Compelling politicians and fundamentals control political outcomes; radio hosts do not. I don’t intend this to be a criticism of the post (which I basically agree with), just an observation.

  • Obama is not smart here. As a talking head said earlier today, it is counterproductive to get into a urinating contest with a skunk….

  • I don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh (not since he had his television show, anyway) but I think it would be a rather entertaining debate were Barack Obama to respond to his challenge to debate. =)

  • Christopher,

    Limbaugh would mop the floor… unless Obama had a teleprompter.

  • Yeah, the head of Harvard Law review against the Oxymoron, that is, the moron addicted to Oxycotin.

  • Mark,

    high or not, Limbaugh embarrasses your boy.

  • ps. generally speaking POTUS is a higher office than head of Harvard Law Review, either way the man stutters whenever he’s put on the spot… not exactly quick on his feet (except on the basketball court, better for the country he focuses on his jump shots, he’s hell on the economy, and the unborn).

  • “the moron addicted to Oxycotin.”

    A moron who has been the most powerful voice on radio for almost two decades? As for oxycotin, I believe that Rush licked that addiction. Of course if oxycotin is going to be brought against Rush then I assume that cocaine may be brought up against Obama.

  • I did not realize that A-C was populated by so many ditto-heads. Interesting; no, actually, quite understandable.

  • “A moron who has been the most powerful voice on radio ….”

    So was Father Coughlin in the 30s. Your point?

  • Father Coughlin, whatever else could be said about him, was no moron. You do not like Rush or his politics Mr. DeFrancisis, but you have given no evidence that he is a moron, and his success for 20 years in a highly competitive environment would argue otherwise. Your ideological soulmates at the moribund Air America could attest to that.

  • 1. To various other folks above me- no moron can maintain an audience of 20 mil over 20 years. Would have been wiped off the map long ago. 2. Love how the sensitive and caring always bring up the Oxycontin problems. Not the usual yes they’re sick people and we should care for them and so forth. Replaced his weight as the usual cheap shot point. See how these Christians care for one another. 3. There has been no one else in mass media history with his ability to get into your head and stay there. Polarizing and proud of it. Not enough media attention to his offer to debate the Apostle live- on his radio program- and handle all of the Apostle’s arrangements for transportation, luxury hotels, Secret Service demands, and post-debate party with Allen Bros. Kobe beef. Polarizing enough for the morning phone calls among Greenberg, Carville, Begala and Stephanopoulos to arrange talking points. Say- at least three of them work for major media organizations. Shouldn’t their bosses tell them- choose between the morning calls and your paychecks from us? Or would that be a concession to Limbaugh? 4. Libs need boogie men like Tiller the Killer needs poor dumb pregnant 18-year-olds. Since Richard Nixon. Rush is now Boogie Man Number One, in the absence of GWB and Company. Knows it. Relishes it. 5. Doesn’t faze him. Remember, Slick Willie once remarked that he was holding Rush accountable for the Oklahoma City bombings. 6. So much for the personal destruction- his CPAC speech last Saturday was carried live- start to finish- on both Fox News and CNN. Bad publicity is better than none at all. 7. I feel about him the way Walter Lippman wrote about another hero, H.L. Mencken- “the man increases your will to live.”

  • Yeah, the head of Harvard Law review against the Oxymoron, that is, the moron addicted to Oxycotin.

    Given that Obama has written about his own pot and cocaine episodes, is that really where one wants to go on the topic?

    I listened to Rush a lot back when he was fairly new and I was in high school — and in my previous job he used to always be on the radio when I was working out in the warehouse with the shipper and the drivers — but I haven’t heard him in years at this point.

    He takes a populist and sometimes hyperbolic approach to conservatism, and I don’t agree with him on all topics, but the guy is generally far smarter (and indeed far more polite to his opponents when they’re actually on the phone with him) than most liberals give him credit for.

    What in the world Obama’s administration thinks it can gain by picking him for a personal fight I don’t understand. Perhaps they actually believed their own rhetoric that the whole country would unify under their banner.

    For conservatives, however, it think Rush’s apparent dominance in the conservative debate right now is more of a mixed blessing. He’s a solid radio personality and a smart guy, but if his current prominance is the result of our lacking any clear policy direction or high profile leader (and I fear it is) that’s a problem.

  • Amazing. So quickly derailed…

    So tell me, guys, what do you think about my premise that partisanship and hard-fought arguments are necessary for the shaping of good legislation?

    And maybe I’m blind, but how exactly do Rush’s drug-abuse problems fit into that?

    Frankly I have no problem with an Obama/Limbaugh debate, if that’s what it takes to actually have a debate over issues. However, I’m leery of Limbaugh. I read through his speech to the CPAC, and maybe I’m blind, but I didn’t catch much of anything in the way of substance.

  • Along with that, I thought dissent was patriotic. Not that Limbaugh is always (nor necessarily even often) correct. But I think Obama is horrifically misguided in his policy choices at this time. Let them debate.

  • It doesn’t matter who the President is or who the pundit is, it wouldn’t be fair or appropriate for a President to have a debate with him. A President, even if he agrees on a particular point, might not be able so say so for prudential, diplomatic reasons. Ditto for valid arguments against the pundit. Also, a politician, regardless of his policy has to be mindful how he presents it if he is going to convince opposition or lead. A true statesman (not saying I think Obama is worthy of the title) with a clear and solid ideology and policy position would only do his cause damage by such an activity.

    The above is a defense for Obama as President and I would apply it to any President. However, I concur with those who believe that as far as having a well thought out and principled idea of policy and ideology – and one that he can proudly proclaim to the masses rather than obfuscate – Limbaugh would prevail.

    Sorry, Ryan. Yes, I agree that partisanship is important for proper governance, though I would qualify it. The partisanship demonstrated by this country’s founders was often fierce, but quite correct and the cream truly came to the top. The motivation on all sides was primarily what was best for going forward. These days, regardless of party affiliation, partisanship often exists for its own sake and for personal/party interest and I’m not so sure that a quality outcome is forged from the process.

  • Rick,

    the President already violated the principle here by personally attacking Rush Limbaugh, as well as Fox News. That’s exactly why he is being challenged.

    Matt

  • These days, regardless of party affiliation, partisanship often exists for its own sake and for personal/party interest and I’m not so sure that a quality outcome is forged from the process.

    I’ll agree quite a bit to that. However, I think there’s a problem in that people anymore perceive all partisanship as being of the cynical type you just mentioned. I think that works to the advantage of one party or another because any legitimate protest/partisanship can be written off (in the eyes of the public) as just more of the same political squabbling that gets nothing done.

    Still, one of the more remarkable conclusions about this that I’ve come to is that we keep trying to find a system in which, regardless of our fallen state, we’ll always end up at the right place with the right answer.

  • I understand that, Matt. I never said I thought Obama should have said anything about Limbaugh, Fox, or any other commentator. And even if put on the spot by a member of the press corp to address something a pundit said, he should decline or give a respectful but dismissive response. The office demands an air of dignity, the president shouldn’t attack pundits anymore than he should debate them. I’m happy to cry foul on Obama for his actions, but I think it wrong to want him to further damage his or the office’s credibility by debating a pundit. It’s all just wrong.

  • Rick,

    Limbaugh is pointing out the President’s error in diminishing his office by making personal attacks on pundits. Regardless, following up his smear campaign with a debate doesn’t seem to me to diminish it any further.

  • Regardless, following up his smear campaign with a debate doesn’t seem to me to diminish it any further.

    Maybe, maybe not. I still think it would. We can certainly disagree on that point and the world will continue to spin. ;)

  • Ryan:

    I knew immediately that this thread would become a debate about the merits of Rush. But as for the actual topic of your post, I completely agree, and have said as much on my blog in a previous post.

  • Sorry guys, the opportunity arose via one commenter to make it about Rush, and I did not resist the temptation.

    But I am surprised what we have learned in the course of derailment about Mr. McClarey’s thoughts in regards to Father Coughlin.

    I’ll leave it at that.

  • But I am surprised what we have learned in the course of derailment about Mr. McClarey’s thoughts in regards to Father Coughlin.

    [McClarey] Father Coughlin, whatever else could be said about him, was no moron.

    I don’t think Mr. McClarey shared us many of his thoughts at all on Fr. Coughlin. But the one thought he did share, that Fr. Coughlin wasn’t a moron [in spite of whatever else could be said about him] is fair and accurate. Like everyone else, Fr. Coughlin had some good traits and some bad traits, some of the bad ones were pretty bad too, but he still wasn’t a moron – a person of subnormal intelligence. He was actually quite intelligent, but even that doesn’t mean he was right on everything, especially his antisemitism streak.

    Mr. DeFrancisis, what was the purpose of the remark about Mr.McClarey and Fr. Coughlin? What point were you trying to make?

  • What point is Donald trying to make, that is the question.

  • It seemed apparent to me that he was taking issue with you labeling Fr. Coughlin a moron, just as he took issue with you labeling Limbaugh a moron. There’s nothing wrong with you disliking Limbaugh or anyone else who you think actively does harm or stands for destructive things, but it’s best to do so by speaking the truth to the best of our ability.

    I probably feel the same way about Obama as you do Limbaugh, but I wouldn’t say Obama is a moron. He’s clearly not. He might be a very ambitious fellow, have what I consider a very flawed worldview or moral foundation, and support what I consider horrendous positions. It would be easier to just say, he’s an evil moron, but that’s not correct or necessarily just and we’d all be best served if I explained why I thought those things if they weren’t readily apparent.

  • Mark,

    It means Donald is fair minded enough to recognize that not everyone he disagrees with is a moron.

    On Ryan’s original point,

    I think it’s a key distinction. I too want to see Obama’s financial plans fail, and fail quickly, so we can move on to something I think will work. To insist that everyone “hope for success” results in a curious sort of double talk.

    To try it on the right side, I would assume that those who opposed the Iraq war would not want to have been told, “If you care at all about the US and the Iraqi people, you should want the Iraq War to succeed — it’s just that your definition of success involves not going to war and keeping the Hussein dictatorship in place. But we all want ‘success’ for the war.”

    That would be a useless way to talk. For those who think that Obama’s financial and social plans would be a disaster for the country, it’s obviously the correct thing for them to want to see him fail.

  • Darwin,

    Perhaps you do not know of the “SOMEONE MUST BE BLAMED” Father Coughlin well enoung, maybe due to Mr. Lugari’s strange defense. Read Adorno on the hate-monger and scapegoater. (Yes, I purposely chose such charged words, as they are most appropraiate in this case).

  • I agree he was certainly an unsavory character — and an interesting example of how fascist/statist and left/populist instincts often met and blended in the 30s in a way that’s often forgotten now — but I don’t think he was a moron. Generally speaking, one does not come such a widely listened to and influential figure by being a moron, unless by “moron” one simply means “someone I don’t like”.

    So for example, I tend to think of John Edwards as being a living example of much of what is wrong (and badly and dangerously wrong) with the American left, but does that necessarily mean that I should refer to him as a moron?

  • A bit about Fr. Coughlin:

    “He was an early supporter of Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms and coined the phrase “Roosevelt or ruin”, which became famous during the early days of the first FDR administration. Another phrase he became known for was “The New Deal is Christ’s Deal.”[4] In January 1934, Coughlin testified before Congress in support of FDR’s policies, saying, “If Congress fails to back up the President in his monetary program, I predict a revolution in this country which will make the French Revolution look silly!” He further stated to the Congressional hearing, “God is directing President Roosevelt.” [5]

    Coughlin’s support for Roosevelt and his New Deal faded later in 1934, when he founded the National Union for Social Justice (NUSJ), a nationalistic worker’s rights organization which grew impatient with what it viewed as the President’s unconstitutional and pseudo-capitalistic monetary policies. His radio programs preached more and more about the negative influence of “money changers” and “permitting a group of private citizens to create money” on the general welfare of the public.[6] He also spoke about the need for monetary reform. Coughlin claimed that the Depression was a “cash famine”. Some modern economic historians, in part, agree with this assessment. [7] Coughlin proposed monetary reforms, including the elimination of the Federal Reserve System, as the solution.

    Among the articles of the NUSJ, were work and income guarantees, nationalizing “necessary” industry, wealth redistribution through taxation of the wealthy, federal protection of worker’s unions, and decreasing property rights in favor of the government controlling the country’s assets for “public good.” [8] Illustrative of his disdain for capitalism is his statement that, “We maintain the principle that there can be no lasting prosperity if free competition exists in industry. Therefore, it is the business of government not only to legislate for a minimum annual wage and maximum working schedule to be observed by industry, but also to curtail individualism that, if necessary, factories shall be licensed and their output shall be limited.” [9]”

    He probably would be writing for Obama today.

  • fascist/statist and left/populist instincts often met and blended

    At least until the last election. This describes Obama’s policies precisely.

  • Strange defense? How so? What was in error?

  • Maybe I should state something here. I think my assertion (Donald’s initially) is reasonable and factually correct. There is nothing to my knowledge that would indicate Fr. Coughlin was a moron. I agree with his views that FDR and the New Deal were bad, but I also disagree with a number of his prescriptions. I think he was good in that he cared about social justice, but bad in that bought into bigotry and antisemitism and harbored some sympathy for fascism as a whole (dislike his sympathy for National Socialism, but appreciate his support of Franco in Spain – different countries under different circumstances with different leaders and intentions).

    Fr. Coughlin was very dedicated to St. Therese, the Little Flower and was responsible for building a beautiful shrine to her here in Detroit. I don’t think it’s wise or just to minimize souls to good or evil, moron or brilliant, as Mr. DeFrancisis seems wont to do. Praise which is good and condemn which is evil, but always deal in truth and justice. For all we know, Fr. Coughlin is in Heaven praying for us – at any rate, he now knows where he was right and wrong, and what he was culpable for.

    To ditto some points others made, Fr. Coughlin should be viewed as a hero to many on the left.

  • I gues Democracy is a messy thing. Anyone can offer their opinion. Rush Limbaugh, Fr. Coughlin, Keith Olbermann etc. etc. Often those opinions are offered to us by political and academic elites. Often those opinions are no more correct than the guy next door.

  • Moron comes from the Greek “moros”, the latter of which means dull. Calling someone moronic can therefore connote dullness of mind to the extent that he/she lacks good or sharp judgment.

    I do not apologize for calling the someone who encouraged and exemplified a racist-tainted laziness of judgment towards Jews in the 30s a moron, his devotion to the Little Flower withstanding.

  • Of course promoting abortion is showing a lack of judgment. Therefore Obama is …

  • Touche. ;)

    But I’ve gone on too far already.

    I encourage all to return to the actual topic that Ryan means to discuss.

  • Good sport Mark.

  • Mark,

    so are you acknowledging that Obama is a moron, or that your moron comment was really just “partisanship and empty rhetoric”?

    Thanks,

    Matt

  • Matt,

    Mark acknowledged the point. Let’s just move on.

  • Mark acknowledged the point. Let’s just move on.

    In the spirit of the thread: Mega-dittos to John Henry.

  • Partisanship, wielded properly, is a necessary thing. Keeping the debates alive and lively is why we even bother having a two-party system.

    I agree, but the ‘wielded properly’ modifier does a lot of the work here. People have very different ideas about what is proper. In the debates over the stimulus, for example, Congressional Republicans claimed to be acting on small government, anti-pork principle. Democrats claimed they could not be taken seriously given their support for the Bush-era deficits, and that they were engaged in irresponsible political point-scoring. Obama suggested much the same thing with his efforts to depict himself as ‘post-partisan’.

    I think most people agree in principal that it is good to have multiple perspectives, etc. But they often find reasons to dismiss other perspectives with tu quoque’s in practice.

  • DC/JH,

    what point did he acknowledge? Ryan’s post is about partisanship and empty rhetoric. I would like to know if Mark’s admitting to engaging that practice, or that he thinks Obama’s a moron too.

    By the way, in the spirit of bipartisanship and intellectual honesty I condemn the actions of Sam Brownback, and believe that he is a MORON for supporting a rabid pro-abortion candidate for DHS. I will resist the temptation to impune his morality, that’s for his bishop to examine.

  • Well, unless it was cross posting the exchange appeared to be:

    Phillip Says:

    Of course promoting abortion is showing a lack of judgment. Therefore Obama is …

    Mark DeFrancisis Says:

    Touche. ;-)

  • DarwinCatholic,

    I don’t think Mark D. would admit that Obama is a moron, so I presume he is retracting his accusation that Rush is, and acknowledging that he practices “partisanship and empty rhetoric”, but I could be mistaken. It would be more helpful if he would clarify his “touche”.

  • Matt,

    In the frey of verbal exchange, I broadened the definition of moronic. In doing so, I admitm I was seeking not primarily truth, but scoring immediate argumentative points.

    And I would not have even had the chance to succumb to such maneuvering, had I been more careful with what I chose to call both Limbaugh and Coughlin.

    But inasmuch as Obama clearly lacks good judgment with respect to the abortion issue, I conceded that he is/was moronic in that regard, using my broadened usage of the term.

    Any way, if I would have allowed the discussion to remain about what Ryan’s ultimate questions brought into focus and veer toward a discussion of Rush’s merits per se, none of this would have ever arisen.

    As I did contribute to furthering the conversation by actually changing its purposed content, I apologize to all involved, especially Ryan Harkins, who wrote a nice post.

    I hope that suffices.

    Does that suffice?

  • Mark,

    Does that suffice?

    absolutely.

  • John Henry,

    In the debates over the stimulus, for example, Congressional Republicans claimed to be acting on small government, anti-pork principle. Democrats claimed they could not be taken seriously given their support for the Bush-era deficits, and that they were engaged in irresponsible political point-scoring.

    This brings up one of the gray areas that always makes me stop and think when we talk about partisanship. As I said in my post, I’m against bringing up someone’s drug addiction…unless one can show how it pertains to the argument. Now, I think there’s is some reason, possibly some merit, to bickering in that sense, in that we’re questioning motive behind a particular stance.

    Now this example is made up, so don’t try to find anyone who matches. But suppose there’s someone who has been heavy into drugs, but supports open borders with Mexico. Questioning his border policy based on his past drug abuse might–and I say might, because even in this it might be stretching things a bit–be based on the premise that if the borders remain open, drugs keep flowing through, and thus he can get his drug fix so much easier. But even then, that doesn’t necessarily touch on the merits of his arguments, though it may make any legislation he tries to pass needing close scrutiny.

    To an extent, the seeming mud-flinging may serve some purpose in trying to judge whether or not we should trust a particular politician. For instance, while I hope Congressional Republicans block some, if not most, of this fiscal irresponsibility, I don’t trust them to be fiscally responsible themselves. And the point the Democrats made about Republicans not being true conservatives for having passed all of Bush’s spending is a valid point. But is valid so long as we’re trying to judge whether we can trust Congressional Republicans. It loses its edge when it becomes a debate between who we should trust more to be fiscally responsible.

    Thoughts?

    Mark,

    I hope that suffices.

    Does that suffice?

    Apology accepted, not that it is necessary. Besides, your very first comment still makes me chortle, and my wife got quite a kick out of it.

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