Trashing Bill O’Reilly; Strings and Puppeteers; License to Bias; A Disillusioned Democrat; Masochistic Politicos

[I want to return to something you said in a prior discussion. You said that, if one were to take a random look at what you wrote towards the end of the year, one would be forgiven for believing you to be a right-wing conservative, if not something more, or worse, than that.]

This is because I have written so critically of the Left in recent weeks?

[Yes, and without a corresponding or complementary hostility to the Right.]

I wouldn’t say that I have written of the Left with hostility. I have merely described my concerns with the Left—concerns that, I believe, are perfectly fair.

[And I haven’t come across anything unreasonable in your critiques, but it isn’t unreasonable to ask why you have been largely silent on the failings, moral as well as intellectual, of the Right. For example, in your piece on Trump’s decision to withdraw American military forces from Afghanistan and Syria, you wrote in great detail on the inconsistency of left-wing media pundits, yet you said nothing of the hypocrisy of the right-wing commentators—former hawks, newly resurrected as doves.]

I used to write about the treachery of right-wing media more often than I do today. I don’t like to use the term “politically active”, as it is too reminiscent of a high school presentation, but when I took a consistent interest in politics at the age of fifteen, I was absorbed by the shameless perfidy and bias of men like Bill O’Reilly. I used to spend hours watching footage of his blunders, all of which was conveniently organized on YouTube. This was when YouTube was still in its infancy, when practically all of the website’s content constituted copyright infringement.

[So, you were drawn to the exposure of O’Reilly’s perfidy, rather than to the perfidy itself?]

That’s right. Every video I watched was described as “Phil Donahue destroys Bill O’Reilly”, or “Bill O’Reilly embarrasses in a debate with Michael Moore”, or something like that. Without any memorable exceptions, each video was uploaded by somebody who wanted to discredit O’Reilly.

[The uploaders had their own bias, then.]

Yes, but because I was new both to politics and to YouTube, I couldn’t pick up on all of the bias. At the time, I was satisfied with the exposure of O’Reilly’s.

[Ah, to be young and politically naïve once again. To believe that the Democrats were as honorable as they seemed to be, and the Republicans the two-dimensional villains of a Nickelodeon cartoon.]

“Politically naïve” is a redundant label.

[Touché. But you were interested in the exposure of bias. I understand that: there’s a certain feeling of empowerment that accompanies that kind of peripheral analysis. You know that you possess a certain quantity of insight that the consumers of The O’Reilly Factor lack, and are unaware of, too. You begin to see the strings, if not the puppeteers.]

The only problem is that none of this has anything to do with your preferred side, with your chosen candidates, with your political party. We can play the day away, watching the many lowlights of The O’Reilly Factor, but when the clip show is over and it’s time to go to bed, what do we have to say in support of the Democrats, their Party, and their proposals?

[Nothing. You know what is wrong with the other side, but you have no idea what is right about your own.]

Notably, this is the fundamental flaw with negative campaigning: you can run as many attack ads as you like, but all of the evidence of your opponent’s malevolence does nothing to demonstrate your own benevolence.

[And people understand this logical fallacy when it is depicted in an abstract scenario such as this, but as soon as they find themselves in the real world, they forget they ever heard of these principles. For example, how many liberals do you think would struggle to remember the lesson just stated if they were to start this article from the beginning and expose themselves again to your recollections of The O’Reilly Factor?]

Frustratingly few. I’m not sure if this maladaptive process is an example of confirmation bias, but it’s no great secret that people abandon whatever pretense they have to high-minded objectivity as soon as they steal away into the voting booth, if not much, much sooner than that. One of the many issues with the cultural shift that we have witnessed in the Trumpish Age is the newfound license to shameless bias: we no longer have to apologize for our refusal to examine an issue in detail, to consider a problem from multiple angles. We can wear our party loyalty on our sleeves because it is considered our moral obligation to toe the party line.

[And you did the same thing when you first immersed yourself in American politics.]

Yes, I did, and I don’t have to apologize for that: I was young, I was ignorant, and in the intervening years, I learned from my mistakes.

[I don’t think any reasonable person would expect you to apologize for your adolescent bias, but I do have to ask if you believe that this problem, this “maladaptive process”, as you describe it, is more common on the Left than on the Right today. I ask because, as I mentioned at the beginning of our conservation, you yourself acknowledge that you have been much harder on the Left than on the Right, especially on this issue, in recent weeks and months.]

It’s a fair question. I don’t believe the Left is more susceptible to bias than the Right—bias, in this case, being an inability, potentially conscious, not to acknowledge the wrongdoings of one’s own “side” or “team”.

[Isn’t it grotesque, viewing politics as some kind of sporting event? Then again, isn’t this the way we really look on politics, though we seldom admit it, even to ourselves?]

Yes, it is. And in recent years, I have refused to be a team player. Somewhere along the way, I lost my ability to overlook the ugliness and immorality of my squad.

[I understand, but how does this lend itself to a predominating focus on the faults of the Left? It’s not the concept of the morally wayward Left, but the imbalance of your analysis, that is giving me pause.]

Well, I would say that the imbalance is recent, and maybe even relative: after all, I have written at extensive length about some of the problems with the Right. I probably haven’t written critically of the Right as often as I have written critically of the Left, at least not on this blog, but at the same time, I can’t imagine someone reading what I’ve written and saying, “This guy is one of Trump’s most devoted fans!”

[No, but if a leftist were to read only what you wrote in the last months of the year, he or she may be forgiven for assuming you have conservative tendencies. I don’t expect you to measure every word to ensure that you are spending precisely equal time attacking the two major political parties, but still, you can’t deny that you have, as of late, taken a much more enthusiastic interest in the sins of the Left.]

Yes, that is true. I’m not sure why this issue has been more piquant to me lately. Perhaps I’m still atoning for my years of thoughtless obedience to the Left? No, I don’t think that’s it. Probably I’m spending more time on the problems of the Left because I’m finally becoming thoroughly repulsed by the Democratic Party.

[Implying that you weren’t repulsed before?]

Yes, exactly. In previous years, I acknowledged the wrongdoings of the Democrats only vaguely. I would say something to the effect of, “All politicians suck”, but when push came to shove, I still pulled for the Democrats, I still voted Democratic straight down the ticket. This was probably my way of having my cake and eating it, too: I could claim to be cynically realistic, to be “awakened”, while still secretly believing in the virtue of the Democrats. And I still felt that way until this last year, until some point deep into this last year, probably around the time of the midterms. Today, I can say, with all sincerity, and with the utmost honesty, that I have no party preference at this time. If you gave me the sole power to decide the election between Trump and a generic Democrat, then I would have no idea what I should do.

[Really? Have you abandoned your progressive viewpoint, as well? Or is your contention merely with the Democratic Party?]

Oh, it’s entirely on the Democrats. I still believe in progressive principles. I still believe in a lot of the things that Democrats claim, or claimed, to believe in, but I no longer believe that Democrats believe in those things deep down, underneath all of their corruptive baggage. I used to, though. Hence the believing no longer.

[Does it hurt, giving up on that belief, on that faith, in the moral integrity of the people in charge?]

Well, it’s not like they ever meant anything to me personally. The challenge is what follows: trying to make sense of a world in which there are no heroic figures in Washington, yet all too many of those not-so-comic villains are adored and adulated by millions of people. You have to live with the startling, tragic absurdity of warmongers, murderers, liars, and thieves posing for pictures with children who can’t know any better, and with parents who surely ought to.

[It sounds isolating. Psychologically, I mean, as well as intellectually.]

Oh, extremely. Those who follow politics typically do because they believe in at least one of the people running, even if it’s a pseudo-countercultural figure like Bernie Sanders. Those who don’t follow political typically don’t because they have no interest in it. My task is to find someone who is thoughtful enough to understand politics, yet masochistic enough to follow it.

[And is your ongoing dissection of the Democratic Party an act of self-flagellation? Do you intend to overcome the trauma of your political awakening by reliving it?]

The truth is nothing so nearly rewarding. I suppose I have taken, and will continue to take, this scalpel of mine to the Democratic Party because I want to spread the word to the other progressives, to the people who ought to know better, but do not. Perhaps my blog isn’t really meant for Trump’s biggest fans—not because I don’t wish to have anything to do with them, but because I question their willingness to get something out of this, something other than a fancy new weapon to employ against the liberals.

[Are you trying to show the other progressives, your former compatriots, “the way out”, then?]

Maybe. I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that all we have to do is vote for whoever headlines the Democratic ticket in 2020 and all will be right in the world. I’m not going to be hoodwinked by dishonest arguments about how the Democratic nominee is less immoral than Trump, how he or she is less dishonest and less bloodthirsty. I have to know why the Democratic nominee is moral, honest, and peaceful, or else my conscience will compel me to vote for a third party.

[Or to write in Nietzsche’s name again?]

I’ve never written in anybody’s name in a presidential election, although I may well have to start in 2020.

[I see. Anything else?]

Yeah: there is no way that massive numbers of Republicans will break from their party to vote for a third-party or independent alternative in 2020. There may be enough defectors to throw the election to the Democratic nominee, but just barely. This fantasy of 15% of registered Republicans going AWOL is precisely that: a fantasy.

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