Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Bush and the Moose

Why does anyone read Bullmoose Marshall Wittman?  I haven’t read much from this wanker, but I really haven’t liked what I’ve seen.  But it’s not that I disagree with him necessarily; it’s that he’s wrong on a fundamental level and doesn’t play fair.  He uses the pretense and attitude of a reasonable opponent, but all this bi-partisan talk really seems to mask a straight-up Bushie underneath.  And he doesn’t want an honest debate, but one in which he’s the judge; determining all the terms and what is acceptable or not.  In particular, in determining whose motives can be impugned (not Bush’s), and when it’s ok to insult people (when they’re partisans impugning Bush’s motives).

We see here from Matt Yglesias at Tapped that the Moose is up to his wrongness again.  But lest I just take Matt’s word for it, I made the mistake of reading Moose’s words directly; and have now been forced into a very long response.  Get this bullcrap:

Checks and balances are important but so is the separation of powers in the conduct of war. The Moose is open to a modification of FISA. However, it is not exactly clear what changes could be made without making it merely a rubber stamp for executive action. And we can have a reasoned debate about this issue without impugning the motives of a Commander in Chief who was attempting to defend the nation.

Each one of these sentences is wrong (though his wrongness is far from limited to this paragraph).  And his rhetorical tricks are as apparent as they are weak.  He gives lip service to the liberal position, before again asserting that his position is correct.  No explanation, no argument.  Just an assertion that his position is still correct.  As if phrases like “separation of powers in the conduct of war” are magical incantations that defeat our argument.  And they are magical incantations if you already agree with his position.  But if you don’t already agree, then he has provided no further argument.  And that’s not the work of someone dealing fairly; that’s the work of a “partisan” who doesn’t think he has to explain anything.

Overall, we see someone with the rhetoric and decency of a moderate compromiser; but without any of the substance.  Because I see no point for his post.  If you’re trying to debate in good faith, you present arguments.  You present valid points.  But Bullmoose does not.  He’s in the middle of a debate, but can’t bother to further explain his position.  He simply provides empty rhetoric and hopes that this is good enough.  And maybe he can fully explain his position, and maybe he has already done so; but this post did not do that.  It has the appearance of an argument, without the substance of one.  And so there was no point to this other than to provide a sham debate.

Don’t get me wrong.  His post would have been perfectly fine if he was only writing it to people who already agreed with him.  He’d still be wrong, but there is no reason to restate every argument when you’re dealing with your own side (unless your point is to explain it to your side).  But debates are completely different, and you have to explain things.  You can’t just reference “separation of powers” and close the case; you have to explain why that’s correct.  

Yet his entire post is just a reassertion that Bush is acting honestly because we can’t prove otherwise, that Bush already has these powers and did nothing illegal, and that Bush’s critics are being “unreasoned” “partisans” who “want to have it both ways” (though he was much too “moderate” to state that so explicitly).  Oh, and don’t forget about 9/11.  Bush and the Moose haven’t, and that’s the only reason they’re doing this to us.  But don’t worry, he’s convinced that it’s only Al Qaeda and their terrorists friends who’ve been affected by this, so no worries.

This is someone who liberal bloggers link to?  Again, were his post written solely to people who already agreed with him, I’d think he was wrong, but I wouldn’t think he was necessarily dishonest.  But as far as “honest debate” goes, the Moose’s was just a sham.  You can read the post he was responding to by New Donkey Ed Kilgore, and you’ll see a decent argument.  Not Biobrain decent, but respectable by mortal standards.  That Bullmoose pretends to be rebutting that was an insult to Kilgore and to readers from both sites.  Rather than addressing the Donkey’s points, the Moose merely recited them before dismissing them.  That is not an honest debate.  That is crap.

The Play-by-Play

Due to the rhetorical deceit in the paragraph I cited above, I’ll give a sentence-by-sentence takedown:

Checks and balances are important but so is the separation of powers in the conduct of war.

Here we see the old trick of pretending to address his opponent’s position before stating that his own position beats it.  As if rebuttals need only consist of repeating your opponent’s point followed by your own.  But he hasn’t made any argument at all.  He’s just said, “here’s my opponent’s phrase but my phrase is more important”.  And his point is just wrong, at least regarding the broadness of his statement.  Despite his assertion, Congress can limit the powers of the president.  It’s that simple.  And even in the context of this loosely defined eternal war that Bullmoose references, Congress is allowed to set limits.  It’s been that way for kings, going back before the Magna Carta; and I see no reason why our democracy should have anything less than that.  

And maybe he’s right and that the Prez already has these powers, or that Congress can’t limit these; but a blanket statement that “separation of powers in war” trumps “checks and balances” is just an insult to everyone and a complete absurdity.  To believe Bullmoose, a president must merely obtain a generic declaration of war from Congress before an effective dictatorship is obtained.  The Moose would not agree with this, so why is he giving us this argument?

The Moose is open to a modification of FISA.

Well bully for him, but the issue isn’t whether we’re open to FISA modification, but whether FISA allowed Bush’s actions.  It did not.  I agree that maybe FISA could use modification, but that doesn’t dispute the fact that Bush acted without such a modification.  

And of course Bullmoose would be open to this modification, as he clearly thinks that the Prez should have these powers and already does.  Yet he’s pretending as if he’s conceding a point, rather than stating what he thinks needed to happen.  This is the equivalent of me saying “Doctor Biobrain is open to impeachment of Bush.”  Well duh, but that’s not a concession; it’s my own position.  This is yet another empty rhetorical device to make him seem willing to compromise.

And he leads from this into his next point, which is intended to be the follow-through defeat of the supposed concession of the previous sentence.

However, it is not exactly clear what changes could be made without making it merely a rubber stamp for executive action.

He’s not sure what changes could be made to FISA without making it a rubber stamp??  And this is an argument against FISA??  Uh, he believes that the President already has these powers; rubber stamp or not.  So how is it a problem that we add a “rubber stamp” to the procedure?  If anything, that’s an argument for denying a modification to FISA and to denying the powers to Bush otherwise.  Because we need oversight over the presidential use of wiretaps and other government surveillance.  It’s an absolute requirement.  But hell, I’d take the rubberstamp over the Moose’s idea of no oversight at all.  Even if they didn’t stop any wiretaps, I’d like for the government to have to submit these to another branch of government.  It would be insane to do otherwise.  

And just as explanation: The whole point of opposing rubberstamps is that they give someone full authority with a symbolic pretext that the stamper has some authority, when they don’t.  And so “rubberstamps” are bad, as they don’t provide a check against the person that’s getting the stamp.  Instead, we prefer for the stamper to not have a rubberstamp, but a real ability to stop the person getting the stamp.  But somehow Bullmoose got this backwards and acts as if we need to avoid the rubberstamp in exchange for no stamp.  And as I argued, the rubberstamp is better than no stamp.

But I suspect that the Moose is one of those afflicted with a weakness for key phrases.  And in this case, the phrase “rubberstamp” is an automatic problem that casts the whole plan into doubt.  He doesn’t need to make an argument; he just says the phrase and moves on.  I’m not sure if we have such an affliction on our side, but the righties are quite obsessed with certain words and phrases which can effectively shut off all debate.  And “rubberstamp” is one of those, along with “quagmire” and “socialism”.  The rightwing thinkers train their monkeys well.

And we can have a reasoned debate about this issue without impugning the motives of a Commander in Chief who was attempting to defend the nation.

That’s right.  If I don’t completely trust Bush to wiretap with impunity, I’m not having a reasoned debate.  After all, Bush was just trying to defend the nation, or so he’s told us without providing evidence.  Why shouldn’t we trust him?  We know that the Founding Father’s assumed that the presidency was an entirely trustworthy position that didn’t need oversight, so how can such an unreasonable person think otherwise?  Or not.

So, why is it that I have to assume the best of Bush?  I never assume the best of anyone I don’t know personally, and even then I usually have reservations.  I wouldn’t even give my Blogger password to my own brother, and I’m supposed to trust the president with everything??  Right.

And Bush has proven himself to be less than trustworthy.  Maybe the Moose doesn’t agree with that proof, but he has no right to deny us our opinion.  Just because he trusts Bush doesn’t mean that we are required to do so.  And he has no right to impugn our motives on this.  He’s insisting that there is no proof that Bush did anything wrong, but we also have no proof that he had entirely good motives.  And there are reasons to suspect bad-motives.  So why is our mistrust so obviously wrong, while Moose’s trust completely appropriate?  God if I know.  The Moose assumes it to be true and we’re supposed to succumb to that undeniable proof.

Beyond that, the best way to get someone to act in good faith is to assume that they won’t, and to treat them as such.  And the best way to get someone to act in bad faith is to trust them, and to give them leeway to act badly.  And in this case, if we always work by the assumption that a president will act in good faith when handed unchecked powers, we will most surely be mistreated.  Maybe this president won’t, and maybe the next won’t either.  But we most surely will have a president who abuses these powers.  The Moose would prefer that we wait for that to happen, and then change the law back afterwards; and I say that I’ve got some Power of Attorney forms for the Moose to sign, and I’ll give him my foreign address once I get settled.

But overall, the idea that these powers can be abused entirely undermines his argument.  If the president could always be trusted to act in good faith, there is no problem with what Bullmoose wants.  But if these powers can be abused, and they will be abused, then we cannot do what Bullmoose wants.  It’s that simple.  And so that’s why he’s trying to force that discussion off the table.  And he’s using taunts and insults as a rhetorical device to keep us away from using that argument; by flinging insults at anyone who adopts those arguments.  I suspect that he won’t even debate with someone who makes that point.  And while he’d clearly find them too “partisan” for doing so, the truth is that it’s also devastating to his argument.  

Unfortunately for us, abuse of power is the best argument we have; as a totally honest president should be trusted with these powers.  Unfortunately for him, we can’t totally trust any president.  And that undercuts his entire argument.  So let’s just bury our heads in the sand and pretend that presidents are always honest and pure.

Remember the Alamo!!

Overall, I just don’t understand the appeal of Bullmoose.  As I said, I don’t read him often, but if this post of his is any indication, he’s a crooked man who won’t deal fairly.  He uses cheap rhetoric to act moderate and compromising, when he’s clearly debating in bad faith.  He labels anyone who won’t play by his rules as “partisans”, while insisting that we put full faith in his political leader.  He is not a moderate.  He is not a compromiser.  He is not acknowledging our arguments.  He is only giving lip service and backhanded insults at those who use the wrong kind of arguments.  I might look around his site when I have more time, to see if that holds true for other posts, but that is what is obviously on display here.  

I suspect that the main reason that libs give him any acknowledgement at all is so that they appear moderate and willing to listen to moderate Republicans; but that’s not a game we should play.  I’m sure there are Republicans out there who act in good faith and who don’t rely upon cheap rhetoric and implied insults to win debates, but who actually engage their opponents arguments; but I have yet to see one (not that I’m looking).  And if there are no Republicans willing to engage in fair and honest debate; so fucking be it.  I have no problem with that.  If you can’t compromise, you can’t compromise; and we shouldn’t grant moderate labels to people simply because they’re not entirely rude to all liberals.  

If anything, guys like Moose are training house Dems to act properly and censor themselves from all the arguments which undermine the Republicans.   Just like the house Dems in the media have learned to do already.  Trained pets who debate fairly and always make sure they lose at the end.

And now that I’m at the end, I’ll get to my point: Give me Bullmoose’s spot on your blogroll.  Come on.  No matter how smart you might think he is, he’s no match for me and my all-powerful biobrain.  I’ve got the shit that you just can’t fuck with, plus I’m a liberal.  But more importantly, I deal honestly with people, rather than resorting to cheap rhetorical devices; and I’m a helleva lot funnier.  I might not post as regularly as I’d like, but what you get is damn solid.  And if you count each of my subheadings as new posts, I post as regularly as most bloggers.  So give me a chance and get my name out there.  You won’t regret it.  I thank you in advance.

Post Script:
Sorry, I forgot about 9/11.  Everything I just wrote is now inoperative.  I apologize for wasting your time.  Long live Bush!


Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right, dude.

This guy first got popular taking a 'moderate' position slamming Dean in the primaries. I coulda sworn he got revealed as a former RNC hack, but it seems he's still paid some attention. I guess it's because, as you say, he has a few rhetorical tricks that give him some leeway for new-to-politics/internet people to read and empathize with his positions.

I half disagree with your idea that you should take his blogroll spot on everyone's blog. Of course you should be on everyone's list, but having him around is a very handy thing - he's the window into the latest bullshit the 'smart' Republicans want to peddle along the lines of a mod Republican. He's not as funny as frontpage or worldnet daily, but he's still a one-stop shop for the 'reasonable' talking points.

Heraldblog said...

I have you and Bullmoose on my blogroll.

Bullmoose provides me with a window into the soul of the religious right, which still drives the Republican Party. I see bloggers like Whitmann and Sullivan as proverbial canaries in the GOP coalmine - when they start sqauwking about Bush, you know something is wrong. So Whitmann does have value.

Doctor Biobrain said...

I suppose both of you are right about the Moose's worth on a blogroll, though I really can't read that kind of stuff without wanting to rant about how wrong they all are. My bullshit detector runs on the sensitive side, and I have a hardtime reading it without exploding. In his case, I suppose he is a decent bellweather of where they stand and that gives some merits. But I still stand by my selfish appeal of getting him overturned. I just thought it might be refreshing to see less pure motives for ranting against someone.

Is Moose religious too?? I would have assumed no, but I never read him. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with religion, but I would have assumed that the religion thing would go against his contrarian leanings. As if he'd avoid religion, as it was too cliched to be a religious Republican. For that same reason, a Dem would tout their religion, because it goes against type and makes them look more moderate.

And that's how I see all the moderate-maverick types: contrarians who see politics ahead of everything, which includes giving the impression that politics comes last and that they're not at all partisan. But that's all part of the ruse, which even they buy into over half the time.

Half said...

If anything, guys like Moose are training house Dems to act properly and censor themselves from all the arguments which undermine the Republicans.

Just so, Doctor, and unfortunately the evidence is in -- Your previous commentors are dead wrong.

This guy's no window into the 'moderate' or 'religious' Republican mind. He's a window into the minds of the Democratic establishment. So much the worse for us.

Dan said...

This post is just plain outstanding. Your insight into his thinking is airtight.

It all comes down to a truism: Any power given, will eventually be abused. It doesn't have to be Bush, are the Republicans so comfortable that a Hillary Clinton presidency could wiretap with impunity too? I bet not.