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August 29, 2009

Gently Admitting Your Political Position

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

There is a good deal of wisdom in that old admonition that one shouldn't discuss religion and politics in social situations.

I live inside the Seattle city limits, a place that is overwhelmingly liberal. Given my "elite" educational background, folks around here are likely to assume that their politics are my politics.

A few days ago we happened to get an impromptu tour of a new house in the neighborhood. As we walked in, I noticed Keith Olbermann sternly staring from the television screen; clearly we had entered a strongly liberal place. Anyhow, the four of us had a jolly 20 minutes on the tour. The other couple discovered my educational and professional background, and I found out something of theirs. Now that I have finally learned to pretty well keep my mouth shut in such situations, they didn't learn that I am an apostate, seduced by The Dark Force.

If the social relationship we established continues, a tiny bit of the truth will likely emerge by happenstance. Even so, I'll probably only hint at it and then try to change the subject. Perhaps my best tactic is to mention that I cast my first vote for John F. Kennedy and then mumble something about the Democratic Party drifting away from where it was in the early 1960s (the truth). Nevertheless, it's a tricky matter if you don't want to ruin your social life.

Speaking of tricky, things are really dicey when you don't know where other people stand politically. While avoidance of political subjects remains the best policy, I do pay attention to possible clues and adjust my conversation accordingly.

Of course a liberal would face similar problems if living in a conservative enclave.

I'm pretty sure that many readers are a lot more experienced in dealing with politics in social settings than I am. So I'm curious what you do. Do you avoid the subject? Do you pretend that you agree with the people you are with? Or do you have effective ways of communicating your position without ruffling feathers?



posted by Donald at August 29, 2009


It depends on whether you are looking for an argument. Some folks are just always so full of themselves on any given subject that they fantasize about what they would do or say if they were a public official. Or what they might say were they the guest of a popular Sunday morning TV talk show. They love to argue for the sake of it. Avoid these folks like the plague. You won't change their minds and they won't change yours. My preferred method is to gently question political opponents without tipping my hand. This is a good way to find out how much they really know without letting on which side of the issue you prefer. It's also a good way of gauging whether or not you wish to cross swords with them. It's best to choose a battleground you can win on.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on August 29, 2009 3:01 PM

Don, you're a wimp. Aren't you?

Posted by: Robert Owen on August 29, 2009 3:18 PM

*sigh* I've gotten myself into hot water on this occasionally. I love a good political discussion (heck, some of my best friends are Libertarians :-)), but I've more than once mistaken what I call a 'religious' political belief for a well-reasoned one.

(I classify a 'religious' belief as one held because of cultural/social reasons rather than one held after close examination of the facts beneath it.)

It's simply impolite to challenge someone's 'religion' (at least once you're not a teenager), be it political stand, belief in God, or belief in UFOs. They're not prepared to defend it and it just makes you seem hostile and them uncomfortable.

As for keeping one's politics quiet - I like Donald's approach. Soft-pedal, but don't outright hide it. If someone catches on, then they can either be (1) polite and ignore it, (2) horrified and run away, or (3) challenge me, in which case I get an interesting discussion.

Or at least, I can hope. I've been challenged on occasion, launched into an a dissection of the issue, only to find out that it was a 'religious' belief after all and now everyone is offended :-(.

I've gotten better over the years at gently parrying attacks by unarmed opponents ("That George Bush is Evil!" "Well, I'd say more likely his policies were largely failures, but look, Aunt Agatha just walked in the room, isn't she looking healthy?") but it's taken quite a while.

Posted by: Tom West on August 29, 2009 3:24 PM

I tend to shift around between three different ways-of-contending: 1) steering conversations away from touchy subjects, 2) feigning interest, then suddenly getting interested in something else entirely, 3) evaporating into the night whenever these topics come up.

Recently, though, I've begun wondering if I ought to stop being such a sly wuss. Maybe it's easier (and funner) to be hyper-forthright and pugnaciously upfront about holding a nonstandard political p-o-v. Why not establish a rep as a weirdo? Eventually it'll precede you and do a lot of the work for you.

But I don't know if I'm really made to indulge in that kind of behavior, sigh ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 29, 2009 4:02 PM

Tactic 1) Do adopt the defensive. Do not defend modern Republicans, or mainstream outlets like the National Review. Any intelligent member of the right needs to come to the terms with the fact that most modern political conservatives are not worth defending. If you must defend politicians, defend the old right ( Howard Taft, Robert Taft, Mencken, Nock, etc). Then shake your head wistfully, and note that the problem with the Republicans is that they have given in to the left on the things that mattered, and adopted a number of nutty populist positions (eg. Evangelical Christianity). Note that Bush is essentially a watered down version of Woodrow Wilson.

Tactic 2) Use a greater knowledge of history to mindf**ck them ( but in a non-aggressive way).

Liberal: "George W. Bush, should be hog tied up and brought before the internaltional court for his crimes against Iraq"

Me: "Indeed. Let's bring back Lord Cromer. Bush simply does not know how to do imperialism"

Liberal: "What? Who's Lord Cromer"

Me: "He ran Egypt for the British. With a mere 5,000 soldiers he kept the entire country at peace, and actually ran a profit. Imagine, a profit! If only we could get him to run Iraq for us. Why can't America actually seem to make money off of our provinces like every other empire?"

Liberal: "But ... but ... that's evil and exploitive!"

Me: "Where would you rather live: Egypt under Cromer, current Iraq, or Iraq under Saddam? All governments are exploitive to some extent. The best to hope for is a stationary bandit, that is competent and maximizes for the long term."

I've had conversations like this and they are quite fun. The keys are a) don't attack the other person directly. Instead agree and then redirect by saying the real problem was that X was not right-wing enough. b) I used historical knowledge that the liberal has no defense against. Virtually no one has heard of Cromer, no one knows that he actually ran Egypt much better than it was run before or since. c) Smile a lot and keep it fun and playful. Remember that the fate of the nation does not actually depend on this dinner conversation. The purpose of arguing about politics is not to win a battle, but to open each other's minds. d) do not defend the indefensible just because they are on your team

Tactic 3) Use the socratic method. Here's another recent conversation:

Liberal: "I can't believe the gall of those vile Conservatives , smearing Sotomayor by calling her a racist."

Me: "So are you saying that Sotomayor does not advocate government policies which would benefit one specific race?"

Liberal: "No, but that's not racist, that's affirmative action."

Me: "Interesting. So what does racism mean?"

Liberal: "When a group of one race is treated differently because of their skin color"

Me: "Um, so how is not a policy that gives admission slots at a university to hispanics instead of whites, based purely on skin color, not racist?"

Liberal: "Racism is discrimination plus power. White still have all the power."

Me: "Isn't the fact that affirmative action exists, evidence that minorities have significant power? They do have some mighty strong voting blocks that result in lots of dollars going from my wallet to theirs (and quite a lack of dollars going the other direction)"

Liberal: "But whites still make much more money. The power and racism is structural"

Me: "I see. So what set of events would convince you that affirmative action was no longer needed?"

Liberal: "When blacks make 12% of all the important jobs - engineers, bankers, etc"

Me: "Where do you work?"

Liberal: "A software company"

Me: "Is your company 12% black?"

Liberal: "No"

Me: "Do believe that you are racist in your hiring practices?"

Liberal: "No, we just don't get a lot of qualified black applicants, the problem is before us"

Me: "So are universities racist against blacks in their policies? Are grade schools racist against blacks?"

Liberal: "Well, there are issues with inner city schools getting less funding."

Me: "Indeed. A number of court cases in the past few decades addressed just that issue. School funding in many poor districts has doubled. Have you noticed any great results? Would you rather send your kids to school in Utah, or D.C. (D.C. spends 2.5 times as much per student"

Liberal: "Well, there are other cultural issues too, crime, broken families, etc"

Me: "Indeed. Perhaps then, the crime issue is the first issue to tackle then? I would agree with that."

Again, this is from an actual conversation. By using the Socratic method I defused the antagonism towards the right, and then actually had quite a productive talk. The conservation didn't stop at the above, and even went on to address some HBD issues.

Posted by: Devin Finbarr on August 29, 2009 5:07 PM

I call myself an independent because I share some beliefs with both parties, but I probably lean to the left more often than the right.

I lived in semi-rural Georgia for four years earlier in this century. And I did just as you do. I kept my mouth shut about politics pretty much totally. As a result, I became fond of a number of people who probably wouldn't have spoken to me had they known my beliefs.

And, by the by, I would have voted for Nixon in 1960.

Posted by: Marik on August 29, 2009 5:14 PM

"Do you avoid the subject?"

"Do you pretend that you agree with the people you are with?"

"Or do you have effective ways of communicating your position without ruffling feathers?"

Liberal's feathers are pre-ruffled. I tell people what I think. If they can't hack it, tough shit.

Posted by: Francis on August 29, 2009 5:34 PM

Donald Pittenger said:

Of course a liberal would face similar problems if living in a conservative enclave.

If this is sarcasm, it is awfully well-disguised. If you honestly believe that voicing liberal opinions in a room full of conservatives is about like voicing conservative opinions in a room full of liberals, then I suspect you have very little experience with one of the two activities. Or maybe you are just exhibiting some even-handedness verbal tic?

Here is an old but instructive article on the subject:

Posted by: Bill on August 29, 2009 5:46 PM

At the law school I attend, virtually all of the professors and most of the students are very liberal. There's only one "out" conservative professor and he's Mormon, so people sort of give him a pass.

When discussions turn political, I usually just keep my mouth shut. There was a time when I was very outspoken and argumentative but, thankfully, I've got way over that many years ago. When it comes to political people, I agree with Charlton -- you're not gonna change their mind, and they're not gonna change yours, so why bother? The vast majority of people aren't interested in an honest exchange of ideas; they just want to be heard.

Posted by: Bryan on August 29, 2009 5:54 PM

Don't do what my husband does:
He explodes his conservative Repub. views without considering how annoying or offensive this may be to others. It's embarrassing and diminishes our social life.

His work life is very Republican (medicine), and he doesn't flip the switch when in other social circles.

Posted by: jz on August 29, 2009 6:42 PM

I've always been one to charge headfirst into debate. Or at least to do so in the flesh; online, Musette and her muse Clio are far more soft-spoken in their opinions than their progenitor is in person. Even so, most of the time I have to let it be: in a politically correct government town, there are too many provocations for me to rush at them all. I'd never have time for anything else.

The occasions when I take up arms (verbally) are only those when friends or colleagues have said something so absurd about "conservatives", or worse yet "Catholics" - spat out with venom - that I can't take it any more. The odd thing is that I don't in the least dislike most of these people for the opinions they hold. Some of them are intelligent and thoughtful and nearly all of them mean well. I won't stand for being told that every practising/believing Catholic is responsible for all the AIDS in Africa, though. And I blasted a colleage who tried to say that the US was more divided under Bush than it had been since WWII. "What about Nixon?" I said. But he was too young to remember, which was often part of the problem with my former coworkers.

These battles cost me a good deal in stress and, sometimes, lost friendships. I don't allow my responses to get personal but some people just won't be friends with an "anti-choicer", or whatever the issue of the day is. Is it worth it? Depends what you mean by worth. I suppose I hope that if I have the courage to speak up I may inspire someone who is wavering on an issue I take seriously.

Blogging, so excoriated by some journalists for the way it supposedly foments hatred, has actually helped to make me a calmer and less angry dissenter. I'm better able now to make my interventions placidly and without rancour.

Posted by: aliasclio on August 29, 2009 6:48 PM


Sounds like conservatives to me!

* Main Entry: blow·hard
* Pronunciation: \-ˌhärd\
* Function: noun
* Date: 1848

1 : braggart
2 : windbag


Posted by: Loud Patriot on August 29, 2009 7:52 PM

The relative difficulty of this ebbs and flows. Right now, if I catch flak here in Portland from liberals, I simply ask in a very sincere and I'm-confused-please-enlighten-me tone the following:

"But, hasn't Obama doubled the amount of troops in Afghanistan? Aren't we still in Iraq? And isn't the same group of inside-baseball financiers in control of the Fed and the Treasury, garnering massive bailouts? Where is this big change you were hoping for, exactly?"

Posted by: KevinV on August 29, 2009 8:35 PM

Well, in my multi-polar blogging over at Alexandria, I've already got a lock on the "rep as a weirdo" in every sphere I touch, like a gear-stripping King Midas in reverse and forward all at once: blood-grinning defiance in spiky libertarian State-dynamiting posts one day, then sporting saucily in punning jest with everything from Isaac Newton's "sex life" to 1930s pop tunes to the latest UK book reviews to odd-news roundups the next, my initial verbal mask as armed RKBA militant belied behind the monitor by the fact that I've neither owned nor fired anything requiring gunpowder or more destructive than a twenty-dollar .177-cal pellet pistol good for dispatching mice wot not the trap alone done dead...

The alienation-by-politics plays out for me in equal-opportunity form across the partisan divide in any social venue requiring zipped-up pants (now then, when in sweats, matters are more ladidudinarian...), given that my tastes in political economy were shaped in high school thirty years ago by the old-line libertarian writings of Harry Browne and Henry Hazlitt. As deep as my apolitical Thoreauvian anarchism of temperament runs, I bit my bullet almost to shrapnel last fall in admitting, to myself, a mild preference for Obama over McCain, not on any negligible policy-wonk grounds, but from a blend of what seemed a higher-road reduction of rancid kultur-war flame-stoking on the BHO side, and recoil from almost two decades of breaking out in hives due to an inexplicable/inexcusable overexposure to the infantile and anti-intellectual Fudds and Yosemities of the Dittohead, Facts Snooze, Freeper, "Crunchy", and Cornerite Right (turns out when Huffanpuffing down their divers houses of cards, I'd have done far better to have simply, er, Blownharder in the form of reading A Certain Blog Elsewhere, and not just when reporting as a onetime Donaldite commenter on my truly Guinness-worthy records as a Long-Distance Driver).

As to my currently fighting off as a blogger every welfare-state expansion into medicine with one hand, while with the other thumbing through the literature in hopes of someday expatriation to Denmark/Norway/Finland, well, I contain multidudes, and self-contraindicate even more than I self-medicate...

As for the social life at risk of loss upon political self-exposure: I have heard rumors of this "social life" entity of which you speak, as I have heard rumors of such entities as "sex" and "Bigfoot", but am not yet persuaded that mounting an expedition in pursuit of any of them portends awards justifying the shocks to my system entailed.

As far as self-exposed political blogging goes, maybe I should experiment in posting all my icy political blasts under the byline, say, of "Walter Windchill", and save all my more urbane cultural stuff for his warmer fireside twin "Arty Farty", and see how many of those reading me in both guises catch the numerous hints that they two are at one, and not just in "their" separately-bundled tendencies to make of Every Sentence Its Own Britannica, and to shoehorn at every opportunity and with no discernible pretext whatever "their" oddly identical and deathless passion for women of distinctly Asiatic lineage.

Let us close our hard-blown sermon, brethren, with a passage from the Book of Harry, aka How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, or Blue Sky and White Cloud among my pals and me, after its signature cover shot:

"No matter where you go, you never know if someone you’re seeking might see you. What a shame it would be if that person passed you by because you didn’t reveal the qualities that both you and he admire most.

"To reveal those qualities, you have to be willing to accept the disapproval of those you aren’t seeking. It takes courage to overcome the embarrassment, selfconsciousness, and even ridicule that might result from honest exposure of your nature — at first. But that shouldn’t last long; soon, you’ll form associations that are
far more rewarding than what you’ve tolerated in the past.

"If you’ve been hiding your collection of James Bond books for the sake of your cultural friends, get them out, go to '007' movies, and be free to enjoy yourself and find the people who won’t pressure you. Chances are you won’t miss the evenings of 'culture' and you’ll soon forget the people you weren’t in tune with...I can give you a good example. For years, whenever it was appropriate in conversations, lectures, and writing, I’ve casually mentioned one or more things such as: I’m single; I have no interest in governments, groups, crusades, or religions; I’m
crazy about opera and other forms of classical music; I’m lazy and have learned to live with
it and enjoy it; and I see nothing wrong with being selfish.19

19.See how easy that was.

"I’m never evangelical about these things. I simply let them be known, one at a time, as appropriate.

"Of course, I could join in the usual conversational attacks upon greed and selfishness, act as if I were a fervent believer in God and country, show my interest in the prevailing social issues. But where would that get me? My competition would be overwhelming and my rewards inappropriate to me.

"Far better to be honest. By doing so, I’ve been approached by many individuals who were glad to find that they had a friend in what they had thought was an alien world.

"In fact, I’ve also made many friends whose ideas are considerably different from mine in some matters. They’re quite willing to accept the things we have in common and leave the other matters alone. They don’t pressure me to change my views — probably because I’m not self-conscious about them and therefore not a likely convert."

Posted by: Scott Lahti on August 29, 2009 9:20 PM

p.s. Not that I'm suggesting it takes serious "courage" to defy, flout, or attack the opinions of the majority in your social circle. It's not like, you know, withstanding torture. But it can cost you friendships and indeed your job (rarely) or, more subtly, job opportunities, so it's not quite nothing.

Posted by: alias clio on August 29, 2009 9:56 PM

I think people who aren't from around here have trouble fully comprehending the true nature of the intellectual Stalinism that grips Seattle. Expressing opinions at variance with the regnant leftist orthodoxy can very often be a social-viability and career ending move in this town. It's really rather stultifying. If Seattle didn't have so many other things to recommend it, I would have moved to a more congenial and open-minded locale years ago. As it is, I keep my mouth shut and enjoy the benefits.

Posted by: G on August 29, 2009 10:55 PM

If you honestly believe that voicing liberal opinions in a room full of conservatives is about like voicing conservative opinions in a room full of liberals, then I suspect you have very little experience with one of the two activities.

Depends on where you go and when. Per the article you quoted, I suspect that wearing an Obama 2012 t-shirt in a few years in rural Kansas might get you much the same reaction that the Bush/Cheney t-shirt received.

I find that in pretty much all cases, people who have carefully considered their choices, whether left or right tend to be much more tolerant, as they can conceive of points of view beyond their own as something other than evil, stupid or evil-and-stupid.

When left/right-wingedness is a more a cultural artifact, it's unwise (or at least useless) to flaunt different beliefs.

Posted by: Tom West on August 30, 2009 12:53 AM

What do you do? Depends on how much you want to sleep with them, I guess.

Seriously, I would just tell them what I think in a civil way & if they can't deal with that, why would you want to be friends with them anyway?

Posted by: Douglas Fletcher on August 30, 2009 2:08 AM

The thing to do is express even-handedness. Act like you're on their side but that you know the other side has a point. Or that you're on your own side but you know their side has a point. Especially hammer the point that the issue is more complex than naive liberalism or naive conservatism thinks. "On the other hand" or "In fairness" are good ways to begin sentences. The trick is to signal a fair understanding of the issue, not position. Nobody likes to be seen contradicting someone who's being fair, so that puts them in a more charitable mood from the get-go. Also get in the habit of saying some unexpected or shocking things when you can back them up, so that mere disagreement seems much more palatable to them.

If you give someone an opportunity to think of themselves as open-minded, they will take it.

Posted by: Mark on August 30, 2009 2:09 AM

Charles Murray has an interesting post that relates to this. He analyzed data from the General Social Survey, which has been compiled since 1972. In particular, he looked at how six different segments of white Americans (Traditional Upper, Intellectual Upper, Traditional Middle, Technical Middle, Working, Lower) self-identified politically (extremely conservative, conservative, slightly conservative, moderate, slightly liberal, liberal, or extremely liberal). His index was (XL% + L%) - (C% + XC%). In 1972, all six segments were between +3 and -8. From 1972 to 2008, all segments moved down (to the right) 2 to 7, except Intellectual Upper, which moved from +1 to +23.

It seems that segment has basically moved off by itself, which explains a lot about present day America. For instance, why so many liberals assume everyone agrees with them, and feel comfortable projecting their politics into milieus that used to be 'safe zones'. And why many who are Intellectual Upper by affiliation or vocation but have conservative views feel isolated and intimidated.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on August 30, 2009 4:11 AM

It's fortunately less of a problem for me, since I am an introverted, anti-social bookworm who hasn't been to a party in five years.

My policy, when I find myself in a situation such as you describe, depends on whether it is with acquaintances I expect to meet again or some random encounter with strangers.

In either case, my primary driver is cowardice. I will avoid taking a position if not called on to do so, even if inwardly angry. There just isn't much upside to it and I'm not likely to change anyone's mind. I write better than I speak and f I have any influence it's through my blog.

Should I be asked straight out if I agree or for my view, I will usually be pretty straightforward if the person or people I'm conversing with are of the random stranger type and I can easily escape if things turn uncomfortable.

With people I know and am likely to interact with again, I have to make a quick, mostly intuitive decision. Factors include: do they have any power to do me harm if they strongly disapprove? Are they open minded or tolerant enough to accept a different view? Does the group seem absolutely solid in its opinion, or do I sense one or more others holding back?

So, depending on those and other factors, I'll either express my honest opinion while trying to be tactful (i.e., "I feel differently" rather than "You're mistaken") or if the cards seem to be completely stacked against me, I prefer to weasel out than get involved in a situation that promises to become dashed unpleasant.

Posted by: Rick Darby on August 30, 2009 7:57 AM

Devin Finbarr apparently knows liberal cartoon characters, buffoons filled with bumper sticker slogans, ignorant of history, and incapable of effective debate … or else that is how he perceives liberals.

Francis seems to show his own feathers are “pre-ruffled” as well.

jz offers a bit of needed mirror holding, showing how even presumably supportive spouses feel about conservatives who exhibit the tendency toward partisan pontificating that has mostly been attributed here to liberals.

Kevin V asks some very good quesitions about the Obama administration. A savvy liberal worthy of the name might agree with all those points, but that might cause the discussion to head down the path of discussing how we got so deeply involved in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan in the first place, maybe beginning with the C.I.A. coup that put the Shah back on the Peacock Throne and how we’ve gone from supporting Saddam to vilifying Saddam to attacking Saddam to today’s state of affairs. Or to the issue of how the cast of characters in the economic realm never seems to change … despite whoever might currently be occupying the White House.

Scott Lahti offers a breath of fresh air.

As someone who enjoys discussing politics, art, and even religion the blog-o-sphere has been a boon, enabling me to do so with individuals holding a wider range of views than I might comfortably engage with on those topics in face-to-face social settings. I decided early on to eschew the use of a screen name and have always been as open about my identity as prudence allows, in part because it seems more honest and it serves(if imperfectly) the cause of propriety and politenenss.

Most of my political discussions in the real world take place with family and well-established friends or else in public forums set up for the purpose, not during random social encounters. While I certainly do not shy away from expressing my views under the right circumstances, I rarely go out of my way to provide the catalyst. Memories grow hazy over time, but I can’t remember the last election that induced me to wear a campaign button or put a bumper sticker on my car. A life long independent, my views are generally liberal/progressive, with a dollop of green, “cloth coat” old-school republicanism, libertarian, contrarian, and utopian tossed in for good measure.

Artists may in general tend to be liberal, but collectors are often conservatives. It makes little sense for someone who is often in the middle to be a provocateur. Sometimes I’ll have a good natured give-and-take with individuals I know who hold different views but who are similarly able to talk politics without taking it personally.

Anecdotally, a few years ago I was part of an effort called Talk America that attempted to bring people holding different opinions on a wide range of topics together to discuss them in a loosely structured forum. The idea was to find points of commonality shared by patriotic Americans at a time when cable pontificators and narrow blogs kept striving for battles rather than consensus. This effort floundered because liberals far outnumbered conservatives at the gatherings. I even went with one such admirable soul to a Rotary meeting to drum up more interest from conservatives in the exercise. Once I asked one of the rare right leaning participants about why he couldn’t get some of his fellow conservatives to attend. The answer was essentially that he thought liberals were eager to share their opinions and discuss or debate nuances under the notion that changing them was possible while conservatives believed they were always right and had no interest in hearing other opinions.

Posted by: Chris White on August 30, 2009 8:13 AM

An interesting and timely topic for me, because I'm interviewing with a client tomorrow, and that client is a trendy, left wing not-for-profit.

I neither agree nor disagree with them on their pet issue. Although it may seem, from reading my posts on this forum, that I put a lot of weight in politics, I'm really not very interested in politics. Opinions really are like assholes, and I've got mine. This forum is a convenient place to unload my opinions so that I don't have to speak much about them in other places.

Of course, there is a problem with this attitude, because the far left is adamant that politics is everything.

I'd like to have the job, because I need work and because this particular client will probably be a lead for other clients. I really don't want to talk with them about politics, but I'm not sure yet how to avoid that.

The multimedia world is overwhelmingly very far left. In the design shops, advertising agencies, TV and movie studios, extremely far left views are taken for granted. These shops are usually heavily populated by gay men and their fag hags accomplices.

I've survived by moving to the corporate end of the multimedia biz, where politics are seldom discussed. I'd like to be back in the art end, but I don't know if I can hack these closed left-wing shops.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on August 30, 2009 8:52 AM

Chris, there is nothing independent or unique about your political ideology.

It's standard issue Woodstock hippie/extreme leftist. The most glaring characteristic of your political opinions is your love of patting yourself on your back over your "enlightenment." This is pure Woodstock hippie/extreme left.

Issue by issue, you conform to this raggedy platform.

It's only in your imagination that you've got a well thought out, independent, maverick point of view.

Doesn't matter much. You're a windbag new left hippie, with all the paranoid fantasies about corporations (which has been the preferred bogey man for the past decade). You've got the "root causer" thing down to a T, as well.

I don't take it too seriously. It's all BS. It's really not very important that you have political views. It's fun to poke fun at your pomposity.

I repeat, political opinions really are like assholes. I've got an asshole... You've got an asshole... Let's hear it for assholes!

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on August 30, 2009 9:55 AM

I mostly just shut up about it, adding to political discussions when I can think of something to say that is not overtly offensive. Anybody who knows anything about paleos/libertarians can figure out where I'm coming from. This actually happens, though rarely.

If I feel like engaging somebody on a political issue, I usually ask quite specific questions about their positions to see whether they know anything and whether they are 'religious' about their views.

The worst conversational experience I've had recently was with a Miami-based Norwegian journalist, who was politically sophisticated enough to suss me out as a righty, but not aware enough of American righty distinctions to understand I was neither a neocon nor a Republican. He spent the rest of the dinner bashing neocon positions and populist righty supporters and politicians, then glancing at me to see whether the blow smarted.

Posted by: robert61 on August 30, 2009 10:02 AM

I have been friends with a lovely, eccentric couple for more than twenty years now. They are really lovely people, though their eccentricity doesn't extend to their politics, which are the absolutely standard left/liberal politics of Ottawa, Canada, a government town that knows which side its bread is buttered on, indeed.

I no longer express my still somewhat libertarian and increasingly conservative (as in right-wing, rape-the-earth conservative) opinions around them. Why? Because the utterly mindless, derivative, cliched responses I get are wearisome, annoying and cause me to lose respect for my friends. Not one disagreement has changed their minds about anything. The woman in particular, becomes hysterical, personal, and irrational when challenged in any way politically.

The experience is so unpleasant, and causes me to lose so much respect for my friends, that I simply don't engage in behaviors that elicit that response from them.

This is true of all of my friends, really. They're all left/liberals of an entirely conventional sort. While they're not as close-minded as the couple, there's no point in talking to them about politics. I won't change their minds, and they're far too unreflective and derivative in their liberalism to be able to change mine. So why create such bad vibes? Talk about the things we do have in common, and since politics is not the centre of their being (less than it is mine, to be honest), why not relax and have a good time, valuing these people, who are all wonderful odd interesting and kind people (which is why I like them!).

There'll be lots of time to argue politics when we're dead.

Posted by: PatrickH on August 30, 2009 10:08 AM

To quote the Grateful Dead, "all I want to know is, are you kind?" I find politics less and less engaging. I have a very diverse social circle. While everyone has different plans, most can agree on the goals. I focus on those.

Posted by: Bradamante on August 30, 2009 10:38 AM

ST recently launched a rant against the author of a nine-page article based, according to his own words, on the first two paragraphs after which he stopped reading. He thinks those two paragraphs told him all he needed to know about the views of the author. I will therefore suggest that the man with the unique asshole has constructed such a vivid image of my Woodstock hippie leftism that, short of appearing on television stumping for Sarah Palin, reality will never be enough to alter his views. Just as I suspect the environments he labels as “heavily populated by gay men and their fag hags accomplices” and other dismissive and devisive pejoratives says much more about ST’s projections than it does about objective reality.

It is worth taking a careful look through the comments here as a batch of mostly right wing libertarians opine about how close-minded liberals are for opining about how close-minded conservatives are.

Posted by: Chris White on August 30, 2009 11:55 AM

I find it difficult to keep completely quiet when I hear either far right or far left lies being bandied about. If there is a computer around, and there almost always is, I simply google up some data to show that they are wrong. Try to let numbers do my work. However, if it is a true believer, I live in a very red area where they pass around Hagee, Beck, and Limbaugh books, I just let it go. No sense talking with the delusional.


Posted by: steve on August 30, 2009 12:02 PM

As someone who regularly wanders around the center of his decidedly moonbat town here in the People's Republic of Massachusetts wearing t-shirts from, I must say I enjoy the conversations they start with people from both sides of the aisle. Alas, what it usually exposes is how little most people of all political stripes actually know about history and politics.

Today in honor of the Hyannisport Orca finally
beginning his trip to Hell, I went to Starbucks wearing my "I Just Neutered the Cat, Now He's a Liberal" shirt. I enjoyed the frowny faces and the thumbs up with equal relish!

Posted by: Brutus on August 30, 2009 12:22 PM

In my experience, liberals only really care about a few things: that you're not a racist, anti-gay or anti-woman. Other than that, they don't really understand much, so you can talk up the gold standard without fear. Being pro-nuclear is a deal killer though. I've gotten some priceless looks from people with that one.

And you can slam Democrats all you want, they won't come to the defense. Well, except for Obama.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher on August 30, 2009 1:43 PM

I work on an Enormous State University campus (well, Pretty Big SU campus anyway), so I get plenty of exposure to the left-liberal side of things. I think I'm known as a fair-minded person with (small l) libertarian ideals, but I rarely express strong opinions until I've listened enough to know whether the company I'm in are capable of handling non-mainstream ideas or not.

Political persuasions, anyway, are about the least interesting things about most people, so I don't have any urge to proselytize or convert. I do enjoy exposing people to the notion that there's more to politics than Ds vs Rs, though.

Most of my friends are Democrats; most of my mother's side of the family are strongly Republican (there's no "father's side of the family" left except myself and my two remaining brothers, who tend D nowadays, but back in the day the older ones were small-business Republicans, in the most literal sense).

All that said, I find the most incomprehension from others not when I let on that I'm a libertarian, or an atheist, but when I'm asked my opinion about this or that sports team, season, or figure, and reveal that I have no interest in or knowledge of the topic.


Posted by: Narr on August 30, 2009 2:57 PM

If you are of conservative upbringing, like I am, the concept of polite conversation should be instinctual. Religion and politics are not appropriate subjects for polite conversation.

Posted by: kurt9 on August 30, 2009 3:16 PM

An argument is an exchange of ignorance. A discussion is an exchange of ideas. Make sure you engage in the latter.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on August 30, 2009 3:37 PM

The truck driver in Kansas with little time to read is less to blame for his intolerance of liberal views (if indeed he isn't a liberal himself, which I imagine must happen sometimes), than the New York City - or Ottawa! - "upper intellectual", is that the latter two groups have some pretense to being intellectual, and ought to have knowledge of and tolerance for the range of opinions in the world, both through their education and often through the work they do.

That's why I found it hard to forgive my coworkers on the day Bush won his second term, when they declared that all the people living in the central US, i.e. flyover country, were stupid bigoted rednecks, but that nobody wanted to visit those parts of the US anyway, because there was nothing to see there. They were well-read, well-educated people, at least on paper, yet it was obvious they knew nothing about American geography AND could not be bothered to understand the reasons why anyone's political views might differ from theirs, or that such people were not necessarily evil.

For the sake of politeness and cooperation, I don't believe in bringing politics or political morality into every kind of social group or gathering. But I think it's equally wrong to suggest that such matters are not important.

Posted by: alias clio on August 30, 2009 4:03 PM

robert61: "The worst conversational experience I've had recently was with a Miami-based Norwegian journalist, who was politically sophisticated enough to suss me out as a righty, but not aware enough of American righty distinctions to understand I was neither a neocon nor a Republican. He spent the rest of the dinner bashing neocon positions and populist righty supporters and politicians, then glancing at me to see whether the blow smarted."

Hahahahaha! That is priceless, and had, as it turns out, a virtually exact parallel from within the intimate ranks of *Canis lupus familiaris*.

We used to have a Shetland Sheepdog, who, when taunted to fits in the kitchen by squirrels in the tree just outside, would, upon bolting out the patio door after our go-git-'em, fly off its steps, blaze toward the harboring tree, then, with a nonchalance worthy of a Willie Mays say-hey-what's-this-in-my-glove vest-pocket catch, throw herself at said tree at a jaunty side-angle the better to sink her jaws into the bark in clueless and presumed retribution. Then, upon doing her "worst" thus, she'd look back at those of us in the doorway as if to say, "How was *that*?"

Posted by: Scott Lahti on August 30, 2009 5:04 PM

Here in Britain, I find it good fun to attack The Left from even-further-left. Most of The Left are just uncritical acceptors of a conventional wisdom, and so wide open to being wrongfooted.

For example, when the topic of teenage violence arises I say "You have to hand it to the Marxist-Leninists, they dealt brilliantly with the feral children left over from the Russian Civil War." They enquire what the successful policy was. I reply "They slaughtered most of them." It is, I should emphasise, important to keep a straight face.

Posted by: dearieme on August 30, 2009 5:15 PM

@alias clio,
The truck driver from Kansas may not have much time to read, but he spends *many* hours listening to FOX radio and the radio station with Howard Stern. As a result, the truck driver is well informed on current issues.

Posted by: jz on August 30, 2009 7:31 PM

Now, for an impeckerbly-justified instance of trying to pass for pink - as it were - because under compulsion from a categorical imperative not so much philosophical as fella's off-ical, or so much Kantian as Kuntian, see the "Need a moment?" commercial for Twix in which the young dude at the party feigns political solidarity with a hottie the better to arrange a post-party panty peel:

Hottie: Frankly, I just feel like some politicians are completely out of touch with 99% of society...

Dude: Yeah, and it's like the mainstream media's fault...

Hottie: You said it! Finally - someone who shares my struggle!

Dude: I know, right? You want to go to my apartment?

Hottie: What!?

Dude: - what?

Hottie: What kind of girl do you think I AM?

Dude: Whoa!

[Cue scrrr-atching phonograph needle]

Basso Profundo Announcer [ghost of Barry White, in rare cameo]: NEED A MOMENT?

Dude [after stuffing gob with choco-caramelized wafer, chewing and swallowing at breakneck speed]: I thought you were a believer* - someone who'd want to blog about our ideals!

*[YouTube commenter "spykatt" (5 days ago) "I thought you were a believer". Who *talks* like that??]

Hottie: Oh - blogging! I LOVE blogging! [drags him off-camera upon apparently commencing to moisten after all, as in his last moment in-frame he punches through the proverbial "fourth wall" in giving the viewer a quick "Don't wait up for me" victory nod]

Announcer [after lubing throat during break with used 10W40]: When you need a moment, cheew it ovah wif' Twix!

Posted by: Scott Lahti on August 30, 2009 8:23 PM

I too find it difficult to admit my political position, but in my case it's everywhere I go.

People are so arrogant, so sure of themselves that they get offended when proven wrong or even when disagreed with. I, on the other hand, have never had that problem as I am always right in fact, belief and opinion. ;)

In all seriousness I agree with being polite and not pontificating on and on about politics. I will voice my opinion when asked, but I rarely volunteer my political opinion otherwise.

Politics is like a sport, we all have a team we root for. Go Marijuana Party! Fight! Fight! Fight!

Posted by: I_Affe on August 30, 2009 8:31 PM

Religion and politics are not appropriate subjects for polite conversation.

I have to say that one of the things I treasure most about where I work (small local office of big software company) is that no one ever discusses politics.

Posted by: David Fleck on August 30, 2009 9:32 PM

My approach to this is variable depending on the group. I never pretend to agree with what I don't, though I'm sometimes a bit evasive.

When I let my political views be known at all, I always seek to make it clear that I'm not a dogmatist but rather someone who takes some from column a and some form column b, though maybe more from b. But then I also invent or unusually find column C.

Actually I think almost everyone who knows me at all knows that I'm at least a maverick and not a leftist. Often people think I'm sort of centrist or from an elite SWPL perspective center right in their world. Kinda correct but I also have some radical ideas and do break taboos. Not all those radical ideas are on the right.

Posted by: Doug1 on August 30, 2009 9:47 PM

I find it good fun to attack The Left from even-further-left.

Ooh. I've known someone like you. The only problem he had was that we (his presumed friends) would mess up his delivery. He'd approach his mark, open his mouth to start, and we'd be falling to the floor desperately trying not to laugh in anticipation of what was coming.

Apparently having two or three people suddenly fall over clutching their stomachs when a stranger is about to talk to you tends to bring out people's suspicious side...

Posted by: Tom West on August 30, 2009 10:31 PM


The worst conversational experience I've had recently was with a Miami-based Norwegian journalist, who was politically sophisticated enough to suss me out as a righty, but not aware enough of American righty distinctions to understand I was neither a neocon nor a Republican. He spent the rest of the dinner bashing neocon positions and populist righty supporters and politicians, then glancing at me to see whether the blow smarted.

This reminds me of a book review I read recently, in which some professor, apparently a run-of-the-mill academic lefty, reviewed Paul Gottfried's Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt. Immediately in the first sentence, she described Gottfried's position as "neoconservative"! I kid you not. (It's a very good book, by the way.)

Sadly, this is nothing too unusual. Even among more sophisticated leftists, you'll find very few of them who have any realistic notion of the ideological distinctions among their opponents. But then, for a realistic appraisal of the similarities and differences of various historical currents and movements on the right, one would have to delve into certain questions that are apt to trigger crimestop not only in leftists, but even in "respectable" mainstream conservatives.

Posted by: Vladimir on August 30, 2009 11:10 PM

Even among more sophisticated leftists, you'll find very few of them who have any realistic notion of the ideological distinctions among their opponents.

Well, to be fair, I'm probably to the right of most of my friends (absent the libertarians), and I managed to get called a socialist on average once a week. Inability or unwillingness to see distinctions in one's opponent is not confined to left or right.

Just look at the invective hurled at Chris White at 2BH for examples of lumping all left-leaners together.

The only thing I will say is the left seems more willing to impute evil intention to their opponents than the right, which will often describe their opponents as stupid rather than evil.

Posted by: Tom West on August 31, 2009 12:12 AM

Tom West:

Well, to be fair, I'm probably to the right of most of my friends (absent the libertarians), and I managed to get called a socialist on average once a week. Inability or unwillingness to see distinctions in one's opponent is not confined to left or right.

That's certainly true when it comes to informal everyday discussions, both online and in real life. What I had in mind, however, are respectable authors writing in academic literature and mainstream press. In the example from my above comment, an academic author apparently sees the entire right as an amorphous "neoconservative" mass -- even when it comes to an arch-paleocon like Gottfried, who has spent gallons of ink writing bitter diatribes against the actual neoconservatives. And this is hardly an atypical case. I honestly can't think of any examples from the right that would be analogous. (If someone knows of any, I'd be really curious.)

The only thing I will say is the left seems more willing to impute evil intention to their opponents than the right, which will often describe their opponents as stupid rather than evil.

Another important difference is that rightist authors are on average much less afraid to delve into the logic of leftist arguments and positions -- as opposed to treating them like infectious plague that should be dismissed scornfully out of hand, and perhaps even censored if possible. The reason is that the main ideological taboos and objects of public worship nowadays are the leftist ones, so that leftists have much more to lose in a game of open intellectual exchange in which everyone's positions are scrutinized mercilessly with no holds barred. (Just observe whose orthodoxies get skewered more in ideologically uncensored online forums like this one.)

To see this, it's not even necessary to assume that, in the words of the great Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, right is right and left is wrong (though I do). Stifling the debate is always a natural instinct for those who enjoy hegemony in the intellectual establishment.

Posted by: Vladimir on August 31, 2009 2:41 AM

Exactly, Tom West. The Left almost always presumes their opponents are acting in bad faith, that they secretly are evil bigots who want to roll back the clock and turn everything back the way it used to be, which was EVIL EVIL EVIL! to them; the Right is generally more charitable, knowing human nature's flawedness, and is less inclined to ascribe to outright malice what can be explained by incompetence and stupidity. Of course, this is because the Right is naive and stupid, all too often, not least in being overly generous towards their opponents, who rarely show any generosity of spirit towards their opponents; meanwhile, the Left, for which any smear against their opponents is justified, no matter how low and absurd (a Liberal M.P. here in Canada once accused her opponents of white supremacist sympathies, and claimed that "right now, crosses are burning" in a certain B.C. city "as we speak!"), is indeed wicked and evil, building support on lies and disinformation and smears.

Now, my political POV is a mixed one, largely traditionalist conservative but with much criticism of what passes for conservatism these days, combined with much skepticism of unbridled capitalism, and our managerial elites. But I see no point in muzzling myself; I will articulate what I believe, wherever and whenever I see fit, whether at work, or in other social settings. I myself can get along with all different kinds of people, regardless of how different they are from me, as long as they can do likewise. But anyone who will take personally, their differences from me, and get angry over them (often leftists, but also some neo-cons, I've found), I have no use for, even as friends; to hell with them. What's the use of freedom of speech, if one can't feel free to actually exercise it?

Posted by: Will S. on August 31, 2009 5:23 AM

Somewhat apropos of this thread I just found a link to a review in the LA Times of a book on the changes in conservatism over the past forty years.

Here’s a salient quote from the linked piece.

Sam Tanenhaus, book review editor at the New York Times (and William F. Buckley Jr.'s biographer), has just published a book exploring the right's shift from old-school classic conservatism to the revolutionary "movement conservatism" of today. … As Tanenhaus puts it, the contemporary right defines itself "less by what it yearns to conserve than by what it longs to destroy." They call themselves conservatives, but the "I hope Obama fails" rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh is more reminiscent of the tantrum-throwing far left of the late 1960s than of classic conservatism.

Posted by: Chris White on August 31, 2009 9:27 AM

If you MUST talk to a liberal, when not for the pure entertainment value, go easy. Liberals think all Republicans are prickly codgers who are against every program they are for. While true, simply asking them for the courtesy of treating each other like human beings and pretending to care about their issues are usually enough to grease the skids of civility between you.

Of course there are those libs who couldn't be civilized with a ball peen hammer. They were put on the Earth strictly for entertainment value.

Posted by: Tim Price on August 31, 2009 11:15 AM

Yes, Chris, conservatives want to destroy everything, such a salient quote. Good Lord, you're a moron. Get an original thought of your own.

Posted by: Lazy on August 31, 2009 11:32 AM

Chris, it's absurd to speak of the changes in American "conservatism" in the Republican party without reference to the changes in American "liberalism" in the Democratic party. It's very possible that the latter could not have happened without the former.

To what changes do I refer? How about the contempt for working-class and less-educated people, such as is displayed in the frequent use of the phrase "poor white trash" by American Democrats? How about making sexual liberation one of its central platforms? How about driving out or else silencing any Democrat politician who does not support abortion? How about a passive and often placatory attitude in American foreign policy?

And speaking of hoping Obama fails, how about Ted Kennedy's notorious letter to Yuri Andropov in 1983, offering to "counter the militaristic politics of Reagan and his campaign to psychologically burden the American people", in "the interests of peace"? This seems to me a rather more serious threat to the authority of an elected President than Limbaugh's comment, yet it does not figure in Democrat assessments of Mr Kennedy's career. Even if you choose to regard it as a genuinely pacific gesture rather than as treasonous (which I agree is an overstatement), it is still a colossal breach of the etiquette of statesmanship.

Posted by: alias clio on August 31, 2009 11:34 AM

Alias Clio, you seriously need to get out more. Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, one of the top three Dems in the nation, is staunchly and vocally anti-abortion. Can you name a Republican with comparable stature in their party who's pro-choice? Um, no...not a chance in hell.

As for the Dems supposed passive attitude to foreign policy, we could discuss particular people and policies, but you're obviously more interested in spewing uninformed partisan claptrap.

Posted by: Steve W on August 31, 2009 12:32 PM

alias clio:

And speaking of hoping Obama fails, how about Ted Kennedy's notorious letter to Yuri Andropov in 1983, offering to "counter the militaristic politics of Reagan and his campaign to psychologically burden the American people", in "the interests of peace"? [...] Even if you choose to regard it as a genuinely pacific gesture rather than as treasonous (which I agree is an overstatement), it is still a colossal breach of the etiquette of statesmanship.

This letter was only one episode in the long tradition of friendship between the Americal left and the Soviet Union, which dated almost all the way back to the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and lasted throughout its Wilsonian, New Deal, and modern liberal incarnations. You are right that "treason" is a wrong word for this incident, but it wasn't exactly a "breach of the etiquette of statesmanship" either. After all, Kennedy did nothing that didn't have a long tradition in the highest circles of American politics. It wasn't an isolated attempt at making informal contacts inside the USSR; it was just normal functioning of old and well-established social networks.

The exact nature of this friendship was described perfectly by Mencius Moldbug (emphasis mine):

It is not that the American left was the tool of Moscow. In fact, it was the other way around. From day one, the Soviet Union was the pet experiment of the bien-pensants. It was Looking Backward in Cyrillic. It was the client state to end all client states. [...] It's not just that Western intellectuals saw the Soviet experiment as a glimpse of the future. The Soviet Union was a true client state - it depended existentially on the support of its Western patrons, and its demise had much to do with the demise of that support.

The Soviet system was a military tyranny, but it was not just a military tyranny. Its security also depended on a pervasive state religion, and the essence of that religion was the belief that the Soviet Union was at the forefront of human development. The fact that large numbers, often even the majority, of Western intellectuals, agreed with that claim, was a keystone of the Soviet political formula. [...] This is why the Soviets made such herculean efforts to maintain the support of prestigious Western intellectuals such as the Webbs, Lion Feuchtwanger, Lincoln Steffens, and many others, surpassing any Potemkin in their production of tourism as theatre.

The theory of Russia as a client state of the American left helps us understand the behavior of the great Communist spies of the 1940s, Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White. Essentially all significant institutions of today's transnational world community - the UN, the IMF, the World Bank - were designed by one of these gentlemen, whose role in passing American documents to Soviet military intelligence is now beyond dispute. John Stormer was right.

Or was he? The thing is that while, technically, Hiss and White were certainly Soviet agents, they hardly fit the profile of a traitor like Aldrich Ames. Hiss and White were at the top of their professions, respected and admired by everyone they knew. What motivation could they possibly have for treason? Why would men like these betray their country?

The obvious answer, in my opinion, is that they didn't see themselves as betraying their country. The idea that they were Russian tools would never have occurred to them. When you see a dog, a leash, and a man, your interpretation is that the man is walking the dog, even if the latter appears to be towing the former.

Hiss and White, in my opinion, believed - like many of their social and cultural background [e.g. Ted Kennedy a few decades later - V.] - that the US had nothing to fear from the Soviet Union. They saw themselves as using the Soviets, not the other way around, helping to induce the understandably paranoid Russian leadership to integrate themselves into the new global order. Probably they had much the same picture of their actions that Larry Franklin, on the other side of the aisle, had when he passed documents to Israel.

Posted by: Vladimir on August 31, 2009 12:57 PM

My link did not work. Sorry about that. Here is the URL address:,0,6494016.column

Gregory Rodriguez on Sam Tanenhaus' new book which explores the right's shift from old-school classic conservatism to the revolutionary 'movement conservatism' of today.

Since my link did not work I doubt anyone is responding to the actual content of the piece, merely my temerity in suggesting, as does Tanenhaus, the biographer of William Buckley, that latter day conservatism is dramatically different from the conservatism of forty years ago. But, if it makes folks feel better to tar and feather the corpse of Ted Kennedy perhaps that does more to make the point that today's self styled conservatives are ... as in the quote already supplied; more reminiscent of the tantrum-throwing far left of the late 1960s than of classic conservatism.

aliasclio – Since I've repeatedly expressed my dissatisfaction with our Good Cop/Bad Cop duopoly, and since I've repeatedly expressed my dissatisfaction with those who lock themselves into extreme or fundamentalist stances, whether religiously, artistically, or politically, beyond the mania for always including a "but on the other hand ... " whenever possible, I see no reason to critique Dems everytime I do Pubs or vis a versa.

And what makes you think I don't agree with your assessment of negative changes among certain segments of Democrats? So? Does it really matter whether the Dem left changed this, so the Pub right reacted by changing that; or that the Pubs became this way, so the Dems moved that-a-way? The end result remains the perpetual problem of choosing between the two for our political leadership.

And if conservatives want to destroy everything is the meaning Lazy pulled from the supplied quote (obviously absent reading the article that should have appeared as a link) then his/her screen name is apt.

Posted by: Chris White on August 31, 2009 1:52 PM

Steve W., must you immediately turn to personal insult? How Democratic of you;)

I try to keep up with American issues, especially those I think of as critical for the rest of the world, but I'm not an American and thus not, strictly speaking, a "partisan" in the conventional sense, since I have no vote in (what I assume is) your country. I came to my understanding of the Dem party's position on abortion because of the old story of Casey not being allowed to speak at the party's 1992 convention. I know that this story has been challenged by party members; I also know that their explanations for the incident are a bit equivocal. Mr Reid, by the way, seems like an admirable and independent man, but I suspect one reason I didn't know of his anti-abortion views is that they are not often raised by organs like the New York Times. I understand, too, that there was initially a huge fuss by NARAL and other bodies when he was first chosen as minority leader.

Vladimir, your citation from MM is interesting and informative, but I don't know if it really describes the same kind of issue. Hiss and so forth may have been attempting to "use" the Soviet Union but for better or worse they didn't try to go through official channels when they did so. Appealing directly to a national leader over the head of a President can, I think, reasonably be labelled a breach of statesman-like etiquette. I don't doubt that it was well-intentioned, but intentions are not usually the central issue in such cases.

Chris White, I know that you dislike the "good cop, bad cop" routine in your country's politics; my point in bringing the matter up was that when one party goes off in a different direction, it is likely to lose some of its former supporters, who will then turn to the other party and change it as well. That's why I thought it important to mention the changes in the Democratic party when you brought up the changes in the Republican party.

I also understand that you do not think the country's interests are well-served by either and that it needs a new political option, especially, as you said in an earlier comment on another post, in economic affairs.

But would it really be possible to achieve the kind of sweeping changes you appear to want without major changes in the law and, perhaps, your nation's constitution? I can understand wanting to root out a too-cozy relationship between government and business (though this might well lead to greater economic insecurity for all, rather than less), but if you want what used to be called a "planned economy", as you sometimes appear to do, you'll need to create a different kind of nation-state.

The reason there are not major differences in political parties in most western nations is that democratic polities do not wish to connive at their own destruction. So they write up constitutions that make it effectively impossible to elect a party advocating hereditary monarchy and the establishment of a national religion (to take an absurd example). If anyone wants to become the king of the US, he'll have to do it the old-fashioned way: by force. The same goes for a government that is in firm control of every aspect of the nation's economic life.

Posted by: aliasclio on August 31, 2009 8:07 PM

Steve W., you need to get out more, think more, read more and grow up.

Steve W, making a fool of himself: "Alias Clio, you seriously need to get out more. Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, one of the top three Dems in the nation, is staunchly and vocally anti-abortion. Can you name a Republican with comparable stature in their party who's pro-choice? Um, no...not a chance in hell."

Welcome to Hell, Steve!

Harry Reid D-Nev., voting record abortion: 29% rating from NARAL, indicating pro-life record; 50% from NRLC, indicating mixed record. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, rated 83% by NARAL, indicating pro-choice voting record, rated 0% NRLC, indicating pro-choice voting record.

As for the Dems actual passive attitude to foreign policy, we could discuss particular people and policies, but you're obviously more interested in spewing uninformed partisan claptrap, like UG and some other commenters, including one I'm not allowed to say bad things about.

Have a nice evening, you uninformed leftist hack.

P.S. If you respond to this, you ignorant partisan lickspittle, I predict you'll try to weasel out by saying Snowe isn't of the same stature as Reid. After all, she's not party leader in the Senate!

So go ahead, weasel. Make my day.

Posted by: PatrickH on August 31, 2009 8:11 PM

Clio, no personal insult intended. Just irritation at hearing the usual (false) right-wing talking points.

Um, OK Patrick...Harry Reid, Senate majority leader, versus Olympia Snowe, rank and file Republican who's barely tolerated within her caucus. Anyone with a remedial comprehension of US politics would say that they don't have comparable stature. Apparently that would exclude you.

Posted by: Steve W on September 1, 2009 12:25 AM

I'm an atheist non-white dude with a humanities degree and a penchant for booze, tobacco and uh... varied personal indiscretions.

When they hear my politics, their heads explode Scanners style.

I roughly paraphrase an exchange I had recently.

"You're against gay marriage?"

"Yep, but not because they're gay. I'm against legal recognition of childless straight couples as well. They don't need a tax shelter. But mind you, if a gay couple says they're married and they got someone to marry them, then for all intents and purposes in the eyes of their God, be he crucified, multi-armed, many phallused or simply Richard Dawkins; they're married, so I take them on that. It's more the fact that I don't think it's the state's business to be calling out who is married and who is not. Slippery slope, you see. Why, if I could, for the purposes of making a tax shelter and expressing my symbolic eternal affection, I would enter into a polygamous relationship with this bottle of Laphroig and a box of Cohibas."


"Speaking of, mind if I smoke?"

"Uh, no. So you voted for McCain then?"

"In regards to this issue, if you looked at the facts, it wouldn't matter who I voted for, and since when is McCain a conservative?"

Posted by: Spike Gomes on September 1, 2009 1:46 AM


Hiss and so forth may have been attempting to "use" the Soviet Union but for better or worse they didn't try to go through official channels when they did so. Appealing directly to a national leader over the head of a President can, I think, reasonably be labelled a breach of statesman-like etiquette.

Kennedy didn't go through official contacts either. According to the 1983 KGB memo addressed to Andropov informing him about Kennedy's offer, "senator [Kennedy] charged Tunney to convey the following message, through confidential contacts." There is no mention of any official or even semi-official channels at all -- merely the informal transnational social networks to which the senator was apparently well connected. The whole affair was completely covert and conspiratorial, so I don't think it makes sense to even ask about "statesman-like etiquette."

Now of course, the crucial legal difference between Kennedy and Hiss, White, et al. is that the latter technically committed criminal acts of espionage by passing confidential information to the USSR. However, there's another distinction that's, in my opinion, much more important. It's overwhelmingly likely that Hiss and the other major New Deal figures implicated in (technical) espionage were working with full approval of Roosevelt, and that their actions were just regular covert diplomatic channels. (Several other figures implicated in the same covert dealings with the Soviets were also on top positions in FDR's regime. This possibly included even Harry Hopkins, one of FDR's closest friends and the main architect of the New Deal.) On the other hand, Kennedy was operating at a different time, during the peak of Reagan's movement, when the U.S. progressives actually had to deal with some serious domestic opposition, unlike in FDR's effectively one-party post-1937 New Deal state (or, for that matter, in our age where mainstream conservatism has conceded nearly all relevant ground). He was effectively conspiring with a hostile foreign power seeking help in internal American political struggles.

Whose actions were more contemptible here is a matter of subjective taste. Yet, it must be admitted that none of these people were guided by any consciously sinister motives. Just like FDR and his henchmen sincerely believed that Stalin's USSR was at worst a strayed friend that should be gently persuaded to behave more nicely by endless appeasing and relentless displays of good will, I'm sure that Kennedy believed sincerely that Reagan was a greater threat to civilization than the USSR could ever be. (It would be interesting to see a poll of today's U.S. progressives asking whether Bush or Stalin was more evil. I suppose Stalin might perhaps come ahead after all, but I doubt any other Soviet leader would.)

Posted by: Vladimir on September 1, 2009 3:08 AM

Well done, Steve. You took exactly the weasel route I predicted you'd take.

You are a hack, a partisan dolt. You did insult clio and you weaseled out of that too. "No personal insult intended. Just the usual irritation at the blah blah blah fishcakes..."

So you're a liar too. Well done Steve. Honest adult-type people take responsibility for their behaviour, including what they write. They don't crawl back under the rock they crawled out from under while whimpering about their "intentions".

What you wrote was ugly, stupid and wrong. Your comment, and your lying evasion of responsibility for it, reveals you as being barely one step above that toxic oddity Ray Butlers on the evolutionary scale around here.

Try evolving, Steve. Standing upright lets you see further. And it's easier on the knuckles!

Have a nice day,

Posted by: PatrickH on September 1, 2009 7:51 AM

aliasclio - It seems very odd that you would interpret my repeated comments about the virtues of small "c" capitalism and the importance of buying local as indicating any desire for what used to be called a "planned economy".

Perhaps where the confusion arises is that I see enormous corporations as being as much or more of a problem than the federal government. A food production and distribution system primarily serving the financial interests of Monsanto, Cargill, ADM, et al requires, for example, robust health and safety oversight on a national level. While my utopian wish is for giant agribiz to dissolve into countless small companies and local producers, thus requiring far less involvement from the federal government, until and unless the corporate side shrinks I would rather not see the public side dismantled. While many elected politicians are lapdogs for various lobbying industries, at least there is some degree of transparency and some degree of responsiveness to public opinion that remains on the government side. Little to none exists on the corporate side.

Politically I strongly support Instant Runoff Voting as a means of opening the system to more independent parties and candidates without requiring changes in the Constitution or the fundamentals of how we're governed. I also believe "we the people" have far more power to change things based on how we function as consumers than how we cast our ballots.

And FWIW the reason us Mainers keep electing the likes of Senators Snowe and Collins [matched by a pair of liberal Dems in the House] is precisely that they represent the citizens of Maine NOT current GOP party orthodoxy. And, since moderation, a willingness to cross the party aisle, and reasonableness are in such short supply it has given them a degree of importance in the Senate that would be absent if our small state instead chose another party faithful dude with the right suit, haircut and "movement conservative" or "classic liberal" bonafides.

Posted by: Chris White on September 1, 2009 9:30 AM

Vladimir, once again you've furthered my knowledge. Many thanks. I think that both the Roosevelt government and Ted Kennedy, in their different ways, were reprehensible in their attitude towards the Soviet Union.

Chris W., I have two confessions to make. One is that I often don't read your comments in their entirety because they seem to run a bit predictably. The second is that I've always found it hard to determine what held them together, what world-view was behind them. This is the clearest statement of your larger perspective that I've yet read. But I admit I might have missed much in the past.

Even so, I wonder how realistic or practical you are being in your admiration for small-c capitalism and disdain for giant agribiz. My understanding of business history is that small-c capitalism was hard on workers and bosses alike. Profits in smaller businesses tend, of course, to be smaller than those of large corporations. This may sound to you like a Good Thing, but it then becomes more difficult to pay workers a living wage and other benefits. Smaller profits also leave less money to re-invest, in proper capitalist fashion, in new technologies, or even basic maintenance, that keep the business viable and its products affordable. Smaller businesses are more vulnerable to downturns in the economic cycle, too. I believe that this was why smaller businesses tended over time to consolidate, specialize, and grow ever larger, and why others that remained small tended to go out of business altogether. Larger businesses were also better equipped to concede to the demands of the labour movement, were they not? Though of course they fought tooth and claw to resist such demands, once they conceded, as many did, they were able to provide many advantages that small businesses could not. The rise of the labour movement, I believe, coincided with the decline of smaller local businesses.

As for agribusiness, would it really be possible for the US to feed its people, and incidentally provide countries like Canada with oranges, etcetera, in winter, without it? Small boutique farming operations (which I admire) are labour-intensive and require a good deal of capital as well, I'm told.

Even if small farmers could feed the nation, their produce might well be too expensive for many of its citizens. Would the poorer people of Maine be content to live on fish, beans, bread, potatoes and onions all winter, as they no doubt did once upon a time?

Posted by: aliasclio on September 1, 2009 10:55 AM

Jeez, is Patrick off his meds or something?

Posted by: Steve W on September 1, 2009 11:42 AM

Steve, is "you need to get out more" and "is he off his meds?" the best you can do?

What am I saying? Of course it is!

C'mon, Steve. Try to put some life into your posts. Try getting beyond puerile Kos Kidz zit-popping. Try to read and respond to what people are saying. Try a little courtesy. When you're challenged about the rudeness of your comment by a clio, one of the most measured reasonable and thoughtful commenters here, don't respond by repeating your slur with the claim that you were "irritated" at the "usual right-wing talking points". There isn't a less talking-pointy commenter here than clio, though your obliviousness to that fact doesn't surprise me.

Crikey, try a citation or two. Back up your slop-dumping with some evidence that what was posted was right-wing talking points. Evidence Steve! After all, aren't you on the left supposed to be the "reality-based" community?

C'mon. Join homo sapiens. Evidence. Response. Life and wit. Try them! They can be fun!

And don't worry. I won't frighten you any more with any responses to your, ah, contributions here.

Unless I feel like it.

Enjoy the afternoon,

Posted by: PatrickH on September 1, 2009 1:40 PM

aliasclio - One of the difficulties with blog commenting, either as a means of serious discussion or as a form of entertainment, is it favors short, bumper sticker, sound bites over nuanced discourse. A five line Shouting Thomas rant blasting Woodstock Sandinista wannabes for ruining rock and roll or whatever is far more entertaining than, say, a 1,500 word M. Moldburg discourse that uses dense erudition about the Peloponnesian War to make what is essentially a conventional movement conservative point. My own Moldburgian impulses make brevity a rarely achieved ideal. While I admit I sometimes glaze over and only skim a few of the longer comments, in general I find it both polite and intellectually honest to read an entire comment and to try to grasp what is being said before dismissing or reacting to it, especially if I'm going to offer a contrasting opinion. I know that saying this sets me up to be called a self-satisfied, halo-polishing, martyr, or a puritan scold for hinting that others might benefit from doing so as well, but so be it.

Your division between small boutique farming operations and giant agribiz is too extreme and misses the major point. We really don't need to choose between Monsanto and their ilk controlling 80% of the food production and delivery system (more or less our current status quo) and hundreds of thousands of single family farms using horse drawn plows and producing only enough to feed an additional three people; it isn't a choice between all vegetables known to man being available every time we go to the supermarket and six months of dried cod and baked beans.

It would, however, make sense to cease subsidizing agribiz corn production to the degree that a Giganti-burger, 16 oz. Super Slurpy and a Tub-o-fries [the Type 2 Diabetes Special] is far cheaper than a grilled cheddar and heirloom tomato on organic whole wheat toast with a side of cole slaw and an iced tea.

The status quo is that lobbyists for corporate industries write the laws to be passed by politicians who need the financial support of said corporations to fund their campaigns needs to be challenged. Getting some of your groceries from the local farmers' market and selecting more of the local or organic products available in the Safeway are both easy steps toward altering the current status quo. Every dollar that goes into an independent farmer's pocket is a dollar less sucked up by Big Agribiz.

As for other giant corporate enterprises, perhaps in the fifties a corporation had advantages of scale and workers could organize and form unions that resulted in better pay, working conditions and benefits. This approach has been fading since the early seventies. Multi-national corporations move resource gathering here, manufacturing there, and banking services someplace else to expand their profit margin and avoid responsibility for negative by-products and consequences.

The paper industry that kept northern Maine citizens employed is no longer owned by Mainers, in fact, in the case of Sappi and others the ownership is now foreign. Plants get shut with little warning and little regard for the impact on the workers and the regional economy. Still, as giants these corporations wield a great deal of political clout in Augusta. Nevertheless, statistics show that the major economic engine in Maine is, as it has been for decades, small business.

Personally, I seek optimums rather than maximums. The logic of global corporatism is based on maximization, on getting the greatest profit possible during booms and using busts to gobble up smaller competitors who become vulnerable then. Supporting smaller businesses that have less incentive to take the money and run and a greater stake in the local or regional economy seems to me enlightened self interest.

A final question is one I've asked many times, and it rarely gets responded to; given that so many here style themselves as libertarians and traditionalists why so much antipathy to statements of mine supporting Buy Local campaigns, small businesses and local agriculture? Aren't these views far more libertarian and traditional than current GOP style movement conservatism?

Posted by: Chris White on September 1, 2009 3:22 PM


Your "I've studied this in depth" bit is your most ridiculous pose. You are so intent on taking yourself seriously that you are funny.

These overblown, inadvertently hilarious "scholarly" pieces are precisely why you reap so many nasty replies. Reminds me so much of Professor Irwin Corey, the "world's foremost authority."

You're just a good old boy shooting off your mouth. A little self-awareness of this would make your foolishness a lot easier to swallow. That 60s New Left/hippie thing is, you know, just another variation of good old boy. You keep imagining that these are fresh, original insights.

Ever think of pontificating about baseball? Please, get a grip on your actual status in life and cease offering up these General Theory of the Universe essays. Go to the pub, have a couple of beers and talk sports. Civilized people pontificate about sports because it's much more fun and less confrontational. And, in the end, it doesn't matter. Aren't you a Red Sox fan?

Don't you have a friend who pokes a pin in that giant balloon of hot air you keep puffing up? It's a good idea to have at least one friend who you can trust to tell you when you're full of shit. If you don't have one of these, I suggest you immediately begin looking.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on September 1, 2009 4:52 PM

Chris, I'll try to answer your last question. I like traditional things for myself. Simple bush-living etc. That's the way I am.

I've noticed that I'm surrounded by busy people with jobs and families who prefer the products of corporate enterprise. They like the convenience, the uniformity, the kid-appeal and god-knows-what. I'm just so happy that all these people have the means to get these things, that everyone around here is fed, housed, clothed and shod to a standard once available only to an elite.

You've done a fine job of pointing to the down-side. But there's that huge up-side, apparent to all but the Terminally Clever: more convenience, more goods, more services. How will "the planet" handle it? Like it handled Krakatoa.

Global trade and mass production of consumer goods hasn't just changed my neighbours' lives for the better. If I'm honest, I myself am constantly dipping into the benefits of "the system", albeit with a certain educated reserve. And I've observed how those of the green/left persuasion can ever-so-deftly receive those same benefits with a trivialising sneer.

The strategy of the sneerers is what I'd call Selective Fetishism. You receive, use and own all the usual kinds of stuff from all the usual sources but make a fuss over an item of food or a type of light-globe to achieve some anti-globo cred. It is humbug. It is CANT.

The fully automatic washing-machine that can be purchased sometimes with as little as a week's wages is an enormity in the progress of humankind. Forget posturers like Mandela or Castro...that white box is a liberator of billions. The fact that freedom can be disorienting, that it can be misused, is beside the point. I want it. You want it.

I know I've used the term previously, but it's worth saying again. The one great problem we face at the moment is Global Ingratitude.

Posted by: Robert Townshend on September 1, 2009 6:42 PM

Robert Townshend: "The one great problem we face at the moment is Global Ingratitude."

I often wonder about people who routinely respond to demonising demagogy in the media every time pump prices spike, while giving not a thought as though it were their force-of-nature due to the periodic dips therein, or, more still, to the steep dropoff in price and enhanced capacities in consumer electronics these last several decades.

The eye-moisteningly stirring and grateful laughter and applause you hear in this wildly popular routine from the Conan O'Brien guest chair by comedian Louis CK (louder version) is that of an entire audience happy for the funhouse mirror in which they see themselves as if for the first time in a decade; to those, e.g., prone to grand mal seizures over every delay in cellphone reception:

"Give it a second - it's COMING BACK FROM SPACE!"

Or to those comparing their bad airplane flights to their lifetime's Absolute Zero point, or a concentration camp:

"You're sitting in a chair - IN THE SKY!"

Posted by: Scott Lahti on September 1, 2009 8:50 PM

Chris W.: When I enter a thread and leave comments on it, I read thorougly all the comments on that thread. I try to keep up with the regular commenters here to know something about their views about politics, their backgrounds, and so forth. But you comment often and it simply isn't possible for me to peruse thoroughly everything that you write. It's a little unfair and peremptory to expect that I should.

Did you notice that when I addressed Steve W., I didn't reproach him for not knowing that I was Canadian; that I'm not a Republican (not only because I can't be but because my political sympathies aren't in tune with them either); and so on?

One reason I've formed only a vague notion of your views because you so often appear to be attacking from several different directions at once. I knew for example that you favoured the small and the local - but you imply that you want your national government to do something to make this possible. Surely the most that honest politicians and political parties can be expected to do about a nation's economic affairs is to remove barriers that make certain kinds of business difficult. If you expect them to step in and provide assistance (in the form of start-up money, advertising, organization, and so forth), to smooth the path of small businesses and local farming, and to ensure that no one suffers while these changes are implemented, then you are in effect asking for a planned economy.

Posted by: alias clio on September 1, 2009 10:25 PM

aliasclio – There is no reason why you should read every comment I, or anyone else, makes; I certainly do not expect you to do so. When responding to a comment, however, it does seem reasonable to assume that the comment has been read in its entirety and also read in the context of other comments previously made by the same writer. Since we've both been commenting here for a couple of years it seems reasonable to assume that you should have a decent grasp of my basic views, as I do of yours. It is a bit disappointing to continually re-state basic positions that seem to get repeatedly distorted.

While all analogies are limited, they often serve to get the basic concepts within more complex reasoning across with some degree of ease. My thoughts on political parties might be expressed this way: elections are like picnics where the only beverage choice is between cola and ginger ale. No matter how much I'd like a wider choice ... with water, beer, juice and more among the offerings ... I'm expected to select either a cola or a ginger ale. If I tend to choose ginger ale more often than cola, it does not imply I am a ginger ale partisan, merely that I find it less unpleasant than cola. I may agitate for a wider set of choices for the next picnic, but I'm not going to go thirsty simply out of pique if, at the next picnic, only ginger ale and cola are once more on the menu.

As for the tangential topic, there are similarities to the analogy as well; we currently have a system with both globally scaled corporations and a massive federal government. Whether or not this is what you or I think most desirable is beside the point; this is still the current reality. Given this reality it seems counterproductive to eliminate all existing government oversight of food production and distribution, which would only serve to leave the current, near monopolistic (well, cartel-like), system in place with little to no hope of ever changing it. So I argue, for example, for changes in those crop subsidies that artificially distort the price of certain crops (corn in particular) and unfairly advantage Agribiz giants like ADM and Monsanto to the detriment of other, smaller, agricultural entities.

I'm not sure where you got the notion I've suggested government should "provide assistance (in the form of start-up money, advertising, organization, and so forth), to smooth the path of small businesses and local farming, and to ensure that no one suffers while these changes are implemented." I have, however, pointed out that government policies currently provide key players assistance through subsidies and the enactment of regulations written by industry lobbyists with the intent of further enhancing their already advantaged position. To call for changing this state of affairs is hardly a call for a planned economy. And besides, virtually all economies encompassing much beyond transactions taking place entirely on the tribal level are, to a great degree "planned economies." The question is: "Planned by whom to serve whose interests?"

So, we have a conundrum. The system as it stands is a planned economy in which a large and robust federal government tilts the playing field toward global players like Cargill, et al. If I argue for eliminating all government participation this leaves the global giants in charge with no restraints whatsoever. If I argue for changing the government approach to reduce the influence of corporate agribiz, I'm accepting the role of government in the market. For me, at this time, pressuring the government to improve its approach and to make the rules more conducive to small businesses, including farmers and smaller agricultural companies.

Ultimately, I return to the notion that making choices as a consumer has a greater effect on the system as a whole than how I vote. Every time I buy in-season plums from a local farmer instead of out-of-season strawberries shipped 3000 miles to a supermarket I tangibly support a different approach to food production and distribution. Just as no one vote is likely to swing an election, so a single consumer will never alter the statistical data enough to even register. But, as with voting, each of us individually changing some of our consumption habits can, in aggregate, have a profound impact.

Posted by: Chris White on September 2, 2009 3:33 PM

The theory of Russia as a client state of the American left...

This is paranoia that descends into the tinfoil-hat territory. Fairly typical of Moldbug, who has a tendency to be either incomprehensible or nuts.

Surely the most that honest politicians and political parties can be expected to do about a nation's economic affairs is to remove barriers that make certain kinds of business difficult. If you expect them to step in and provide assistance (in the form of start-up money, advertising, organization, and so forth), to smooth the path of small businesses and local farming, and to ensure that no one suffers while these changes are implemented, then you are in effect asking for a planned economy.

This is sort of naive, as the role of government assistance in the economy is already massive. Large-scale agribusiness is one of the most assisted areas.

I find that in pretty much all cases, people who have carefully considered their choices, whether left or right tend to be much more tolerant, as they can conceive of points of view beyond their own as something other than evil, stupid or evil-and-stupid.

I think this is true. I often have good conversations with conservatives, more often in person than on blog comment sections though.

Posted by: MQ on September 2, 2009 4:24 PM

All right, Chris. I don't actually disagree with many of the points you raise here. I'm not even one of those people who squeals "Big government - ick!" whenever the subject is raised. But the gov't regulations to which you refer, and the food industry which gives you the willies, are the way they are for a reason. Farming was always a difficult, demanding, and financially risky business. Smaller farms were driven out of business as they found it hard to compete with larger, richer ones which had more capital to invest in machinery and to keep their prices lower.

Even then, if I understand these things correctly, larger farmers required a reliable rate of return on their investment if they were to be able to remain in business. In Canada, that led to the creation of marketing boards keeping prices at a steady level by setting prices and by quotas for production (I don't know if this is so in the US.) It also led to more and more individual farmers selling out to corporations that could produce food more cheaply and with less risk.

There may be errors in what I've written above; I'm no expert in the history of farming. But I think it's true at a general level. I agree that subsidies distort the market and perhaps they could be eliminated without too much damage to anyone. (Though corn farmers I know might disagree. And didn't some of those subsidies come into existence as a result of the 1980s movement to "save the American family farm"?) But the rest of it? Can you stop the remaining unincorporated farmers from wanting to farm with minimal risk? Can you turn back the clock on mechanization? Can you stop consumers from seeking out the cheapest meat and produce available, especially in hard times?

p.s. The fruit- and veggie-growers in my area raised a big fuss when the local government tried to stop them from selling non-local produce. They insisted that when there was a late spring or early frost, or poor-quality crops, they needed to sell strawberries, etc., grown elsewhere, in our farmers' markets in order to remain in business.

Posted by: alias clio on September 2, 2009 4:37 PM

MQ to clio: This is sort of naive, as the role of government assistance in the economy is already massive. Large-scale agribusiness is one of the most assisted areas.

But isn't this just another way of saying that those areas of the economy where government assistance is massive are planned? Clio's point that calling for massive intervention means calling for a planned economy is surely right, at least insofar as it refers to the intervened-in area, isn't it?

As for planned economies in general, we clearly don't live in an economy under One Big Plan. But that doesn't mean we don't live in a planned economy.

And of course, it doesn't mean that planned economies and socialism need have anything to do with one another. Our now heavily planned financial sector isn't that way because of any desire to redistribute the wealth or establish "social justice".

There's a lot of government-enforced redistribution of wealth. That does not mean that the redistribution is going from the wealthy to the poor.

P.S, Second your point about Moldbug.

Posted by: PatrickH on September 2, 2009 5:38 PM

But what about the poor, poor farmers in Latin America who sell their vegetables here Chris? Doesn't your love of the poor go out to them? Don't they need money too?

You didn't give a crap about auto workers or factory workers all over the US. You were more than happy to see them go when you bought your trendy foreign cars.

You didn't care about supporting local people over the federal government when it came to regulations, control of public schools, etc.

What the hell is wrong with you? Why can't you see that you are a complete hypocrite?

Every single policy you advocate is completely Stalinist--local collective farms, big government programs, high taxes, regulation out the yin-yang.

Chris White is for anything that supports his unending narcissism. If he can't foot the bill for something he supports, you should be taxed and pay for it, like health care and welfare. If he wants cleeeean local food, you should be taxed for it and regulated so he can get it cheap.

To understand Chris White and his political positions, look up the words narcissism and Stalinism. That's it in a nutshell.

Posted by: B on September 2, 2009 6:20 PM

aliasclio - Generally there are going to be at least a few unintended consequences from any action taken. The distortion of the commodities market via government subsidies and price guarantees may well have begun as a perfectly noble effort to assist small family farms to survive in erratic market conditions. Neither the original intent of these policies, nor the PR campaigns (Save the Family Farm!) used to garner support for them, justifies their continuation in perpetuity, however. If times and circumstances are now different, why not change them?

You ask a number of specific questions.

Can you stop the remaining unincorporated farmers from wanting to farm with minimal risk?

No. But every enterprise has risks. A book store, coffee shop, software company, all are interested in any assistance they can get in avoiding risk, be it from government, private insurance, or whatever. That there have been subsidy programs in place fthat currently advantage large scale enterprises shouldn't mean the only answer is to give all farmers the same subsidies under the same rules that unfairly advantage giant monoculture farming over smaller diversified farming.

Can you turn back the clock on mechanization?

No, nor would I try. The fact that combines the size of small homes exist and are useful when harvesting corn or wheat growing on plots measured in square miles rather than acres doesn't mean that a farmer on a smaller plot using a John Deere tractor has "turned the clock back on mechanization". Tools of an appropriate scale for a smaller farm can be as modern and up to date as in any other industry. And sometimes a shovel is still just a shovel, but it is exactly what's needed to dig a hole. This is not about reverting to some mythic moment in the past and farming entirely with oxen or else accepting the status quo without question.

Can you stop consumers from seeking out the cheapest meat and produce available, especially in hard times?

No, nor would I try. Still, if price were the only factor in making a decision to buy something ... anything ... there would be no market for cars other than used compacts, no market for computers other than basic Dells, and no market at all for flat screen televisions. People make value judgments all the time that result in paying a somewhat (or even exorbitantly) higher price for an item that is deemed in some way superior to the competition. Why is that any different with eggplants or carrots?

You have me confused with some fantasy projection of ST if you think I am advocating a government decree closing all WalMarts or ending all large-scale farming. Rather I am suggesting that (a) the deck not be stacked against the small scale farmer by government, (b) that small scale farmers be better protected from intimidation and worse from giant agribusiness companies [Google Monsanto lawsuits against farmers] and, most of all, (c) that consumers learn to recognize the long term advantages of supporting local agriculture and do so.

As for your p.s. I'd need more information to form an opinion whether the farmers or the regulators were more in the right. Here in Maine there are rules regarding how far away a farm can be from the community in which a given farmers' market takes place. There are independent organizations [e.g. MOFGA, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association] that certify certain farmers as upholding a set of practices that can be researched by consumers. It is clear from the items offered for sale that some farmers obtain produce from outside sources to sell. Whether there are any regulations regarding the practice [e.g. x% or more of the produce offered must be raised by the farm selling at the market] I do not know offhand but believe is the case. In general, however, at a farmers' market or farm stand if I have questions I can (and do) ask about the source of various crops, what fertilizers or pesticides were used, etc. It is much more difficult to ask questions, let alone get accurate answers, when the only person to ask is a 20 year old supermarket worker.

Posted by: Chris White on September 2, 2009 6:39 PM

Chris White, it's nice to see a fellow Mainer here, said this onetime Michigander now living in North Berwick, and formerly, off and on since 1987, in Belfast, Portland, Hollis, Porter, Edgecomb, Rockport, Brunswick and, projected soon perhaps, up in the Francophone/Acadian northeastern tip near the border with New Brunswick. It's easily my favorite state, though hard to explain precisely in a short space.

Posted by: Scott Lahti on September 2, 2009 9:16 PM

As a nice way to wrap up this thread, bringing it back to the original theme, take a look at B's rant. B can show allegiance to the pack by growling and nipping at me since I don't conform to the rules of the pack, no matter that the attack is only semi-coherent and lacks much grounding in reality.

Have I ever said buy ONLY locally grown items? There are, for example, plenty of Fair Trade products such as coffee that can be purchased through local retailers benefiting poor farmers in Latin America. There is no contradiction here.

I've had both foreign and U.S. made cars, currently I'm in a Chrysler product.

Does B have any specifics in mind to show my support of federal intervention in local schooling? Would that be No Child Left Behind? I think this program is somewhat misguided, punitive, and may well lead to pulling down higher achieving students rather than elevating those students at the bottom; although I do agree that some national standards for academic assessments makes sense.

I'd really like to know where the "local collective farms" came from. It does seem to go with Stalinist, but then so does borscht.

Do I believe in the usefulness of government, including the federal government? Yes. Might I have different priorities for how I think tax dollars should be spent, or how to raise those tax dollars than B? No doubt.

So what? Relax there B, I'm just another guy with an opinion.

Posted by: Chris White on September 2, 2009 10:39 PM

Chris White,

Every single public policy or loony cause you advocate is purely due to the salving of your own bloated narcissism.

The reason why people buy foreign food is that you can buy fruits and vegetables out of season, all year round. Got that? It makes more of a market for those farmers' food, and results in higher prices for them.

You don't support local anything, really. If buying foreign would suit your narcissism, then its just fine. You and the other environ-mental cases made sure that the factories would be run out of the country, and cheered all the way. You couldn't care less about your neighbors' livelihood.

You love big government because its your way to feel moral without having to do anything yourself. No money for charity? Well then tax the other guy and give the money away, while I pat myself on the back! Feel bad that blacks aren't doing so well? Then take away somebody else's job and opportunities, while I pat myself on the back!

No money to pay the medical bill? Well then tax somebody else and pay off my bill. I don't like what somebody else says? Then put in speech codes or publicly humiliate them in the press until their careers and reputation are ruined.

Somebody else always pays the freight with you.

And yes, you couch it all in the most moral and high-sounding platitudes you can muster. Look at how holy I am! Look at what I've just said!

But all the past failures and pain of your "policies" you never admit to or take blame for, even though you supported them all along the way.

You are a Stalinist and a narcissist. you believe in the biggest form of government and all the totalitarianism it can muster. If the totalitarianism doesn't suit you, you call it fascist. But you love totalitarianism--every little bit of it.

Because in the end it promises to pay your bills and to make you look good, punishing others, while you pat yourself on the back.


Posted by: B on September 3, 2009 10:04 AM

I find the practice of cafes leaving on Fox News for customers particularly objectionable. (Actually, any TV for that matter).

I live in Texas, which is mainstream conservative. I am liberal. I have to deal with mockery fairly often.

It sounds like you are stereotyping what the typical liberal is like. I personally enjoy having a discussion with an intelligent conservative. God, I almost crave that sort of interaction sometimes. It can be interesting and productive. What I can't stand are ideologues and loudmouths, regardless of what political stripe they have. In my neck of the words, the majority of the loudmouths are conservative.

I actually am unafraid to speak my political opinions--as long as that's not the only thing we talk about. Many conservatives where I live have little contact with liberals and have such preconceived notions about them. Also, they use rhetoric carelessly.

I am relatively tolerant of political opinions, but I draw the line at two things: Glen Beck and global warming. If you say you are a fan of Glen Beck or if you say that the science about anthropogenic global warming is "unproven" or "false,", I will frown and exit the conversation ASAP.

Posted by: Robert Nagle on September 8, 2009 4:29 PM

Great topic.

I'm basically a liberal with a few conservative viewpoints around certain fiscal policies and abortion, who lives in a very conservative area of California. I've had my car vandalized for having a Gore sticker, my yard vandalized for having a "No on 8" sign (8 was the anti gay marriage proposition that ended up passing), and conversations ended when the fact that my wife and I attend Burning Man was brought up.

I tend to avoid political conversations in real life because so rarely do I meet people, on the left or right, who wish to have a measured, passion-less discussion around a political topic. It's too bad because I crave discussions with those I disagree with, which is the very reason I keep coming back to 2Blowhards. So I satisfy that need online.

As others have stated, politics is beside the point when dealing with people, who usually have so much else to offer. I focus on the non-political qualities of people whose company I enjoy. For instance, an old musician friend of mine is rabidly conservative, yet hilarious and a great guitar/mandolin player to boot. We NEVER talk politics because we know we'd just end up arguing and what's the point in that? Let's just play music.

In fact, that's pretty much my all-around policy in life. Enjoy your time with people and screw politics.

Posted by: JV on September 9, 2009 3:43 PM

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