hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2004
I am going on a, er, blog reading hiatus (really!, I swear!) and am going to post two comment-rants inspired by Matt Yglesias posts.

Here is the first post, in response to Yglesias's post and Stoller's post :

I think the key difference between atrios/kos/stoller types and yglesias/drum types is that they are both anti-bush-cheney-Republican, but only atrios/stoller types are pro Clinton-Gore-Kerry Democrats. Yglesias and Drum will bash Bush with the best of them, but they will not really praise Kerry or Gore *as people* with any passion or intensity, and they will not usually defend them from the conservative attacks with any passion or intensity, picking the nasty, over-personal fights with conservative bloggers that such defense entails.

This is actually more true of Kevin Drum than it is Yglesias. Actually, Matt has written some of the more persuasive defenses of Clinton and his record, on terrorism, for example. But there is a kernel of truth in it. I can't imagine Matt writing a defense of Clinton or Gore or Kerry, not on pure policy grounds, but simply as a good people, with good values, not soft on defense, not soft on terrorism, not crazy, not blinded by Bush-hatred, not unprincipled, and with their hearts in the right place.

In this respect these guys miss a trick, for it has always been the Republican's core tactic to delegitimize liberalism by delegitimising, not its ideas, but its leaders. Unless you are willing to go on a limb and go to bat and defend, not the moral perfection, but the basic morality and decency of your leaders, you may win some battles but you'll lose the war. Unless you are willing to go to bat and say that Al Gore did not do one damn thing wrong at that Bhuddist temple, did not engage in any crooked or shady fundraising, is among one of the more honrable, decent and yes honest, American politicians, that Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich was a mistake, not deliberate corruption, and regardless, that Bill Clinton is not a corrupt man, that John Kerry is a good and decent man, principled and with good values, not a flip-flopper, not a phony, etc. etc. Unless you do all that, you will remain puzzled why the non-partisan American voter will, whatever their views on policy, pull the trigger for George W Bush, who whatever his flaws, does at least have people who are willing to passionately defend him and his morality.

But atrios/stoller types also miss a trick when they don't realize George W Bush and his partisans and admirers are not bad people, with malign motives, they are not the enemy, and Democrats will not become the majority party by being angry and unyielding. In other words, its more about boosting your guys and your side, than it is about tearing the other side down.

In other words, when Morris makes an outrageous statement re: Kerry and Al-Qaeda, you pile on the outrageous statement with a full-throated defense of Kerry and his anti-terrorism credentials, but don't waste your time by attacking Dick Morris as a person, and trying to grind him to dust. For one thing, Dick Morris says many things, some clever, some true, and some beyond the pale. If you try to destroy Morris for his beyond-the-pale statement, you make him an enemy for life, instead of giving him a chance to reform to change. That's not the way to build a majority.

Gore makes this mistake as well. Upset by the ridiculous coverage of Ceci Connolly and Fox news, he responded by freezing them out and denying them access. What he should have done is continued to treat them civilly and courteously, despite their unfair coverage, and maybe their relationship would have improved, at least at the margins. Instead their hatred of each other just kept getting more and more bitter, and the coverage became even more outrageous.

Where partisan politics is concerned, don't hold grudges, and righteous indignation is highly overrated. In American politics, you win by turning enemies to friends, or at least non-enemies, not by attempting to grind them into dirt.

Also, don't be too preachy or long-winded. People hate that.

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