September 24, 2007

Outraged Over the Lack of Outrage (But Not Really)

This business about MoveOn.org's ad- and all the politicians who have or haven't condemned it, have brought out all the bullshit I normally associate with the "will you condemn this" game. Michael Kinsley, writing in Time, rightly mocks it. Call it The Politics of Perpetual Pretend Outrage:

"It's all phony, of course. The war's backers are obviously delighted to have this ad from which they can make an issue. They wouldn't trade it for a week in Anbar province (a formerly troubled area of Iraq that is now, thanks to us, an Eden of peace and tranquillity where barely a car bomb disturbs the perfumed silence or so they say)... The constant calls for political candidates to prove their bona fides by condemning or denouncing something somebody else said or to renounce a person's support or to return her tainted money are a tiresome new tic in American politics. They're turning politics into a game of "Mother, May I?" Did you say "Here is my plan for health-care reform"? Uh-oh, you were supposed to say "I condemn MoveOn.org's comments on General Petraeus, and here is my plan for health-care reform. All this drawing of uncrossable lines and issuing of fatuous fatwas is supposed to be a bad habit of the left. When right-wingers are attacking this habit rather than practicing it, they call it political correctness. The problem with political correctness is that it turns discussions of substance into arguments over etiquette. The last thing that supporters of the war want to talk about at this point is the war. They'd far rather talk about this insult to General Petraeus. It just isn't done in polite society, it seems, to criticize a general in the middle of a war. (Although, when else?) "

Marc Ambinder has more:
It's fair to assume that, anytime a politician uses the phrase "refuse to condemn" or one of its variants, the outrage behind the utterance is probably contrived so as to stoke fears and prejudices.

The phrase usually arises when someone or entity ; the other party pounces, not because they're really outraged (they are not), but because they believe that outrage rallies the troops. There's a circular logic employed, too. If you don't join the cavalcade of outrage, then you can be accused of "refusing to condemn" something.

The comment itself may indeed be offensive, but it does not follow that folks who are associated with the comment-maker have any duty to condemn, much less even mention the comments, especially because, when they do, they're playing onto the turf claimed by those outraged at the comments.

Therefore, the outrage directed at those who REFUSE TO CONDEMN something is logically synthetic. Of course they're NOT outraged. They're DELIGHTED, because they get to whip their opponents over the head with it.

It's the wimpiest form of guilt by association there is.

So yes, the ad is stupid, and yes, I disagree with it. But to consider a slander on the troops themselves? That's a stretch.

Posted by Stephen Silver at September 24, 2007 05:13 PM
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