The Usual Suspects is one of my favorite movies.
In the movie, the legendary arch-criminal and unseen (?) antagonist, the Turkish uber-villain Keyser Söze, operates by the adage that to win, you need to be willing to go further than your opponent is – whatever that means. To Söze, when his family was taken hostage by his drug-smuggling rivals, it meant killing the family first, as the rivals watched, dumb-struck – and then the rivals, leaving one alive to tell the rest of the cartel (before Söze killed him, and the rest of the cartel, and their families).
It makes for a great bit of movie characterization.
For politics in a representative republic?
Not quite as good.
I’ve had one iron-clad policy on this blog; never, ever, Ever, EVER go after someone’s personal life, family or (non-elected) job just because their opinion differs from mine. That’s how I run the blog – especially for my three pseudonymous co-bloggers; there is nothing in blogging lower than someone who uses anonymity or pseudonymity as a cover for unethical attacks..
In fact, I keep other bloggers’ personal lives and livelihoods completely out of bloggjng. There’s a good reason for it. For starters, it’s dangerous; peoples’ personal lives have nuances that can wash the unwary and the stupid up on the shores of Defamation Island without them knowing about it. More importantly, it’s completely illogical; it’s the fallacy of the tu quoque ad hominem – the idea that some inconsistency in your opponent’s actions or claims yesterday undercuts his argument today. Like, for example, if someone’s ever been ticketed for speeding, their opinion on transportation issues is discounted.
It’s also one of the most common themes in political communications, as practiced by the not-so-bright. Accusing people of “flip-flopping” is generally dumb (I’ve “flip flopped” on gun control, abortion, government intervention, and conservatism itself since I was a kid; so did Ronald Reagan, for that matter. To some Libs, that’s “flip-flopping”; to us, it’s a sign that we’ve thought about things, and gotten the right answer better late than never).
It’s a lot more sinister than that, of course; it goes way beyond discounting arguments. There’s a school of thought – codified in Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals - that believes the best way to win in politics is to ratchet up the personal attacks about non-political issues to the point that none of your opponents can muster the emotional energy to stay in the contest; to bring things to the point where they fail Söze’s, and Alinski’s, test of commitment.
There is a pattern among the Twin Cities left; if you can’t debate someone on fact, you go for the smear. The more outmatched they are, the more ugly and personal they get.
Which, given that a distressing number of leftybloggers usually has at most one round of “facts” to bring to a debate (because few of them have ever had to learn to debate like adults, since they’ve spent their entire lives in cities and colleges and unions run by “progressives”), means that almost any debate with a depressingly huge swathe of leftybloggers dives straight into the mud very early in any discussion. It’s like the left, rhetorically, has raised a generation of kids with sense of how to carry on a civilized discussion, or manners, or conventional sense of right and wrong – but given them all guns and ammo.
Great example: one Twin Cities leftyblogger – a guy who shall remain unnamed, but is known to many on both sides of the aisle as “The Dwight Schrute of the Twin Cities leftysphere” – spent a few weeks waddling around grinning like a toddler who’d made a nice pants because he found a record of some checks I’d bounced, during a spell of short money and worse bookkeeping, almost eight years ago,. Blathered it all over the place – as “evidence” that I shouldn’t talk about government budgets. Now, I know the facts of the situation – something “Dwight” never had the integrity to ask about - so while it wasn’t anything i had cared to discuss publicly, it didn’t especially affect me. The intention, of course, was to shut me up – not by dint of any facts “Dwight” could bring to an argument (he never has any) but by trying to make opposing them too costly in ways that have nothing to do with politics. Because after ten years of failing at civil debate, it’s all they have.
Which brings us to Eric Austin. He writes the Outstate Politics blog. I’ve always gotten along with the guy..
But a while ago Austin apparently jumped onto one of the left’s most demented memes; that any “family values” Republicans whose family lives and histories aren’t pristine are “hypocrites” and beyond the ethical pale, rightly subject to any manner of ugliness. He spotlighted a Republican legislator, Mary Franson, who’d recently been divorced, publishing some rumors about the circumstances behind the split.
As Lady Logician wrote yesterday at True North, Austin wrote about these rumors – as he put it, based on “two independent sources” who confirmed it to his own satisfaction.
Is Austin’s story true, or not? Who cares. It’s none of my business, or Austin’s, or yours for that matter (and if you’re someone who ever said “move on” or “it was just sex” during the Clinton administration, think veeeery carefully about your next answer). Chalk it up to giggly prurience if you want – but that short-changes the depravity of the act. It’s really part of the Alinski-ite dictum to scorch the opponent’s earth; to make engaging in politics against liberals too personally and emotionally costly to sustain.
LL posts a recording of a phone conversation between Franson and Austin – listen to it at the link above.
LL’s contention is that the story is a rumor; Austin apparently believes his “sources” are plenty good enough to justify writing…
…what? A story about what should be the personal business of two people whose marriage was unravelling, with all the emotional shrapnel that always accompanies divorce?
Is it worth slopping the worst details of the worst episode in a family’s life out in front of the public – embarassing the parents, sure, but doing much, much worse for the children – to take a whack at a poliitician you disagree with about legislative politics?
Those last questions are usually rhetorical, academic ones. In this case, unfortunately, it’s very literal. LL notes, in what is the real crux of the article:
Then there is the point that Rep. Franson’s daughter was being bullied as a direct result of [what Austin wrote]. His only response was to accuse Rep. Franson of being directly responsible for the bullying of gay teens. His logic is highly flawed.
Listen to the recording, around the 2:30 mark; Franson notes that Austen’s allegations caused her daughter to get bullied at school. Listen to his response after 2:30. I’ll closely paraphrase; “so what about gay kids that get bullied?”
The message is this: Disagree with us, and not only are we going to work over every nook and cranny of your personal life, without regard to damage we may be adding to your family, but we will condone and abet the torture of your children – because you disagree with us”.
First off, there is the old adage that two wrongs don’t make a right. Second, Rep. Franson had no direct action in these children being bullied.
So what does Franson believe about bullying gay kids? I don’t know – and it’s for sure that if Austin knows, it doesn’t matter to him; Franson and her daugther are bones to be chewed in service to Austin’s point. For all we, and Austin, know, Franson has risked life and limb to thwart gay-bashers in her private life. Speaking as someone who has put more on the line against the bullying of gays than Eric Austin ever has or will (long story), I believe bullying is bullying. no matter who it’s aimed at. But in Austin’s world, the fact that I oppose a bill to create a special, double-dog class of victims makes me not only the same as a bully, but justifies smearing my personal life and making my childrens’ lives hell?
In re Austin’s apparent defense (via the audio in LL’s article) of Franson’s daughter getting tormented at school over what he’d written, LL writes:
Austin’s weak defense is even weaker when you realize that this man is a…
Y’see, there’s my conundrum. I said I never, ever go after peoples’ (non-elected) jobs – and I don’t. But Austin works in a field where he’s supposed to look after the best interests of kids.
And yet there he is, saying things that could reasonably be interpreted as justifying bullying.
I’m the kind of guy who gives the benefit of the doubt way too easily – but I’ll entertain some explanations. Was Austin flustered and mis-speaking his real intent? Did he try to drive down a rhetorical road that he didn’t have the gas to come back from? Is there some context tucked in there that I missed? I’m open to suggestions.
But let’s take him at his apparent word. What do you suppose Eric Austin – or the rest of the Minnesota leftyblog community’s pack of Alinsky-addled ethical Oompa Loompas – would say if Medtronic sold their grandmother a pacemaker that was 20% defective, because of Obamacare’s hike on medical device taxes? Or if their restaurants cut Democrats’ portions 15% to make up for revenue lost to the smoking ban?
If, say, a conservative college professor docked students grade points equal to the tax increases the students favored?
They’d howl like stuck cats.
Rightly so; it’s unethical, and in the first case illegal.
There’s really little point in conservatives doing more than pointing this sort of behavior out. It is all most of the Minnesota leftysphere can do.
The takeaways: Conservatives have to not only smarter than their opponents, they and their families and their supporters have to be a lot tougher.
Bonus question: There’s a technical term for someone who uses fear to affect a political end. What is it?
We all know how The Usual Suspects ended, right?