Monday, April 02, 2007

Reversing cause and effect

Given a particular set of facts, it is not unusual for Republicans and Democrats to reach opposite conclusions about which is the cause and which is the effect. Consider Sen. Obama who concluded that we need to fight cynicism:
... the campaigns shouldn't be about making each other look bad, they should be about figuring out how we can all do some good for this precious country of ours.

That's our mission.

And in this mission, our rivals won't be one another, and I would assert it won't even be the other party. It's going to be cynicism that we're fighting against.

Where does this "cynicism" come from? Sen Obama explains:
It's the cynicism that's borne from decades of disappointment, amplified by talk radio and 24-hour news cycle, reinforced by the relentless pounding of negative ads that have become the staple of modern politics.

Too often, this cynicism makes us afraid to say what we believe. It makes us fearful. We don't trust the truth.

It's caused our politics to become small and timid, calculating and cautious. We spend all our time thinking about tactics and maneuvers, knowing that if we spoke the truth, we address the issues with boldness, that we might be labeled -- it might lead to our defeat.

So, are politicians "afraid to say what [they] believe" because of "cynicism"? Or is it because "if [they] spoke the truth, ... it might lead to [their] defeat"? The latter fits history. For decades any presidential candidate who ran as a liberal, from McGovern to Dukakis to Gore, lost. Bill Clinton won but, at least during the election cycles, he positioned himself as a "new Democrat," a moderate, and "triangulated" away from from the rest of the party. The problem is not "cynicism." The problem is that the Democrats have not found anyone in recent decades who could do for liberalism what Reagan could do for conservatism: explain the ideas in a way that Americans understand and identify with. The reason that liberals have been "small and timid, calculating and cautious" is not cynicism. It is the accurate realization that, in recent decades, their ideas, when clearly expressed, have not been popular. Lack of popular ideas, or at least the inability to explain them in a way that makes them popular, is the cause. "Cynicism" is merely the effect.

PREVIOUSLY: Matthew Yglesias expressed a similar we-liberals-can't-say-what-we-really-think idea as discussed here, although he attributed the problem to realism, not cynicism.

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