Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Senator Waffles on Film

There's a new movie out, produced by conservatives, which basically takes footage of John Kerry discussing his position on the war in Iraq. Watch it for free here.

The reaction on the conservative half of the blogosphere is somewhat predictable.

I can't find the quote I'm looking for, but basically the reaction from the Kerry camp is, "This isn't fair, it's taken out of context, it's manipulative, it tries to boil a complex issue down to a simple yes or no." We'll just pretend that's an actual quote, and deconstruct it. (Ah, journalism at its finest).

First, "taken out of context" is only half of a rebuttal. Rather, it's an assertion, to be backed up with some evidence. I'd like to see Kerry, for example, go through the quotes and explain what, precisely, he meant by them, and how the video's use is therefore misleading. That's a rebuttal. 'That's out of context!" is a knee-jerk assertion, nothing more. And given that they're your guy's words, I think the burden of persuading America that they mean something other than their plain import is on you.

Also, I imagine there's a good number of conservatives out there who would argue, "But Michael Moore did it in Fahrenheit 9/11!" Again, this is not an argument. This is kindergarten "he hit me first" justification. Clearly, if the charge is true, pointing out that others are doing the same thing doesn't make it less true. Do the ends justify the means? I guess one way to look at the situation is this: Michael Moore's propagandist appeal to emotion unfairly distorts presidential politics, but only affects the supremely shallow/uncritical. If the Kerry film only affects the extremely shallow/uncritical in the opposite direction, we're really just restoring the status quo. I don't think that's a particularly impressive line of reasoning, because I think the movies will simply serve to further polarize the polarized. And no, I don't think the ends justifies the means. I think the best antidote to falsehood is truth, not falsehoods which operate in the opposite direction.

On to the final point, which is about complex issues versus black and white.

Issues are complicated. The decision to go to war is especially complicated. There is no easy answer, and America really has risked quite a lot. Perhaps Iraq will descend into tyranny again, and our efforts will be in vain. Worse than in vain, because we will have spilt American blood, and innocent Iraqi blood, and angered people (although I doubt we've angered many who didn't already hate us), both at home and abroad. On the other hand, perhaps Iraq will become a stable democracy, a model for all other Middle Eastern countries to emulate. Anyone who tells you definitively one way or another is blowing smoke, because we're talking about the future, here, and political science is the "science" of making educated guesses about the future, not about perfect clarity.

Further complicating the decision are factors such as when, how much force to deploy, how best to get allies in on the project, to what degree do we care what the UN says about things, and once we win (okay, that part was a foregone conclusion), what next? And all of these questions are individually very complicated, and we lump them together into the most complicated question of all - to bomb or not to bomb?

Those who praise Kerry for being "nuanced" are not fools for appreciating nuance. I can't fault them for recognizing a simple truth. Stuff is complicated.

My complaint, rather, is the implied suggestion running through the nuancing that we should never take any steps unless all nuance has been resolved, until we have a perfectly workable solution, until we can infallibly prognosticate unmitigated success. As gray as the question is, it all boils down to one very black or white question. To bomb or not to bomb? Either we sit idly by for another decade and let Saddam keep butchering his own people, or we take him out of power. Either we enforce more than a decade of UN resolutions, or we don't. Either we take an affirmative step towards making good on our promise to deal harshly with terrorist-sponsoring states, or we don't. These questions are black and white. And they are all the action questions. Either we do something, or we do nothing. The grey area questions are "how?" and "when?" but those are the thinking questions, not the action questions, and no amount of thinking will ever get anything done.

I object to the implied belief that George W. Bush took action, therefore he can't see shades of grey. I object to the claim that John Kerry says he sees shades of grey, and therefore he will know when to take action.

And fundamentally, that's my biggest problem with Kerry's position on the war. Basically, he doesn't really have one. He voted for the war. Then he saw Dean making tremendous headway by being virulently against the war, so Kerry was against the war. Now that he's sewn up the nomination, he has to be a centrist, so he's sorta for the war. Only he'd do it differently. How? That's what I'd like to know. But it's opportunism, pure and simple. Anyone who's watched Kerry through the primaries knows it.

Watch the film if you want, I suppose. I don't think it will contribute much (if at all) to civil discourse. I think the producers are doing themselves a disservice by entering territory that doesn't need a population boost.