Sunday, March 21, 2010

On the labeling of an entire group by the behavior of its worst members

Let's get a few facts out of the way straight away.
  1. There are some outrageous assholes in the tea party movement.
  2. The Democrats are happy to point to them and say "You see? That's how they all think".
  3. In so doing, they are being delightfully hypocritical.
The act of pointing to a small group of people and claiming that they represent the entire group is a practice that Liberals take great glee in excoriating its enemies when they do it.  Yet, as is true of anything when it benefits you, they see no problem when they do it, likely because they maintain that in THIS case they're right.

Protests, like talk radio and anything that will get you on television, attracts the most shrill and radical members of a movement.  And television loves to show shrill and annoying people, usually to give you an opportunity to lord it over them.  It's the reason they don't talk to the particle physicist or computer programmer who goes to science fiction conventions instead of the fat guy in the Klingon outfit.  And every time they show them, all the perfectly rational people who like science fiction just facepalm and shake their heads. 

Look at the folks that turn up for Earth Day, or any political protest.  Not the kind of folks you want showing up in the halls of Congress.  But again, for every hemp-wearing yahoo coming out for Global Warming, there's hundreds, thousands who have rational reasoned opinions, who grasp that you can't shut down industries but see the benefit of reducing pollution as much as can be without causing undue strain on the business of the industry.  They just couldn't (or wouldn't be caught near) the protest because they have jobs or other such responsibilities.  So they suffer the result of having people believe that the movement is made up of Burning Man refugees who think everything can be solved with a hug and a carbon shell game.

Lots of people have hesitations about the Health Care bill of varying levels of reasonability.  The ones who bought the "Death Panel" line are sadly, tragically deluded.  The ones who see great challenge in the government being able to keep such a large system under control and not grow wildly expensive...perhaps not so crazy, based on past performance. But as is traditional, it's far easier to point to the fringey tips of the wings than to spend time discussing the more rational arguments nearer the middle of the bird.

Frost/Nixon has a great speech at the end about the reductive power of television - the ability to compress an entire complicated issue to a soundbite or a closeup.  And depending on the choices made, you can make someone appear a hero or a fool.  The Tea Party folks are giving the media very little source material for the "hero" image.

Insane signs that can be easily twisted to appear racist (and statements and expletives this weekend that require no twisting at all) make it highly tempting to tar the entirety of people who disagree with the bill with the epithet "looney".  And the binary "all good or all evil" culture that we more and more live in tempts us to believe that the other side is entirely wrong with no worthy ideas to be listened to.  We may not agree with the entirety of our plan, but it's comforting to know that their plan can be discounted entirely.

There's nothing going on in this whole health care mishegas that hasn't been done before.  Politicians have ever wrangled programs and funds for their home districts in exchange for their votes. (Indeed, I consider that far less "corrupt", as the talk show crowd have taken to calling it, than the ones who try to get benefits for themselves alone. At least they're trying to get something for their voters...)  Parties have ever used interpretations of parliamentary procedure to get their bills through in scenarios where they're not sure they have the votes.  We have seen endless examples of perfectly good ideas that turn into wishy-washy do nothing boondoggles that serve no purpose but to allow the politicians to be able to say they Got Something Done.  And we've got lots of plans that the opposition has spent great time pointing out every shortcoming and failing of, so as to drive home the point that The Other Guys made a mistake, and you better vote us in before it all gets worse.

The big difference here is that all of these activities are being dragged out into the light by those who would see the bill fail, rather short-sightedly forgetting that all they're doing is alerting the people to the tricks that they'll be using four or five years hence.  This isn't some new set of tricks and schemery, this is standard operating procedure for the Beltway, magnified to the point where it's visible to the naked untrained eye.  By drawing attention to it, there's the remotest of chances that people will realize that twas ever thus, and might ask it be changed.  If they can stop coming up with embarassing slogans to mis-spell on signs.

Now, the cynical among us might point that I myself am painting all politicians with the same brush, making myself guilty of the very infraction I attack them for.  But of course, here it's perfectly acceptible, because in my case, I'm right.

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