Politics and the Inhuman

If you go back far enough, the etymology of the word "politics" derives from the Greek word polis, which simultaneously refers to a city and a sovereign governing body. It is in this way that politics can thus be seen not just as governance, but as the inevitable process of creating a means of working out relationships between a group of people who decide to live together. It is thus bitterly ironic that a process that is, at its deepest root, about finding ways for people to live together has become infested with utterly inhuman expectations and behavioral norms.
Take, for example, messaging expectations of a modern political campaign. Campaigns, and all campaign spokespeople, are expected to always be "on message," even though no one in his or her personal life is always "on message." No one is ever allowed to go back on any word they ever say, no matter how small, or else be labeled as weak, a hypocrite, a flip-flopper, pandering, a liar, etc. This is, I guess, because in our daily lives everyone is always perfectly consistent with every word they have ever said. People are also expected to never say anything that anyone would ever find offensive. This is especially true of progressives, now that conservatives have come to dominate the language of political correctness. If someone says something that any conservative finds offensive, a pound of flesh must be extracted from the person who said it. This is, of course, because almost no one ever says anything that anyone would ever find offensive in their daily lives. That just doesn't happen.

As a blogger, I rarely participate in the pile-ons that regular occur in politics when someone goes back on their word, says something offensive, or goes off message. This even goes for when the progressive blogosphere is on the attack. When I do join in, it is usually to point out the hypocrisy of the pile-ons, such as Donohue's hypocrisy when it comes to being outraged by supposed "hate-speech," because the whole practice just seems dishonest to me. When we attack people for going off message, for not being 100% consistent with everything they have said in the past, or for saying something that others could potentially construe as offensive, we are attacking people for doing what pretty much everyone in the entire country does as a matter of course in our daily lives. We all do it, yet somehow in our contemporary political and media world we are eager to crucify people who do so in public.

The whole thing strikes me as having impossible, inhuman expectations of our leaders in a field that is, as I noted above, ultimately about trying to find a way to live together. In this environment, it is no wonder that so many people are cynical about politics. People think that most politicians don't say anything meaningful because, well, most don't say anything meaningful for fear of going off message, contradicting themselves at some point down the road, or pissing anyone off. People can't relate to political figures because the pressure we force upon them to never go off message, never contradict anything they ever say, and never offend anyone makes the way they talk almost entirely unlike the way an actual person talks. People think that it is all just a meaningless game because everyone knows that everyone is guilty of the same charges we regularly lob at politicians and their staff along these lines. Yet we keep doing so, as though none of us live in glass houses or have no sins of our own and, as such, can throw stones at will.

I was planning to make this post since Saturday. Originally, I was planning to do so for two reasons. First, I wanted to explain why I like candidates who come off as a bit raw, which I have to admit is not a term I would use to describe any of our current presidential candidates, especially those in the top tier (although I liked that Edwards was willing to stick with staffers who do). Second, I wanted to urge people in the blogosphere to focus on the media outlets that abet this "gotcha" behavior without pointing out the hypocrisy of those involved. In other words, focus on CNN for giving a hypocrite like Donohue a platform, instead of on Donohue himself. That strikes me as far more productive than playing tit for tat on the conservative whiners who play the PC card. Those were the reasons I was originally going to write the post, which I had planned for tomorrow or Wednesday, but given that Amanda Marcotte has now resigned from the Edwards campaign, I had to bang it out now instead.

Amanda writes that she resigned because she felt muzzled at a time when the right-wing smear machine was coming after her. She didn't want to feel muzzled, she didn't want it to reflect on her friend Melissa, and she didn't want to tie the Edwards campaign down. I see no reason not to take her at her word on this rationale, and I can certainly understand the emotional impetus behind the decision. However, even though I shouldn't be, I admit am pretty disappointed in this outcome. For starters, I once again fear it will appear that progressives have given up a pound of flesh because the right feels offended by something we say. Also, she writes of feeling heartened by the loyalty the blogosphere showed to her and wanting to join in the fight. However, the goal of our fight was to keep her on staff and, as such, I have to wonder if the biggest role she could have played would have been to stay on staff of her own volition. Overall, I can't help but think that all of that work has gone for naught, and nothing will change for the better the next time this happens. And now the progressive blogosphere will look really bad, mostly for encouraging people involved in politics to act like normal humans.

I have never been in Amanda's situation. The closest I came was during the Googlebomb campaign, but what she faced here is more severe by at least an order of magnitude. Despite this, I do know that when you leave what is the relatively authentic and human world of blogging to enter what is the utterly inhuman world of professional politics, you should be prepared for some harsh changes. Considering her actions over the past couple of days, including continuing to write on her own personal blog, I'm not sure she was prepared for this change. But that is not a bad thing. If I said it was, then I would be holding Amanda to the very the same standards I spent most of this post decrying. If I said it was, then I would have slowed morphed into one of those asshole insiders who thinks the blogosphere and the netroots aren't "serious" enough to engage politics at its highest level. Honestly, I can't think of a single way to criticize Amanda without using one of the many tired angles that justify our inhuman political discourse and which are regularly used as a means of criticism against the blogosphere. That, in and of itself, makes me think that Amanda did the right thing, no matter my nagging feelings of disappointment. She is obviously correct to leave a situation where she couldn't express herself in favor of one where she can.

Despite the rise of the blogosphere, our contemporary world of politics is still not terribly welcoming of people who act like normal humans. Throughout this entire incident, Amanda Marcotte has been just about the only person who acted like any normal person would act. At some point in the past, she spoke her mind in a very open and honest fashion. Later on, when she was criticized for doing so, she apologized if those remarks offended anyone. When, even after she apologized, she was still being harassed for speaking her mind, she just withdrew herself from the situation altogether. The people attacking her were clearly being unreasonable, and she didn't want to be muzzled in the way our inhuman expectations have forced political professionals to be muzzled. In that situation, what honest person wouldn't act like she did? By contrast, the faux outrage machine and the press outlets who covered it were covered in bullshit the entire time.

Sadly, the inhuman still rules the world of American politics. We will all be a lot better off when there is a more prominent place for someone like Amanda Marcotte in our public discourse. Unfortunately, right now we still expect humans to be represented by some different sort of life form entirely. Until we start expecting our leaders to be more like the people they represent, we are never going to be happy with the leaders we have.

Tags: Blogosphere, Culture, Media (all tags)



Re: Politics and the Inhuman

Perfect pitch, as always.  I really can't say anything about your diaries any more -- they speak for themselves.

by Nonpartisan 2007-02-12 06:34PM | 0 recs
The inhuman still rules the world of politics

I hate all these politicians. They're not human.

They don't care we're already in Iran. If they cared, they would have done something, cut the funding, discussed it.

We're all alone in this. The progressive blogosphere and often we can't muster enough energy to stop the invasion of Iran. Some of us are burned out. It just sucks that our politicians can't do anything for us.

by nonwhiteperson 2007-02-12 07:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Politics and the Inhuman

The BlogPAC emails were a great idea though. This was the first run through.  

by nonwhiteperson 2007-02-12 07:15PM | 0 recs
Amanda's already taken the gloves off

Check this out!  http://pandagon.net/2007/02/12/don-qui-w ho/

by Phoenix Woman 2007-02-12 07:29PM | 0 recs
The IRS complaint form post...

...is by Auguste.

http://pandagon.net/2007/02/12/don-qui-w ho/

by Eric Jaffa 2007-02-13 05:38AM | 0 recs

Resigning was the right thing to do if she believed in the Edwards campaign. This isn't about one person, it's about (to quote dean Dean) "taking our country back".

Edwards seems like he wants the presidency pretty badly, but so do Obama and Hillary. But Edwards has done the most to reach out to the netroots, and speek to our issues. Chastising him over this is totally counterproductive, as "we" end up looking like liabilities who will attack candidates for real or imagined insults.

It's not "Inhuman" to refrain from insulting people's religions for cheap laughs, by the way. It's just being polite. Certainly, politeness is important for getting elected (at least for people officially associated with the actual campaign)

by delmoi 2007-02-12 07:44PM | 0 recs
It isn't a matter of cheap laughs.

Amanda Marcotte believes that policies against birth control and abortion advocated by the Catholic Church result in deaths.

by Eric Jaffa 2007-02-13 05:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Politics and the Inhuman

I thought Marcotte showed remarkable grace and civility in her departure, while not conceding a fraction of a percentage point to the illegal, immoral and hypocritical sacroturf media assassination upon her.  Instead of the narrative being about her coarse writing, let it be about her grace in taking the high road - WITHOUT backing down against the theocratic right.

Upon her peace.

by Bruce Godfrey 2007-02-12 08:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Politics and the Inhuman

Very, very thoughtful, Chris. As a citizen, I've said plenty that would drive the rightists wild, but the 'players' know better than to attack lesser knowns and elevate them by doing so. They target those with big platforms that promote issues that are contrary to their self-perceived interests.

On the other hand, my 'smallness' grants me freedom to vent at will, to say stuff using hyperbole for emphasis. For example, lately I've been suggesting that at the next march on DC (the 4th anniversary of the war) everyone should show up with waterboards to get the truth from the White House officials, since it's not torture, but just a truth gathering device.

Do I really want anyone waterboarded? Of course not. Anyone who reads me regularly would know that.

Amanda ultimately fell on her sword for the same reason many do (like Lani Guinere... sp?): she didn't want to be a distraction that could add an extra drag on a campaign she wants to succeed.

I do agree that the MSmedia deserves extraordinary attention from the blogosphere because it - especially the TV broadcast media - remains the gorilla megaphone in US politics. It has not been 'fair and objective' since Jimmy Carter took office because its impact on public opinion during the Vietnam War was noted by conservative hawks and they've invested a lot of capital and energy to buy it, control it and intimidate it to represent their interests ever since.

And who, ultimately pays their bills? Corporate advertisers. It'll always be hard to counter that unless the corporations themselves are held to account for the pap they pay for. Reading what problems '24' has created for military generals trying to keep troops trained to be effective (which requires some ethical common sense) is the latest example of how the media distorts perceptions in a way that doesn't advance the national interest (Digby covered this yesterday).

I, too, prefer rawness in candidates, because it does sound real. Though I'm not a Biden fan, for example, I 'got' that he intended to be fully supportive of Obama's appeal, and he wasn't trying to diss Jackson, Sharpton, Chisholm, etc. When he said 'clean', he meant, 'free from controversial positions that raise questions about his ethics'. He wasn't giving merit to past ethical charges flung against the others.

Yet I do wish more politicians would directly challenge their attackers. That doesn't require cussing or mock outrage. Those who can do so with a wicked gleam in the eye and a humorous parry prove they possess fight, smarts, diplomacy and self-discipline when they display the talent and self-confidence to effectively make the smearers  look foolish.

Yes, most can't carry that off. Yes, expectations are high when we seek that. And yes, it's only the rare gem that can rise to that expectation.

But I don't think that's the sole source of dissatisfaction many have with politics. If more politicians were quicker to refer back to policy positions they support and make those policies sound germane to the listener, they could capture more listeners.

In that sense, there is some value in staying on message. And I don't think it's entirely a bad thing to want our leaders to be a little less 'normal' than the guy on the next barstool.

In short, people want evidence that leadership candidates possess that extra something called 'leadership.' And that's okay.

But when a candidacy can become unravelled from a Muskie moment, or an Iowa rally yell, that's completely unrealistic. And that's why the push to get televised infotainers back to the field of journalism will remain of paramount importance.

Names like Carlson, O'Reilly, Hannity and even Colmes and Couric should never be uttered in the same breath as Moyers, Brinkley, Bradley, Cronkite and Murrow.

I feel  very sympathetic towards Amanda for the wringer she's been put through. On one hand, I do feel that anyone wishing to have maximum influence in political discourse must take added pains to exercise some self-restraint over emotional expressionism, if they plan to go to the next level (paid participation within a campaign). On the other, if someone prefers to influence while outside that formal structure, they can remain equally valuable as an influence, while using their emotional expressionism to the fullest.

Each of us, then, must recognize the arena where our skills best contribute to the fight. Amanda's immediate sacrifice may prove to be her greatest liberation, and ultimately, more beneficial to us all.

by KevinHayden 2007-02-12 08:42PM | 0 recs
Re: Politics and the Inhuman

It was no better or worse in ancient Greece either.  Socrates was made to drink hemlock for speaking his mind in the forum, to passers-by, and 'corrupting the values of the youth.'  The more things change...

by Shaun Appleby 2007-02-12 09:14PM | 0 recs
Human. Doesn't mean ignorant.

"When we attack people for going off message, for not being 100% consistent with everything they have said in the past, or for saying something that others could potentially construe as offensive, we are attacking people for doing what pretty much everyone in the entire country does as a matter of course in our daily lives. We all do it, yet somehow in our contemporary political and media world we are eager to crucify people who do so in public."

I don't want any ole ignorant acquaintance, or the Average Joe to be running the country, my friend! I want someone who is more enlightened in their thinking. I want to be able to hold them to higher standards. If they use ignorant speech or say some bullshit, you better believe i am going to hold them to it. as should any conscientious person.

I do think it's a good point about CNN getting heat instead of a blowhard that we know will only spout garbage and get paid for it.

and amanda followed her heart. thus, it was the right thing for her to do. how do i know? she said so.

Yes, leaders should be human. But "human" covers a lot of ground. Hitler was human. Bush is human. Genghis Khan was human. I want my leaders, if i must have them, to be a particular type of human. so do we all. those who vote for a person do so because they are a particular sort of human to their mind. Not just "human."

by nezua limon xolagrafik jonez 2007-02-12 10:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Human. Doesn't mean ignorant.

I pretty much agree - elected officials ought to be elected because they represent the best in us. Unfortunately, many politicians get elected simply because they know how to play the game - they know the right people, they know how to persuade, both leaders and the public, they look good on camera and know how to work a news cycle.  

That's why it's exciting when a pol seems to win not because they're going through the motions in a calculated sense, but because they stay on message - the right message - because it's in their heart.  It's hard to tell the difference, but I think I need to believe there is one.

by she said she said 2007-02-13 01:12PM | 0 recs
Edwards Finally Getting Tough (Video)
Edwards is shedding the softie,breck girl image though...here's video proof:
http://minor-ripper.blogspot.com/2007/02 /john-edwards-gets-tough-with-matt-lauer _08.html
by MinorRipper 2007-02-13 01:31AM | 0 recs
Blame the voters

They are too ignorant to engage with the political process.

So they accept the media gotcha as a proxy for exercising their civic responsibilities.

Not to mention that technological improvement means that the raw material for gotchas is more easily got and disseminated than fifty years ago.

Mind you, the gotcha works both ways. God forbid that any pol uses a poorly formulated comment about women or religion or race!

The traditional American way, of course, was just to make things up: thus, in 1828, Adamsites said Jackson was the mulatto son of a whore, and the Jacksonites said that Adams had procured his nursery maid for the Tsar!

by skeptic06 2007-02-13 02:42AM | 0 recs
It's a point worth repeating

That people who make the most shrill accusations usually make accusations that apply to themselves.

by Jose 2007-02-13 03:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Politics and the Inhuman

If you removed the refs from boxing, the first boxer to kick the other in the nuts would win every fight.

After awhile, boxing matches would degenerate into vicious scuffles, with eye-gouging and biting.  No one would want to watch, and people wouldn't respect the winner.  Yet, anyone who tried to "fight fair" and stick to punching would lose.

So it is with politics, the lowest common denominator tends to win out.  Conservatives go down there gleefully under their warped thinking that everyone else is just as happy to race to the bottom.  We follow because we must, or they will win every time.

The media used to make the candidate who went dirty first pay a price.  But the ref got bought off to look the other way (The Fox effect).  

So we're left trying to cover our nuts and kick them in theirs, or be at a disadvantage trying to fight clean.

We need a new ref.

by scientician 2007-02-13 05:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Politics and the Inhuman

I have a very small amount of experience with the inhuman world, as a minor office-holder, and my take is this.

Sometimes we have to endure a humiliation ritual, like what Amanda went through. And the only thing that makes it bearable is the knowledge that you will win, in the end. If you don't have that knowledge, you can't do it.

I'm wondering if she lost faith in Edwards as a result of this experience. If she knew that he was destined to win the White House, she could have stuck it out knowing she would get the last laugh on Donohue in January 2009, sitting in the front row at the inauguration. But what if she didn't believe this? Then it's up to her to avenge herself, Edwards is in no position to do it for her.

by Sadie Baker 2007-02-13 05:19AM | 0 recs
And for Edwards

my advice would be, if you ever, ever again have to ask one of your people to endure a humiliation ritual (i.e. a forced public apology) on your behalf, you have to make certain that they feel 100% protected and supported by you. It's only their faith in you that enables them to take a bullet for you, don't take it away from them.

by Sadie Baker 2007-02-13 05:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Politics and the Inhuman
I am disappointed in Amanda, ultimately. She became a symbol of something important, of the netroots and progressives as powerful and unyielding. She snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for selfish reasons.
At least she could have tactically waited a few months before leaving the campaign so that the association wouldn't be made that Donohue "took her scalp" and defeated the netroots.
by johnalive 2007-02-13 06:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Politics and the Inhuman

This is a great summary, and I am glad you wrote it.  Thanks.

by nathan 2007-02-13 10:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Politics and the Inhuman

I am disappointed that Amanda Marcotte yielded to this kind of pressure  to resign at the time she did. It was unnecessary and in tandem with the failure of Edwards to support and show loyalty to his campaign staff and then to also fail to excoriate Donahue as the bigot he has consistently been showed the kind of weakness that betrays a vulnerability to aggressive campaign tactics in the future. This was a Swift Boating in miniature and Edwards reacted just about like Kerry did. This would have been a golden opportunity to smoke the religious bigots in this country out. Edwards could have made Donahue the issue. How are other candidates going to react when Donahue and crowd decide to go after their blog outreach campaigns? I am not at all happy with the man at the moment. This is why the media love to portray progressives as weak.

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