Thursday, September 25, 2008

Playing Electoral Hardball

This appeal to Democrats, published in The New Republic, holds an invaluable lesson for liberals everywhere:

One of America's quadrennial rituals is liberal shock. Again the Democrats are surprised by the brutality of the Republicans. They are lying. Yes, they are. They want very much to win. So should we lie, too? "We" already have. (John McCain did not say that America should stay in Iraq for a hundred years.) The Democrats believe that, by running roughly, "we" become like "them. " More grandly, the objection is that the moral character of a campaign is a premonition of the moral character of an administration. I do not see the correlation. The "missile gap" made possible the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The "Daisy Girl" was an indirect cause of the Voting Rights Act. And if, as a consequence of exaggerated or erroneous statements about John McCain, universal health care will be established by the next administration, well, the omelette will have been made. And "we" will not have become like "them," because "they" would not deliver this right and this relief to America. I apologize, of course, for my chilliness. I am not unmindful of the relationship of means to ends. I took Kant. But an election is not a seminar; and to worry the means so much more than the ends is also to distort the relationship. The air of ethical exquisiteness in which Barack Obama wraps himself has psychologically hobbled his party. It finds itself elevated and stunned. Yet there is nothing in the history of our democracy that warrants the belief that electoral politics should be elevating: in this regard, we have no height from which to fall. And there is the touchy question of whether the hope for consensus is not also the fear of conflict. Conflict is not--to use Obama's condescending language for whatever gets in his way--always "silly" and "a distraction." As the polls are again demonstrating, this is a divided country, and some of its divisions are honorable, matters of first principle, the effects of worldviews. Conviction is a hardening influence, a partisan thing. All the current talk about political syncretism obscures the fact that there is philosophical gridlock. That is why the "independents" will determine the outcome. Liberals must not perceive the world in the image of their pacific desire.

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