Just Above Sunset
November 28, 2004 - Don't try to join 'em, try to beat 'em!

Home | Question Time | Something Is Up | Connecting Dots | Stay Away | Overload | Our Man in Paris | WLJ Weekly | Book Wrangler | Cobras | The Edge of the Pacific | The Surreal Beach | On Location | Botanicals | Quotes

Rick Brown, the News Guy in Atlanta, is getting to be sort of a regular columnist for Just Above Sunset.  He has been quoted – sometimes at length - almost seventy times in issues this year, and about that often the previous year.  Along with Bob Patterson, who oddly calls himself The World’s Laziest Journalist, and Ric Erickson of MetropoleParis - who has become the de facto Just Above Sunset stringer in Paris – it seems the magazine has developed a staff.  And that staff also includes Philip Raines – with eight items, four of them extended photojournalism articles – and Deborah Vatcher with four short stories. (See the left-hand column of the home page for links to the items by Phillip and Doctor Debbie.)


Rick in Atlanta sends along reaction to an item be Michael Kinsley in the Washington Post, which contains the line - "Why do you care, or care so much, whether the people running the government have good values?  Wouldn't you prefer a bit of competence, if forced to choose?"


That’s a good question.  The item is this:


When Ideology is a Value

Michael Kinsley, The Washington Post, Sunday, November 28, 2004; Page B07


Here’s the main idea -


It's been less than a month since the gods decreed that because of the election results American political life henceforth must be all about something called "values." And I gave it my best. Honest. But values won. I'm sick of talking about values, sick of pretending I have them or care more about them than I really do. Sick of bending and twisting the political causes I do care about to make them qualify as "values." News stories about values-mongers caught with their values down used to make my day. Now the tale of Bill O'Reilly and phone sex induces barely a flicker of schadenfreude.


Why does an ideological position become sacrosanct when it gets labeled as a "value"? There are serious arguments and sincere passions on both sides of the gay-marriage debate. For some reason, the views of those who feel that marriage requires a man and a woman are considered to be a "value," while the views of those who believe that gay relationships deserve the same legal standing as straight ones barely qualify as an opinion.


And here’s the problem it raises -


Those labels don't confer any logical advantage. But they confer two big advantages in the propaganda war. First, a value just seems inherently more compelling than a mere opinion. That's a big head start. Second, the holder of a value is held to be more sensitive to slights than the holder of an opinion. An opinion can't just slug away at a value. It must be solicitous and understanding. A value may tackle an opinion, meanwhile, with no such constraint.


And then Kinsley launches into example after example to illustrate his point, and that is a litany of foolishness.  Kinsley is merciless.


And then the core –


Why do you care, or care so much, whether the people running the government have good values? Wouldn't you prefer a bit of competence, if forced to choose? For example, suppose we had a government that was capable of ensuring enough flu vaccine to go around, like the governments of every other developed country in the world. Wouldn't that be nice? And if you could have that kind of government, would you really mind if a few more of its leaders secretly enjoyed Janet Jackson's halftime show at the Super Bowl?


… It's not just a question of values getting in the way of more pressing matters. It's also a question of how much you want the government to worry about your values. My answer is: Not very much. My values are my own business. True, they are influenced by various private and public institutions of society and by the culture at large -- no doubt in unhealthy ways, very often. But I don't relish the idea of government getting involved to rectify any perceived imbalance. And I thought most conservatives agreed with me about this. But politicians who get elected because of their values are likely to see values as part of their mandate.


That's ominous.


And the conclusion?


A country whose political dialogue is all about values is either a country with no serious problems or a country hiding from its serious problems. When I want values, I go to Wal-Mart.


Yeah, yeah.  It’s a funny punch line.





Rick in Atlanta comments -


Is Kinsley talking about me here?


Yeah, sure, I'm for "competence" over so-called "values," but what do I know, I'm a Democrat - which is to say, I was on the losing side of the most recent national election!  In fact, it seems to me we Democrats argued that "competence" issue back in 1988 and lost, and they've been making fun of us for it ever since.  I say they shouldn't get away with that, but who listens to me?


Although I don't quarrel with what Kinsley says here, I would argue that our governmental system should have values - it's just that I happen to disagree with these people as to what those values ought to be.  For example, I was brought up - ironically, by Republicans! - believing in the value of the separation of church and state, while this here fundamentalist crowd wasn't, either because they were too young to have picked up on that basic American principle or those that were old enough were just not paying attention.  (I suspect half of them were reading their Bibles, while the other half were too busy out hitting up weaker kids for their lunch money.)


To repeat what I've said here before: Don't try to join 'em, try to beat 'em!  And, when possible, try to get them to join us, but don't sweat it too much if they refuse.  After all, if they don't, they're just idiots.


We need to stop trying to accommodate ourselves to "values" we don't agree with; we need to stop trying to apologize for knowing what we're talking about, as opposed to having "faith" in stuff that we know doesn't really matter; we need to fight for what we think is right, and do it without suspecting that we may be out of synch with "real" America.  (Just because a relatively paltry three-and-a-half million more of them than us went to the polls doesn't make them the "real" Americans.)


Let's not be wimps, let's try not to fake what we are and what we stand for, and let's try to keep this in mind: Our country never was as much about the extra-marital consensual diddling or not diddling of interns as it was about knowing when and when not to drag this country into war, and when and when not to drag it into debt.


We need to fight for what's right, and if we lose this one, we need to go out next time, and keep trying harder until we win.


(PS: Yeah, I know, I usually try to end my comments on a lighter note and not sound so much like a latter-day Emma Goldman, but it's late at night as I write this, and I just couldn't think of anything funny to say. I promise I'll try harder next time.)


Ah, Just Above Sunset doesn’t demand such lightness.  This will do just fine.

Philip Raines has a shot at all this -


At the exit polls it was only "values" without qualification.  That was an issue.  Not good values, common values, bad values - just values.  Another hoodwink dragged over the gullible eyes peering at the narrow-minded vista ahead for the next four years.  Democrats have values too, just not the kind the pious right has in mind, though that collective mind is easily swayed.


Conservative Shill: "You want values, right?"

Salt-of-the-Earth Mark: "Yeah, I want values"

Conservative Shill:  "Cause without values, it's hopeless, and we need hope, right?"

Salt-of-the-Earth Mark: "Yep, I sure need hope."

Conservative Shill: "Well then, there you go." 


In Democrats that heightened sense that says "Wait a minute, that sounds like bullshit" seems to go off much sooner than with conservative followers.  I sat after Thanksgiving dinner with a room full of the most leftist family I've personally ever known to exist.  They have the same sentiment of Rick Brown to not change the message because it isn't wrong.  No religion in government, protect the environment, stop spending money and wrecking our economy with wars.  They pride themselves in being in the party that is not so easily duped, and well, so do I. 


The same techniques, refined by big church preachers, of drumming up outrage, identifying with moral superiority, and an indisputable belief in what the Bible and its interpreters portray, just don't work with Democrats.  For Democrats to craft their message in the same phony context will just not work.  The party needs new leadership, and needs to present itself as the reasonable party - fanatics need not apply. 


I think the current Democratic leadership thinks we need better bullshit.  No.  No bullshit, but rather the party of shooting you straight.  That is a stronger force than the windbags can stand up to.  So Rick Brown, will you be the voice-o-reason spokesman on the Just above Sunset radio hour?  [See November 28, 2004 - Not for Liberals in this issue.]  What, another money loosing hobby?  Are all the think tanks conservative and we can't see through that problem, despite having brains and artistic talent at our disposal?  Maybe we are the party of the "Cant' Be Bothered". 


Odd that.


Vince In Rochester -


"Are all the think tanks conservative...?"  Ah - but who funds the think tanks?  Follow the money.  It's invariably economic!


As for no bullshit values - that's what rings so well with young Obama (cool name claimed Letterman - to his face - the other night.  I agree.)  But cool also because he knows how to use obvious intellect to speak plainly so that all can listen!


That to me was the BIGGEST gaff this November.  Kerry couldn't talk to people on the street!


To paraphrase Teddy R - Speak simply and carry a big brain (out of sight).


Obama…  Has a candidate from Chicago ever won a national election? - (Here come the Daley jokes!)


See August 1, 2004 - Cain's Question for a discussion of Barack Obama, the rising star of the Democratic Party.  He’s not Richard Daley.  Things in Chicago have changed since the 1968 convention.


Well, something is going on here.  I sense a wave coming in – just a swell on the horizon now - but maybe this will be a wave that is worth riding. 


Heck, maybe it is time to bring decent, sensible people back in to help straighten up the mess we have on our hands.  Perhaps many will miss the idealists who scoff at reality – those wild-eyed theorists now in power who merrily ignore the environment disintegrating, and the economy on the edge of a cliff as the dollar drops like a rock and the debts pile up and the dollars that support our realm go elsewhere, and real costs of the war that has made us despised around the world, and the homeless in the streets and the millions without healthcare of any kind, and the poverty that the elderly and unlucky face in the coming decades.


It’s a thought.  Time to get to work.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

This issue updated and published on...

Paris readers add nine hours....