Friday, February 14, 2014

Quote of the day: On knowing

Ronald Reagan used to like to say that “the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so.” Let’s repurpose Reagan; it will spare the reviewer the incivility of accusing From of being either stupid or a liar.
- Rick Perlstein, in a passage that nicely captures the tone and substance of his review of Democratic Leadership Council tool Al From's new book in praise of "New Democrats."

Perlstein's remark also offers the first useful alternative to a meme whose increasing presence has bothered me for some time: When a political figure (generally of the wingnut variety, although From proves this is by no means necessary) says something outrageous (about reproductive rights, about climate change, about bigotry, about whatever), too often commentators respond by saying they can't tell whether the speaker is really badly informed or is really intellectually dishonest – in short, whether they're stupid or a liar. In a great many cases, the answer is clear as a buttonhook in the well water: they've obviously said what they said because they're stupid, or because they're a liar, and they should be called out on it then and there, with no shilly-shallying. The "are they a liar or are they an idiot? I just can't tell!" commonplace creates a doubt the benefit of which they do not deserve.

Occasionally, of course, you'll stumble on someone who's both an idiot and a liar but that's less common,  and appropriate exceptions to the rule can safely be made.

Perlstein's discussion of the From book and the history of Democrats like From (and Bill Clinton) who believe that the rightward drift of the Democratic Party has been a feature, not a bug, is well worth reading on its own merits, too, so it's going on the p3 Readings list.

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