Sunday, May 20, 2018

Cokie's Camp

Cokie's Luxury Fishing Camp in Cocodrie, LA, via homeaway.

The other day, in response to the David Brooks column describing the founding of Israel as 
a historic achievement involving a historic wrong — the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians
I wrote that it was "a place where a little bothsiderism is welcome for a change."

This apparently presented a problem for some readers. I should have written something like the following:

Ex-conservative "centrists" like David Brooks and Matthew Dowd are frequently accused of what blogger Driftglass characterizes as "both siderism" (I close up the two words, others spell it with a hyphen), that is insisting in theory that everyone should always take care to see the good and bad on both sides of a partisan divide, but applying it in practice only to cases in which Republicans look bad (but Hillary is corrupt too! How about those emails?) or Democrats look good (but Ryan has a health care plan as well, tax-free savings accounts!).

This is not a misleading reference—I will never knowingly mislead you—to the hysterical centripetality of writers who always take every difference of opinion to be the endpoints of a spectrum on which they anxiously seek the centerpoint. Nor to Atrios's related concept introduced in 2007-08 of "high Broderism", after the magisterial above-it-all antipartisanship of the late Washington Post opinionist David Broder, which I don't generally use as a technical term (Broder died in 2011, and I kind of don't think anybody remembers who he was, and old jokes don't make good technical terms), and which means something overlapping but different, the belief that partisan differences are really an illusion and we all basically agree on everything if we'd just be sensible about it, as in this case, the earliest example I can find, 24 July 2007:

The Federalism Dodge
Oddly it's an extension of the Unity '08 High Broderism "can't we all get along" stuff. For some reason people in and covering national politics seem to hate the fact that politics actually involves genuine disagreement, and it'd be so much fun if we just got rid of all that stuff we disagreed about. So they want to punt it to the states. Problem over!
Both are particular instances of a more important concept, developed by Digby, that of the Village of the ruling class, in which it's understood that we do have our differences but it isn't decent, or "civil", to make a big deal about them; political passion and partisanship are for the outsiders and the vulgar and they need to be kept outside. As Atrios put it in his definitive statement, September 2008,
We normally think of "High Broderism" as the worship of bipartisanship for its own sake, combined with a fake "pox on both their houses" attitude. But in reality this is just the cover Broder uses for his real agenda, the defense of what he perceives to be "the establishment" at all costs. The establishment is the permanent ruling class of Washington, our betters who know better. It is their rough agenda which is sold as "centrism" even when it has no actual relationship with the political center in a meaningful way. Democracy's messy, in Broder's world, and passionate voters are problematic. It is up to the Wise Old Men of Washington to implement the agenda, and the job of the voters to bless them for it. When the establishment fails, the most important issue is not their failure, but that the voters might begin to lose faith in and deference for their betters. Thus, people must always be allowed to save face, no matter what their transgressions, as long as they're a part of his permanent floating tea party.
Now, of course, "tea party" has a whole new, not at all genteel meaning, and the most vulgar set of barbarians you can imagine are not merely at the gate but, invited by the Republicans, inside the Capitol and the Imperial Palace, at least nominally in charge and certainly capable of keeping the establishment in a state of terror. Cokie Roberts is regarded as such a virulent leftist that she can't be allowed to discuss current events on the air any more, not even partnered with Jonah Goldberg to represent the opposing view, and has to stick to safe topics from history. The Wise Old Men aren't able to implement the agenda any more; it's not obvious that they can even stop things from falling apart. The Village is in nearly as much trouble as we American people are, watching in alarm from the temporary shelter of Cokie's Camp.

And "high Broderism" has collapsed into a pose adopted by collaborationists like Bret Stephens and Ross Douthat pretending to maintain old-school civility even as they actively work to destroy it, while a convert true believer, Matthew Dowd, the king of bothsiderism, openly urges people to vote for Democrats, as does that nasty old reprobate George Will for that matter. But the theory of bothsiderism, and its reflex application among some journalists like Brooks, still remain.

The application of bothsiderism, the automatic search for something bad about Democrats to match whatever bad thing you say about Republicans, or something good to say about Republicans whenever you blunder into praising a Democrat, is as always nothing but a fearful warding off of conservative criticism, but the theory on which it's purportedly based wouldn't necessarily be ignoble, if you thought they really believed it: that opposing parties to a dispute often or even normally have a legitimate interest (doesn't matter whether it's financial or moral/intellectual) in the side they're taking, and both sides deserve a respectful hearing and reporting. Which is very different, I might add, from centripetality, or from the Broderism that holds both sides of a real dispute in utter contempt.

I actually believe in that theory myself, just don't believe that entails not taking sides when I see a reason to take sides, which I usually do. I meant to praise Brooks for acting for once as if he really believed in the theory, especially in the discussion of an issue in which he's always been really obdurately one-sided.

But my plan was to write about the Israel-Palestine issue, not the blogger vocabulary of a decade ago, and I didn't realize how much I would need to do to make this clear. Probably still haven't succeeded. Sucks to be me.

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