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Dumb Things Senators Say

"If he was going to shake his hand, he should have asked him about those basic freedoms Mandela was associated with that are denied in Cuba."—Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Because, as we all know, if POTUS just had some well planned zingers prepared for these sorts of situations that US foreign policy goals would flourish.  Indeed, we probably wouldn’t need the State Department any longer.

(Granted, Rubio had to say something negative, given the ongoing state of Florida politics).

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Rob in CT says:

    Yeah, that’s not even dumb enough to get a raised eyebrow out of me at this point. It’s to be expected. It merits… nothing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  2. KM says:

    @Rob in CT : I agree. Weak – but enough red meat to scrap together a patty for the faithful.

    *sigh* I remember a time when a funeral was a time and place for reflections of the dead, not plotting out your next sound bite. I know politics is a dirty opportunistic game, but really? This is getting old, and fast. Can we move on the next outrage now and let the man rest in peace?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  3. Moosebreath says:

    Meh. It wouldn’t even make the top 10 for the week.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. Matt Bernius says:

    @KM:

    I remember a time when a funeral was a time and place for reflections of the dead.

    Agreed. Which, is why, while this entire Castro thing is asinine, I also think the entire “selfie” thing wasn’t a particularly tactful (or tasteful) thing to do at the Memorial Service (as opposed to outside or at a different point). Kinda think Michelle Obama might have been thinking the same thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  5. Pinky says:

    Would you shake Raul Castro’s hand? I wouldn’t. It’s not the biggest thing that ever happened, but on the other hand I don’t see where Rubio is wrong.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 13

  6. Tony W says:

    @Matt Bernius: Yep – I think most Obama supporters would agree with you too on the selfie thing.

    All you ‘conservatives’ paying attention? This is how a reasonable citizenry acts – when our guy does a knucklehead thing we call our guy on it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  7. Pinky says:

    Because, as we all know, if POTUS just had some well planned zingers prepared for these sorts of situations that US foreign policy goals would flourish. Indeed, we probably wouldn’t need the State Department any longer.

    Sarcasm aside, it would have an effect. The people of Cuba would hear about it. People in communist-leaning countries in Central and South America would hear about it. Don’t ever discount the power of shame.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 11

  8. Franklin says:

    Because, as we all know, if POTUS just had some well planned zingers prepared for these sorts of situations that US foreign policy goals would flourish.

    I love this line. Perhaps we should elect Don Rickles.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  9. KM says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    entire “selfie” thing wasn’t a particularly tactful (or tasteful) thing

    The noise my head made when it hit the desk…. I honestly thought that was from the Onion when I learned of it!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  10. @Pinky:

    Sarcasm aside, it would have an effect. The people of Cuba would hear about it. People in communist-leaning countries in Central and South America would hear about it. Don’t ever discount the power of shame.

    You underscore why I pointed this quote out: you show that some people actually believe this type of stuff works.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  11. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: The political prisoners in the Soviet Union heard about the Reagan administration’s requests for information. I don’t know how they heard, but they did. People forget that before the military buildup of the 1980′s, before the rise of Gorbachev, the US battered the Soviet system on its human rights failings. It has an impact. No regime wants to be looked at as illegitimate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  12. Pinky says:

    @Pinky: Should have added – South Africa was humiliated before it was boycotted. It has an impact.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  13. @Pinky: Setting aside efficacy issues, what you are talking about is not passing comments during a handshake.

    And are you really going to argue that Cubans have not heard the Castro regime critiqued by the US?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  14. JohnMcC says:

    @Matt Bernius: If that ‘selfie’ thing had occurred during a funeral in my family it would have been a huge faux pas. But the mood during the Madela memorial seemed amazingly joyful and — well, the media seems to be using the word ‘celebratory’. What I saw on the TV made me think of the New Orleans funeral processions with jazz and dancing and what looks like a party.

    I’m a yallow-dog-Democrat and a big Obama supporter so I guess I have a point of view, but it didn’t seem to me that it deserved a big load of criticism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  15. al-Ameda says:

    “If he was going to shake his hand, he should have asked him about those basic freedoms Mandela was associated with that are denied in Cuba.”—Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).

    Oh god – the handshake served to inadvertently rile up conservatives, as if they need a GOOD reason to feign outrage.

    As long as we’re in the realm of Kabuki here, why doesn’t someone ask Marco how it is that he asserts that his parents were Cuban Exiles, when in fact his parents left Cuba 2 years before Castro came to power?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  16. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Would you shake hands with Botha at another world leader’s funeral?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 8

  17. C. Clavin says:

    @Pinky:
    Yes…we should definitely run our Foreign Policy based on sand-box rules.
    Next thing you know we’ll be invading Iraq in retaliation for 9/11…oh…wait…er………..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

  18. C. Clavin says:

    @al-Ameda:
    Why doesn’t someone ask Rubio…if he’s so upset about Cuba why doesn’t he strap up and do something about it…instead of whining about a handshake?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  19. al-Ameda says:

    @Pinky:
    Would you attend Mandela’s funeral? After all he was “communist affiliated.”
    President Nixon shook Mao’s hand, Brezhnev’s hand, and on-and-on-and on.
    How much political correctness are we willing to countenance?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  20. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I’m sure the Soviets knew that the US weren’t fans. But – it had an effect.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  21. Pinky says:

    @al-Ameda: Yes. As I’ve said before, on this board, to you, I don’t think you can fairly call Mandela a communist. Certainly there was a world of difference between him and the Castros as rulers and world leaders. So let’s not go over the same old ground again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  22. @Pinky: Had I been POTUS when Botha was president of SA, yes, I would have, as we had diplomatic relations with them at the time.

    Also:

    I’m sure the Soviets knew that the US weren’t fans. But – it had an effect.

    Again, general criticism is different than zingers during a handshake. And, more importantly: I am fairly certain that internal structural difficulties led to the collapse of the Soviet system, not the public opprobrium of US presidents.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

  23. al-Ameda says:

    @Pinky:

    @al-Ameda: Yes. As I’ve said before, on this board, to you, I don’t think you can fairly call Mandela a communist. Certainly there was a world of difference between him and the Castros as rulers and world leaders. So let’s not go over the same old ground again.

    Fine. I understand. But, what about Nixon and Brezhnev? Nixon shook the hand of a man who ran the same gulags that Stalin did, and presided over the lock-down of a multitude of ‘satellite states’ from the Baltic south to the Yugoslav peninsula? As long as we’re being politically correct here, should Nixon have declined to shake Leonid’s hand?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  24. Pinky says:

    @al-Ameda: Wasn’t that at a summit, an event at which they were both representing their countries for the purpose of negotiation?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  25. al-Ameda says:

    @Pinky:

    @al-Ameda: Wasn’t that at a summit, an event at which they were both representing their countries for the purpose of negotiation?

    Yes it was probably a Summitt.
    Still, shaking the hand of a man who presided over the enslavement of hundreds of millions of people? I suppose the rule is: It is correct to shake the hand of someone who is despised at a summit, but not at a funeral. The rules of political correctness are often hard to follow.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  26. beth says:

    @al-Ameda:

    The rules of political correctness are often hard to follow.

    Actually, they’re very easy. If a Republican does it = good. If Obama does it = bad.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  27. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am fairly certain that internal structural difficulties led to the collapse of the Soviet system, not the public opprobrium of US presidents.

    History is rarely that simple: one cause, one effect. There were a hundred things that led to the demise of the Soviet Union at that time. One of them was their loss of their supposed high ground on human rights.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9

  28. Pinky says:

    @al-Ameda: They’re the rules of protocol. They’re centuries old. They are tough to follow, but a president has a lot of advisors.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  29. Pinky says:

    @beth: Beth, weren’t you the one who was worried that this site was becoming less intellectual?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  30. rudderpedals says:

    Agggghhh!1!! Stuffing keeps falling from my shirt — Marco Rubio

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  31. @Pinky:

    History is rarely that simple: one cause, one effect. There were a hundred things that led to the demise of the Soviet Union at that time. One of them was their loss of their supposed high ground on human rights.

    Ok, a few things here.

    1) I am citing internal structural conditions and you are citing rhetoric–and I am the one being overly simplistic?

    2) When did the USSR ever have the “supposed high ground on human rights”?

    3) And, following on #2, when did they lose it and how did that contribute to their collapse?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  32. Oh, and 4) What does this have to do with comments deployed during a 15 second handshake one way or another?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  33. al-Ameda says:

    @Pinky:

    @al-Ameda: They’re the rules of protocol. They’re centuries old. They are tough to follow, but a president has a lot of advisors.

    So, “no handshakes with relatives of despots at funerals” is a protocol that is centuries old?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  34. beth says:

    @Pinky: This really isn’t an intellectual issue at all. You are tying yourself into knots to try and condemn Obama for something Republicans have done over and over without criticism (and by you, I’m using the royal you to mean the conservative right wing). Obama shook Chavez’s hand at a summit and was roundly criticized – how come? If it’s a protocol that’s centuries old, why the criticism? It’s just a knee jerk reaction to condemn anything and everything he does and it’s really getting to be vile and unpatriotic. I seem to remember that there also used to be an old rule that criticism of the President stopped at our border – is that still in effect or yet another rule that only applies during Republican administrations?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  35. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    1) I am citing internal structural conditions and you are citing rhetoric–and I am the one being overly simplistic?

    Yeah, if you’re saying that only one thing contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union.

    2) When did the USSR ever have the “supposed high ground on human rights”?

    That was a common enough perception in the 1960′s and 1970′s, with the Soviets claiming universal health care and education, and the US having race riots and propping up some scoundrels overseas.

    3) And, following on #2, when did they lose it and how did that contribute to their collapse?

    As noted, during the Reagan years, the diplomatic community pressed the Soviets hard on emigration and political prisoners.

    4) What does this have to do with comments deployed during a 15 second handshake one way or another?

    Because, as I’ve said about ten times now, these things have effects. Mandela would never have been freed if it weren’t for the boycott, and the boycott never would have happened if it weren’t for the constant witness to the world of those who were oppressed by the South African regime. That’s merely rhetoric, but it’s the most important thing in the world.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  36. Tillman says:

    @Pinky:

    There were a hundred things that led to the demise of the Soviet Union at that time. One of them was their loss of their supposed high ground on human rights.

    You kind of undercut your own argument here. Hundreds of things led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and then you single out the one that probably had the least effect.

    Don’t ever discount the power of shame.

    Shame works on the person. It doesn’t work on people. When a people admits shame, it only does so from a position of power for the image it presents. See, for example, the apology to the Native Americans for the Indian Removal Act.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  37. @Pinky:

    Yeah, if you’re saying that only one thing contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union.

    To be clear, I was noting above that internal structural problems was far more important than rhetoric. Beyond that, if you think “internal structural problems” equals “one thing” then I don’t think you understand what I mean.

    That was a common enough perception in the 1960′s and 1970′s, with the Soviets claiming universal health care and education, and the US having race riots and propping up some scoundrels overseas.

    I am pretty sure Stalin did a pretty good job of damaging the USSR’s human rights record. And while there is no doubt that the Soviets tried to claim any number of things, your argument that the Soviets had some kind of moral high ground on human rights that was brought down by American rhetoric is not historically accurate.

    From where do you get this idea?

    As noted, during the Reagan years, the diplomatic community pressed the Soviets hard on emigration and political prisoners.

    And you believe this brought about the collapse of the USSR? Evidence?

    Because, as I’ve said about ten times now, these things have effects. Mandela would never have been freed if it weren’t for the boycott, and the boycott never would have happened if it weren’t for the constant witness to the world of those who were oppressed by the South African regime. That’s merely rhetoric, but it’s the most important thing in the world.

    Actually, sanctions are more than merely rhetoric.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  38. de stijl says:

    We’re not supposed to shake the hands of our enemies.

    Instead, we should sell them weapons to fund an illegal proxy war. That’s the American Way!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  39. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    sanctions are more than merely rhetoric

    But they never would have happened without the rhetoric. You’ve got to see that’s what I’m saying. You’ve got to. As for the perception of Soviet human rights versus American, you can look it up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 6

  40. @Pinky:

    But they never would have happened without the rhetoric. You’ve got to see that’s what I’m saying.

    I am trying. You are the one who just wrote, are you not, that the boycott [sic] is “merely rhetoric, but it’s the most important thing in the world.”

    As for the perception of Soviet human rights versus American, you can look it up.

    Well, it is your argument, not mine, However, part of why I am finding your position difficult is that I have been studying political science since the mid-1980s, and was especially focused on the Cold War in my undergraduate days. As such, I have “looked it up” and I don’t see what you are claiming to be in evidence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  41. Pinky says:

    @Tillman:

    You kind of undercut your own argument here. Hundreds of things led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and then you single out the one that probably had the least effect.

    I’m only singling it out because the original article was about the place of moral pressure against criminal states. If this were a discussion about an article about the history of the Soviet Union, we’d be talking about other things.

    Shame works on the person. It doesn’t work on people.

    People don’t admit shame. They admit guilt. Shame may exist with or without guilt, with or without acknowledgement of guilt. For example, there was only one shooter at Newtown, and neither the President nor the country has admitted guilt, but events like that are an international black mark against us.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  42. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Come on.

    Mandela would never have been freed if it weren’t for the boycott, and the boycott never would have happened if it weren’t for the constant witness to the world of those who were oppressed by the South African regime. That’s merely rhetoric, but it’s the most important thing in the world.

    Was the “that” so unclear that you could “[sic]” it as the boycott? Boycotts are not merely words. I was talking about something, however, that was merely words, and that was the constant witness. I’ve been talking about the importance of that kind of witness this whole time. I know I can be unclear sometimes, but please, if you’re trolling me, just admit it and save me time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  43. Pinky says:

    @beth: It was politics that was said to stop at the border, not criticism of the president. Politics should stop at the border (although that’s always been more of an ideal than a reality). Healthy discussion of foreign policy shouldn’t. I’m guessing that you don’t believe it should, unless you spent the Bush years sitting on your hands and nodding silently. You talked about policy because it matters, because it’s worth getting right.

    You can argue that the handshake is unimportant, but then it’s tough to argue that it can’t be criticized because it’s a matter of international affairs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  44. @Pinky: I fear I must go with “unclear.”

    Really, you are doubling down on the importance of rhetoric, while arguing about things that aren’t rhetoric. Sanctions aren’t rhetoric. Bearing witness, for that matter, is more than rhetoric,.

    Worse, you are comparing larger issues (such as bearing witness to SA atrocities) to word exchanged during a handshake (and/or the very act of a handshake itself)–which was what this post was about.

    Your arguments about the USSR range between the ahistorical to the fantastical.

    Honestly, at the root of it all it seems that you are buying into very simplistic views of the way the world works.

    Am I trolling? No. I am suffering from a combination of the occupational hazard known as the impulse to teach, “something is wrong on the internet” disease, procrastination from work I should be doing, and trying to honestly engage with a commenter on a blog post I wrote.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  45. Tillman says:

    @Pinky:

    People don’t admit shame. They admit guilt. Shame may exist with or without guilt, with or without acknowledgement of guilt.

    When you say you’re feeling guilty, and then when you say you’re feeling ashamed, what is the noticeable difference?

    This is turning into a semantic issue, and I’m honestly wondering how you distinguish the two because I can’t see much daylight between them.

    (I almost dragged “culpability” into it.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  46. Pinky says:

    @Tillman: Yeah, we got a bit off-track. But your comment was interesting, so I couldn’t resist.

    Guilt is related to the moral nature of an act or actor, shame to the perception of moral nature. The difference between guilt and shame actually comes up in sociology, with the distinction between guilt-based and shame-based societies. Guilt-based societies are fixed on laws. Shame-based societies are fixed on honor. Think dueling over honor, or “honor killings”. Law is secondary.

    Think Mark Sanford declaring himself forgiven.

    In international affairs, innocence or guilt rarely matter. What counts is the perception of a country’s moral authority. During the Cold War, with both the US and USSR intervening in countries’ rule and both sides building nuclear weapons, there was a sense of moral equivalence in some parts. Why Taylor doesn’t remember this, I’m not sure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  47. @Pinky:

    During the Cold War, with both the US and USSR intervening in countries’ rule and both sides building nuclear weapons, there was a sense of moral equivalence in some parts. Why Taylor doesn’t remember this, I’m not sure.

    What Taylor doesn’t remember (because Taylor doesn’t think it happened) was when the USSR had the moral high ground on human rights and then the US was able to use rhetoric to tear them from their perch (with this then being a major contributor to the downfall of the Soviet system).

    Taylor is vexed by this assertion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  48. For example, Taylor thinks that as stirring and inspirational as it was for Reagan to insist that Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall that the rhetoric in question had very little do with the wall actually being torn down.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  49. KM says:

    @Pinky:

    Guilt is related to the moral nature of an act or actor, shame to the perception of moral nature.

    I would modify this slightly to “guilt is related to the internal moral nature of an act or actor and shame is the external perception of a moral nature,issue or action.” Guilt is what you feel when you’ve violated some internal moral you value. Shame is what you feel when you know another will feel you’ve violated a moral they value.

    IE you go outside to get the mail without pants on. You don’t feel guilty because you don’t really care but if the neighbor gives you the stinkeye, you might feel ashamed (especially if the cops show up)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  50. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: And that’s where I’ve got no answer for Taylor. Maybe I’m phrasing things so badly that he can’t understand them. I assume he has some familiarity with international politics. Moral equivalence? Non-aligned nations? The anti-nuclear movement?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  51. @Pinky: If you are claiming that some people said nice things about the Soviets, that is indisputable. What that demonstrates in regards to your point, I do not know.

    You claim was a) the USSR had the moral high ground in the 1960s and 1970s but that 2) in the 1980s the US used rhetoric to counter-act that moral high ground, and that this lead to 3) the collapse of the USSR.

    What am I missing?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  52. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I claimed that they lost the supposed high ground, and yes, there was a perception in some circles, even some countries, that the Soviets were our moral equals or superiors. I’m sure you’ve heard it pointed out that the Russians liberated the serfs before we freed our slaves, and without a war. That the Soviets had a better record on race than the US. That they provided better health care and education, and guaranteed food, shelter, and clothing for all their people. One still hears these claims about Cuba.

    I could go on. That the US had more nuclear weapons, and were pointing them at Europe. That the US was militarizing Europe, and the Soviet Army was there for defense. That we were the aggressors in South America, Southeast Asia, et cetera.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  53. @Pinky: It is unclear to me how having the supposed high ground and then losing it would matter one whit in terms of systemic collapse. If the high ground in question was supposed, what difference would losing it make?

    That some people make some claims is largely irrelevant. For example, that people make these claims about Cuba doesn’t make them a superpower any more than making those claims about the USSR made them a superpower. Hence, there must be other, more important factors.

    If you claim boils down to “some people said nice things about the USSR” this was true up and until the system collapses.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  54. george says:

    President Nixon shook Mao’s hand, Brezhnev’s hand, and on-and-on-and on.
    How much political correctness are we willing to countenance?

    And Reagan shook Gorbechev’s hand from what I remember.

    I’m thinking the outrage over a handshake is really a setup for an Onion article – unless the outrages people have evidence that Nixon and Reagan didn’t really shake the hands of communists (stunt doubles mabye?)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  55. mattbernius says:

    @Pinky:

    I claimed that they lost the supposed high ground, and yes, there was a perception in some circles, even some countries, that the Soviets were our moral equals or superiors. I’m sure you’ve heard it pointed out that the Russians liberated the serfs before we freed our slaves, and without a war. That the Soviets had a better record on race than the US. That they provided better health care and education, and guaranteed food, shelter, and clothing for all their people. One still hears these claims about Cuba.

    This is a fundamentally absurd line of thinking about geopolitical shifts. Sorry, there is no other way of putting it.

    It’s got no serious historical grounding and you refuse to produce historical grounding.

    This is not unlike claims that “Most scientists believed that the climate was *cooling* in the 70′s, not warming… and that there was a coming Ice Age.” The actual historical evidence *completely* stacks against it and yet people continue to reproduce this claim to counter current scientific arguments against Climate Change.

    Further, if you seriously believe that Cuba has not been traveling down the path of systemic collapse because of some people’s (I’m curious as to whose) continued beliefs that it has some sort of higher moral ground than the United States or that its some sort of “socialist paradise” you really have no grasp about geopolitics or the general state of Cuba.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  56. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It is unclear to me how having the supposed high ground and then losing it would matter one whit in terms of systemic collapse.

    This.

    THIS.

    A THOUSAND TIMES THIS!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  57. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    and that this lead to 3) the collapse of the USSR

    I hate to accuse someone of arguing in bad faith. I try to never refer to someone as “disingenuous”, as I know that it’s impossible to rebut. But I’ve said that there were a hundred things that led to the demise of the Soviet Union, and we’ve talked about that statement, so you can’t believe that I’m saying that rhetoric alone led to the collapse of the USSR. Maybe you’re being half-hearted here, because you don’t think my position is worth responding to. I don’t know. But you’re unfairly characterizing my position. At least I got a chance to make my point, so I’m glad I was active on this thread.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  58. Matt Bernius says:

    @Pinky:
    Look, I appreciate how politely you’ve attempted to respond to the points raised in this thread. But, your argument simply doesn’t read. You continually argue for the *importance* of rhetoric and at the same time keep downplaying that importance. Further, you have not provided any substantive evidence for your argument for the importance of rhetoric.

    To fall back on “I said there were hundreds of reasons and rhetoric was just one of them” just doesn’t cut it — because you have failed to show why “rhetoric” should be considered one of those “hundreds of reasons.” It also fails because it inherently contains an argument that all of those hundreds of reasons were necessary for the fall. Which ultimately means that rhetoric was, in fact, a critical contributor.

    The logic simply doesn’t work. And further, your style of argumentation has been to rely on evidence that is purely subjective (i.e. “I remember…” or “I believe…”). Neither is particularly convincing by itself in an argument. For example: The USSR fell after I was born. I humbly submit that my birth was one of the “hundreds of reasons” why the USSR fell. After all, my mother has told me “I’m an important person.”

    Do you see the problem here (beyond the fact that your use of “rhetoric” suggests that you don’t understand what the word actually means)?

    Again, I really don’t think Steven is being disingenuous. He is among the most patient correspondents that I know. Your line of writing isn’t as transparent as I think you believe it is.

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  59. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Come on Steven, you know that sort of thing could have an effect. If Obama got off a really good zinger about human rights in Cuba, the Cuban propaganda organs would use it as an example of the implacable hostility of the U.S. to justify whatever new control measure they put in.

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  60. Rafer Janders says:

    If Nelson Mandela stood for anything, it was for the principle that you don’t acknowledge or deal with your political opponents, that there can be no compromise. To be polite to a political opponent at his funeral is to make a mockery of everything that Mandela’s life meant…..

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  61. Pinky says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    You continually argue for the *importance* of rhetoric and at the same time keep downplaying that importance.

    I think Taylor got hung up on the same point. I don’t require US rhetoric to have singlehandedly toppled the Soviet system for my point to be valid, that undermining the system’s credibility did have an effect. I’m not arguing some ideological or theoretical construct so much as recounting events that actually happened. And I’m only making this point as a response to this article which seems to sneer at the idea of taking a moral stand through all available channels.

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  62. @Pinky:

    I think Taylor got hung up on the same point

    Because you keep insisting on the significance of rhetoric.

    And I’m only making this point as a response to this article which seems to sneer at the idea of taking a moral stand through all available channels.

    The only thing I noted in the post is that lecturing someone during a handshake is unlikely to have much effect on much of anything.

    And I simply do not agree with your statement above:

    Sarcasm aside, it would have an effect. The people of Cuba would hear about it. People in communist-leaning countries in Central and South America would hear about it. Don’t ever discount the power of shame.

    I don’t think that Obama trying to lecture Castro during a handshake would accomplish much of anything. You are free to think otherwise, of course. I still maintain that even with your caveats that you are placing far too much significance on rhetoric. Regimes don’t collapse because they get criticized by their adversaries. People don’t rise up because they hear that the POTUS lectured a dictator. It doesn’t work that way.

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  63. @Pinky:

    I don’t require US rhetoric to have singlehandedly toppled the Soviet system for my point to be valid

    The issue then becomes, btw, how much did rhetoric matter? I am of the opinion that it doesn’t matter all that much if we are talking about regime change. Indeed, much of the rhetoric from US president’s during the period of time in question was far more about domestic US politics than it was about toppling the Soviet system.

    US Presidents said rather negative things about the USSR from the 1950s through to the end of things in 1991. Something other than rhetoric changed during that period of time. Analytically speaking, it behooves us to look at the other variables to see what might have gone wrong. Why was repression possible in Eastern Europe in in 1956, 1968, and 1981, but not in 1989 onward?

    It has very little, if anything, to do with the USSR losing, to quote you, the “supposed high ground on human rights.”

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  64. Since you are basing your position, it would seem, on personal memories, may I ask how old you were during the Cold War?

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  65. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: On the contrary. All the power in the world can’t stand up to the impact of a belief. How could you not get that, with all the recent accounts of Mandela’s life?

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  66. Rafer Janders says:

    @Pinky:

    Sarcasm aside, it would have an effect. The people of Cuba would hear about it. People in communist-leaning countries in Central and South America would hear about it.

    What “communist-leaning countries in Central and South America”? Because I can’t think of any. This isn’t the 1980s, you know.

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  67. al-Ameda says:

    @Pinky:

    And I’m only making this point as a response to this article which seems to sneer at the idea of taking a moral stand through all available channels.

    I do not think that Dr. Taylor is ‘sneering’ at the idea of taking a moral stand at all. I think it’s more a matter that Sen. Rubio is quite obviously grandstanding and not taking a serious moral stand at all. Sen. Rubio and others are trying so hard to turn this handshake into evidence of a moral failure on the part of the president – this is bad theater.

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  68. Rafer Janders says:

    @Pinky:

    All the power in the world can’t stand up to the impact of a belief.

    That’s ridiculous. Of course it can. The Tianmen protestors had belief, yet they couldn’t stand up to the tanks when they re-took the square. The Jews had belief, yet they would have been exterminated by the Nazis had it not been for the superior military power of the USSR, USA and UK combined. There were tens of millions with belief in the Soviet Union, yet they all disappeared into the maw of Stalin’s torture cellars and labor camps.

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  69. Rafer Janders says:

    @Pinky:

    All the power in the world can’t stand up to the impact of a belief. How could you not get that, with all the recent accounts of Mandela’s life?

    Mandela, like Gandhi, had the good fortune to be active in a country that had been part of the British Empire and that had some vestigial respect for the rule of law. If Mandela had been a dissident in Stalin’s Russia or Hitler’s Germany or Mao’s China or Pinochet’s Chile or Castro’s Cuba he would have been quickly dispatched with a bullet and we would never have heard of him.

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  70. @Pinky:

    On the contrary. All the power in the world can’t stand up to the impact of a belief. How could you not get that, with all the recent accounts of Mandela’s life?

    This reminds me of a quote from Mill’s On Liberty: ” It is a piece of idle sentimentality that truth, merely as truth, has any inherent power denied to error, of prevailing against the dungeon and the stake.”

    Belief (even if one is right morally and empirically) doesn’t stop bullets.

    To get back to a point I made above (and to echo the Tienanmen point above as well): there was plenty of belief during the Prague Spring of 1968, as well as in Poland in 1981–yet those uprising were crushed. Something beyond rhetoric and belief changed to allow the Iron Curtain to be breached and for the Berlin Wall to fall.

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  71. JohnMcC says:

    As so often, a fascinating exchange. Could I suggest that instead of “rhetoric” we use the more common word “propaganda”? If so, we could freely agree that nations and ideologies argue openly in the world’s intellectual marketplaces. I see that RadioFreeEurope and Radio-y-Television-Marti are apparently still ongoing (at least they have functioning websites).

    Sometimes propaganda works, sometimes it doesn’t. I met a fellow once working in a Baltimore hospital as a heart-monitor-tech. He’d been a medical student in Moscow during the Soviet Union period. He’d migrated to Israel because a nearly forgotten grandmother had turned out to be Jewish. Once there he’d migrated to the US and was on a path to citizenship. What an amazing journey! I asked him what motivated him. He said that the Communist party had shown him a movie when he was a ‘Young Pioneer’ that showed the supposed plight of the poor in the US. He said, ‘I wanted to go to a place where poor people could be fat.’

    And it’s worth recalling that there was a time in the 1920s and early ’30s when numerous western writers thought that the Soviet Union was the opening act of a glorious era of prosperity and liberty. Lincoln Steffens immortalized himself by saying of the Communists, “I have seen the future and it works.” Walter Duranty, the NYTimes bureau chief in Moscow refused to believe that Stalin was intentionally starving the entire nation of Ukraine to death. The Soviet spies in England (for example the ‘Cambridge Five’) and Alger Hiss & Whitaker Chambers were at one time convinced that the Marxist dream would free mankind from economic slavery.

    The excuse that the Soviets fooled them probably became inexusable by the mid-30s when Stalins crimes (and the show trials and etc) became obvious to anyone who looked at them. But for a time, yeah, the Soviets had an aura of moral superiority. And WW2 propaganda made the Soviets a sort of misguided but sympathetic ally.

    But the relative significance of all this fades when we recall that the Soviet system could not provide a decent life to it’s people. Tractors rusted in fields because spare parts had not been ordered by central planners. Hogs were fed loaves of bread because the central planners decided bread had to be cheap but hog-feed was more expensive. Central planners, being men, couldn’t provide sanitary napkins so women in the Soviet Union had to wash and dry rags for their menstrual needs.

    Sooner or later the truth about the Soviet system could no longer be avoided. And it collapsed. Cuba too will have it’s ‘fall of the Berlin Wall’ moment; the embargo has been a complete failure at bringing this about. But we still beam Radio Marti at them. Somebody believes that propaganda has some effect.

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  72. jd says:

    I got bored and skipped to the bottom. Did anybody get called a Nazi yet?

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  73. Tillman says:

    @jd: Y’know, for a discussion over what moves the world more, especially one that grew out of a half-assed diss over a handshake at the funeral service of a globally-respected public figure, it’s been remarkably civil if lacking in clarity.

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  74. JohnMcC says:

    @jd: @Tillman: Ha! I guess I got sucked in. You two fellows probably have the better attitude. One stiff glass of small-batch and I won’t think about it at all!

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  75. grumpy realist says:

    @Pinky: You think that the Soviets cared? Or the rest of the world? My dear, you have a very naive view of politics.

    “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” has a nice sound-bite aspect to it, but had absolutely nothing to do with how the Berlin Wall finally got demolished.

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