Analysis vs Advocacy

A recurring source of friction in the OTB conversation.

lego people crowd
Image CC0 Public Domain

One of the interesting themes that emerged in the discussion on my post “SOTU Ends Pretense of Normalcy” came from my co-blogger Steven Taylor’s frustration over being accused of moral equivalency in lamenting Nancy Pelosi’s tearing up her copy of President Trump’s speech.

A conciliatory comment caused an epiphany in which Steven realized that at “the heart of some of the mutual frustration” is that he is “more an analyst than an advocate.” That insight caused Matt Bernius to observe,

This bears repeating. And I think its a challenge in communication that people who have been through PhD training often have (myself included). Part of the professionalization of being a scholar is the move from [advocate to analyst] (even in soft/social sciences that often have an advocacy component, like Anthropology).

From a reader’s perspective the line between the two sometimes feels blurry — especially when so much writing with the political space is so far weighted to advocacy.

Emphasis mine. And, yes, I’ve had this thought many times over the 17-year history of the site.

Steven and I are, much more so than our co-blogger Doug Mataconis or most bloggers and political commentators, fundamentally analysts rather than advocates. And, yes, that can lead to misunderstanding when readers expect or want advocacy. Conversely, it’s likely why two erstwhile conservative Republicans have a readership that’s mostly liberal and Democratic.

Steven’s old PoliBlog site had the subtitle “A first, rough draft of my thoughts.” While I don’ t know that I thought of OTB that way in the earliest days of the blog, it soon became clear that it’s what it was. I fully expected and continue to expect that my opinions on things will change as I get more information—to include pushback from readers.

On literally the first day of this blog, I was pushing back against what I saw as bad arguments by those on what was then my team. I chastised Jonah Goldberg for not only taking the wrong lesson from “A Few Good Men” but for his harshness in criticism of France and Germany for their opposition to the impending Iraq War, of which I was a supporter.

More to the point, perhaps, is my post entitled “How Not to Argue.” The entire content:

Sadly, Ann Coulter continues to make me rethink my position whenever I agree with her. She briefly became my favorite columnist during the Clinton impeachment scandal, but she continues to spew forth semi-Fascist rants in the post-9/11 world. She’s clever and not bad to look at, but it gets awfully tiresome when she continues to accuse anyone who disagrees with the Bush Administration of treason. This hardly seems a good way to persuade those who disagree.

Again, that was Day 1 of OTB. While the posts have gotten longer, that’s pretty much been the brand here ever since.

On the one hand, I think it has given us a reputation for fairness. I can defend John Kerry against the outrageousness of the Swift Boat attacks even while supporting the re-election of George W. Bush. Or bluntly assess that choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate goes against everything John McCain stands for—and that Barack Obama’s choice of Joe Biden demonstrates much better judgment—even though I plan to vote the other way. And I continued to double down on that, notably calling Palin an “ignoramus,” certainly at the cost of a lot of longtime readers. (Also, the real-time updates on the first Palin thread are the clearest demonstration of the “first, rough draft of my thoughts”—you can see my thinking evolve as the news rolls in.)

That same tendency makes it possible for me to write a post on Tuesday saying that Rush Limbaugh has been bad for the country and one on Wednesday defending his being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Were I President, I wouldn’t give him the award. But Trump is President and there is long, bipartisan precedent for giving the medal to entertainers and people who are incredibly controversial. (Although, granted, typically not controversial entertainers.)

Readers wanted me to be outraged by the pick because Limbaugh has stoked the divisions that gave us Trump. But, analytically, that’s all the more reason for Trump to give Limbaugh the medal. And, like it or not, 40 percent of the country back Trump and Limbaugh with as much fervor as you despise them.

The same bias for analysis over advocacy explains how I can spend three years decrying Trump’s corruption, lamenting the abandonment by virtually every single Republican officeholder of the principles for which the party long claimed to stand, and yet argue that calling witnesses to the Senate trial served no purpose, given that any American who could possibly be persuaded that Trump ought be removed already had more than enough evidence that he was guilty. Objectively, it simply didn’t matter. The only potential value was a catharsis for Trump’s foes; but that’s not what a trial is for and there’s no reason to expect Senate Republicans to provide it.

It’s how I can both decry the fecklessness of Republican Senators in pretending Trump did nothing wrong while largely excusing their political calculation in voting to acquit. Or lament the damage to American political norms that Trump and his Republican enablers have wrought while arguing they made no fundamental damage to our institutions. Or Steven can argue that, while he doesn’t like it, the Senate is likely never going to vote to remove a President from office—and that it’s been that way since very early in our history.

Similarly, it’s why Steven and I—who have both written dozens of posts excoriating Trump’s awfulness—can nonetheless worry that Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats’ aping of Trump’s incivility is bad for the country. Speaking for myself at least, Trump’s awfulness is at this point a known known. It’s a constant, not a variable. And, therefore, less interesting from an analytical standpoint.

Indeed, that’s a major factor—although there are certainly others—in my declining productivity as a writer the last couple of years. While Trump’s multiple outrageous transgressions of the norms were fascinating for a while, they eventually became awful background noise. Absent his death, resignation, or removal via impeachment, it was simply something we were going to have to suffer through until at least noon January 20, 2021. And, as we’ve witnessed and predicted, impeachment is only a theoretical option, not a practical one.

I’ve starting to write more partly to fill the void created by Doug’s hiatus. But also because we’re getting to the point in the campaign where we can meaningfully analyze the alternatives to Trump and their likelihood of replacing him.

Given that I’m at the point where I’d vote even for Tulsi Gabbard were she somehow the nominee, I’ll certainly engage in some advocacy. I’ve engaged in a bit already. But, mostly, my focus will be an analysis of events and the landscape and how they’re likely to impact the election.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Academia, Society, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. mattbernius says:

    I wrote:

    Part of the professionalization of being a scholar is the move from analyst to advocate (even in soft/social sciences that often have a advocacy component, like Anthropology).

    DAMMIT! I hope everyone reads that as academic professionalization is moving from *advocate* to *analyst.* I should not be allowed in 50 feet of a keyboard.

    Beyond that, I agree with everything you wrote. Except for the Tulsi Gabbard thing. At that point I vote for the sweet sweet release of the world killing meteor of death.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius: I edited the OP to correct the transposition. And, yes, Gabbard had long been my one caveat but I’m at the point where she’d be preferable to Trump. At very least, the Republican Senate would suddenly discover a spine and some principles.

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  3. Moosebreath says:

    James,

    This is a useful and interesting post. While I am not looking to rehash the discussion in the SOTU Ends Pretense of Normalcy thread, part of my frustration there was that Steven took it as a given that, as you put it, “Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats’ aping of Trump’s incivility is bad for the country”, while dismissing (without trying to analyze it) the alternative theory that not responding in kind may be worse for the country.

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    While Trump’s multiple outrageous transgressions of the norms were fascinating for a while, they eventually became awful background noise.

    This is a conundrum faced by journalism. It’s part of why I often refer to the New York Times as “FTFNYT”. In 2016 HER EMAILS!! and allegations against the squeaky clean Clinton Foundation were news, and clickbait. That Trump was a racist sleazoid was old news. Especially in NY. Trumps manifold flaws got only a fraction of the coverage allegations against Hillary got. I’m hopeful that this time around the responsible elements of the MSM won’t follow the RW media down every rabbit hole. I keep expecting to see NYT do a 50 paragraph deep dive into Burisma, exploring all the possibilities for corruption, with a passing mention in the 47th that Hunter Biden did nothing wrong. But so far they and, as far as I’ve seen, the rest of the MSM have stayed away from it. Fingers crossed.

    It’s Trump’s general repulsiveness that can defeat him. I hope the responsible MSM can see their way clear to report that it persists, even if the details aren’t particularly interesting anymore.

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  5. Scott says:

    My placeholder preference is not Gabbard but the proverbial Yellow Dog.

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  6. Mary says:

    Over the years, I do believe this blog, in the balance, has been fair–and with just enough controversial commentary to keep your followers engaged and ready to pounce when they disagree. No complaints.

    However, I DO disagree with your criticism of Speaker Pelosi for tearing up Trump’s speech. It was a powerful symbol for people who are weary and afraid of Trump and the current Republican party. She nonviolently spoke truth to lies spoken by Trump and endorsed by his adoring his sycophants. America needs leaders who will help us navigate and fight the evil that is hiding in plain sight.

    However, what I disagree with the most is that you seem to express that our current state of politics, dismal as it is, is just politics as usual and that the remedy is the ballot box. I, too agree that the remedy SHOULD be the ballot box, but I also think that it is time to recognized that the Republican party has engaged in asymmetrical warfare to gain power and fully intend to keep it for the foreseeable future. The evidence is overwhelming: gerrymandering, blocking appointments of judges during Democratic administrations, purging voter lists, resisting House of Representatives subpoenas, supporting foreign interference in our elections, the Trump rallies, the partisan SOTU, no bi-partisan censoring of Trump for attempting to use foreign countries to derail Joe Biden’s candidacy, and intentional use of propaganda, such as Trump’s characterization of Democrats and Republicans who oppose him as undemocratic, vicious, etc., to encourage division among Americans.

    In summary, I don’t not believe that Trump will be removed from office if only Democrats and Never Trumpers “play by the rules.” We’re suckers if we do. We need leaders who can find legal and non-violent ways to fight back. And Nancy Pelosi did so by ripping up Trump’s SOTU speech.

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  7. Kit says:

    It’s obvious that you put quite some thought into that post, James. While I could always quibble around the edges (and what fun would OTB be if there weren’t room to quibble?), I think you made your points well.

    When I originally stated that some people get frustrated because of a lack of advocacy, the intention was not for you simply come out with an opinion, but rather to explain how structural deficiencies can be practically addressed. We talk politics here at OTB, and not the politics of some dead and distant time and place, but rather of our here and now. What we discuss here is very much alive. A serious philosopher, after all his theorizing, is interested in how to live. A serious theologian is interested in how to save his soul. When his country undergoes a crisis, a serious political philosopher should not look on with the cold detachment of a biologist studying pinned butterflies.

    There is an old notion from the Greeks (and I’ve noticed the same in Confucian thought, too) that knowledge, true knowledge, compels action. Explaining how Rush’s Medal of Freedom is not quite the outrage it seemed is genuinely helpful, and doesn’t really require any more from you. But explaining, say, how separation of powers is fatally flawed is cold comfort without some effort to grapple with how that might be fixed short of a revolution.

    One last point: I think you advocate more than you realize. When, for example, you mention that Pelosi’s tearing of the speech was troublesome, there was rather little analysis and somewhat more an opinion against the action. Just sayin’! Personally, I’d love to hear both you and Steven dig deeper into your reactions.

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  8. 95 South says:

    IMHO Steven writes a lot of advocacy under the guise of analysis, and he hates to be called out for it. I never noticed James doing either of those things.

    Like journalists, authors should distinguish between reporting and opinion pieces.

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  9. gVOR08 says:

    On the Friday Forum thread Jen linked to an interview with James Carville. Carville at one point said,

    And thirdly, the New York Times a week before an election, assured its readers that the Russians were not even trying to help Trump. And then they wrote 15,000 stories about Hillary’s emails.

    I mention this in case anyone was wondering why, as at @gVOR08:, I sometimes refer to them as FTFNYT. They did as much as Comey to elect Trump.

    I’ll also note that Carville says, contra Bitecofer’s views in an earlier thread,

    I think the other side wants us to think there are no swing voters, that we’re doomed and it doesn’t even matter if you have a message because you can’t reach anyone. I think that’s bullshit. I think that’s a wholly incorrect view of American politics. But look, if no one’s persuadable, then let’s just have the revolution.

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  10. Jay L Gischer says:

    I have a point of view. I’m sure you all know that. But I prefer the analytic mode as well. It irritates people, more on the internet than face-t0-face. Honestly, sometimes I’m so skeptical, I’m skeptical about skepticism.

    Which is probably why I feel such an affinity for the two of you. One thing I’ve learned, though. If you have feelings about something, don’t try to hide that. Put it front and center, and then move to your analysis. The communication seems to work better. What I think and what I feel don’t always line up, either.

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  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    @gVOR08: The New York Times has long hated the Clintons. It’s a big liability for them, and particularly for Hillary. Bill seems better able to manage this sort of thing.

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  12. James Joyner says:

    @Moosebreath: I think it possible to simultaneously believe that Pelosi’s tearing up the speech was a bad precedent but that some sort of signal that Trump was violating all norms of protocol was warranted.

    @gVOR08: There was a very good episode of the NYT Daily podcast (“The Lessons of 2016,” January 31) that dealt with this issue. Executive editor Dean Baquet is very candid about why they did what they did and how it was problematic.

    @Kit: Oh, sure, there has always been advocacy mixed with analysis—even in the Day 1 examples cited in the post. But the post wasn’t about how outrageous Pelosi’s actions were but how the entire pageantry of that night’s SOTU was an end of the pretense of civility. She contributed to it and, because Trump is such a lout, her actions were more noteworthy.

    @95 South: We do so little “Just the facts, ma’am” reporting that I’m not sure what value there would be in making the distinction. Analysis is opinion, it’s just that we tend to focus more on process and institutions than we do on advocating that people do something. I very seldom urge people to vote for a political candidate. Rather, I express opinions about the various candidates, usually making clear which of them I’d prefer to see elected and why.

    @Jay L Gischer: I don’t know that the NYT, as an institution, has an emotional relationship with the Clintons. I think that, like the Bushes, they see them as something of an American institution. In the above-referenced podcast, Baquet explains that they put a reporter on the Clinton beat in 2013 because she was the presumptive nominee and likely successor to Obama. Micheal Barbaro correctly notes that this necessarily influenced the narrative. But Baquet wasn’t wrong about his assumptions, either.

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  13. @95 South:

    IMHO Steven writes a lot of advocacy under the guise of analysis, and he hates to be called out for it.

    It would be easier to take this criticism if you had ever made it before now (and did so with specifics).

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  14. @95 South:

    reporting and opinion pieces.

    We are not journalists. None of this is “reporting.”

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  15. And to add my .02 on this discussion: when I say I am more analyst than, note that I am not dichotomizing. I do advocate, based on analysis, for structural change to our democracy, for example. I am not, however, a partisan advocate (although I clearly have preferences, especially in regards to the current occupant of the White House). Of course, my position on Trump is very much linked to my views on good democratic governance.

    I try to steer clear of things about which I merely have an opinion (although, on occasion, I know I violate that stricture). I don’t know that I have ever written about climate change, for example. I avoid talking about the politics of countries about which I know little. And so forth.

    Sometimes I am simply responding to the news.

    But, yes a rough draft of my thoughts, indeed.

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  16. Jay L Gischer says:

    @James Joyner: Ok, so I spoke loosely and you challenged me on it. Fair enough. I think that there is a cadre of people at the NYT that just seem to be rubbed the wrong way by the Clinton’s and vice-versa. It may be a small-town vs. big-city thing. It may be that people who work for the NYT cop an attitude about their importance.

    Now you, for instance, read the NYT very faithfully. Whereas I, having spent most of my life on the other coast, try to ignore it as much as I can. Which sadly, is not as much as I like. Because it’s full of stuff that I don’t care about, because it’s relevant only to New York City dwellers, which I am not. New Yorker magazine is even worse on this score.

    So, I have a chip on my shoulder about the NYT. If I were to become a national politician, this would risk turning into a big problem, if that chip ever worked its way into my dealings with reporters and editors from that organization. I expect this is what happened with the Clintons.

    It is a bit absurd to describe a person as having an emotional relationship with a newspaper, but they definitely can have an emotional relationship with employees of an institution, and their feelings about that institutions role and behavior are going to have an impact.

    And I fully expect that editors and publishers are not going to talk about their feelings when discussing their coverage. But they might well have had them anyway, and the probably had an impact. It’s hard to stop that from happening.

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  17. Kurtz says:

    @mattbernius:

    I typed out a reply asking if that’s what you meant and didn’t post it. It was pretty clear what you meant. But be careful, if you were in academia, a segment of the population would call it a Freudian slip.

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  18. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Personally I come here for the analysis. I don’t need anyone to advocate on the major issues of today for me to know what I think about them 🙂 but the analysis might persuade me to re-examine my own thoughts.

    Sadly, a lot of people, even here, seem unable to separate the two. For many (unfortunately–don’t you or Steven ever change your approach please) they will see your analysis as acceptance because they literally cannot tell the difference. The tribal brain is very very good at casting opponents end positions as immoral or evil, without digging into how they ended up where they did.

    To sum up the summary of the summary, people are a problem.

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  19. Kurtz says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I avoid talking about the politics of countries about which I know little.

    Pssh, this is America. The soul of our culture is making strong claims about shit of which we know very little.

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  20. @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    To sum up the summary of the summary, people are a problem.

    One of my all-time favorite quotes. And I always hear it in my head in Peter Jones’ voice.

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  21. Gustopher says:

    Given that I’m at the point where I’d vote even for Tulsi Gabbard were she somehow the nominee

    Tulsi Gabbard is your lower limit? If you’re not at the point where you would vote for Marianne Williamson if she were somehow the nominee, I don’t know why we bother with you…

    (Actually, I have no idea whether Gabbard is better or worse than Williamson. My neighbor was very into crystals and new age stuff, and she was a fine HOA President, so I might go with Williamson over Gabbard)

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  22. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    But the post wasn’t about how outrageous Pelosi’s actions were but how the entire pageantry of that night’s SOTU was an end of the pretense of civility. She contributed to it and, because Trump is such a lout, her actions were more noteworthy.

    See how much you are normalizing him? You expect nothing good from him, and so Pelosi’s actions are more noteworthy, even though they are trivial in comparison.

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  23. Chip Daniels says:

    I appreciate scholars doing analysis pieces.
    However, it is difficult for me to analyze this regime in any conventional sense since it has no real relationship to a conventional American political administration.

    There was this essay going around a few years ago asserting that the Tea Party Republicans were a revolutionary force, that is, a force that refused to grant legitimacy to its opposition. In their eyes, the need to destroy the Democrats made all other principles say, of fiscal prudence, morality and patriotism secondary.
    The Flight 93 essay bore this out, where the Democratic party was viewed as an existential threat which must be destroyed by any means necessary.

    The Trump administration and the larger conservative movement isn’t interested in any set of coherent policy goals or political program; It has only one goal, that of restoration of white male Christian supremacy. Everything else it jettisons when necessary.

    So trying to coolly evaluate it in conventional political analysis terms is difficult for me.

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  24. just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: Considering that the last time the Republican Senate had a spine and some principles they dedicated them to the prospect of ‘making that [African American] a one-term president,’ I remain passionately ambivalent about the utility of spine and principles in Republicans.

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  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I, too agree that the remedy SHOULD be the ballot box, but I also think that it is time to recognized that the Republican party has engaged in asymmetrical warfare to gain power and fully intend to keep it for the foreseeable future. [Implication: ballot box will be ineffective]

    Fine. But if the solution ISN’T the ballot box, then what is it? The last group that I recall believed that the solution wasn’t the ballot box became famous for ambushing police officers on patrol in Oakland, CA.

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  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican: In addition to the inability to separate analysis from advocacy, the other problem seems to me that many (if not most) people will see analysis that they don’t like as advocacy (and advocacy that they approve of as analysis, for that matter).

    ETA: ” The soul of our culture is making strong claims about shit of which we know very little.” Which was exactly [edit: well, not QUITE exactly] what I used to tell my Korean students when they would reply to a question by saying “I don’t have an opinion; I don’t know enough to be able to have one.”

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  27. DrDaveT says:

    Note: I tried to post this much earlier, but had technical issues. If this comment is now overtaken by events, feel free to ignore.
    ================================
    I for one was not calling for advocacy at all in the comments after the SOTU — I was calling for analysis of potential responses, and what their effects might be. I was particularly frustrated by the assumptions and/or conclusions buried in:

    Similarly, it’s why Steven and I—who have both written dozens of posts excoriating Trump’s awfulness—can nonetheless worry that Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats’ aping of Trump’s incivility is bad for the country.

    1. What Pelosi did (silently tearing up a copy of his speech) is not something Trump would ever do. It is an entirely different category of response — one much more like civil disobedience than like the hate rally that preceded it. The leap to equivalence leaves me behind; I don’t get it.
    2. What harm do you envision following from Pelosi’s action? What is the predicted causal chain from her tearing up the speech to something that is “bad for the country”? That analysis was absent; only distaste was expressed.
    3. No attempt was made to consider the consequences of the alternatives to what she did.
    3A. What happens if Pelosi treats the hate rally as if it were another normal day at the office? What message does that send, to whom? What does it enable through inaction, especially if iterated?
    3B. What other form of protest or rebuttal was available to her, that would neither be “bad for the country” nor ineffectual?

    I don’t need you guys to take pro-Democrat stands to address those questions, and I’d love to hear your analyses of the available alternatives.

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  28. Mary says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: As stated in my original post, I do not support. My points are that Democrats and Never Trumpers must (1) think out of the box and break decorum rules when necessary to speak trutpower, (2) recognize that we are in an asymmetrical cold war with the Republican far- and Christian-right, oligarchs, and crime syndicates, (3) symbolic acts such as Pelosi tearing up the SOTU speech bolster war-weary Americans who are on the brink of accepting that Congressional and legal efforts to preserve the America envisioned by our founders are toothless under this corrupt administration, (4) Trump will not willingly leave office even if he loses, which is why he is setting the stage to claim voter fraud by NOT taking action to ensure state elections are protected and supported by a paper trail, and in summary, and (5) we are stomping ants in this discussion while the world is literally and figuratively on fire. How would we be addressing the events of the last three years if we recognized the propganda impact of Limbaugh and Fox News and the Republican’s slow and steady effort to ensure minority rule (including the SCOTUS intervening in the Florida recount to select GW Bush) for what they are: Asymmetic warfare.

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  29. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner:

    @gVOR08: There was a very good episode of the NYT Daily podcast (“The Lessons of 2016,” January 31) that dealt with this issue. Executive editor Dean Baquet is very candid about why they did what they did and how it was problematic.

    I just read the transcript of that podcast. I appreciate the pointer, but I don’t really see much I hadn’t seen in other interviews with Baquet.

    They talk about emails, but only the propriety of publishing the DNC emails stolen by Russia and laundered through Wikileaks. Baquet justifies printing those because while they knew they were hacked, they didn’t know it was the Russians. He says that now, if they knew material was provided to them to manipulate NYT, they’d apply “a little higher bar” before publishing. They said not a word about their obsessive coverage of Hillary’s handling of her official email and their credulous coverage of the FBI investigation. On their constant probing of the Clinton Foundation while ignoring actual corruption at the Trump Foundation, and elsewhere by Trump, not a peep.

    Baquet says he feels abashed that they covered Hillary early as the presumptive nominee, which she was, while treating Sanders, and Trump, as longshots, which they were. He justifies the difference as providing context for readers who might not know much about Sanders, “But I think we got to tell the readers, in the moment, how should we think about this.” But later, when asked about pointing out Republican lies, it’s not up to NYT to do anything but report and let the reader judge. In fact, when pressed on “bothsideism”, Baquet waved his hands a lot around “sophisticated true objectivity”. What he means by that is not clear.

    The only failing Baquet seems to admit to is failing to understand the mood of the country. (Three years later, after all those diner visits, they don’t seem to have any better idea. Come interview me. I’ve worked with those people. I like a lot of those people. I understand them better than NYT apparently ever will.) Baquet gives no indication of recognizing the extent to which they gave us Trump, nor any indication beyond trivia of doing anything different. Until Baquet is willing to recognize the role of race in “economic anxiety”, and until he’s willing to admit our “elites” really have screwed up. I don’t see how he or NYT will ever understand the mood of the country.

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  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    You all know, I assume, that objectivity is literally impossible for a person. We are a subjectivity, everything we see, hear, touch is defined by our human physical limitations. Our analysis of that limited and inevitably distorted data is itself corrupted by learning, by experience, by assumptions, by our own lack of imagination, but by our imaginations as well. That sword cuts both ways.

    We are never objective, which is not to say that there is no objective reality, just that try as we will we’ll never see it clearly. We can’t. We’re fucking ants. We can’t get our heads around the concept of a billion, let alone a billion, billion galaxies in a billion, billion possible universes. We may well be the intellectual Planck length, the absolute smallest amount of consciousness that can exist as a discrete unit. It may be that the reason aliens haven’t noticed us is that they haven’t yet built instruments capable of measuring something so small. Goshibar the Blue from Planet Waythefuckout is going to have an aha moment some day and rush into work to announce that as incredible as it seems, he’s proven that consciousness can exist in amounts that can only be described as incomprehensibly stupid. And that will be us.

    Still, one must give it the old college try, what?

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  31. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    We may well be the intellectual Planck length, the absolute smallest amount of consciousness that can exist as a discrete unit.

    Maybe.

    But, also maybe, we are not just the most intelligent species ever to behold the universe, but also the first and the only one.

    Oh, that’s very, very, very (ad infinitum) unlikely according to what we know.

    But what about according to what we don’t yet know? Well, naturally we can’t tell.

    Except for one thing: we know that we don’t know of any other intelligent species in the universe with capabilities close to ours.

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  32. Kit says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    if the solution ISN’T the ballot box, then what is it?

    I would see two types of solutions that I wouldn’t consider primarily “ballot box” solutions. The first would involve finding and embracing a strategy laying out what would be the work of a generation to implement: agree upon a limited set of goals and just push and push. And I think these goals would involve vastly reducing the power and inequality caused by the 1%, fixing media such that blatant propaganda is not permitted, and ensuring that one citizen gets one vote. Let those issues ring on the Left the way abortion and gun rights do with Republicans.

    The second solution would be to meet power with power: voter suppression, disinformation, disregard for the law, and the deployment of Big Money, all with the aim of wielding power. I think it would mean winning the Presidency no matter the cost, and then governing as if the other branches do not exist.

    I never said any of this would be easy, appealing, possible, effective, or even good.

    Ever since Athens, almost anyone who ever thought about democracy concluded that it was a bad idea: the common people are too stupid, ignorant and radical to decide on matters, and those who would lead them are overwhelmingly rascals. The notion that democracy could work with the right structure in place was radical. Unfortunately, part of the cost of being first is that you make mistakes, and it now looks like The Founders flubbed it, even measured against the needs of their pre-modern world. Today we find ourselves with a philosophically dubious system of government whose previous foundations haven’t been rigorously analyzed for 250 years, a broken structure that seems to lack the internal resources needed to right itself, and a citizenry whose commitment to democracy seems dispiritingly swallow. China is rising and the world is overheating. America is looking crapped out. Ballot-box solutions are looking increasingly like pipe dreams.

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  33. MarkedMan says:

    @Gustopher: I think James is right on this, but if I were writing it, and with the benefit of several days worth of back and forth in the comments, I would have phrased it like this:

    Last night Trump’s usual incivility was on full display. This time however, Nancy Pelosi finally abandoned the pretense that everything was normal and demonstrated this by ripping up Trumps speech in view of the cameras. I don’t think this was the right thing to do because of the following reasons…

    Note: I petered out there at the end because, personally, I think she was near perfect in her response.

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  34. wr says:

    @95 South: “Like journalists, authors should distinguish between reporting and opinion pieces.”

    Why? I mean, if you’re writing for the NYT, then you are writing for a larger publication that aims for neutrality and you are obligated to follow their guidelines. But “authors” — presumably anyone writing anything other than journalism — and especially authors like those here are writing solely for themselves. They can analyze or the can pontificate or they can do the one under the guise of the other and it’s entirely up to the reader to decide whether there is value in the writing.

    I don’t understand why you need to have analysis opinion separated and, presumably, labeled. Can you not tell the difference? Can you not hold up what you read against your own beliefs and knowledge and judge it for yourself? Do you need the writers of a blog — that is free for all to read and required for no one — to make sure you are not exposed to things you might not agree with?

    (It occurs to me as I read this over that there is probably a less confrontational way of presenting this question, and maybe that would have a better shot at eliciting an answer. By way of explanation I can only say I’m sitting in my second airport of the day — Arnhelm in Stockholm, having come from Visby on Gotland — waiting for a flight to my third — Munich — and then on to home. So my brain is already a little jet-weary…)

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  35. wr says:

    @gVOR08: I think I finally agree with Carville. Let’s just have the revolution.

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  36. Kit says:

    @wr:

    I’m sitting in my second airport of the day — Arnhelm in Stockholm, having come from Visby on Gotland — waiting for a flight to my third — Munich — and then on to home.

    Should you ever find yourself in Brussels with a bit of time, give a shout.

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  37. de stijl says:

    Doug is a top notch analyst.

    He is / was much more libertarian than his audience, but consistently and has for years given us straight analysis. Person x said this, Person y said this also. Here are the likely outcomes. That is beyond commendable.

    James, you for years gave us straight analysis with some R spin in the last paragraph. You were always a straight shooter. Your political orientation has shifted recently, but you are not capricious nor vengeful.

    Steven is analytical and shoots straight by default. He literally cannot be deceitful by nature.

    You folks have done well by us. Doug used to pretend to be obtuse, but either he got over that, or we cured him of that dodge.

    You’ve thrived by audience engagement when it would have so easy to not.

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  38. Kit says:

    @de stijl:

    Doug is a top notch analyst.

    While I wouldn’t call Doug an analyst, I think we agree that he’s fantastic in bringing his lawyer’s eye to bear in writing masterful recapitulations of fast-moving events, bringing the salient points to the fore, and then giving just enough of his personal take that it actually lends additional confidence in his summary.

    There are certain stories that I’ll actively avoid reading until I read his take on the matter. I sometimes use him as a crutch, and only fully realise it when he takes a break.

    I’ll say that Doug can be obtuse. But the fact that he never lets it cloud the objective part of his work is a rare quality that I often fall far short of.

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  39. mattbernius says:

    @Kurtz:
    Ha! Well done. It probably was Freudian. Or just the fact that anyone who pays attention to me here or on Twitter should know by now that I am a typo taken human form.

    Beyond that, I totally agree with what @James Joyner & @Steven L. Taylor wrote up-thread (not to mention others of the commentariat) that my placing “advocacy” and “analysis” into binary opposition, while useful, is ultimately flawed.

    That said, I’ve yet to find a better way of describing the difference I find between the way that people with Academic training tend to approach breaking down and writing about an issue.

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  40. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher:

    See how much you are normalizing him? You expect nothing good from him, and so Pelosi’s actions are more noteworthy, even though they are trivial in comparison.

    That’s the opposite of normalizing. I’m saying that acting like Trump—even a fraction as badly as Trump, in fact—is a degradation of the norms.

    Trump’s awfulness is baked in. I think he deserves to be removed from office prematurely but am resigned to the fact that he won’t be. I’ve long since been resigned to voting for whomever the Democratic nominee is, precisely because replacing Trump is vital to restoring us to normalcy.

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  41. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08:

    On their constant probing of the Clinton Foundation while ignoring actual corruption at the Trump Foundation, and elsewhere by Trump, not a peep.

    I find these sorts of critiques frustrating. We know about the actual corruption at the Trump Foundation precisely because the NYT and other outlets uncovered and reported on them. The NYT had dozens, if not hundreds, of stories on the Foundation in the period between 1 January 2015 and 1 November 2016 (and tons more since). I think WaPo broke the story of the scandal, but NYT certainly followed up on it.

    The problem is that the Trump Foundation scandal simply got less traction because it told us nothing new about Trump: he is a sleazy self-dealer. Even his supporters concede that; they just don’t care. The Clinton Foundation, which most of us acknowledge does some real good, also raised some legitimate questions about the access game that the Clintons played. But I don’t think it was a serious issue one way or the other in the campaign in terms of affecting voting behavior.

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  42. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I don’t think Steven or I think that we’re unbiased. In the early years of the blog, I was a fairly enthusiastic Republican and remained for quite a while after that at least a leaner. I think Steven moved a little faster in that regard. But I think we try to take each issue that emerged on its face value and tried to assess it fairly rather than working to spin it so that it helped the home team.

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  43. de stijl says:

    @James Joyner:

    I judge you by your truthfulness to your nature.

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  44. de stijl says:

    @Kit:

    Back in the day, Doug pretended to be obtuse occasionally. When it suited his purposes.

    The logical conclusion of this chain of events does not fit my preconceived notion of how this would proceed.

    He got better.

    Eventually, way better.

    I can’t see in another’s head, but Doug is a straight shooter now and I have zero doubt on that. He spells it right.

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  45. de stijl says:

    @wr:

    Carville is an idiot. I hope we agree on that. When he was “right”, he was an idiot.

    I believe we are in a post Bill Clinton thing now. Please, baby, no Carville. He has no input that applies anymore. I do not want to hear his stupid voice and fake Loisiana inflections ever again.

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  46. Mary says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    As stated in my original post, I do not endorse violence.

    My points were:

    (1) Democrats and Never Trumpers must think out of the box and break decorum when necessary to speak truth to power.
    (2) It should expressed openly that the Republican party, led by the corrupt Trump administration, has asymmetrically broken the norms for bi-partisan governance to achieve electoral, judicial, and executive power. Americans know this, but the asymmetrical cold war conducted by the Republican party has not been labeled as such by our country’s leaders. I might add that armed irregular “militias” are just waiting for the green light to turn the cold war into a hot war.
    (3) Symbolic acts such as Pelosi tearing up the SOTU speech are needed to bolster cold war-weary Americans who are on the brink of accepting that Congressional and judicial efforts to preserve the America envisioned by our Founders are toothless under this corrupt administration.
    (4) It is likely that Trump will not willingly leave office even if he loses, which is why he is setting the stage to claim voter fraud by NOT protecting our elections.
    (5) We are stomping ants in this discussion while the world is figurative and literally on fire.

    So my question is: How would people be approaching the situation if it were conceived as a cold war rather than a normal election cycle? There would be messaging to give hope, there would be nonviolent protests, there would be graffiti, there would conceptualizing of worst possible scenarios.

    And it’s time to face that even if Trump is not re-elected the cold war will continue. What would Lincoln do? He’d be focused on messaging to unite the country, give hope, and face the facts.

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  47. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner: I think we flat out disagree on what normalizing means in this context, and how to respond to someone like Trump who will spend however long his speech was just lying to the American people.

    Or how to respond to someone like McConnell, who disregards the norms of governance to advance his party’s interest.

    If you let it go unchallenged, it becomes the norm.

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  48. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    I was a fairly enthusiastic Republican and remained for quite a while after that at least a leaner.

    I think that you’re still a leaner, but that the Republican Party requires so much fealty these days that learners are not welcome. I have very little doubt that if the Republican Party were to go back to it’s pre-Palin days, you would be a fairly enthusiastic Republican again. I have a lot of doubt that this will happen anytime soon.

    And, tying this to my last comment, I think you lament Pelosi’s action because you want America to go back to the pre-Palin days, when such a thing was unthinkable. I think this has been completely normalized in the Republican Party and will remain so until it is no longer effective.

    Nancy Pelosi tears a speech in half, very deliberately and with utter control, and that’s all the Republicans can talk about, because they are appalled that someone would dare treat their President with 0.1% of the disrespect that Trump treats everyone else with. Trump’s platform is surprisingly effectively diminished. He cannot get his message out.

    And, I think Pelosi is utterly respectful to the American People, and even the the Office of the President while doing so. She quietly sat and let him speak, and then spoke louder than he did with a single tear across a few pages. That respect for the American People — that’s the norm we need to protect.

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  49. Moosebreath says:

    @Gustopher:

    “If you let it go unchallenged, it becomes the norm.”

    Exactly.

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  50. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    Nancy Pelosi is an utter boss.

    When she was briefly Leader she passed so much. ACA was a hard get, and she did it. Barely, but she did it.

    Nancy Smash.

    I have a bit of a political crush on Pelosi.

    Tearing up Trump’s speech as he was talking was brilliant theater.

    She is not as active as I would prefer, but I do not know her world. From the outside, it looks like she’s got this covered.

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