Matt Yglesias points to my instinct to trust Don Rumsfeld as evidence of “the kind of psychic divide out there,” since “the idea that there could be anyone on the planet (except maybe Dick Cheney) who would have less credibility than Don Rumsfeld is simply astounding to me.” Could be; I spent eight plus years wondering how anyone could possibly think Bill Clinton had sufficient integrity to be president. Go figure.
Indeed, Rumsfeld and Cheney both strike me as the very model of what we want from our senior public leaders. Regardless of what thinks of their policy preferences, they’re both highly intelligent men who achieved extraordinary prominence early in life, made a substantial amount of money in the private sector, and have given up the life of leisure that senior CEOs enjoy for the low wages and high stress of national service late in life. Because neither has any ambitions for higher office, they can be extremely forthright and not much care what people think. I think they’re both honorable men who are, unfortunately, exemplars of the Administration’s penchant for keeping everything close to the vest., which presumably stems from a not-completely unfounded view that the press and the opposition party are hoping for their failure.
Clearly, something has happened in recent years that has led both sides to view each other with distrust. A mini-debate on the issue sprung up among some prominent bloggers over the weekend. Brad DeLong, himself a rather partisan Democrat and professor of some reknown, noted that he has little patience for professors who want us to accord respect to the views of even our most extreme enemies while they simultaneously react to Republicans as evil incarnate. Mark Kleiman agrees. To which Matt quipped, “Is it okay if I’m universally intolerant of people who don’t share my point-of-view?”
Kevin Drum has a somewhat lengthy post on the matter, urging that advocates of both sides try a little moderation and try to avoid falling into the reductio ad absurdum trap. It’s hard to argue with that. Most of the prominent blogs, on both sides of the aisle, have more or less done that. Of the truly huge blogs, only LGF and Eschaton have regularly gone down the rabid partisan path, the result of which is that both essentially preach to the choir. Moderation is a bit less common in the syndicated commentariate, since it’s much easier to stand out from the crowd as an attack dog than as a moderate, the latter of which tends to bore readers.
Ironically, during the midst of this debate, John McCain and Joe Lieberman, the Senators who are simultaneously most respected by the other party and perhaps most annoying within their own, co-signed an op-ed piece in yesterday’s WaPo urging a sensible middle ground on Iraq policy. Even though both are media stars well out of proportion to their institutional power in the Senate (the press love politicians who can be counted on for a negative quote about their own), my guess is their prescription will be largely ignored, especially this close to the election. The rewards for dogged partisanship are vastly outweighed by the penalty for reflective reconsideration of one’s views once on the record.