Monday, October 08, 2007

The Moderate Thing

THE DEPTHS CAN BE OVERRATED. This isn't going to be a long piece. Moderates mostly don't interest me. Let me rephrase that. I mostly find moderates uninteresting. They like to call themselves centrists or middle of the road or mainstream. That's because they've only given the matter a moderate amount of thought. What they are is a motley collection of divers people, including the following:

1. The ignoramuses who routinely respond "don't know" in surveys of opinion on specific issues

2. The oafs who remain undecided for months after the conventions in presidential campaigns

3. The nuts whose opinions on various issues are so inconsistent they can't add up to (even) a party affiliation

4. The suckers whose minds are changed by the last shallow sound bite they heard

5. The impotent intellectuals who read everything, understand nothing, and therefore never think they have enough information to arrive at a conviction

6. The esoteric dilettantes who can be passionate about trivia but curiously dispassionate about fundamentals

The first four categories aren't worth thinking about at all. They're just flotsam and jetsam on the political ocean.

The fifth category is primarily infuriating. It's the default position of loquacious ciphers like David Gergen and Mort Kondracke. They will consider the most ridiculous argument and act as if it had sufficient merit to be judiciously considered, and they will earnestly entreat their betters to be more reasonable about utterly unreasonable positions. Time wasters.

The final category is at least marginally interesting because it disproves the fallacy that political moderates are somehow manifestations of the Greek principle of the Golden Mean -- moderation in all things (which is absolutely and fatally boring). Category 6 moderates can be adamant, even warlike, but not in accordance with any particular pattern. It's not that they're intensely convinced about the deep things and open-minded about the small things. It can even be the reverse.

Today's Ann Althouse blog entries are a beautiful illustration. She publishes an undistinguished photograph of a man in shorts walking a pair of Italian greyhounds (er, "two skinny dogs"). It's left to her faithful, mostly moderate commenters to explain that the theme of the photo is Ann's aversion to short pants on men. Fine. She's entitled to her pet peeves. Even if they're a little strange.

Subsequently, she posts an entry about Al Gore and his prospects of winning the Nobel prize. She says:

Some people think yes, yes. I'm wondering if I want to be one of them. A lot seems to hang on whether his movie was totally honest. It wasn't, but nevertheless, I like Al Gore. Here's my simulblog of "An Inconvenient Truth." I'm glancing back at all my Al Gore posts, trying to see how consistent I've been. There are too many to check, and I'm sure I've mocked him as ridiculous or pompous on many occasions. But I mocked him as ridiculous and pompous back in 2000, and I voted for him. The Republicans got a new guy in Thompson. Time for the Democrats to get someone new. The old crowd is so tedious, especially the topic of whether Hillary is inevitable. Let's have some Al. If he wins the Nobel Prize. [emphasis mine].

The movie wasn't honest, but she still likes him and would still accept a transparently political, Carter-like Nobel Prize award as some kind of credential. And, yeah, I know she's kidding, but she is and she isn't. (Here's more on her 'simulblog' of Inconvenient Truth.) That's the kind of moderate she is, the kind of cultural oberver she is. (And more here if you scroll) One of her commenters seems to understand exactly where she's coming from:

I think that "An Inconvient Truth" is not truthful, largely. I would like to see Al Gore get in the race, because I think that he is a better man than he lets on, as he is playing to a strange audience.

There's that word 'strange' again. Coincidence? No. Merely 'inconvient.' The strange ones are the whole non-moderate audience on the left and the right who accord some meaning to the word 'truth,' even if they disagree about what it is.

I almost blogged about Althouse last month because she did about four entries in less than a week detailing her distaste for Jeffrey Toobin's new book on the Supreme Court. She actually seemed pretty mad about the way he used allusive description as a substitute for making direct moral, political, and character accusations of the justices. I didn't finish the post because ultimately I could find no point in her repetitious wrath. (You can find the relevant entries at her site by searching for Toobin....) Toobin's slyly disingenuous presentation provoked her ire while Al Gore's flat-out untruths don't. Oka-a-ay.

Something in Toobin's work or behavior offended her personally, and we'll never find out what it is. Logic, the law, and all the tools of argument are just a game to be played hard when something, never mind what, pisses her off. In the same way, there's something entirely subjective and invisible about her affection and historical votes for Gore and Kerry, as well as her continuing desire to vote for Hillary, even though she appears to understand that the War on Terror is real and the Dems are all sandbagging the issue. For some reason I can't fathom she doesn't need to agree with or believe the truthfulness of the politicians she's prepared to trust. But finding that reason would require her to be more interesting to me than she is. It could be as simple as garden-variety intellectual snobbery or the observation of another of the commenters on the Gore entry:

An inconvenient statistic about Ann's Gore post:

Word count:

"I" / "me" / "my": 11

"Gore" / "he" / "his": 10

And it's Althouse, by a nose!

So maybe she's just a much smarter and more polished version of Maureen Dowd.

Or she could be a genuine paradox. I doubt it, though. I think she's more of a coffee table curiosity. Worth looking at and exclaiming over periodically, but not worth delving into at any length.

Like all the other moderates. It's what's called a distinction without a difference.

How much time did we waste on that? Sorry.

P.S. In response to an email, let me clarify that the use of the word 'divers' was not a typo. It's a snob usage I thought humorously appropriate in this context.

UPDATE. Apologies for continuing the boringness. But here's the archetypal Ann Althouse comment:

AlphaLiberal said...
Let's have Al, for sure.

The flaws in the movie don't undermine it's credibility. Most of the kvetching I read was scientists, so given to caveats, complaining Gore didn't lay out all the caveats under the sun and that the timlines he was discussing weren't always clear to the audience.

Yeah. Whatever. He also reached about a billion or two more people than the usual cautious scientific paper. Scientific couching doesn't play well in the mass markets, but people can investigate more and find that.

Gore was slimed by the press big time in 2000.

Kewl. My favorite part -- "Most of the kvetching I read was scientists, so given to caveats..." Geez. When scientists get in the way of a globular politician, the whole world must be in deep shite. And I'm especially encouraged by the assurance that "The flaws in the movie don't undermine it's credibility." Gawd. What a relief. And here I was thinking that an incompetent and biased farce of a presentation might derail the entire worldwide movement toward a just totalitatarian response to Global Warming.

Thank Gaia. All I'm waiting for now is a photographically poetic response from the Althouse goddess. It's going to be so kewl. When she explains -- logically or imagistically -- how Hillary will knit up the unraveled sleeve of care for the whole fucking universe.

If only I had the NYU law degree that admits a neophyte into the inner sanctum of philosophical enlightenment. And digital photography. (H/T Glenn Reynolds, who links Ann Althouse every single goddamned day. God bless him.)

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