Why I Violate The Principle of Charity
December 21, 2010, 3:31 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

One of the reasons I will not win any debating society-sponsored events in political debates is that I fundamentally do not abide one of the first rules of debate: presume that your opponent is sincere. I fundamentally do not believe that most left-wing commentators are sincere in what they say. I believe that deep down they are interested in point-scoring, victory, and (ultimately) power – and nothing else. Certainly not the truth.

For example, take the debate over the Obama health care mandate, and its constitutionality or lack thereof. An Obamacare supporter will inevitably say that it’s constitutional because of the commerce clause. I do not believe for one fucking second that anyone in their right mind with an ounce of intelligence sincerely believes this. So, I am literally unable to carry on a civil conversation with someone who puts forth this (patently disingenuous) argument as their own view. I just can’t. I can drop the subject, or I can tell them what I think of their fucking disingenuity, but I can’t pretend to believe that intelligent people can believe the modern interpretation of the commerce clause.

For example here’s Josh “hey what happened to Micah?” Marshall:

A year ago, no one took seriously the idea that a federal health care mandate was unconstitutional. And the idea that buying health care coverage does not amount to “economic activity” seems preposterous on its face.

Josh’s implication is that because buying-or-not-buying-health-insurance is ‘economic activity’, this means Obamacare falls under the commerce clause. And this is an argument that Josh wants us to think he actually believes. The problem is, I simply don’t. I don’t believe he actually believes that. I don’t believe he’s actually that stupid. I take the (more charitable, slightly) view that he simply wants Obamacare to happen and therefore is selecting/constructing arguments he thinks will maximize the chances of that outcome. Because I don’t think he is sincere in the resulting postures and verbal techniques he puts forth, actual discussion and engagement with those assertions is pointless. Should I put comments under his post? Should take his post seriously at face value on my own blog and respond to it? Should I engage his views as if they were meant literally and proferred sincerely? Obviously not because I don’t believe they were. I believe he doesn’t believe them. They are not statements of sincere views, but mere parries, maneuvers and jousts in the neverending Struggle he evidently seems himself engaged in (to get things like Obamacare to happen). The only appropriate response from me is silence, and not to take him at all seriously (which I don’t) or waste my time on him (which, alas, I just did).

A similar response is warranted when confronted with this argument made by Matthew Yglesias (2010) to the effect that even though (D)s passed Obamacare in part by claiming it wasn’t a tax, in fact that was all just wink-wink rhetoric, because (psyche!) it is a tax, therefore it’s perfectly within Congress’s taxation power:

Raising taxes is unpopular, so conservatives accused the mandate of being a de facto tax increase. Liberals pushed back against this criticism to pass the law. But now that it’s passed, they’re admitting that basically the fine is the same as a tax. […] But what’s the legal force of this supposed to be? Political rhetoric isn’t unconstitutional. The point is that the government’s taxation powers give congress the authority to force people to pay money contingent on various kinds of behavior.

Now again, should I take this argument seriously, and confront it, and try to argue with it? The problem with that is, how do I know he even means it? After all, I’m pretty sure that had I engaged Matthew Yglesias a year ago on the mandate being a tax, he’d have argued vehemently that it wasn’t. Indeed, here’s Matthew Yglesias (2009) implying that he thought the mandate wasn’t a tax:

I can just note that we generally speak the English language in the United States and we’ve never previously taken the word “tax” to include all regulations that increase some people’s costs of buying stuff. Nobody says, for example, that a minimum parking regulation on new development is “really” a tax on non-drivers or that the Americans With Disabilities Act is “really” a tax on people who aren’t in wheelchairs.

So did Matthew Yglesias sincerely mean what he said then and he’s a fucking disingenuous little Machiavellian liar prick now? Or is he being sincere now but he was a fucking disingenuous little Machiavallian liar prick then? Hey you know something. I don’t fucking care. Either way the resulting ‘commentary’ merits no respect whatsoever, at any time – and the ironic part is, he admits as much, by making it a central core of his (more recent) argument that (D) rhetoric is nothing more than Machiavellian posturing and lying.

Okay, Matthew Yglesias, good point. Leftist commentators are continuously engaging in calculatedly strategic, disingenuous political rhetoric at all times, and therefore can never be called to account for the things that they said at any given time. I would only add that since we all now (finally!) seem to agree that’s the case, it’s perfectly fair game for me to point that out.

2 Comments so far
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OK, disingenuous little Machiavallian liar prick it is, then. ;-)

Comment by Borepatch

[…] the ‘cool‘ in-crowd, all grown up. Political language is heavily laden with euphemisms, dishonesty, posturing, faddish memes endlessly echoed but never really believed used only for cheerleading […]

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