Thursday, March 25, 2010

If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like (also: get help)

Thanks very much to Alex for the heads up on this

If you took it into your mind to put together a really awful blog, what elements would you bring together? A load of Decent also-rans? No editing whatsoever and pride in the fact? Really ugly centred text? No commenting allowed? Perhaps a few thoughts from Alan "Not the Home Secretary" Johnson?

Ladies and Gentlemen, "Arguing the World", brought to you by "Dissent".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

...which begs the question - Dissent from what?

3/25/2010 02:23:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

The NTM comment on there is pretty weird - he seems to be arguing for Richard Nixon as some sort of bridge-building moderate...

3/25/2010 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Well, he *did* go to China...

3/25/2010 04:54:00 PM  
Blogger Richard J said...

Who'd have thought a paranoid mass-murderer would get on so well with Chairman Mao?

3/25/2010 05:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Martin Wisse said...

More evidence for the links between the US wingnut right and the Decent Left: the Nixon wanted healthcare too but the Democrats were too mean seems to have turned up as a meme there...

3/25/2010 07:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Dissent from what?"

They're never going to live down that Woody Allen joke.

rioja kid

3/25/2010 10:34:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

From recent posts it just looks like a place where Alan NTM can reproduce news stories about Republican politics. His recent newsflash - right-wing talkshow hosts have too much sway over the GOP! wowzer, glad he told me that, that's cutting edge to tehmax.


"Dissent ranks among the handful of political journals read most regularly by U.S. intellectuals. Each issue features incisive political and cultural commentary, plus the most sophisticated coverage of European politics you'll find anywhere outside Europe."

I can think, offhand, of at least 5 'liberal' American journals which are both more widely-read and more important than this one in the US.

On a related topic - Dissent does have something going for it since it was the place where Johann Hari's demolition job on Nick Cohen was published.

3/26/2010 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

Mark Engler has a couple of posts up on the Dissent blog, and he's a good thing, and not a Decent (though perhaps I should declare an interest, as he was a student of mine, briefly, once upon a time).

And, yes, the Woody Allen joke is a good one, but I prefer, "There's Dissent, in the ranks."

3/26/2010 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

To be fair, most blogs would probably be improved if no comments were allowed...

3/26/2010 12:05:00 PM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

As the Cretan said.

3/26/2010 01:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hang on a minute. Didn't Alan NTM write something about how we were all misunderestimating Palin for CIF, which then mysteriously vanished before publication? Do you think he'll take the opportunity to publish it on Dysentery's site?

rioja kid

captcha: obatrize, which should be a verb pertaining to the more vigorous activities of the current president.

3/26/2010 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

OK, Alan Johnson "is a professor of democratic theory and practice". I wasn't sure about the Nixon health care reform thing, so I looked it up - on Google. You know, not being in an academic institution myself. And I came across The Nixon-Kennedy Health Care Plan which seems reasonably authoritative. Johnson asks:

What accounts for the journey “from Nixon to Prager”?

And answers himself the following day with Rush Limbaugh and talk radio, but a better answer seems to be in the article linked to above:

Even with this broad base of support, there was still a great deal of concern among more conservative elements of society, who saw this move towards increased government involvement in health care for the citizenry as a dangerous step down the road to a socialist dictatorship. Future President Ronald Reagan created a televised advertisement expressing these fears, and warned that universal health care would result in nothing less than the loss of all social freedoms for the entire country.

My answer: Reagan happened. Reagan's people were masters at framing debates. Why was his electoral triumph news to a professor of democratic theory and US-phile? What's really odd is that piece happens to be the one which Johnson himself links to.

(I'm also not convinced - ever - by claims that the media influence politics. AFAIK, Limbaugh is seen as a windbag by everyone apart from diehard right-wingers. And, even when the Sun, the Mail, the Express, etc backed Thatcher, she didn't win by anything like as much as their sales against the Guardian and Mirror would suggest.)

3/26/2010 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Up to a point you're right: I don't think the media create opinions or attitudes to any great extent. But manifestly, they don't just reflect them either, and a one-sided media does have, and use, the ability to dominate almost any given argument for a reasonably length of time. Hysterical over-reactions to events, and monstering of individuals, while not exclusive to our age by any means, are, I think, pretty typical of it.

3/26/2010 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Don't disagree with any of that, Justin. It's just that I think that if we're looking for a root cause (ahem!) answer to NTM's question, then it's Reagan and his speechwriters etc who framed the debate. Limbaugh et all are Reaganites; they're just following a lead. I really don't think this idea (health care = socialism = end of all freedoms) originated with the media per se. (I also think it's ridiculous, of course. God, Reagan was bonkers, wasn't he?)

3/26/2010 06:43:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

It's pretty clear from NixonLand iirc that Nixon was the bloke who started it all, too... which is why I find the NTM post so weird.

3/26/2010 07:06:00 PM  
Anonymous BenSix said...

O/T -

At the same time, there’s a fish-in-a-barrel quality to some of Aaronovitch’s debunkings, and the book’s sprawl means that its insights into the conspiratorial mind-set often feel hopelessly general or disappointingly banal. (You will not be surprised to learn, for instance, that the paranoid often “fail to apply the principle of Occam’s razor to their arguments.”)

From a man who knows his generalities.

3/26/2010 07:47:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

OC: I was thinking about mentioning Nixonland, which does indeed explain the polarised thinking. Again, Rush Limbaugh et al are symptoms and vectors of this, but not the originators. (And coming back to NTM, polarisation in politics is really important in democracy. It would be foolish to argue that all voting [and other democratic practices] are rational. I mean, you *could* argue that markets are rational, but that doesn't explain the Wall Street Crash particularly well. How can NTM teach this without talking about irrational processes and the less desirable sides of democracy? - We can only conclude that democracy is better than the alternatives if we look at it in the round.)

Coming back to Nixonland, I don't quite agree that Nixon was the originator of all this. Partly, he was the focal point. But he was also a very able politician rather than a cardboard ideologue; he *was* able to reach compromises with his political enemies, like Ted Kennedy. I think Nixon was neurotic and a crook, but he was miles ahead of Reagan. Shorter me: while Nixon was responsible for the polarisation of US politics (or co-responsible), it was Reagan who framed (have to keep using that word) universal health care as anti-freedom (when it demonstrably isn't - in most of Western Europe for instance). Even with the polarity, had GHW Bush beaten Reagan in 1980, the Republicans could still have gone for health care.

3/26/2010 08:39:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

It's a free-market thing, though, isn't it? Rightwing politics has become more and more defined in support of the free market and opposition to its alternatives.

Somebody here, I think, commented just the other day about Tory hostility to the BBC. Younger readers may find this difficult to believe, but when I was growing up, it was very common indeed for children in middle-class households to be strongly discouraged from watching commercial television. Now, commecial television is seen as what is right and proper, and the BBC essentially the enemy. Now I know this is far from a universal position among Tories and Tory voters, but the shift in opinion is clear.

3/26/2010 09:08:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

While shepherds watched the box at night/They were watching ITV/An angel of the Lord came down/And changed to BBC.

How I was brought up, anyway. Never did me any harm either.

3/26/2010 09:13:00 PM  
Blogger flyingrodent said...

@Chardonnay Chap: Nixon was the fuel and the fire for the bullshit resentments that followed. It's taken commitment and tenacity to keep that bullshit burning for forty fucking years, but - as Perlstein implies in his 100% spot on book - his undead horror never dies. Holy water, garlic, a stake through Kissinger's heart - all a waste of time, sadly.

3/27/2010 01:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

it was very common indeed for children in middle-class households to be strongly discouraged from watching commercial television.

M3 T00. I don't think I heard the whole of the Coronation Street theme tune until I left home - in our house it went Daaaa, daa-da TURN IT OFF!. But does that say that our (respective) parents were middle-class (comfortably-off, representative of the Tory-voting classes) or that they were middle-class liberals (Guardian-readers, typical New Labour voters)?

In the US there's a long-established (perceived) association between cultural elitism and social liberalism - the original pencil-necked college-educated liberal do-gooders were Republicans like Andrew Carnegie. Push it a bit farther and you can create the impression that the elites are Left and being on the Left is elitist. That trick hasn't really taken over here, but they keep trying it.

3/27/2010 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

@Phil I'm from a liberal, Guardian reading home, and we didn't watch much commercial tv; I saw some, but mostly at friends' houses.

@FR I'm not convinced by Perlstein's thesis. Nixon was a very strange man, if not all-out crazy. (Just remembered that Nixon's dealings with the Kennedy clan went back to the 50s; JFK actually donated to a Nixon campaign - because they were both ex-Navy anti-communists. Can't recall if that was in Nixonland or not.) But Nixon wasn't the sine qua non of US polarisation. Barry Goldwater, Spiro Agnew, Strom Thurmond, etc etc and of course Reagan were polarising figures themselves. Nixon just did it better. (I really think GHW Bush comes from a different strain of Republicanism, but then I have a bit of a soft spot for Bush, Snr.)

Also on Phil's point, don't forget that Lincoln - pretty much a pencil-necked liberal, who read a lot, went to plays was a Republican. Palin and for that matter McCain, GW Bush, Eric Cantor and co represent a long fall.

3/27/2010 10:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Equally, Thurmond was a Democrat for the first half of his (very long) political career. Something big changed in American politics (and specifically in the definition of 'Republican') around about the Great War. It then changed again, in the same direction, around about the New Deal - and then again when Nixon went for the Southern (white) vote. Perhaps Bush Jr/Palin is the last stage in the transformation of the GOP - from carpetbaggers to teabaggers...

3/27/2010 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger donpaskini said...

@Chardonnay Chap: Perlstein's book on Goldwater (Before the Storm) is even better than Nixonland, well worth a look.

The fact it was written several years before the Teabaggers, but yet reads as if it was explaining their historical ancestry is a plus, for example.

3/27/2010 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Wow: Before the Storm recommended twice in one day!

3/27/2010 07:21:00 PM  
Anonymous magistra said...

I think the BBC over ITV preference was more middle-class than liberal. The parents of both myself and my husband were Telegraph readers, but back in the 1960s and 1970s that went with looking down on ITV. It's only relatively recently in the UK that 'conservatives' have fully embraced rampant capitalism, and even now it's not complete among the older generation.

3/28/2010 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

That would be my thesis, too.

You can see, looking at conservative parties, how much stronger the free-market-is-god is among the younger generation of rightwing politicians, whether they consider themselves socially liberal or socially conservative.

3/28/2010 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I think the BBC-only attitude is still stronger amongst new parents and children's TV (CBeebies and so on) than most sections of the population.

Clearly it has faded though, I remember BB pointing out that in the early 1980s middle-class parents didn't even want to buy commercial computers, let alone watch the TV.

3/28/2010 01:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, it seems that the special relationship is over (sort of).

No prizes for guessing that one of the Labour MPs who voted against the report was Gisela Stuart.


3/28/2010 01:51:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Thanks Guano:

MPs today urged the government to adopt a more hard-headed approach towards the US and avoid the phrase "the special relationship" as Britain's influence over America was likely to diminish.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha Well, adios, so long and thanks for all the help re The Falklands.

3/28/2010 01:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not limited to a bunch of MPs, y'know. Perhaps I should look for a job at Astrium UK or Surrey Satellite Tech.

3/28/2010 02:17:00 PM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

Are we going to have a post on Paul Berman's fearless defence of free-thinking against the intellectual naysayers?

3/28/2010 03:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I think the BBC over ITV preference was more middle-class than liberal.

So do I, if we're talking about what actually happened 30+ years ago. The point I was trying to make was that, in the intervening period, the labels on the class/politics packages have been mixed up (quite deliberately & cynically), to the point where it no longer feels weird or paradoxical to contrast Tory populism with Labour elitism - and stories like ejh's don't necessarily have the same purchase that they used to have.

3/28/2010 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

@skidmarx Oh no, not again!

Which leads [Berman] to the most damning moment in his attack: "Buruma and Garton Ash had lost the ability to make the most elementary of distinctions … they could no longer tell a fanatical murderer from a rational debater" like Hirsi Ali.

You know, I think they can.

3/28/2010 03:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I actually did a double-take & checked the date on that Rosenbaum piece - not the day, the year. Is Paul Berman the only one who doesn't think Paul Berman's said it all before?

3/28/2010 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Well, if you're into who-is-not-with-us-is-against-us stuff, it's probably what you want to read on a permanent basis.

3/28/2010 05:50:00 PM  

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