Friday, August 05, 2011

"Inept or Evil?" is the new "Stupid or Lying?"

Round about 2005, someone on the internets -- I think it was Tom Tomorrow, but maybe he got it from somewhere -- summarized the issue with the (then) contemporary Republican party in a single question: stupid or lying? It was a brilliant question, one that captured so much about the Republican party. (They didn't believe in climate change? They didn't believe in evolution? Saddam Hussein had WMDs? Michael D. Brown was doing "a heckava job"? etc, etc, ad nauseum.)

Well, in the wake of the recent national-game-of-chicken that the Democrats played with the Republicans, a new question seems to be being asked a lot -- this time of the Democrats: are they inept or evil? That is, are the Democrats, in particular Obama, getting the results they want -- letting the Tea Party "force" them to enact right-wing policies that they (or their paymasters) want to enact, but not to be seen to enact? Or is Obama simply such a bad negotiator, so willfully stupid in his insistence on trying to negotiate with hostage takers who will never, ever negotiate in good faith, that he ends up doing a lousy job despite his best intentions? Inept or Evil?

First a nice, brief quotation summing up the charges to which inept or evil? will be the plea:
The fact that John Boehner walked away shouldn’t obscure the facts: A Democratic president offered to pay for the Bush tax cuts by handing over the health care, education, safety, and savings of the American people.
That's just on the most recent political own-goal, of course; there have been so many, many others, it's hard to count.

Oh, and before you say: yes, there were some things Obama could have done -- if he wasn't so...

Well, which is it?

Most of the mainstream left is going with "inept", with only occasional questions about whether there's a certain amount of evil involved; see Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, James Fallows (also here), Matt Yglesias. But here are some arguments which weigh in on the side on "evil": Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibi, Chris Floyd, Johnathan Schwartz. Unsurprisingly, there's a lot of splitting the difference -- Robert Kuttner, for example, or pretty much everything Digby's written over the past few weeks. For a variety of views in one conversation, check out this interesting debate here between a variety of left-wing intellectuals, basically going back and forth between various points on the inept or evil? spectrum.

So what do you think?

To be sure, Obama still has a few defenders -- Kevin Drum, Steven Bennen, Mark Rosenfelder -- who argue he's neither Inept nor evil, but in fact he's doing pretty well. Some of these assume that the Democrats will actually show a little spine in the future, however, which strikes me as unlikely in the extreme. (The only thing I'm not sure about is why (inept? evil?)) The rest just strike me as aiming so low you shoot your own foot.

In all fairness, I don't really think the inept or evil? question really captures the complexity of what's going on (any more than stupid or lying? did); it's a useful summary of the poles, of which the truth is somewhere in the middle. Which is to say, I think Obama is essentially partly evil and partly just inept.

Odd as it sounds, I don't find that particularly comforting.

(Post Scriptum: For one link that I couldn't fit into the above, but which is nevertheless interesting, here is David Frum, an actual grown-up Republican, bewailing the Republicans' role in all this... in a way that places him to the left of where Obama currently is. Depressing, when you think about it.)

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