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August 24, 2005

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Brendan,

I really enjoyed reading your book, but I'm missing the point of these examples.

Duffy's statement looks like a straightforward expression of belief, not a smear.

Rumsfeld's statement has a bit of inneundo to it, but seems to be a sincere expression of his world view and his understanding of history (one with which a reasonable might disagree). Could you elaborate?

I'm with Anodyne of this one...There's no "there" there in either of those quotes.

And if you're seriously asking us to entertain the notion that the International ANSWER crowd (and their ilk) sincerely wants U.S. to succeed in Iraq, or in the War on Terror for that matter, then I'm afraid you're going to be laughed out of the room. They've left too much of a paper trail for that argument to fly.

Either you've flat-out gone over the top on this "crushing of dissent" thingee you've been on about or you've decided to go in for a bit of good natured self-parody of earlier dissent related hyperbole. I'm betting on the former but hoping for the latter.

Take a deep breath. You're smarter than the above post, Brendan.

Dennis,

I will not presume to speak for or try to defend Brendan, but my experience is that he has been quite willing to attack smears on all ideological divides in the past.

You can make the argument that few administration officials or their spokespersons have used smear tactics when it comes to the issue of dissent over the GWOT or the ongoing occupation of Iraq (as opposed to other issues), and perhaps you would be, on balance, correct. That is a worthwhile discussion to have. This particular post dealt with attacks on dissent. While ending it with a link to other examples of non-administration parties that were identified over at CT may seem conspiratorial or a reflection of Brendan’s dogmatic beliefs to some, I'm having trouble seeing anything sinister or wrong-headed in it.

Again, I don't wish to speak for Brendan, but a main thesis he seems to uphold in his work is that smearing (an emotionally effective tactic) is not useful for understanding or a healthy dialogue. My guess is that he would also decry some of the examples that Eugene Volokh produced in the post that set Henry Farrell off on his search.

Perhaps one thing that comes out of all of these exercises is that, at least on the question of dissent over occupation and GWOT, public smearing by pundits and high profile bloggers is rather infrequent and, apart from setting off some emotional skirmishes in the blogosphere, has little impact on public perceptions. I think concern over the administration engaging in it would be well placed. The point of my post was that I simply did not see the examples he offered as relevant to making that case.

Anodyne-

Points taken.

I guess my primary problem is that I find legitimate criticism of the dissenting does not constitute the act of 'smearing'.

For example, there have certainly been statements about Cindy Sheehan that could only be characterized as 'smears', but there have also been perfectly legitimate criticism of her motives, intent and any number of her own statements on a variety of topics. One needs to take care to make sure to recognize the distinction between the two...because there is a distinction between the two. An important one.

There are times when I have felt that Brendan paints with too broad a brush in this matter. Not necessarily because of my political orientation or who he is criticizing, but because I think his brush is too broad. I would consider his post above to be an example of that tendency.

For the most part I find the idea that any dissent is being stifled these days (in the age of the internet, cable news, cell phones and cell cameras) on either side of the political divide to be a bad joke, and I am inclined to suspect the motives of those who claim it repeatedly.

Dennis,

I don't want to hijack this thread and I was lucky enough to fill my daily quota of pontification early this morning. So, just a couple of observations and an unsolicited recommendation:

Brendan, you and I have not agreed on a working definition of "smear". This makes it a little difficult to proceed.

Applying the "I woke up with a hangover" test: In a morning debate class I wouldn't want to be assigned the role of defending the position "rhetorical or investigative tendencies are independent of political orientation (or more to the point, belief structure)", regardless of which causal direction my opponent chose to argue. I wouldn't have enough functioning brain cells to win.

I accept that there is a tendency (perhaps in some cases even a necessity) to assign motivations in the assessment of the quality of an argument. A lot depends on the perceived harm caused by the argument. At least on the matter of Brendan's post, whether we all agreed in the end that it was a clunker or it had merit, it's hard to see where the harm comes into play.

Which brings me to my unsolicited recommendation: Geoffrey Stone's book Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime. If you don't like it, I will pick up the tab.

A-

Good enough. I would be the last to consider B's post harmful. Actually, I like his stuff quite a bit, despite the fact that we have differing political orientations. He's one of the few Democrat/Liberal types that I read for content rather than fisking material.

I've heard of, but not read, the book. I checked with my library and they have a copy. I've reserved it. So don't worry about the tab!

D

Btw, Brendan, if this post was a parody, let me be the first to say, well done. It may just be a case of pearls before swine. Like Dennis, I went back and forth on the question myself when I first read the post.

A question mark at the end of the post title would have made it easier for those of us who are a little slow on the uptake to have enjoyed the full effect.

I am against the war in Iraq and have been before the start. Reason: basically the burden is on the person starting the war to explain why the war is necessary. Bush has never done this to my satisfaction.

As for the "war on terror", like most wars on abstractions (the poverty, drugs, illiteracy, bad taste), this is not a war, per se. I neither want victory nor defeat in the "war on terror" - I'm still confused as to what the hell it is!

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