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Member since: Tue Nov 16, 2004, 03:14 PM
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A reply to "Why Does Only One Party Play by the Rules?" (NYT 10/26/19)

Dear Ms Senior:

I read with interest your Oped "Why Does Only One Party Play by the Rules?" ** (10/26/19). In framing what you see as the problem, you immediately suggest a metaphor. “Democrats”, you say, “are acting as though there still are rules, when in fact they’re living in a political multiverse, with at least one parallel reality containing no rules at all.” If you fail to make much progress with your essay, I suggest it’s because you’re standing on the wrong metaphor. The problem is that the rule breakers aren’t in another universe, but the same one as the rule observers. Surely what you’re describing is more like a boxing match in which one man is using brass knuckles, and his opponent has both hands tied behind his back, and the referee is passed out drunk on a stool in the corner?

As a Democrat, I don’t much care about what’s going on in the next universe, because I’m working so hard to get my hands untied and dump a pail of water on the referee. The rules, which you pass over so lightly, govern what is fair in debate and rhetoric, and what is decent in behavior, and what is good governance. I also wonder why the referee takes so little responsibility for what’s going on in his ring. The Republicans aren’t following the rules of fair argument, or decent behavior, and this tendency of theirs has a long history, from Richard Nixon’s whisper campaign that his opponent was a pinko commie, to the Willy Horton ad, right up to Mr. Trump’s invitation for a “second amendment type” to dispose of his opponent. And we should not pretend that the Republican leadership’s hands are clean of Trump’s daily bullying. The rhetoric coming from the Republican Party is by now confined exclusively to name calling: anyone not in their camp is a “libtard,” and any act or initiative by a Democrat is sending the country straight to hell.

The Democrats, meanwhile, are doing what they always do: argue for policies that will solve some problem or ameliorate some suffering. The are fighting fairly rhetorically, and making sincere efforts to use our political system as it was intended to be used—to govern the people wisely and democratically. They are not authorizing political or character assassinations, or the elimination of all other opinions than theirs, or calling for civil war if the opposing party wins a majority. They’re boring as heck, and therein lies the real problem, which is not alternate realities.

The real problem is that the Republicans have declared that politics is mud wrestling, and the referee is passed out in the corner. If democracies have referees, a free press is them. The referee ought to wake up, confiscate the brass knuckles, untie the other fighter, and insist on a fair fight. What we find our referee doing instead is insisting that “both sides do it,” whatever it is. You, Ms Senior, are adept at this insistence when you say: “Of course Democratic politicians—all politicians— distort, gerrymander evidence, even lie and apply their greasy thumbs to the scales. (What was Bill Clinton doing on that plane with Loretta Lynch in 2016?)”. Leaving aside the question of precisely what distortions and lies Democratic candidates have told, and avoiding any consideration of what “gerrymandering evidence” might mean, I can tell you what Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton were talking about: they were chatting and comparing pictures of grandchildren. Here’s the scenario: Hillary Clinton did nothing wrong or illegal with her email, and knew that, and Bill Clinton knew that, and so he had no need to try to influence Loretta Lynch. Even if he had felt a need to put "a greasy thumb on the scale," he’s a smart man, and a lawyer, and he wouldn’t have contributed to Hillary’s imaginary ethics lapse by committing one of his own. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have been ethical, hard working, and idealistic to the extent that they believe our political system can be made to work. I sometimes think that their idealism is what has drawn the consistently bad press they have survived since they arrived in Washington. And I know the media could not survive without drawing inaccurate comparisons between the Clinton and Trump impeachments.

You can’t have it both ways, Ms Senior: either the Democrats follow the rules, and stand in sharp contrast to the Republicans, or they don’t. If the Democrats are as bad as the Republicans, what in heaven’s name is your essay about?

Instead of recommending one more time that the Democrats save politics by concentrating on a “declaration of values,” how about the media impound the brass knuckles, penalize the Republicans a few points, and stop declaring the contest a draw before it’s over? Both parties don’t do it, and it will clarify your thinking wonderfully to recognize that.

** Sorry I can't supply a link to the Oped; I've exceeded my limit of free reading for the month. Anyone who can post a link, thanks.
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