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Can idiots ever really be useful?

Jim Henley, Oliver Willis, Atrios, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden say they are not bothered by protesting the specter of war in Iraq alongside some extremely disreputable characters. Tacitus and Greg Wythe say they should be.

I’d like to come out foursquare in Jim/Oliver/Atrios/Patrick’s corner, but there’s the inconvenient fact that I bashed Christian conservatives awhile back for working with various rogue regimes in the United Nations to push their anti-sex agenda (see here, here, here,and here). How can I dismiss allying, however loosely and narrowly, with a bunch of brutal-dictator-loving jerks like A.N.S.W.E.R. on a cause I support when I decry allying with brutal dictatorships on causes I oppose? How close must your association be before you’re guilty by association?

I think we know that in the real world, just about any cause that one might consider worthy of support is going to also be supported by some unsavory groups and individuals. We also know it’s good politics to attack causes we oppose by tying their mainstream supporters to their undesireables, however dirty our own hands might be on this score.

It’s easy to say that one’s cause is sufficiently worthy that it swamps any negatives generated by unsightly sympathizers. It’s easy to say that your alliance with whichever thugs you’re yoked to is strictly limited to this one crusade for righteousness. Even goons can be pointing in the right direction, and when they are shouldn’t they be put to good use?

Of course, when dealing with people who have their own agenda, it’s hard to say they you’re not helping them, they’re just helping you. Can you be sure they’re not building on this achievement? Do you really know that you haven’t made them a teeny bit stronger? How far do you have to advance that worthy cause if the answer to either of these questions is No?

I don’t know. I really don’t. I believe that the antiwar marchers were right and the Christian conservatives were wrong, but I know that I’m standing on rhetorical sand. I want to draw a line, but if I do it’ll look more like the coastline of Norway than it will the Colorado/Arizona border.

I oppose this war. Had I been in DC, I’d have been marching. I can’t help it if bad people marched, too. In the end, I do believe that opposing this war is the greater good and that any aid given to the likes of A.N.S.W.E.R. is unfortunate but of secondary concern. I don’t believe the conservatives at the UN can make that claim. I just don’t think I can defend both positions.

UPDATE Max has a pretty clear conscience, too. Patrick, in my comments, thinks I’m bending too far backwards to be fair, and that I’d get no such consideration in return. He’s very likely right.

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25 Comments

  1. The problem isn’t that ANSWER supported the anti-American demonstrations; the problem is that they *organized* them.

  2. “I’d like to come out foursquare in Jim/Oliver/Atrios/Patrick’s corner, but there’s the inconvenient fact that I bashed Christian conservatives awhile back for working with various rogue regimes in the United Nations to push their anti-sex agenda.”

    There’s a gigantic difference between the two situations. Here are the two situations:

    1. Christian conservatives worked with the Organization of Islamic Conferences, a 53-nation group which includes a few rogue regimes, to win battles in the UN on issues of abortion, controception, etc.

    2. Anti-war protestors marched at events organized by ANSWER, a Stalinist anti-American organization that has endorsed all manner of global atrocities.

    As you can see, in the first situation the connection to rogue regimes is indirect. Although the Organization of Islamic Conferences includes some rogue regimes, the overwhelming majority of the Islamic nations represented were moderate. An alliance with the OIC is not the same as an alliance with individual rogue states; you cannot substitute the part for the whole.

    In the case of ANSWER, the link is direct. People marched at events organized by ANSWER, not a coalition of groups that happened to include ANSWER. I wouldn’t complain if the latter was true, because that connection is tenuous. A person could have marched with a coalition that included ANSWER without tacitly supporting the group, but when the actual events are organized by ANSWER and ANSWER alone, the connection is both concrete and indefensible.

    It becomes exactly like marching with the Klan on law-and-order issues, as has been pointed out in this debate. I would find that intolerable, and so would virtually all liberals. I suppose that if one didn’t know of the Klan’s sponsorship that would be different, as it was with anyone marching with ANSWER in ignorance, yet this isn’t even at issue with the OIC, which is considered a credible organization as far as global diplomacy goes.

    I pointed out this difference to you before, and ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

  3. Of course, if Atrios, Sam Heldman, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and I (to say nothing of non-leftist Jim Henley) had refused to march in DC on January 18, citing A.N.S.W.E.R.’s noxious positions as our reason, the same right-wing attack dogs would have enjoyed much hilarity over what they would have portrayed as an outbreak of lefty sectarianism. Cue references to The Life of Brian‘s scene involving the Judean People’s Front versus the People’s Front of Judea.

    Which is why I don’t remotely care what these people think, and neither should you. They aren’t arguing in good faith, they know it, and they know we know it.

    Here in the real world, what do you think is the actual story? That A.N.S.W.E.R. is a front organization for an obscure breakaway Marxist-Leninist sect? Or that the one to two hundred thousand people turned out in DC to protest the imminent war on Iraq? You can’t tell me most of those people were there to endorse A.N.S.W.E.R.’s position on Milosevic, or Hungary. Get real. Most people there couldn’t even hear the speeches. And stop being guilt-tripped by a bunch of liars whose only agenda is to make you feel bad so you don’t get in the way of their exercise of power.

    You can imagine you’re storing up credit for fairmindedness with the Tacituses of the world. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in the months since 9/11, it’s that this isn’t the case. You can parade your conscientious liberal nature until you’re blue in the face. When the time comes to screw you, they will. They don’t give a shit for how fairminded you’ve been.

  4. Avedon says:

    I think Owen has it exactly backwards. The Christian right allied with Islamists to support the same idiology that has been attacking mainstream America. The anti-war left went to an anti-war demo to protest invasion of Iraq, and do not support anything else A.N.S.W.E.R. is about.

    If the left had joined an A.N.S.W.E.R. conference to support A.N.S.W.E.R.’s ideology, then it would have been a parallel.

  5. Greg Wythe says:

    Look at the parallels of this Anti-War march (which Binkley correctly points out was ORGANIZED by ANSWER) and the Civil Rights movement in the 60s (how appropriate for MLK day).

    There were several nascent supporters of the marches, sit ins, etc by those of the Communist party. There were no overt appeals made for their support that I have run across. There was no alignment made between communists and civil rights leaders, despite the best intentions of J. Edgar Hoover. They were mere free riders on a cause that was just.

    Whether one is pro- or anti- war should not be an issue (at least in my mind) as to whether one is pro- or anti- American. But in aligning ones self with a movement that goes far beyond being against war with Iraq, that’s a far different scenario than just “excercising free speech against the war.”

    The example given elsewhere about how Dems would treat GOP members who attended an anti-crime rally hosted by the KKK is precisely relevant here. I, for one, do not believe in giving a free pass in that situation, and I think the ANSWER marches warrant the same treatment.

  6. Ginger says:

    I think Justin Raimondo has it right on this: “Fuck you, Tacitus”. (and ditto all the other assholes asking the question.)

    There’s a legitimate discussion to be had about ANSWER and its slimy embrace of dictators, but in crawling a significant fraction of blogdom I’ve only seen a couple of conservatives who are interested in framing the question in any fashion other than “have you stopped beating your wife yet?” The correct answer to that question is always a more or less polite variant on Justin Raimondo’s answer, or none at all, depending on whether you believe in burning out trolls or just ignoring them.

    And, yeah, since I’m in a “fuck you” mood, I’ll point out that there’s a bad-faith troll right here in this comments thread who deserves the same answer most of the time.

  7. Ted Barlow says:

    I’d like some of whatever Patrick’s having.

  8. Patrick,

    “Here in the real world, what do you think is the actual story? That A.N.S.W.E.R. is a front organization for an obscure breakaway Marxist-Leninist sect? Or that the one to two hundred thousand people turned out in DC to protest the imminent war on Iraq?”

    I know you aren’t addressing me specifically, but I’d like to think that I made adequate allowances for anybody who wasn’t aware that ANSWER hosted the events or, barring that, didn’t realize the radical nature of ANSWER’s agenda. I won’t hold people responsible for failing to perform extensive research before attending anti-war rallies. However, for those who were aware of ANSWER’s goals and past history and knew that ANSWER was hosting the rallies, the criticism thrown in their direction is perfectly justified.

    Avedon,

    “I think Owen has it exactly backwards. The Christian right allied with Islamists to support the same idiology that has been attacking mainstream America. The anti-war left went to an anti-war demo to protest invasion of Iraq, and do not support anything else A.N.S.W.E.R. is about.”

    You didn’t read my comments, apparently. I specifically argued that the Christian right did not ally itself with Islamists, but rather with the OIC. Moreover, the Christian right never came out in favor of fundamentalist Islamic theology — there you’re simply being disengenuous.

    Ginger,

    “And, yeah, since I’m in a “fuck you” mood, I’ll point out that there’s a bad-faith troll right here in this comments thread who deserves the same answer most of the time.”

    I’m willing to bet that you’re referring to me. Considering that I’ve been very civil in this discussion and have made every effort to explain my position, I say you’re pretty brazen to be criticizing others as having acted in bad faith.

  9. Well, you’re right about the shifting sands, Chuck. And “stopped beating your wife yet?” questions are not limited to the Right (cf, Trent Lott foofaraw.) All’s fair in love and war and partisan politics, and it’s not the province of one “side” or the other.

    I view it purely as a question of association — I wouldn’t be caught dead at an event organized by KKK, not even secondarily or tertiarily. No matter what the issue involved. I’d find better ways to spend my time. Like organizing my own damn rallies, if I thought the cause was worthy. They might suck and not draw 200K people, but at least I and the ones with me would know they were honest and sincere.

    This is very bothersome, though: “Which is why I don’t remotely care what these people think, and neither should you. They aren’t arguing in good faith, they know it, and they know we know it.”

    This ain’t a game, and I don’t stay up till midnight reading these things in hopes of a Big Scoreboard at the end of the night ascertaining that my side, The Right if you will, has won. Because my side is really and truly America, and if you don’t care what I think, then why the fuck should I care what you, Patrick, or anyone else, Chuck and Ginger, think? So, taking that line, we should all just harden the bunkers and start hoarding the ammo for the next go-round. Great way to keep this country moving forward.

    Finally, I’ll say you’re dead wrong, Chuck. Consideration given is consideration due. Your understanding and acknowledgement of the diametrically opposed positions you hold raise my already high respect for you. Not that that’s gonna score you any Brownie points with Barlow or Yglesias or Atrios, but it means something to me. So thanks for admitting that you’re at least bothered by the contradictions.

  10. CHuck Nolan says:

    Scott, you can say that your side is really and truly America, but unfortunately, that’s not even close to the truth. At most, you represent 10-15% of America.

    Keep in mind that America was founded by liberals, bub. Read some history.

  11. Did I say that? I was horribly unclear, and I see that now. Bad phrasing, but then no one has ever accused me of being Steinbeck.

    The USA is my “side”, and that includes all the Right, Left, Center, commies, Birchers, Whigs, Wobblies, and everybody. That’s who I want to “win,” and why I care about what you, Chuck, Ginger, Patrick, et al, have to say. Bub.

  12. Chuck Nolan says:

    If I misunderstood you, Scott, I apologize.

  13. Atrios says:

    This line of attack basically began as an attack on my supposed hypocrisy – that I was tarring people like John Ashcroft and others due to their associations with various neo-confederate individuals and organizations while not simultaneously condemning the 200,000 people who were ‘guilty by association’ for attending an anti-war rally organized at the DC level (but not organizing the loads of buses that carried various groups of people from all across the country.) That comparison is clearly ridiculous, as we’re comparing powerful politicians and media figures being influenced by distateful interest groups with a bunch of people who mostly unknowingly showed up for an anti-war protest, knowing nothing about the politics of the organizers. For those few who may have known something, the fact remains that Charles Kuffner probably has more political and media influence than ANSWER does, so Jim Henley’s position is about correct – supporting them by attending such a rally will do nothing to further their less savory agenda or their political influence.

    As for the hypocrisy charge, I consider voting for a man and being a fan of an administration that took a pro-apartheid position far more an egregious act than joing with hundreds of thousands of people to condemn an unjust war despite the presence of a few idiots on stage.

    Comparisons between ANSWER and the Klan are specious at best, and insulting at worst, unless there’s more to ANSWER than some egregious opinon-writing.

  14. Ginger says:

    Scott, there are people who don’t argue in good faith about political issues, both in political blogdom at large and on the current issue in particular. They’re on both sides of the fence, and they deserve to be ignored.

    Tacitus is a fine example of a guy who’s trolling. I’ve read his comments on other people’s blogs over the last few months and I’ve read the entry in question and I’ve read the answers from Max and Jim and Oliver and there is *nothing* those guys could say that will get a response other than “Commie stooges” from him. He’s an asshole, plain and simple, and why should anyone with a lick of sense bother dealing with him? In net parlance: do not feed the troll.

    I’m in a pissy mood right now, so I’m violating my own general rule about not feeding a troll by admitting that I use it on Chuck’s blog and have for months. But, you know what? Occasionally it is worthwhile to call a troll a troll. Tacitus is one, and he doesn’t deserve an answer. Neither does the rest of the troll brigade.

  15. Ginger, I’ll meet ya halfway and say that Tacitus has trolled, but that it’s not his usual style. Most of his stuff is pretty tight, if right-wing (it has been known to happen.) This one started off tight, then it went loose as most of this political sniping BS tends to do.

    I think you should meet me halfway and say that there is something inherently wrong with ANSWER providing an umbrella and a stage for a perfectly valid march but nobody but Sr. Kuffner has the balls to question himself about it — the rest of the bunch just got all defensive about their willful association. It’s far more than “a few idiots on the stage.”

    The KKK comparison is not specious by any reckoning. Can I use “few idiots” argument about the next KKK pro-gun rally? If the answer is no, then specious it ain’t. And the answer is NO in my household and in my soul. Sorry if you’re insulted by it, but it’s morally and ethically equivalent.

    And I’m showing my ignorance here, but “pro-apartheid”? Where in the world does that come from?

  16. Ginger says:

    ANSWER is certainly not a bunch of people I’d choose to march with if I had my druthers, Scott, and I’ll be happier with the Feb. 15 set of marches, in which they will not play a significant role.

    However, Tacitus’ troll neglects what I understand to be a crucial piece of information: ANSWER was not the only sponsor/organizer of the march. (Max Sawicky talked about this.)

    And what Max and Jim have said is: I thought about this and decided marching for peace is more important than worrying about ANSWER. You may not read both of them regularly, but I read Jim religiously and Max pretty regularly and both of them discussed this in advance on their own blogs. The topic has also been bounced around on Stand Down. They weighed the priorities and made a decision. It might not be your decision, but it was not made thoughtlessly.

    Who is Tacitus to demand that they answer for that? Where does he get off telling them that the moral judgement they made was made without sufficient thought because it doesn’t agree with his point of view? This is why Raimondo’s “fuck you” answer is appropriate; that’s always the right answer to moralizers who don’t think you can make a serious decision on your own and to people who ask you when you stopped beating your wife.

  17. Tacitus says:

    You can imagine you’re storing up credit for fairmindedness with the Tacituses of the world….You can parade your conscientious liberal nature until you’re blue in the face. When the time comes to screw you, they will. They don’t give a shit for how fairminded you’ve been.

    Must be why I frequently praise Kos. Or why I just posted on my agreement with Atrios. Or why I’ve defended Pandagon from time to time. Give me a break, Nielsen. This is just paranoid and lazy of you.

    And Ginger, Max was pretty comprehensively refuted in his own comments section. Not by one of “my” trolls, either.

  18. Tacitus says:

    You can imagine you’re storing up credit for fairmindedness with the Tacituses of the world….You can parade your conscientious liberal nature until you’re blue in the face. When the time comes to screw you, they will. They don’t give a shit for how fairminded you’ve been.

    Must be why I frequently praise Kos. Or why I just posted on my agreement with Atrios. Or why I’ve defended Pandagon from time to time. Give me a break, Nielsen. This is just paranoid and lazy of you.

    And Ginger, Max was pretty comprehensively refuted in his own comments section. Not by one of “my” trolls, either.

  19. Ginger says:

    Actually, Tacitus, I’ve read the comments section of Max’s blog extensively. I’ve seen a lot of snark and bluster, but I haven’t seen any hard proof of anything.

    And I don’t care whose dittohead wrote it. I’m not like the guy on Atrios’ blog who thinks you all get marching orders from Karl Rove. I figure you’re stupid enough to come up with the same answer independently, or parrot today’s line voluntarily when you read it on someone else’s blog.

    As for agreeing with Atrios about the 9/11 commission, well, even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day. That doesn’t mean you weren’t trolling this time with the Man from Liberty Valance callouts (which, frankly, seem as much like whoring for links and hits as anything else), or that Jim and Max aren’t entitled to tell you to do something anatomically impossible with yourself for assuming they didn’t weigh the issue before they marched. I’m sure if any of the people who marched need a keeper for their conscience, your fine moral sensibilities will put you in line for the job.

    Not.

  20. Tacitus says:

    They weighed the priorities and made a decision. It might not be your decision, but it was not made thoughtlessly….Where does he get off telling them that the moral judgement they made was made without sufficient thought….?

    I never accused them of devoting insufficient thought to their decisions. You must have missed the part where I quoted their prior rationales.

  21. Tacitus says:

    The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. But points for the reference anyway.

    As for agreeing with Atrios….even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.

    You’re missing the point. I often fail, but I do generally try to take leftist bloggers fairly seriously and treat them with consideration — and publicly say when I think they’re right. Go over to the Agonist, for example — he’s a Texan lefty whom I agree with on pretty much nothing, but I still defended him from the rightist commenters on his site. I was refuting Nielsen Hayden’s paranoiac assertion that I and the right in general are just “out to get” him.

    Contrary to a lot of the defensive posturing going on, I’ve been very explicit that this whole ANSWER affair is and never was an attempt to discredit antiwar sentiment or the left. It’s not tactical — it’s moral.

    Which brings us to this:

    I’m sure if any of the people who marched need a keeper for their conscience….

    This seems to lie at the crux of your objection to my position. It’s a little baffling that you’d object to someone publicly pronouncing his views on right and wrong. Presumably on some level you recognize the self-nullifying nature of your argument that others are entitled to follow their consciences, but I am not.

  22. Chuck, I appreciate your hosting of this flame-out.

    Ginger, I too read Jim every day, just about. Stand Down is a regular (if molar-grinding-ly dumb 90% of the time) stop. I don’t read Max – find it offputting, last I thought about it. I respect what Jim has said, and it’s pretty much what you say: “I made my choice.” Fine. I wasn’t claiming thoughtlessness on their part. All I can say is “Then live with it, and whatever slings and arrows come your way because of it.”

    This, though, gripes me good: “Who is Tacitus to demand that they answer for that?” It smacks of blogger seniority and grade and rank, and while I try to respect my elders, they don’t get a pass from me because they beat me to it. Tac is just another blogger, demanding many things of many people, because it’s what he likes to do, probably because he thinks it is important. Not unusual in the least. I think his argument has merit. It’s weight is debatable, surely, but the merit is there.

    Here endeth TFG’s blogcestuous neener-neener…everybody get back to work…this economy sucks, and I’m blaming the innernut.

  23. Yehudit says:

    “Here in the real world, what do you think is the actual story? That A.N.S.W.E.R. is a front organization for an obscure breakaway Marxist-Leninist sect? Or that the one to two hundred thousand people turned out in DC to protest the imminent war on Iraq?”

    Uh, both, actually. A.N.S.W.E.R.’s sponsorship of the march made the NYTimes, Alterman, Fresh Air, WaPo….. sounds like a story to me.

  24. This is slightly OT, but I’d just like to take the opportunity to point out that if you (some of you) think Tacitus is a troll, then you have been very lucky in your internet lives. I have been reading Tacitus for some time now, and he strikes me as one of the nicest, most civilized people on the internet. I have seen his replies on some other people’s blogs, and while they can be argumentative, they never seemed to contain such real trollisms as can be found in the comnents to this post of mine. A sample:

    your
    going home
    in a saint
    john’s ambulance
    oooh oooh ooh ooh
    oooh
    oh oh oh oooh ooh oooh

    Posted by king dong at January 23, 2003 10:19 PM

    ooh-ahh
    he-hoo-hu-hu
    eh-uh
    eh-uh
    wobblang.

    Posted by Rolf Harris at January 23, 2003 10:19 PM

    ‘I am a Donut’

    and other famous quotes from your leaders.

    Posted by Sir Sand Goblinea at January 23, 2003 10:21 PM

    Now those, in my opinion, are real trolls. No substance, nothing to argue with, just outright taking a crap in someone else’s webspace in an attempt to start a useless flame-out. Merely debating someone, and (gasp) disagreeing with their position and saying so is not a troll.