Two Causes of Extremism
Aside from personality disorders, hubris and the ends-means confusion are the two main sources of extremism. I Let me explain.
Suppose a group of friends are driving to a restaurant and once says “turn right” and the other “turn left.” Why did they disagree? There are only two generic answers: ends and means. It could be one doesn’t actually want to go to that restaurant (disagrees on the ends) and is trying to disrupt the plan. Or it could be that they just have a disagreement about which route is best (means).
Normally, with friends, we assume the disagreement is about means — what’s the best route, approach or strategy. Normally. But not with politics. Were the restaurant political, these “friends” would probably assume someone was a traitor to their cause, and forget that their can be honest differences over how to get there.
A Case In Point:
Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the Nation:
“And here’s a no brainer: after a year of being knifed by the GOP at every turn, isn’t it time to give up on faith in genteel postpartisanship?” (p. 26, The Change I believe In.)
Now she has not, in this case, assumed Obama has a different goal on issues, but she has assumed that he is trusting in “genteel postpartisanship” — that his intermediate goal is to have a friendly chat with the Republicans and work things out. So what’s wrong with that analysis?
- She thinks her view is a “no brainer,” which means his goal is brainless. That’s hubris.
- She thinks that because he acting non-partisan he is expecting it to work. That bipartisanship is and one of his goals (ends) and not just a means.
Here’s the alternative explanation she forgot to consider. By taking a bipartisan approach, he demonstrates the Republicans are the extremists. He may well believe, that only after this is revealed will he be able to win. And winning, is never just about the issue at hand, it’s also about the 2012 election. Now I can’t read Obama’s mind much better than Katrina, although I have the advantage of knowing he has a brain and and thinks strategically, but it is clearly wrong to ignore the possibility that Obama is working a strategy. And even if she thinks it’s a poor strategy, it is unhelpful at the least to pretend he is simply empty headed.
This Case Is the Rule, Not the Except;on
So far in Katrina’s book, in spite of dozens of opportunities, I have no found one case in which she has said, “I can see that Obama is in a tough position and acting as he does for strategic reasons, which are clever, but it looks like he’s misjudging factor X.” That is what is called for in every case. Obama is not a no brainer, and he is not “malleable” as to his goals, as Katrina seems to believe.
Obama is, in an extremely difficult position, needing blue dogs for support, and up against a country whipped into an irrational frenzy over “ObamaCare.” He is choosing strategies (means) after intense and prolonged debate. And, yes he’s made a lot of mistakes — assuming you could do better as president is where hubris comes in again. But worse than hubris, is the assumption that Obama has gone back on his principles (ends) every time he takes an indirect approach for strategic reasons (means).