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Hackery Meets Sellars

So because I'm not a hack, I'll link to this John Cole post which really is pretty funny. But were I to be a true hack, my number one concern at the moment would be explaining that there is something principled, consistent, and correct about the various answers John Kerry has given about how he would have handled the war vote ("if I knew then what I know now") or if he had been President of the United States at the time. That's be a neat trick to pull off, but I think that if you invoke some philosophy of mind it can be done. The thing you need to understand is that John Kerry, despite being John Kerry, has no special access to facts about John Kerry's behavior in counterfactual situations. You, me, Glenn Reynolds, and John Kerry can all look at the behavior of actual-Kerry and make some inferences as to what counterfactual-Kerry would have done in this or that situation, but none of us -- not even John Kerry -- can really and truly know. And that of course, is why his answers don't make sense.

August 12, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

If I had read John Cole's post before commenting on this post, I would have had something more thoughtful to say. At least I think I would have.

Posted by: thurgo | Aug 12, 2004 11:35:52 AM

A very, very entertaining poem about something that I still can't believe is an issue in the 2004 presidential campaign.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Aug 12, 2004 11:52:56 AM

Actually, i don't think Kerry is all that hard to figure out on Iraq, once you remember that there were 3 positions on the war, not 2: the Bush position (the threat is real, we must have war now), the antiwar position (the threat assessment is wrong, this is a diversion of attention and resources), and the - oh, let's call it the liberal hawk position (we will have to deal with saddam at some point, better at a time of our choosing, and therefore it's not unreasonable to amp up the talk and be prepared to take military action, preferably with a large coalition of allies so as to spread the costs in blood and treasure).

Admittedly, that third position doesn't make a snappy soundbite; admittedly, that third position lends itself to easy caricature; admittedly, that third position isn't mine (i'm in the antiwar camp). But it's not a nonsensical position.

Posted by: howard | Aug 12, 2004 11:58:45 AM

What Howard said.

But in this campaign of the Rs to "Lie and smear and see what the media runs with," thoughtful analysis is pretty pointless, no? Luckily, libs like MY help everything along.

Shape of Earth: Views differ.

Posted by: MattB | Aug 12, 2004 12:07:23 PM

howard,
realy, though, that third position is the normal hawk one. The Bush postion, which seems to be to allow for sham inspections trying get a coalition to support exactly what we want and appease our critics, but after troops are in place go in regardless of what the inspectors find, is the absurd and odd position.
It would have been a much better approach to say, we do not need no stinking inspectors -- we know what we know, and even if we do not we cannot trust Sadaam freaking Hussein.

It is a pretty funny poem. What rhymes with "varsity rugby".

Posted by: theCoach | Aug 12, 2004 12:07:31 PM

"Libs: We'd rather be fair and balanced than win."

Posted by: MattB | Aug 12, 2004 12:09:29 PM

Kerry's comments on the Senate floor before the vote on the authorization for war.

Let me be clear, the vote I will give to the President is for one reason and one reason only: To disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, if we cannot accomplish that objective through new, tough weapons inspections in joint concert with our allies.
In giving the President this authority, I expect him to fulfill the commitments he has made to the American people in recent days--to work with the United Nations Security Council to adopt a new resolution setting out tough and immediate inspection requirements, and to act with our allies at our side if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force. If he fails to do so, I will be among the first to speak out.

How is this inconsistent with his proclamations since then? Is Bush more 'consistent' on the war?

Oh yeah, that's right, I forgot. Bush said we went to war to stop wmd program-related activities.

Seriously Matt, I'm an ABB guy. I've never liked Kerry. I used to turn the station when he would show up on my favorite political shows because he is a peerless bore, but his position on the war was not inconsistent.

Posted by: timshel | Aug 12, 2004 12:32:58 PM

I actually read the poem, and have nothing more thoughtful to say about it than what thurgo would have said had he read it. Except that I object to having our poetical masterpieces used in political parody. What next, a desecration of Joyce Kilmer? Ogden Nash? Is nothing sacred?

I feel challenged by the number and variety of blogs MY seems to visit every day. I added Wilkinson but must draw the line at John Cole.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 12, 2004 12:33:24 PM

If you're a union worker with a grievance, you vote to give the leadership authority to strike so that they have a bargaining tool. But you expect that they're competent enough to exhaust every other avenue of negotiation before they use that authority.

That, from the Kerry quotes I've read, is a fair summation of Kerry's record on Iraq.

Posted by: SamuraiZ | Aug 12, 2004 12:35:53 PM

Kerry has the opportunity to clear the record on Iraq by telling us what a Kerry administration would do about Iran's nuclear weapons development.

I have not heard a word from Kerry about Iran.

Posted by: Warthog | Aug 12, 2004 12:48:58 PM


Matt, Democratic partisans (hacks) are needed. That's where the shortage is. We have a surfeit of fairminded counterintuitive liberals. We have an abundance of people to go on Hugh Hewitt and be slaughtered. Look at Krugman for a good counter-example.

If you look at the self-described arbiters and neutral reporters, a lot of them are center-right semi-moderate Republican partisans. That is, many referees are really playing on the other team. And if you look at the liberal Democratic partisans, a lot of them have taken on the fairminded, neutral referee role. That worked when Dems were firmly in power, but not for an insurgent party. The partisans in the media are probably 80% Republicans, many of them far-right Republicans.

Academic faculty-lounge etiquette and an over-punctilious reading of Orwell have ruined the Democratic punditocracy. And historically, in many cases, this is a good career choice, alas.


Posted by: Zizka | Aug 12, 2004 12:50:22 PM

warthog, then you're not listening.

Actually, Robert Kaplan (not my cup of tea, but not an idiot) had an interesting write-up recently in TNR, about how the Kerry position was at least consistent (basically, engagement on a variety of levels to encourage the more rational elements of iranian society) but, in kaplan's mind, wrong and doomed to failure, but it beats bush's position.

Which was inconsistent and non-existent in Kaplan's estimation.

Posted by: howard | Aug 12, 2004 12:52:40 PM

If Congress had rejected Bush's war resolution, the President of the United States would have had no credibility as a negotiator. Iraq would not have had to take anything Bush said seriously, nor would anyone else.

I think that the war was a travesty, but I even catch myself entertaining that argument as a reason legislators should have voted for the resolution.

Who knows what it is John Kerry's heart, but his position on the war vote is consistent with principled, consistent and correct reasoning process.

You know, Matt, it is of course important to establish your cred as a non-hack, but really, since you are almost, or soon will be, important enough to be used by the right to damage Kerry's crediblity, do ya think you could lay off on Kerry during the most important election campaign in a generation?

Posted by: cool blue reason | Aug 12, 2004 1:08:25 PM

Well, Kerry's Iran position beats Bush's.

Bush, of course, is well known for using the two-tiered tactic of "ignore" and "saber-rattling".

Of course, "ignoring" it doesn't do squat....and the Iranians nearly piss themselves laughing at "saber-rattling" because the US Army isn't up to attacking anyone for awhile.

Posted by: Morat | Aug 12, 2004 1:15:42 PM

Kerry's position is consistent.

He wanted to use the credible threat of force to get Saddam to disarm.

Posted by: praktike | Aug 12, 2004 1:42:03 PM

"Kerry's position is consistent.He wanted to use the credible threat of force to get Saddam to disarm."

Um... I agree that was probably why he voted for the authority at the time.
BUT... the question as I understand it was whether, knowing what we know now, would Kerry still have voted to authorize force. If you know there are no arms, why would you need to threaten Saddam to disarm?

Posted by: Tim W. | Aug 12, 2004 1:53:21 PM

Why on earth is it necessary to justify at this point WHY you won't be voting for Bush?


He could be running against a carrot(close) and it would still be a close call as to who was more qualified.

Posted by: Waffle | Aug 12, 2004 2:04:26 PM

Tim W, i'd answer that in two ways: a.) because he probably still would want to be on record as favoring the forcible ouster of saddam uhder the right circumstances; b.) because he wants to protect his political flanks (side note here: i don't expect, if he's elected, that kerry will be a great president; i'm not even sure he will be a good one; i only ask for him to be better than george bush, a much lower bar, and sometimes to get elected, you say things that, frankly, don't pass the test of reasonableness).

There's also a possible c: he's stubborn and doesn't want to say "i really wish i had thought differently about this at the time."

Posted by: howard | Aug 12, 2004 2:08:29 PM

Mr. Cole has a very amusing arrangement of manure. The fact that it is a pack of distortions and lies detracts a bit from the humor for me.

Is it possible to be funny and libelous, both? It rather spoiled Aristophanes' The Clouds for me once I realized the part it played in getting Socrates executed . . .

Posted by: rea | Aug 12, 2004 3:26:34 PM

You know, Matt, it is of course important to establish your cred as a non-hack, but really, since you are almost, or soon will be, important enough to be used by the right to damage Kerry's crediblity, do ya think you could lay off on Kerry during the most important election campaign in a generation

...I think Matt has every right to criticize Kerry and would be disrespecting Democratic principles if he were to just be a Kerry partisan and let things go. And I don't think the right wing will be using Matt against Kerry.

Posted by: Alex | Aug 12, 2004 3:28:09 PM

Kerry hasn't answered the "if you knew then what you know now" question very well because the question itself is a poor one. The whole point of authorizing force was to get inspectors in; had we known that there were no WMDs, the arguments for force would have been different.

The right question is: If a very similar situation arose, would you again vote to give Bush the power to invade? And "yes" is a perfectly defensible answer to that question, even if you think Bush lied and botched his way through the last go-round.

Posted by: son volt | Aug 12, 2004 3:36:32 PM

Per today's Daily Howler, what exactly are the precise question(s) that Kerry has been answering?

Could it be that, because we don't know the actual questions put to Kerry, "his answers don't make sense"?

Posted by: abf | Aug 12, 2004 3:37:56 PM

"And I don't think the right wing will be using Matt against Kerry."

Unless Matt were a member of a chorus of liberal critics of Kerry, that is probably true. Thankfully, there doesn't seem to be a chorus.

As for not dissing Democratic principles, there was, God knows, plenty of time during the primary campaign to rake Kerry's Iraq position over the coals. And until just before the Iowa caucus, I dismissed Kerry for his war vote. But I realized that the war vote was the only thing he'd done that pissed me off, that he was a solid progressive in every other way, and that his war position was more muddily explained by him and his campaign than it was truly muddled. So I caucused for him and have been, except for a few moments during the Bush ad blitz, nothing but glad that I did. But anyway, we've all known about Kerry's complex Iraq position for a year and a half. Why get anguished about it now, considering what we're up against?

Posted by: cool blue reason | Aug 12, 2004 8:31:54 PM


I've come up with a way
that Kerry can articulate his position in a fashion
that will not only make sense to voters, but may even
sound attractive. And best of all, it'll be the same
way Jesus used to communicate complex concepts: the
parable.

Kerry, during a campaign stop, interview or debate,
needs to say something like this:


"Let's say you are a young kid and the neighborhood
bully steals your baseball mitt. You're aren't too
concerned because you know your big brother can whip
the bully good. The problem is, your brother is so
busy with football practice and dates that he's not
around too much. The bully has never seen your
brother, so you know if you confront him, the bully
will just say 'What big brother, where is he?' and you
won't get your mitt back. In fact, the bully will
probably be emboldened and not give up the mitt
without a fight. But if your brother just stands
behind you for five minutes while you confront the
bully, you know the bully will back down, and you'll
get your mitt back WITHOUT A FIGHT.

'That, ladies and gentleman, is what I authorized when
I voted the way I did. To give to the president the
big brother of the US Armed Forces, available and on
the ready, to cow a petty tyrant and open his country
to thorough inspection and investigation. And if the
president had used the power of that threat correctly,
he may have achieved his objectives without a fight,
and preserved the awesome psychological power of US
might to intimidate dictators across the globe."

You = president
brother = US military
bully = Saddam


It may be pushing the metaphor too far,but you could
even say that after getting his big brother to stand
behind him, Bush then proceeded to trick his brother
into kicking the bully's butt (even though the bully
didn't in fact have the mitt), and then stole all the
bully's candy.


It might not stack up to the Prodigal Son, but I
really think people can be brought around if they
understand the common sense behind Kerry's position.

Posted by: macrock | Aug 12, 2004 8:56:47 PM

Matt:

Not only can't you trust John Kerry to accurately relate what counterfactual John Kerry would do, you can't trust him to tell you why he did what he actually did do, or what he will do. We know ourselves much less well than we think. There is no free will. Consider: At what age could you predict your own behavior in a given situation better than you mother could?

Posted by: epistemology | Aug 13, 2004 1:55:37 AM

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