Tuesday, September 28, 2010

False Analogy

Stanley Fish, writing Monday in the New York Times, thinks that progressives and even mainstream Republicans are going about defeating the Tea Partiers all wrong:
[T]he Republican party now sees where its future lies, and it will cozy up to the new kids on the block (as it has already done in the case of O’Donnell) and ride their coattails to a victory even larger than the one they have been looking forward to.

And the Democrats will be helping them by saying scathing and dismissive things about the Tea Party and its candidates.
Using the mythological figure of Antaeus, who achieved victory after victory even though his opponents routinely threw him to the ground (he gained strength that way because his mother was Gaia, the goddess of the earth), as a parallel, Fish suggests that the Tea Party gains its strength from the ridicule heaped upon it by self-appointed elites, because it loves pissing off the establishment.

Fish's solution:

[T]ake a cue from Hercules, who figured out the source of Antaeus’s strength and defeated him by embracing him in a bear hug, lifting him up high, and preventing him from touching the ground. Don’t sling mud down in the dust where your opponents thrive. Instead, engage them as if you thought that the concerns they express (if not their forms of expression) are worthy of serious consideration, as indeed they are. Lift them up to the level of reasons and evidence and see how they fare in the rarified air of rational debate where they just might suffer the fate of Antaeus.

It’s at least worth a try, because the way things are going we may soon be looking at Senator O’Donnell, Governor Paladino and, down the road a bit, President Palin.

While I agree that anti-establishment movements like the Tea Party thrive when they see that they're pissing off the establishment, engaging this collection of wingnuts in "rational debate" and lifting them "up to the level of reasons and evidence" just won't work. It's impossible to reason with the unreasonable. It'd be like trying to reason with a five-year old with ADHD (and believe me, I have first hand experience with this). Hercules didn't simply keep Antaeus from touching the ground. He enclosed him in a bear hug, a Herculean bear hug that he would never escape from. The Tea Party, by way of their irrationality and schizophrenia, is like a greased pig, and applying an intellectual bear hug is going to result in their slipping into another wingnut argument like birtherism or accusations of socialism/Nazism/Stalinism/Marxism. In other words, so long as the Tea Party clings to the irrational, there is nothing in what they argue that is "worthy of serious consideration."

The better example of how to handle them is found in the way in which President Obama has deftly dismissed them without insulting them, but without engaging them either. Like a bee buzzing about, it is best ignored unless it gets too close, and then it's perfectly easy to gently wave them off. However, there is always the risk of a sting, and if the price to be paid is that a nitwit like Christine O'Donnell gets elected to the Senate or that Carl Paladino gets elected governor of New Yrok, well, the voters there are going to be paying a far bigger price in how they are to be represented. Nothing exposes a lack of seriousness more than high elected office. Sarah Palin, the former half-term governor turned reality show subject, is a perfect example of that.

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