Monday, January 14, 2008

Searching For Scandal

(First in a series, as a followup to the previous post.)

Belief in one scandal creates a cascade of believing in others. This has little to do with whether they are true. Once convinced that Politician A or Party Y has done some terrible thing, believing that they did other terrible things becomes easier. Eventually we believe too easily, requiring only a plausible story or even a mere rumor.

If we hope, then, to convince others that their politician or party is guilty, we must usually achieve a high standard of proof. There are those for whom no level of proof will be enough, so enamored are they of their narrative, but we had better not bother with them. We can only hope to convince people of general good will and honesty.

To show that Democrats in general, and the Clintons in particular are significantly more corrupt than Republicans, we should focus on scandals which meet the following criteria:
1. There should be fairly solid evidence that the accusation is true. Acts likely to be true are not enough. Human beings – and I mean all of us, not just those of one party – can be dragged through meticulous and harsh reality to conclusions we do not like, but we all search for possible exits along the way. It might be cowardly of us to ignore seven scandals because all seven have an escape along the way, but that is who we are as people. Imagining ourselves to be fearless followers of Truth, wherever it may lead, we are unfortunately only too grateful for rationales which let us off the hook.
2. The act should be regarded as wrong by most people involved in the discussion. Betsy might be outraged at marital infidelity, while Britney considers it no big deal. Richard might think enriching oneself at the public trough the height of contemptibility, but Robert might shrug and believe it no more than what all politicians do.
3. The excuse offered by the offender must be inadequate. Preferably, it would be an inadequate excuse even if it is true. “I was young then,” for an evil that youth would not excuse is inadequate. Improbable excuses are more tricky. The extreme partisan will accept any excuse, or none, depending on party. I will try to avoid such in my examples, but we will be in gray areas here. Wrongdoers always have some excuse, and wolves do not hide in wolves’ clothing. If a good excuse comes to hand, we all would grasp at it. We all try and distract others from the possibility that the excuse is not fairly ours, like a magician distracting the attention of the audience elsewhere.
4. The wrongdoing should ideally not be present in the opposition party at all. This will seldom be the case. Failing that, we should be able to show that the frequency or intensity of the wrongdoing is greatly disproportionate on one side.
5. The scandal should have significant consequences or set a precedent with far-reaching consequences.

I suggest that people trying to show that the Republicans, and Bush in particular, are more contemptible than Democrats apply similar standards. Just for the intellectual exercise of it.

We should accept no attempts to change the subject. If one side claims that the leaders of the other have liquidated political opponents, replying “yeah, but your guy supported assassins in Bedlamistan” should be ignored. Apples to apples.

I believe there are scandals which meet these criteria.

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