I visited a site today which had views quite different than mine. The original post was not completely nutso. It was wrong, but not insane. The comments, however, escalated rapidly. The word "lie" got tossed around rather loosely, and possible evil interpretations of McCain's actions quickly acquired acceptance through repetition, though no additional evidence was supplied.
That's easy enough for me to see as an outsider who disagrees. By about the tenth comment I was fuming at the irrationality, the supposition, the unexamined assumptions, and the extrapolation.
Do we wonder how investment bankers can come to believe that shaky investments are actually quite valuable? The fools, we think. Can't they even consider the possibility that it's a house of cards? Taken in the context of opinion bubbles, it's a little easier to understand. I expose myself to alternative opinions - all conservatives do, whether they like it or not - but mostly I gravitate to sites where people largely agree with me, where they tell me what an insightful guy and fine fellow I am. There are sites where the comments section shows similar inflation in the opinion bubble of conservatives to the gaseous excess I read from liberals today. In such an environment even the originally sensible people, who don't subscribe to the extreme formulations, have an enhanced sense of the rightness of their opinions.
The rule is simple, but not easy: Start with what you know. I tried to do that in the back-and-forth between the Obama and McCain campaigns about going back to Washington and postponing the debate. McCain says we need to go back to Washington to work on this. Obama says he and McCain agreed to put out a joint statement, then McCain added this in. If you think Obama generally lies you will find McCain's version plausible. If you think McCain generally lies you will believe Obama. McCain says it's crucial work that can't be done while distracted by campaigning. Obama says a president often has to do more than one thing at a time. Harry Reid says McCain's action is a stunt. But you can call anything a stunt. If you are a partisan Democrat you will tend to agree that McCain's action is just a stunt, that bastard. If you are a partisan Republican, you will see this as evidence of Obama's self-centeredness and irresponsibility. It should be interesting to listen to a Joe Lieberman, and essential Democrat campaigning for McCain. Should be. But partisans will find a way to disregard his statements whichever way they come out.
So we start with what we know. McCain is going to Washington, which he says will help achieve a solution. Obama says that's not necessary and will continue campaigning. If people need him for thoughts and negotiations, they should call; he is in touch with Pelosi, Reid, and Paulsen every day - which Republicans will quickly intensify into Obama said call me if you need me.
Is it indeed better for both candidates to be in Washington, or is phone contact just as good? Is "on the scene" a hindering photo-op, or more likely to produce results? Not knowing how Washington negotiations go, few of us can opine with assurance. But stripping it down as far as I can and then weighing it: McCain is possibly still campaigning by doing this; Obama is definitely still campaigning.
Rinse. Repeat. My belief is that this exercise produces a McCain advantage on issue after issue.