Alarming News

April 29, 2004

On Nuance

Also from BOTW:

No Nuance Is Good News
The Washington Times’ Tony Blankley has an astute observation on American political rhetoric and John Kerry’s difficulties:

His friends say he is just instinctively nuanced in his thinking. . . . According to Webster’s Dictionary, the etymology of nuance is from the middle French (Hmm!) word nuer: to make shades of color; from nue: clouds, akin to the Greek; nythos: dark. That would seem to be Mr. Kerry’s problem. He thinks and talks in shades that create clouds and darkness around him. No one knows what he is saying, and thus what he is thinking. This makes things rather awkward for an American politician.

The rhetoric of American politics is binary, not gradational: Give me liberty or give me death; our nation cannot exist half slave and half free; are you pro life or pro choice; are you for or against capital punishment; pro or anti-war; for or against tax cuts. . . .

Seeing seven sides to an issue is useful in the study of metaphysics. But men of action–and world events always have required American presidents to be men of action–must be capable of decisive action. A candidate for president who is incapable of clearly expressing a single principle or goal he will fight for is inevitably going to be an ineffective candidate. And if he can’t even decide what to say with clarity, he is unlikely to be able to act as president under the crushing pressure of world events.

Posted by Karol at 04:33 PM |
Comments

Dayum. Blankley hit the nail on the head there, didn’t he?
Never truly commiting to one particular stance, while partially comitting to every side of the issue makes it easy to find a “legal” way to get out of supporting, or prove you are a supporter of, an issue.
However, as we’ve learned, properly schooled politicos can use that ambiguity to keep a fella on his heels.
Now no one knows what Kerry stands for or against. I wish he’d pick a side so people would actually have a much starker choice.
Dean, for better or for worse, would have offered a clear alternative.
Lieberman, too, you know where the man stood. Some issues were the same as Bush, others different. At least you know what you were getting.
Thank God these loons chose Kerry. The man is gonna be backpedalling for the next six months.

Posted by: Sean at April 29, 2004 at 4:57 pm

First, that is such a vast oversimplification (as is much of politico speak) as to be essentially useless. But it is also wrong. Being able to see seven sides to an issue does not mean that you lack the ability to take a principled stand or commit strongly to something. Being unable, however, to see or appreciate the nuances, or different points of view, or approaches on an issue means that you can often make mistakes by failing to see the differences between situations. The poker player who either goes all-in or folds is both scary and dangerous, but is almost always eventually out maneuvered by the more nuanced player.
Also, as a practical matter, we are talking about a man who succeeded repeatedly personally fighting and leading in a WAR. Someone frozen and unable to make strong committed decisions when necessary would not have succeeded in such a situation. We are also talking about someone who took a principled and unpopular stand against what he perceived as an unjust war when he came home.
The reality is that there are actually very few things in politics that there are simple answers to. Even something as seemingly cut and dry as abortion still can often have nuances (rape, health of the mother, partial birth, etc.). Sure, you can be a simpleton and say you are for lower taxes and in favor of democracy, but that does not mean that cutting taxes while simultaneously increasing spending drastically by starting a war is a smart thing to do.
Bush’s single mindedness has been exposed as one of his greatest weaknesses. True, Bush and the Republicans are lucky in that Kerry is not the type that tends to inspire either through his personal magnetism or through contrived soundbites and it is unfortunate that that is the state of American politics, rather than having intelligent and nuanced discussions about policy. But to imply, as Bush and the Repulicans are trying to do, that this is a weakness in character just shows how desperate the Republicans are to try and mislead non-introspective and non-deep thinking voters with the politics of fear and confusion.

Posted by: Signor Ferrari at April 29, 2004 at 5:56 pm

I think the article is wrong as well on different grouds. Who is Tony the Tory (yes, yet another American conservative who is neither American or conservative) talking about in his slipshot analysis of our history ? You had “men of action” like Ike who did not put things in black and white. You had men of inaction who did put things in black and white (Woodrow Wilson). You had men of action in American politics who could care less about the greater world (Andrew Jackson) and men of inaction who felt compelled to confront it (Jefferson, Polk, even McKinley). McKinley blundered into war and got us a world empire.
Then Tony the Tory offers this wisdom: “A candidate for president who is incapable of clearly expressing a single principle or goal he will fight for is inevitably going to be an ineffective candidate. And if he can’t even decide what to say with clarity, he is unlikely to be able to act as president under the crushing pressure of world events.”
Wrong. FDR won in 1932 because he was not Hoover. He expressed nothing and took two sides of every issue. With all due respect to my fellow worshipers at the shrine of Reagan, FDR was “able to act as president under the crushing pressure of world events” better then any president in this Republic’s history. On the other hand, few presidental candidates expressed where they were coming from and what they stood for as wonderfully as John W. Davis, Adlai Stevenson, Barry Goldwater and William Jennnigs Bryan. And all of them got their asses handed to them.
Americans do not see things in black and white. Take the simple Tony the Tory statement “are you pro life or pro choice” ? A lot of Americans would hedge their bets. “I support abortion when the mom’s life is in danger, incest or rape.” Uh huh. Did we elect an abolitionist in 1860 ? No, we elected Abe Lincoln who wanted slavery kept out of the federal territories but kept safe in the states where it was legal. Do you support war or are you against it ? “I support the war on terror but not the war in Iraq.” “I used to support the war in Iraq but Bush lied so I don’t anymore.” There is a lot of this kind of “nuance” going around. Do you support America First or aiding the British against the Nazis ? “I support Lend Lease, we can help the Brits but not be in war with them.” Do you support an international policy or an isolationist one ? “I support American hegeonomy in the Western hemisphere but isolation from the Old World.” That may be nuanced but it was our foreign policy in a nutshell from James Monroe to Bill McKinley.
So to Tony the Tory, this is not your home, this is not your history, this is not your heriatge. While we welcome you here, hands off our past which you bend to your political viewpoints.

Posted by: Von Bek at April 29, 2004 at 6:36 pm

Von Bek and Signor
It is obvious that you two have never been in position of leadership where you had many people depending on your decisions.
You can study and nuance a situation for a long time but you then have to make a decision and stick to it. Because other people will start a chain of events based on that decision.
If you continually change your mind like Kerry does, the people who depend on your decision will be frozen in place because they expect you to change your mind. This inaction in today

Posted by: Jake at April 29, 2004 at 7:12 pm

Jake, can the personal attacks. My decisions make a university sink or swim and things are never black and white. I wish they were. It would make things a hell of a lot more simple for me. I have no intention of voting for Kerry and perhaps a 3 in 5 chance that I would vote for Bush. I am pro life, pro God, pro gun, pro states rights and opposed to the UN, most foreign aid, welfare, affirmative action, campaign finance reform, most federal departments, defecits, taxes, coporate bailouts, Hollywood, the tryanical judicial system and the direct election of US Senators (lousy Wilson). In short, I think my conservative credentials are in pretty good shape. Which is more then I can say for the pro NEA, anti life, pro immigration, pro big government Bush administration.
Back to my point. Even with oh so consistent Goerge W. Bush, things are not black and white. Thus the Bush of 2000 who opposed defecit spending and nation building is now doing both in 2004.
Why is that ? He is leader, something I happen to agree with you on. Leader’s do not change their minds, do they ?
“I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”
Who was that from ? Only the most important executive in American history, Abraham Lincoln. Funny how events can shape leadership. If events forced Abe’s hand, I think we can say that they did the same for W.
I agree with you, Jake, that leaders need to make decisions. My point is things are never black and white and never have been. You call Kerry a ditherer and a follower. I am not going to disagree with you. Kerry sucks. He stands for everything bad in American politcs: big government, taxes, affirmative action, etc..
Yes, Kerry does not see things in black and white. But guess what ? Not everyone in America is a leader, not everyone sees things in black and white. FDR did not, Jefferson did not, Lincoln did not. They were certainly leaders. And on a lot of issues, since the dawn of the Republic, a lot of Americans have not seen things in black and white either, which is why I went after Tony the Tory as hard as I did.
One of the fouding fathers declared that “Experience is a better guide then reason.” He was right. Which is why I gave positions of the past (the ultimate experience) instead of ones based on my ideological and political views. Based on experience, Tony the Tory is wrong.

Posted by: Von Bek at April 29, 2004 at 7:55 pm

Von Bek:
I was going to add to my comment that the only place that you can succeed as a ditherer is in the academic world. The last thing the faculty want is a decision from the administration.
Your experience in the academic world is coloring your view of what is required of a leader.

Posted by: Jake at April 29, 2004 at 8:04 pm

As part of the administration, I would cheerfully concede that.
Having said that, I gave you FDR, Lincoln, W. and others. I do not think my views on them has changed in my years as at a university. I gave reasons why metioned above. You fail to comment on them.
Experience is a better guide then reason. Which is why, I suspect, I can draw on Lincoln, FDR etc. for what leadership is while you have nothing to say.

Posted by: Von Bek at April 29, 2004 at 8:08 pm

Von Bek, what’s your reason for opposing the direct election of senators?

Posted by: Peter at April 30, 2004 at 2:03 am

I’m with Mr. Ferrari. While TOO MUCH nuance (to the point of relativism/moral vapidity) is wrong, there’s a fine line between that and regular, garden-variety shades of grey. A big mistake the right made after 9/11, I believe, was extrapolating that event (in which the sides were, for once, clearly in black and white) and applying the “moral clarity” argument to absolutely EVERYTHING.

Posted by: Stephen Silver at April 30, 2004 at 10:00 am

The problem isn’t so much ’seeing’ everything in multi shades of grey, it’s acting that way. Kerry’s big plan to help Iraq is to go to the UN. I just don’t understand how anyone can fall for that. The UN is not taking over. They are barely able to handle the humanitarian side of things, they will not bring stability and peace. So, while it’s ok to believe in an international force being a good thing, it’s quite another to ignore reality and maintain that this international force should take over in Iraq. Kerry’s shades of grey extend to other things as well: I voted for it before I voted against it. What?!? He voted for the Patriot Act, then talked it down when that was popular, then decided he likes it again when it turns out it polls well. And so on and so on. I guess the right is really giving Kerry the benefit of the doubt by saying he is nuanced and sees 11 sides of every issue: it’s more likely he’s just got no principles and is saying whatever he thinks people want to hear, even if it contradicts what he said yesterday.

Posted by: Karol at April 30, 2004 at 10:09 am

The reality regarding Iraq is that there is no good solution right now. The American presence there is poisonous and it is unlikely that is going to change soon. This is the case even if the vast majority of Iraqi’s were happy when American invaded and the vast majority of the insurgent activity has been caused by foreign terrorists. The problem is that we have not maintained order, we have not created stability and it is entirely understandable that even those who rejoiced when we toppled Saddam would want us to get out of their country.
However, we can’t just leave and those who advocate just packing up and leaving are beyond naive. Who knows what exactly would happen if we just left (variety of scenarios, not many of them good) AND that would embolden the terrorists and make us look weak.
Bush’s plan is go forward with the transition, which is of course a transition in name only as we would continue to provide security and probably effectively run things (what happens the first time the new regime tells us to fuck off?!?) in hopes that that will diffuse the violence and gradually lead to stability and institutions secure enough that we can vacate. This is not necessarily the wrong approach, but the problems with it are that it highly depends on the new regime working with us in nearly all instances AND that the new regime is accepted and embraced by Iraqis. I hope it happens, but I am not confident.
The UN approach is the idea that the presence of true international force will be less divisive than the presence of an American force (let’s not kid us that our coalition partners make this anything other than an American force right now) and will allow us to (1) not bear virtually the entire burden and (2) make us a little less of a lightening rod for Arab terrorists and anit-American types in the Middle East to rally against. It also contains a recognition that, considering the current instability, Iraq is simply not ready for a transition. Karol makes a bold statement that the UN cannot bring peace (like we can?) and won’t take over, but offers nothing to back that up. If we went to the UN and asked them to come in, I think that would probably work … and there certainly is no evidence that the UN will be worse at bringing peace than we will.
Finally, to attack Kerry for his ideas on Iraq is the height of Republican double talk. We are in this disaster because of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld. They, or their attack dogs, are in no position to attack Kerry based on the miserable job done in Iraq so far.

Posted by: Signor Ferrari at April 30, 2004 at 10:36 am

There is a difference between (1) considering all the subtleties relating to a situation, making a decision and then leading others to follow you and (2) just endlessly wringing your hands.
There are negatives to any decision. Any change that one initiates requires some kind of trade off. There is never a “win win” situation. A true leader decides the BEST course of action (not the PERFECT course, because no such thing exists) and does so decisevely.
Hemming and hawing is great for a debating society like the Senate. It is not for a president. In a low-key, zero-media-scruity race like a Democrat running for US Sentate in MA, a candidate can get away with taking every side, and showing up a major group’s meeting and saying “look what I did/said in support of you”, and that will work.
However, our President must be a LEADER. For better or for worse, Bush is a leader. Kerry is anything but.
And don’t give us the “he led in Vietnam” story. You can be an effective combat officer, but I don’t see how that qualifies anyone for anything other than military service.
We’ve elected Generals as President solely because of their leadership, not Benedit Arnold style pro-communist lieutenants.

Posted by: Sean at April 30, 2004 at 10:43 am

If we went to the UN and asked them to come in, I think that would probably work … and there certainly is no evidence that the UN will be worse at bringing peace than we will.
Signor, I assume you mean the Security Council when you say ‘UN’. Would Russia go? China? France? Britain is already there. You know the other 3 only want to see the US fail. Iraq was the right thing to do and remains the right thing to do. I wrote back in December (too lazy to go find it) that I went to hear John O’Sullivan of the National Review speak. He said that what was amazing about the US invasion of Grenada was that it was the first time we actually stopped the advance of communism. He said that it sent a message: this is not inevitable. It is a similar message that we need to send with Iraq. Democracy, freedom, stability, prosperity are possible in the Arab/Muslim world. I don’t think the people of the Middle East know this, but they will if we succeed in Iraq. I agree with Sean that handwringing is not the answer. And, so far, that is all Kerry has given us.

Posted by: Karol at April 30, 2004 at 10:56 am

Peter, I think it gives the states a bit more power; was what the founders wanted; and I think the senators produced in the 19th century (Clay, Webster, Calhoun, Benton, Seward, Sumner, Lamar, Wright, Rives, Sherman) were generally of a better caliber then the ones since then. Not that its ever gonna pass or anything.

Posted by: Von Bek at April 30, 2004 at 11:33 am

Look, I will admit that Bush may have poisoned the opportunity to get the UN involved because of our go it alone attitude. I do believe that with effective diplomacy we could get the UN on board, but will also admit that I may be wrong. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it.
But seriously, what is our end game strategy? What are our long terms goals? Do you seriously think that the United States is powerful enough and capable enough to impose democracy on the Middle East? Do you seriously want the United States to spend your hard earned tax dollars trying to mold the entire non-Western world in its image. I would love to have the entire world become one peace loving democracy, but it is simply not in anyway shape or form realistic that the United States can go out and, essentially on its own with some British help, make that world a reality. The best way to achieve that long term is to (1) use economic forces, aid, education, the internet, etc. to transform societies (look at the effect it is having in China, slow but effective) or (2) have an organized and committed effort by all (or at least most) of the Western powers. I think #2 is premature. #1 will take awhile, but is the best course.
Also, consider America’s view abroad — which is very important. Do we look like a peace loving country to an illiterate uneducated arab who doesn’t have free access to the internet, western newspapers and gets their information from biased anti-American sources? Or do we look like an imperialistic bully? Clearly the latter. The fact that we are not (or at least weren’t until Bush started running things) is irrelevant, our current actions, more than anything in the last two decades, has helped to prompt that view. That view will help the terrorists recruit.
What is good about the current situation in Iraq? This is not about assigning blame, but recognizing reality. I don’t care whether you are far right or far left, pro-Bush or anti-Bush. Leave politics aside for one second. If you can honestly say that, knowing everything you know now (perfect 20-20 vision) you would have invaded Iraq anyway, my question is why? If your answer is no, then let’s acknowledge it has not gone as planned and think about the best approach going forward.

Posted by: Signor Ferrari at April 30, 2004 at 12:07 pm

Look, I will admit that Bush may have poisoned the opportunity to get the UN involved because of our go it alone attitude. I do believe that with effective diplomacy we could get the UN on board, but will also admit that I may be wrong. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it.
But seriously, what is our end game strategy? What are our long terms goals? Do you seriously think that the United States is powerful enough and capable enough to impose democracy on the Middle East? Do you seriously want the United States to spend your hard earned tax dollars trying to mold the entire non-Western world in its image. I would love to have the entire world become one peace loving democracy, but it is simply not in anyway shape or form realistic that the United States can go out and, essentially on its own with some British help, make that world a reality. The best way to achieve that long term is to (1) use economic forces, aid, education, the internet, etc. to transform societies (look at the effect it is having in China, slow but effective) or (2) have an organized and committed effort by all (or at least most) of the Western powers. I think #2 is premature. #1 will take awhile, but is the best course.
Also, consider America’s view abroad — which is very important. Do we look like a peace loving country to an illiterate uneducated arab who doesn’t have free access to the internet, western newspapers and gets their information from biased anti-American sources? Or do we look like an imperialistic bully? Clearly the latter. The fact that we are not (or at least weren’t until Bush started running things) is irrelevant, our current actions, more than anything in the last two decades, has helped to prompt that view. That view will help the terrorists recruit.
What is good about the current situation in Iraq? This is not about assigning blame, but recognizing reality. I don’t care whether you are far right or far left, pro-Bush or anti-Bush. Leave politics aside for one second. If you can honestly say that, knowing everything you know now (perfect 20-20 vision) you would have invaded Iraq anyway, my question is why? If your answer is no, then let’s acknowledge it has not gone as planned and think about the best approach going forward.

Posted by: Signor Ferrari at April 30, 2004 at 12:08 pm

When I hear Kerry speak I hear him make principled stands on many issues.
This is the flavor of the month for the republican attack machine. If they say it over and over on TV, newspapers, Blogs people will start thinking it MUST BE TRUE.
It’s a brilliant strategy that the Republicans have mastered.

Posted by: PAUL at April 30, 2004 at 12:36 pm
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