I am thankful to Shannon for continuing his prodigal prodding (those words don’t work together very well, do they?) that leads us to define our own agreements with him – and sometimes disagreements. Mine keep outgrowing the comments section, so here’s another long-winded response. It has moved from elitism to the last discussions between Shannon & Sean. If you want more of that, hit the key below. If you don’t, don’t. Reminder: this is someone who makes her living in the nebulous (Shannon) or uncertain (Sean) realm of the liberal arts.
Perhaps Palin will come up with strange strategies. Biden, however, has demonstrated his: e.g., dividing Iraq into smaller entities. I suspect he reflexively reached for the last “solution” – that of the former Yugoslavia. Perhaps unfairly, making that choice struck me as neither one of an original thinker or statesman. Whether unfair or not, the idea of these small new states, inevitably battling each other over borders and for oil money, adding tensions over borders to ethnic ones, didn’t seem an acute assessment of human nature and wasn’t what many Iraqis wanted. Standing on the national stage for decades doesn’t make a man’s solutions useful or wise. His interrogatory technique indicates more ego than good manners, certainly more self-dramatization than desire to learn.
We see Palin’s crack about seeing the Russian border as a straw man – a sense of proportion makes it funny. We who have found her refreshing laugh at that with her, but recognize that negotiating an important international trade agreement is a weighty accomplishment.
I found Biden’s (and Obama’s) ability to shrug off what would quite likely be genocide if we pulled out lacking – whether intelligence, sympathy, morality, or long-term imagination. Neither McCain nor Palin lacks such sensitivity. Obama’s discussions with the Iraqis betray a willingness – not unique in his history – of putting political ambitions above principles (aside from the international stage, manipulating elections by getting rid of his opposition doesn’t seem in the spirit, if in the letter, of open elections).
On the other hand, Sean, I suspect your acquaintances are a higher level of leftists than many we see in comments sections and in public. Most people aren’t jerks. However, I have run into leftists who do assume they understand their counterparts’ minds, and that little or at least little good resides there. Sometimes they assume that those who don’t agree with them are hicks or ignorant or, ironic given the bloody and long twentieth century history of ideologies to which some I know still cling, selfish and immoral.
Rigid ideology seems more characteristic of those I’ve known on the left than the right – but, again, this may be sampling error. Although I often agree with Bill O’Reilley, he is indeed a blowhard. Given his irritating but pervasive populism paired with his conservatism, he is less ideological than NPR – and I have spent long days listening to NPR. And if he frames the discussion from a conservative view, other opinions are more likely to be aired on his show than “All Things Considered”, though the decibel level is lower. At their worst, one shouts and the other sneers. I learn more from the radio, but its pervasive self-righteousness cancels much of its charm.
Another point: Knowledge has been, from the sixties on, relatively devalued in the liberal arts and ideology has been enthroned. Nonetheless, facts, research, interpretations are useful and make a difference. The truths we gain by studying history give perspective. Neither Sean nor Shannon may agree that Bush’s reading (e.g. April 1865 as we were going into Iraq) or Palin’s, (e.g. Team of Rivals as she steps onto a larger stage) gave them perspective. Coming from the liberal arts, I credit these. We also derive a fruitful understanding of human nature from literature – and its study and analysis. Conservatives find that old Puritan lens of typology useful. Believing that the world begins anew each day because of new technology is short sighted but also impractical. Respecting intellectual as well as institutional tradition is conservative. It is the richness of that approach that it took me until late adulthood to recognize and brought me back to a more conservative, more free market, more optimistic and self-reliant approach after wandering in what I now see as the mazes of liberal academic thought for decades. I was wiser in my youth (as Emerson might argue), but only in straying did I learn to appreciate those traditions (as Eliot might explain). So, yes, literature helps us understand. The liberal arts may have more nebulous, uncertain solutions; they are also, given the universality and timelessness of human nature, more resonant.