Stern's Reductivist Palette

I know how much Eric enjoys Howard Stern, and I'm no stranger to the show (it's how I wake up in the morning, and I've been listening for the better part of my life). But that cat (H., not E.) has fallen prey to the kind of illogic that fills Rock the Vote! tents at music festivals and crowds the pages of campus newspapers.

"We gotta get this guy out of office!"

That's the refrain sung by a mixed bag of dissatisfied people clinging to pet issues (guns, fetuses and the like) and banding together for a perceived lesser evil, and it helps to perpetuate the myth of presidential power while ignoring the complexity of American political life. (The fact is that the President is not a king and real challenges to the status quo are made through congress and the courts. This endless trend toward beheading the government leads the ignorant masses to bewilderment as another head takes its place atop the body politic. The heart of the beast is never at rest.)

Returning to Stern, who once led the pack in his support of Bush, his battles with Clear Channel and the FCC convinced him that he was a target of this administration because he'd changed his views on Bush and the war. But he has gone far beyond the individual issues at hand and has begun unilaterally attacking and denouncing Bush on every ground to the point that he (in accord with Michael 'Canadian Bacon' Moore, himself a shady character with connections to the Saudi establishment and the Islamist fringe) now considers the President to be the lapdog of the Saudis and a danger to the American people. That's quite a leap, but one not rarely made by the politically naive.

It's sad to see the Stern show devolve at times into paranoia and blanket attacks on all things Bush, but more than that it's irresponsible--or at best simple-minded--to advocate the removal of the president as a cure-all for issues that your congressional representatives created or ignored. I'm reminded of the vitriolic conversations I avoided in college and still avoid at parties, with wide-eyed moonies proselytizing the politics of moral superiority. (I think I grew tired of being treated like a child molester because I don't hate Republicans.)

This approach to politics is on a par with (e.g.) disruptive protest, which eschews all traditional avenues of civic input through a rejection of the legitimacy of American government and which is normally followed by outrage at arrest, patently missing the point of civil disobedience: to be arrested and challenge the law in the courts.

President Bush didn't pass the Patriot Act (PDF) on his own ("Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives ..."), nor does he direct the FCC ("... directly responsible to Congress"). And John Kerry can't do anything to change either one.

Of course life is eminently easy when you can reduce your ballot to (A) Bush and (B) Not Bush. And all the (negative) focus on Bush might make the alternative easier to stomach ... though not quite.

posted by Dennis on 06.22.04 at 11:02 AM


Varius Crispinus:

Welcome to Eric Scheie's Classical Values! My favorite blogger in the whole blogosphere, and what you wrote is worthy of him. Excellent! I hope you will write more of that here.

I agree with everything you wrote except on one point:

" issues (guns, fetuses, and the like)..."

The truth is, everybody has his/her "pet issue" or "single issue" on which they tend to base their voting.

The War on Islam's Terror is as much a "single issue" for many as those you named, and we are all being urged by some to put that above everything else. I fully understand and respect those who do see that as the most urgent issue, but I resist the demand of some that that be the only issue for everyone else or their insinuation that you are unpatriotic if it doesn't override all your other concerns. Especially when they apply a double standard.

For many others, it's something called "the economy", over which the President has about as much control as the Pharaoh did over the annual flooding of the Nile. Alan Greenspan has much more influence over the economy than does any President.

Many gun owners (and some non-gun owners) see the right to keep and bear arms as the one right on which all other rights and freedoms depend, and I admire their stand on that. I fundamentally agree.

Those on the pro-abortion or pro-choice side see anti-abortion laws as an intolerable infringement on their sovereignty over their own bodies, akin even to rape. Those on the anti-abortion or pro-life side see abortion as nothing less than cold-blooded murder committed daily under cover of law and want it stopped. Myself, I used to be very strongly in the former camp but have moved toward the latter position. But even when I was ardently pro-choice I still understood the viewpoint of the pro-life people and respected their "single issue" emphasis on it.

Homosexual marriage wouldn't be such a "single issue" for many if the President wasn't advocating a Constitutional amendment to ban it in every state -- and doing that in the middle of a War -- the very same War that's supposed to be the 24/7 concern of every other American.

Sorry for the rant. I do that. That's the way I am. But, I must say again: I do agree with everything else you wrote. You wrote a very good post, worthy of this great blog Classical Values.

Quite frankly, I don't care about this election one way or another it seems. I doubt it will make all that much of a difference one way or another who wins, although I have a slight preference for Bush because I can't stand Kerry's ugly face. The fate of the nation or of the planet is said to hang in the balance in every Presidential election I can remember, but it never or seldom turns out that way. Maybe the 1964 Goldwater vs. Johnson election, but I can't remember any other election in my lifetime that was that decisive. I agree with Ayn Rand about the idiocy of hanging everything on who is President. It's the years between elections that count the most.

Wow. You're more than a classical scholar; you're a very talented writer!

Regular readers know that I have been trying to get another friend, Justin Case (the guy who first educated me about blogging) to join this blog. Maybe now that he sees you have, he'll get his act in gear.


And thanks for the words of support, Steven.

Eric Scheie   ·  June 22, 2004 8:01 PM

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