Monday, February 16, 2015

Outrage culture is to blame for boring politics

Politicians give terrible pre-scripted interviews not merely because focus-group testing works so well, but because speaking off the cuff is too risky with partisan opponents ready to twist everything they say.

That's Matthew Yglesias's point in his recent piece about the response to his interview with President Obama. When they talked, the president said:

It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you've got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris.

Opportunists on the right claimed the president was denying a Kosher deli was targeting Jews, even though his administration had outright declared it before. This turned into a mini-scandal that has since fizzled. Yglesias believes those critics were sincere, but blinded by their politics. I think he's being generous, while the president's critics were not.

Two years ago Steve Novella wrote:

Before you set out to criticize someone’s claim or position, you should endeavor to grant that position its best possible case. Don’t assume the worst about your opponent, assume the best. Give them any benefit of the doubt. At the very least this will avoid creating a straw man to attack, or opening yourself up to charges that you are being unfair.

And that's the problem isn't it? Politics is dominated by the uncharitable interpretation of one's opponents? Todd Akin simply must have meant by "legitimate rape" that some rapes are acceptable or John Kerry must have been mocking the troops, not George W. Bush, when he said people who don't study in school get stuck in Iraq.

Having a low threshold for outrage is very popular in politics today, but like a leech is sucks the potential for anything interesting to come from the mouths of elected officials.

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