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Grayson Breaks the Rules

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"Grayson Breaks the Rules"

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Representative Alan Grayson’s statement that the Republican plan for health care amounts to “don’t get sick” and if you do “die quickly” probably doesn’t meet a test of literal accuracy. Reality is I guess closer to “only get sick if you’re stably employed in a good, well-paying job but if you do get sick and don’t have a lot of money die quickly.” And, yeah, that’s a polemical characterization. But so what? The idea of a hubub about this is absurd:

I think the real issue—and the real import—of Grayson’s statement is that it involved breaking one of the unspoken rules of modern American politics. The rule is that conservatives talk about their causes in stark, moralistic terms and progressives don’t. Instead, progressives talk about our causes in bloodless technocratic terms. This is also one of the reasons that Ted Kennedy’s stark, moralistic attack on Robert Bork’s legal theories are for some reason often cast by the MSM as some kind of illegitimate smear campaign. The reality is that it was just him talking about a conservative the way conservatives relatively talk about liberals. Like Grayson he characterized his opponents’ views polemically, but wasn’t offering any kind of wild factual distortions. But moralism from the left is very unfamiliar to American political debates.

There’s a semi-legitimate practical reason for this, namely the fact that substantially more people identify as conservatives than identify as liberals. Consequently, progressive politicians are at pains to describe their proposals as essentially pragmatic and non-ideological which doesn’t lend itself to moralism.

That all makes sense as far as it goes, but I think there are some real limits to how far it does go. For one thing, it puts you at a permanent kind of rhetorical disadvantage. But for another thing, it’s just very hard to do big things without a certain amount of moralism. In particular, you really can’t talk about the climate change issue in a sensible way without mentioning the irreducible wrongness of residents of a large developed nation endangering the lives and livelihoods of a couple billion people in the developing world with our industrial activities. When you think about it, it’s really wrong! Wrong in a way that transcends the fact that it would be inconvenient for some key states and industries to recognize that fact.

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