Unpacking Arguments: “Respectfully” Disagreeing

I’m starting a new style of blog post today I’m calling unpacking arguments. In these posts, I’ll go into a blog post in detail to break down the argument its making, its supporting points, and assess its reasoning.
Without further ado…
Clive Cook published an article in the Financial Times recently about how the “Democrats Must Learn Some Respect.” Personally, I think both sides need to learn some respect for each other, but Cook’s is an article I want to break apart for some terrible flaws in logic that I can’t pass up.
I’ll add however, that I don’t even necessarily disagree with all of Cook’s points, but the logic used to support some of these statements is dangerously flawed.
Article Conclusion (Paraphrased):
The cultural contradiction of American liberalism may turn the election against the Democrats.
Sounds like a good potential point. Let’s hear some of the reasoning.

Democrats speak up for the less prosperous; they have well-intentioned policies to help them; they are disturbed by inequality, and want to do something about it. Their concern is real and admirable. The trouble is, they lack respect for the objects of their solicitude. Their sympathy comes mixed with disdain, and even contempt.

Oh? A point blank assertion that Democrats disrespect the less prosperous? Surely you have something to back that up.

Democrats regard their policies as self-evidently in the interests of the US working and middle classes. Yet those wide segments of US society keep helping to elect Republican presidents. How is one to account for this? Are those people idiots? Frankly, yes – or so many liberals are driven to conclude. Either that or bigots, clinging to guns, God and white supremacy; or else pathetic dupes, ever at the disposal of Republican strategists. If they only had the brains to vote in their interests, Democrats think, the party would never be out of power. But again and again, the Republicans tell their lies, and those stupid damned voters buy it.

Hmm… so Cook thinks Democrats believe everyone who doesn’t vote for them is stupid, so they disrespect them, which creates a contradiction when paired with the policies they advocate. This logic chain hinges on the idea that Democrats believe people who don’t for them are stupid, which is not necessarily the case.


It’s possible to vote for something not in your own secular interest (which is what the Democrats advocate and Cook seems unwilling to enumate) for a host of reasons. Those reasons could be based on values, principles, different perceptions, or denial, as well as stupidity (a fact I won’t discount). There are many Democrats who understand that some people have a strict view on the role of government, which prohibits them from voting for their policies regardless of how much it would help them. There’s no reason to presume those who understand that would think the others to be stupid.


So, Democrats can’t be universally classified as thinking those who don’t vote for them are stupid. If Cook wants to then argue this generalization about some Democrats, he has a different argument. Namely, it’s easy to prove some Democrats are disrespectful… just as it would be easy to prove some Republicans are. It would be difficult to turn an election in either direction based on the respectfulness of a subsection of a party.

Their [the media’s] constant support for Democratic views has nothing to do with bias, in their minds, but reflects the fact that Democrats just happen to be right about everything. The result is the same: for much of the media, the fact that Republicans keep winning can only be due to the backwardness of much of the country.

I would like to point out that I think in several elections now, stupid people have swayed the election one direction or the other. This doesn’t mean all voters are stupid, quite the contrary. If you have two parts, let’s say two thirds of the electorate, split soundly on issues that they’ve reasoned out and come to conclusions on, then that leaves a third of the vote to a group of people who don’t do that, a group of people susceptible to media manipulation, half-truths and simple lies without much desire to fact check anything. I think part of the media’s role should be to communicate to that mostly apathetic block, to make sure they can cut through the spin with relative ease and make sound decisions despite their lack of interest.


Again, that’s not to say voters as a whole are stupid, but that a deciding portion of them are.


Note: This quote is talking about the reaction to Sarah Palin’s pick as VP.

For days, the derision poured down from Democratic party talking heads and much of the media too. The idea that “this woman” might be vice-president or even president was literally incomprehensible. The popular liberal comedian Bill Maher, whose act is an endless sneer at the Republican party, noted that John McCain’s case for the presidency was that only he was capable of standing between the US and its enemies, but that should he die he had chosen “this stewardess” to take over. This joke was not – or not only – a complaint about lack of experience. It was also an expression of class disgust. I give Mr Maher credit for daring to say what many Democrats would only insinuate.

This is my favorite point, because there are parts I agree with and parts I think are wholly unsupported.


The parts I like first… I think many of the sources that I read (which I consider to be balanced) have been making comments about Sarah Palin that are sexist. Undoubtedly. I’ve seen her referred to more than once as a sexy librarian among other similar roles, and these comments are both unhelpful and degrading. They provide no substance against Palin and don’t do anything for the role of women in politics either.


On the other hand, I’ve read with interest the claim that “Democratic party talking heads” have been regularly spouting such remarks. Isn’t it telling that the best example Cook could come up with was Bill Maher? I’m sure some Democrats have said things along that line, but it’s hardly “pouring down” from the top (especially considering Obama’s statements).

The problem in my view is less Mr Obama and more the attitudes of the claque of official and unofficial supporters that surrounds him. The prevailing liberal mindset is what makes the criticisms of Mr Obama’s distance from working Americans stick.
This argument makes no logical sense. It’s 100% guilt by association, a reasoning which I don’t support moreso than many others in politics. Essentially, this view says that regardless of how Obama thinks and acts, we can criticize him for things that those around him are guilty of. This could be easily flipped around and McCain could be derided for his conformity, because that’s what those around him have done. Never mind his actual achievements.
If only the Democrats could contain their sense of entitlement to govern in a rational world, and their consequent distaste for wide swathes of the US electorate, they might gain the unshakeable grip on power they feel they deserve. Winning elections would certainly be easier – and Republicans would have to address themselves more seriously to economic insecurity. But the fathomless cultural complacency of the metropolitan liberal rules this out.


Ok, regardless of the Democrats sense of entitlement to govern (which I’m sure the Republicans don’t share… /sarcasm), I’ve already demonstrated that “distaste for the electorate” doesn’t necessarily follow like Cook wants it to. As such, it’s unclear whether such a sense of entitlement is a problem… particularly in a political climate that seems to breed over-confidant politicians on both the winning and losing sides.
And I have to ask, what does Cook mean by “cultural complacency” here? Even if the Democrats do despise a swath of the electorate, I don’t consider distaste a key component of complacency. Leaving the “metropolitan liberals” comment for another time, what does he mean by cultural complacency?

The Palin nomination could still misfire for Mr McCain, but the liberal reaction has made it a huge success so far. To avoid endlessly repeating this mistake, Democrats need to learn some respect.

And now we’re seeing the argument come together. According to Cook, the nomination of Palin and its subsequent reaction is an example of the Democrats’ loathing for those that don’t vote for them. Though unstated, Cook implies this reaction is uniting the public in opposition to Democrats, rather than behind them. Thus, the election could turn in the Republicans favor.


Interestingly, I think Cook left unstated the most important part of his argument, because a partisan reaction to a political event seems to be an every day occurrence. Better questions would include: Why is the public coming behind Palin instead of against her? Why don’t the Democrats adjust their tactics to something that isn’t working? Etc.

It will be hard. They will have to develop some regard for the values that the middle of the country expresses when it votes Republican. Religion. Unembarrassed flag-waving patriotism. Freedom to succeed or fail through one’s own efforts. Refusal to be pitied, bossed around or talked down to. And all those other laughable redneck notions that made the United States what it is.

Here, Cook has decided to end his post off his argument with some unsubstantiated (and contradictory) ideas about what Democrats need to do to “show some respect.”


Religion. Apparently religion is a value Democrats don’t adhere too rather than an institution that promotes specific values. I find this especially amusing against the criticism of Obama’s pastor. It seems he “needs” to be more religious, but not “that kind” of religious.


The patriotism comment is again laughable, or at least arbitrarily specific. On the one hand, Obama is criticized for not being patriotic enough, declining to wear a flag pin and such. While on the other hand, he’s criticized as being presumptuous when he uses a faux white house backdrop for his speeches, and creates seal in the likeness of the president’s. Again, he needs “unembarrassed flag-waving patriotism” except when those who accuse him of such decide he should be embarrassed.


The freedom to fail or succeed is a value shared by both parties, but the problem comes in trying to secure that freedom for everyone. The Democrats believe the poor should have a chance to work their way up from the bottom, whereas the Republicans believe that the rich should be no less inhibited in their freedoms and thus punished for their success. In my view, these two freedoms are mutually exclusive. More given to one side tends to take away from the other. How you think the freedom should be distributed is a matter of personal values, but simply saying you should support “freedom” as if it doesn’t come at a price is dishonest.
I agree with the talking down idea. No one likes to be talked down to. Both sides are guilty of this though, so I would ask Cook, why can one side get away with it while the other can’t?
Finally, there are many things that have made the nation what it is today aside from Cook’s sample of values. Conquest, slavery, and war also make up much of the picture, but none of the parties support them as values today, nor should they. So not only does Cook’s list not fully capture what made America, but the things that made America what it is today shouldn’t necessarily be embraced by the parties today simply by that virtue.
End Thoughts
In the end, I found the argument unpersuasive, because it is simply not possible to draw the inference that Democrats hate those who don’t vote for them without evidence to back it up. Logically, it could work, but if we believed that about all people deliberative discussion in the country would simply degrade into a hate-filled shouting match…. *glances at Olbermann and O’Reilly on TV*…. *ahem* well there’s potentially legs to the point, but since O’Reilly and Olbermann don’t represent the Republicans or Democrats in any official capacity, it’s certainly not a logical inevitability.
Anyway, hinging on an unproved point means Cook’s argument is rated:
UP Unproven Point: The argument may check out with more research, but at present it relies on points which don’t have a basis in fact.

No Responses Yet to “Unpacking Arguments: “Respectfully” Disagreeing”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: