Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Democrats fighting

Digby has called for peace in the blogosphere. I hope it happens.

I've spent a bit of time over the past few days doing some self-analysis. *Why* is the left blogosphere pissing me off so much lately? Why am I having this kneejerk negative reaction to pro-Obama bloggers? At first I thought it was the one essential characteristic of my personality that I have had my entire life. I think I was born rooting for the underdog. Hell, the very first grown-up publication I ever read was the 1970 Mets Yearbook (I was 4 and very impressionable). So once Hillary became the underdog, it was inevitable that I'd be "in the tank" for her.

But there is something else. The posts that have pushed me to reply come not because someone is simply pro-Obama. It's because they reek of self-righteousness that blinds them to any complexity of thought.

Example 1: I really honestly believe that Scott Lemieux felt a little bit of embarrassment over this post. After insisting that only pro-Clinton people and hysterical (my word, not his, but I think I capture his implication) feminists would object to Obama's comment about Clinton periodically attacking him when she's feeling down, it ends up that, hey, a lot of feminist bloggers he does respect *did* object to Obama's comment.

Why did he blurt out that ill-advised post that he probably ended up regretting? Because when you're surrounded by people who think like you and you're telling yourself you're all morally superior, you start to lose your ability to look at issues critically.

That brings us to Example 2: The plagiarism flap. Clinton's accusation that Obama was plagiarizing Deval Patrick certainly *should* be criticized and examined. It was political game-playing. But it deserved the following kinds of responses:

1. Plagiarism is too strong a word for what Obama did. In some contexts (academic), what he did would be considered wrong/unethical, but political discourse is different. No one has to worry that Obama is a plagiarist.
2. What was Clinton hoping to accomplish with this accusation? I think she was looking for two to three things:
a. "Plagiarism" is a word that has a negative connotation to the college students that Obama is drawing a lot of support from.
b. She is calling attention to the fact that Obama's rhetoric isn't particularly *new*. That is *okay*, but it probably does come as a surprise to people in the 49 states that are not Massachsetts that we Bay Staters sat through this same campaign 2 years ago. It worked, but it's part of a pre-planned script. Obama is seen as authentic and Clinton as scripted; well, this shows Obama is just as scripted. To those of us who are politics junkies, it's no big deal. But to the people hearing about this on the nightly news (if anyone watches any more--maybe I should say "on the news channel web sites"), it would be something they were learning about Obama.
c. She gained control of the news cycle a couple of days before a key primary.

It's worth having a conversation about Clinton's campaign tactics and about what plagiarism is and why it's ok to borrow for public speaking and political campaigns and not in other contexts.

What it's *not* worth doing is mocking the accusation in incorrect ways. Copying a word or well-known phrase is not ever plagiarism even in written discourse. Pretending that Clinton's accusation was on the same level was demeaning. It's worth pointing out that Obama's borrowing *would have been* considered plagiarism in other contexts but isn't here. It's important because Obama *does* reach college students, and saying it's "no big deal" is brushing off an issue that is very important for students to learn. I spend a lot of time talking to students about documenting source material and how to use research effectively. Lizardbreath is right that in some work situations, cutting and pasting chunks of text is considered perfectly appropriate, and I personally talk to my students about that because I think they deserve to know about the complexity of the issue and the grey areas of thinking about intellectual property. Could pro-Obama bloggers have *tried* to take a little of that complexity seriously?

The problem is that some bloggers are behaving totally out of character in order to support Obama. That's why Obama supporters are being accused of being a cult. In the rush of adrenaline that comes from joining in with the crowd to condemn the enemy (i.e. the CLinton campaign), clear thinking is left behind.

What I am really worrying is that Obama support isn't a cult but is a drug that is lowering inhibitions. Are our pro-feminist male allies really dismissive of the everyday sexism that women put up with? Do they normally pretend it's as important to them as it is to us?

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