Monday, June 21, 2010

See Also the 263rd Rule Of Acquisition

I was mostly facetious last week when I called Andy McCarthy (the torture apologist, not Jonathan Silverman's buddy) a super-genius for coming up with a preemptive argument that if the US kills bin Laden on Barack Obama's watch, conservatives can argue it's a sign that Obama is a secret Kenyan-born Muslim traitor.  Adam Serwer took me to task a bit (I assume just to take the opportunity to remind everyone the wacko things that McCarthy has argued), leading to the following twitter exchange:

Me: yes, but: how is it working out for *him*? Not bad, right? Just saying...
Serwer:  can't argue with that..

The point being...well, two points.  First is that you should be following me on Twitter (and even more so, that you should be following him; he's good with the tweets).  Second, it's always worth thinking about personal incentives for why people do what they do, especially when they seem a little crazy..

And one personal incentive to be aware of these days is that race among conservatives to figure out how to attack anything Barack Obama does.  That's what's going on with McCarthy.  That's what's going on with the "shakedown" talking point that got Joe Barton in so much trouble last week.  Sometimes, however, it's just funny, and that's the one that Jonathan Chait and Kevin Drum picked up on today: criticism of Barack Obama for advising fathers to mute the TV during the commercials and talking to their kids. 

I'd like to say that this is about equal on both sides of the partisan divide, but I'm still taking in the idea that if you're a loyal partisan hack on the GOP side, you have a good shot at a $250K prize for your troubles, among other rewards.  At any rate, it's pretty obvious how this works: there are a whole lot of people who don't like Barack Obama and the Democrats for all kinds of reasons and are eager to be told exactly why everything that Obama does is evil, which creates a lucrative market for creative people well versed in conservative rhetoric to find connections between even the most innocuous things that the president does and some strand of that rhetoric.  (And, yes, the same thing works in the other direction, may not be as big a market, and it may not be as well-subsidized a market, but it does exist). 

That incentives work that way definitely does not, by the way, discredit the arguments.  For that, motives don't count; what matters is if the case presented is sound.  However, when it comes to motives, Drum may be right to say "And conservatives wonder why the rest of us think their entire movement has gone stone crazy?"  But on an individual level, we need not assume that the people who think of this stuff are nuts.  Their behavior is most likely governed a lot less by Richard Hofstadter than by say, the 10th, 33rd, and 57th Rules of Acquisition.

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