Clinton on Self-Loathing

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Arthur Finkelstein is one of the key promoters of the Stop Hillary movement. He's also gay, momogamous, and married to his partner. President Clinton is now on record belittling this man in what seems to me to be a completely irrational way. He says, "Either this guy believes his party is not serious and is totally Machiavellian in his position or there's some sort of self-loathing there." I'm trying to figure out what he means. The only thing I can think of is that he should oppose Republicans simply because many Republicans disagree with one thing Finkelstein obviously cares a lot about. That's such an awful argument that it's hard to believe Clinton really believes it's true.

I can understand why my support for a politician would be reduced if that person strongly opposes something that I think we should promote, especially if that thing is something very close to my heart. Still, isn't it possible that someone would very much regret such opposition among people that very closely match the person's beliefs on virtually everything else? The charge of Machiavellianism seems to me to assume that this is mere pragmatism to gain political power while not agreeing with them, but it's possible he agrees with most Republicans on most things and therefore won't support most Democrats. Given that many Democrats, including John Kerry, are hesitant to endorse gay marriage to begin with, how are the Republicans that much worse?

The charge of self-loathing is even worse. I can't figure out how he is loathing himself simply because he supports political candidates who oppose something he considers very good and part of his identity. You don't need to hate yourself to promote a candidate that you very much like on most things that they'll have power to affect, even if that candidate supports some restrictions on benefits based on things you consider very important to who you are. It might be different when you're talking about serious oppression. I can understand why many people consider it oppression not to allow gay partners hospital visits. I couldn't put it on the same level as the kind of slavery that once took place in this country or even the same level as the segregation that replaced it.

Maybe it would be self-loathing for a black person to promote a candidate who supported those policies. I don't even think that's necessarily the case. Someone might think racism needs to be overcome gradually and not through forced behavior without change in heart and therefore think those who oppose segregation and want to enforce integration should be opposed. But even if it's self-loathing to promote a candidate who refuses to overcome a policy that allows serious oppression, that doesn't mean it's self-loathing to promote candidates whose views amount to allowing continued oppression of a fairly small amount when compared to all the other things that might be at stake.

This all assumes he considers it oppression to begin with. He might not. He might be willing to take advantage of gay marriage if the government allows it but not think he has a right to that. It's a gift. This is basically my attitude toward government help for low-income people. My income is low enough that we three kids we qualify for New York health insurance, food stamps, heating assistance, and WIC. We take advantage of this, because I'm happy to accept a gift that in God's providence has been provided to me in a time when I'm working part-time so I can try to make some progress on my degree and therefore not making much money.

That doesn't mean that I'll always support candidates who want to keep pouring more money into these badly-managed and wasteful programs when there surely are far more effective ways to help those who don't make much money, particularly when you can be more discerning in which people get this help, focusing on those who will use it to become less dependent on the government. Is it self-loathing for me to support Republicans, who agree with me in general on such issues? Not at all. My receiving these benefits does not commit me to the view of the Democrats and moderates like Governor Pataki who are largely responsible for these programs.

When people do this with race, it's usually because of an evil and false racial narrative at the root. Is the same thing true here with a sexuality narrative that gay people have to be monolithic and only support Democrats or be self-loathing? The narrative structure is very similar to the racial narrative, with a few important disanalogies that I don't think are relevant to my main point.

Clinton's language is exactly the kind of thing philosophers call rhetoric. To those outside philosophy, I'll clue you in that that's a pejorative term. It refers to masterfully effective language use instead of real arguments. All politicans do this to some extent, especially in a media culture where sound bites are hte only way to communicate with the masses, whose attention span won't even allow for reading blogs that have posts of more than a few paragraphs, never mind more careful essays on substantive issues. All politicians have to do it to some extent, but Clinton is really good at it. It's not surprising that he's doing it here if he has little else to say to minimize the effect of the Stop Hillary campaign. But he's also known for being smart enough to understand the views of his opponents. What that suggests, though, is that if he does understand Finkelstein then he's the Machiavellian one, willing to make claims that he surely knows are false simply for political gain. I don't know if I'm being more charitable to him if I assume he's smart but immoral in his language use or if I assume he's innocently stupid in not understanding the false dilemmas his claims rely on. Either is pretty bad.

1 Comments

Nice post.
Yesterday I was thinking about how better off we all would be if we would quit thinking those who disagree with us are (necessarily) stupid, insane, or, well, Machiavellian, I suppose. It wouldn't solve all our problems -- but it certaily would help in a number of areas. I think I was thinking it about some anti-war thing I saw (an article which attempted to show the horrors of war -- the motivation was that, if people just understood how horrible war is, then we wouldn't have wars anymore. The author was obviously missing the point that it's possible that people can understand how horrible war is and yet still allow it to happen (or think it is sometimes justifiable) -- clearly he/she thought those who allow war are simply stupid/ignorant).

It seems a similar thing is going on here. Or, as you point out, the alternative is worse: Clinton is deliberately distorting this man's position.

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