Normalizing the Dishonest, Corrupt and Unacceptable

by: David Sirota

Thu Jan 21, 2010 at 09:00


NOTE: Glenn will be on my AM760 radio show this morning at 9am Denver time (11am ET). Tune in on your radio dial or stream it live at www.am760.net. - D

Glenn Greenwald and Paul Krugman - two of the progressive movement's most important media voices - are going back and forth over whether it's acceptable for a professor to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars from a presidential administration, not disclose those payments, and then have his work touted as "independent" or "objective" analysis in support of that administration.

On the substance, I completely agree with Greenwald and disagree with Krugman - the lack of disclosure is appalling, even if it is unsurprising in these dark days of decidedly subjective propaganda trumping objective information. But what's more compelling than even the argument over this particular issue, is the deeper discussion of ends-justify-the-means-ism. Here's Greenwald:

What will make it impossible to effectively call out wrongdoing by future corrupt administrations (by which Krugman seems to mean: Republican administrations) is the willingness of some people to tolerate and defend corruption when done by "their side." The next time we have what Krugman calls a "genuinely corruption administration" which, say, secretly pays people they're holding out as "independent" experts, the administration's defenders will say:  "how can you possibly object to our doing this when Obama did it, and not only did you fail to object then, but you defended it?"

Minimizing or excusing unethical behavior when done by Your Side is exactly what normalizes the behavior, and turns ethical failures into nothing more than a partisan tool cynically used by each side, which in turn trivializes these issues.

This axiom can be applied to almost anything. When progressives excuse corrupt, unethical, dishonest or otherwise unacceptable behavior by Democrats - the same behavior they would attack Republicans for - we are effectively saying that behavior is perfectly fine. We are effectively stripping ourselves of the power and credibility to ever argue that it is not fine in the future.

Clearly, lots of progressive Obama supporters have forgotten this principle, as evidenced by their apologias for nearly every explicit campaign promise Obama has gone out of his way to break. And its not just the defensive (and rather pathetic) rationalizations - it's the attacks.

For much of the last two months, some movement progressives have dared to publicly question the Obama administration's integrity in light of broken promises. They've asked questions about broken promises and behaviors that would have been echoed by all Democrats had those same broken promises and behaviors come from President Bush. And yet, because these questions have been asked of Obama, these movement progressives have been viciously attacked by Obama supporters as unacceptably disloyal. These supporters haven't really tried to defend Obama on the substance of broken promises - they haven't tried to insist that it was a substantively good thing for Obama to, for instance, break his promise on something like drug importation. More often, they have simply said that we should just STFU and accept that reversal because Obama's on Our Side.

The end result is more than just the normal tumult and division in the "big tent" of the political Left - it is the slow "normalization" of dishonesty. In saying that it's AOK for President Obama to, say, break his transparency promises and negotiate secret deals with the drug industry and pack his administration with Wall Street insiders, Obama defenders are effectively de-controversializing those behaviors for all politicians, Republican or Democrat, in the future.

David Sirota :: Normalizing the Dishonest, Corrupt and Unacceptable

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If you are serious about saving the Democrats from themselves (0.00 / 0)
then the immediate fight is not health care, it is preventing the reelection of Bernanke THIS WEEK.

It's wrong no matter who does it -- PERIOD. (0.00 / 0)
This tendency to rationalize and justify reprehensible behavior when "our" politicians engage in it is probably the left's biggest weakness.  Dishonesty, corruption, and crimes go from being those to being exercises in team-loyaltyism ("it's only wrong when they do it, and how dare you criticize us for doing it").

"Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for the real Republican all the time." -- Harry S. Truman

Few comments here! (0.00 / 0)
Speaking as someone who was attacking Krugman's position before Greenwald got on the bandwagon, I do understand where Krugman is coming from.  We only have X hours in the day, and if both sides are sinning, who wants to spend their time attacking the sinners on our side, when there are more and worse sinners on the other side?  That doesn't mean one should defend them, but it explains why it might seem perverse to Krugman that the left should so vigorously spend time and energy attacking small fry on the left.  Of course, he only says that because he doesn't see it as part of systemic, bipartisan corruption of government.

But I think the lack of comments on this post -- with so much energy expended on the posts above and below it -- illustrates this point.  Who wants to spend their precious time wading into a minor fight within the left, when there are so many major fights needing work against the right?  When it's the one post for the day from GG or PK, then people will take it up, but when they have other options -- as they do here on openleft --  they will just ignore it.  Which, in a way, was what Krugman was espousing.  (Again -- I don't agree with him, myself.  Here I am writing this, after all.)


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