Posts Tagged ‘Rhetoric’
Last year Elias Isquith asked me to contribute a piece to a forum he did on the State of the Union speech. There was some dispute between the contributors over how they read the speech which was my jumping off point. I’m posting it again before this year’s speech because most of what I had to say is still applicable, even if some of the details have changed.The fact that people have such different readings of this speech isn’t that surprising. It reads to me like it was designed to do just that – let each of us hear what we want to hear. Our normal way of understanding the SOTU is outward. We tend to think of the president seeking to persuade the opposition or independents. But there are two ways we might think of ‘us’ as the target. First, speeches can be used to mobilize one’s own supporters to action. Second, they can be used to demobilize one’s own team. But ultimately, the impact depends on how we react. We can use the good things that were mentioned as a resource, in making demands. Or we can assume that the White House has the issue in hand and therefore we can stand down – at least until we get marching orders. The latter is a losing proposition, regardless of your thoughts about the president’s own motives. I cringe at the barrage of emails about supporting the president’s agenda. We should have our own agenda, and pressure him to support us.
Of course, we all know that the president faces a hostile Republican majority in the House, and an obstructionist Republican minority in the Senate which, as a result of Harry Reid’s unwillingness to undo the filibuster, has a great deal of power. Because of the sequester, there will likely be fiscal legislation, and because of Republicans’ fear over losing the Latino vote in perpetuity, immigration legislation will at least get a hearing.
So I thought I’d focus more on some other things, including those the White House has more control over.
I’ve argued here before that blaming voters for bad policy or consumers for things like labor conditions is a cop out. (Here and here for voters, here and here for consumers). The general idea is that social outcomes are not a product of unalloyed aggregated individual choice. Institutions matter, power matters. Elites shape the ideas (or people) that can get a serious hearing, and the structure of the choices people get. They work to suppress information and to coopt efforts to challenge them. They make symbolic moves to demobilize those challenges. They act to influence the preferences people hold. Those who hold positions of power and authority are supposed to do things like follow the law, act morally, represent us, etc. When they fail to, it’s their fault – ‘why did you let me?’ is a ridiculous response to a charge of dereliction of duty.
There are often two response to this claim that raise an important point, and addressing them helps me clarify my argument. First is the idea that I’m saying that people have no responsibility to act at all–that I’m essentially leaving them out of the conversation entirely. Second is the idea that saying they aren’t to blame is saying they have no role. Read the rest of this entry »
Elias Isquith has put together an interesting group of people to comment on the State of the Union, and surprisingly I’m one of them. I’ll be adding the links on this post at they come up. Check it out and maybe even comment. We are…not of the same mind on this thing.
Here’s my opening: “The fact that people have such different readings of this speech isn’t that surprising. It reads to me like it was designed to do just that – let each of us hear what we want to hear.”
The State of Austerity (Elias Isquith)
[Update: 2-15-13 a.m.]
[Update: 2-20-13 a.m.]
The State of the Union’s Quiet Radicalism (Elias Isquith)
[Update 2-26-13 p.m.]
The State of the Union’s Crises (Alan Kantz)
This morning’s Up With Chris had an amazing discussion of Libya and Mali, and the role of the United States and the French in North Africa. [Update: this segment can be viewed here.] One point that came through strongly was how the decision to enter the Libyan civil war (what is commonly, and I think misleadingly, called ‘intervention’) was never litigated. That is, the US didn’t have a discussion about it in public before the decision happened.
Today’s episode included a great discussion of all this, including voices that rarely get heard on my television, and I learned a great deal as a result. I wasn’t the only one watching this discussion who praised Up for this.
But this reminded me of another frustration I’ve had for a long time that I haven’t seen many others articulate. Read the rest of this entry »
I just asked this question on Twitter, and realized I wasn’t going to be able to explain it in 140 characters. So I thought I’d elaborate here. First, the question:
There has been a lot of talk about how we need to reframe the horribly inaptly named “right to work” laws, which essentially require unions to represent workers who refuse to join or otherwise support the union in any way. Since no one is ever required to join a union, this whole framing in nonsense, a cover for a policy designed to weaken unions that can’t be defended on the merits.
‘Right to work for less’ is a common one, but it is fairly clunky. I like the idea of ‘loafer laws’ or even better, ‘freeloader laws’ (that one is from Matt Bruenig) which emphasize the free rider problem here. I also like ‘no rights at work’ law. Regardless, the question I’m asking is a different one.
What would a real right to work look like? Instead of reframing the right-wing policy with a different name, we could attach a different policy to the name (in fact we could and probably should do both). Rhetorically, we’d respond to the call for a ‘right to work’ by saying, ‘absolutely we need a real right to work, which would mean X’ There are, as I see it, two options.
The first is the one I mentioned in my tweet – just cause employment laws. These laws, which presently exist only in Montana, require employers to have a legitimate reason before firing an employee. This is opposed to at will employment, where employers can fire for any reason or even no reason, as long as they don’t run afoul of various anti-discrimination laws. (It’s worth pointing out that because outside of these laws employers can fire at will, enforcing such anti-discrimination laws is more difficult). In essence, such laws ensure a basic level of due process, and reduce the arbitrary authority of employers while leaving intact legitimate authority.
Another way to reframe right to work would be a federal guarantee of a job, along the lines that Sandy Darity has proposed. “His National Investment Employment Corps does that, he says, by creating real jobs that pay a minimum of $20,000 a year and $10,000 in benefits, including medical coverage and retirement savings,” along the lines of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. This is a quite literal ‘right to work.’
Does that make sense? And if so, what do you think?
[Update] Richard Yeselson was tweeting about the first question, and offered “right to shirk.” I like that.
When you come down to it, the word market is a negation. It is a word to be applied to the context of any transaction so long as that transaction is not directly dictated by the state. The word has no content of its own because it is defined simple, and for reasons of politics, by what it is not. The market is nonstate, and thus it can do everything the state can do with none of the procedures or rules or limitations. It is a cosmic and ethereal space, a disembodied decision maker–a Maxwell’s Demon–that, somehow and without effort, balances and reflects the preferences of everyone participating in economic decisions. It is a magic dance hall where Supply meets Demand, flirts and courts; a magic bedroom where the fraternal twins Quantity and Price are conceived. It can be these things precisely because it is nothing.
Because the word lacks any observable, regular, consistent meaning, marvelous powers can be assigned to it.
James K. Galbraith, The Predator State