The bad faith issue in the “stupid/evil” debate

By Amanda Marcotte
Sunday, January 24, 2010 20:29 EDT
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Matt has a cheeky post pointing out that Ben Bernanke’s behavior is quite explicable if you assume he’s a conservative Republican, in response to bloggers who keep suggesting that Bernanke’s behavior is irrational.

I think a lot of apparently mysterious things about Ben Bernanke’s career can be solved if you just assume that Ben Bernanke is doing things that a conservative Republican would do because he is a conservative Republican……

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. As Paul Krugman says Bernanke “is a great economist” and he’s acting just how you would expect a great economist to act, were he a conservative Republican.

Matt’s point is clearly to shame the Obama administration for their continued investment in Bernanke, so you should read his post for more of that important message. But I want to address what Matt says here:

I note that liberals, in their condescension toward conservatives, sometimes wind up tying themselves into knots about guys like Bernanke. Bernanke is very smart and incredibly accomplished. Many smart liberals think conservatives are dumb. So if Bernanke is so smart, it must be that he’s not really a conservative! But no. Smart conservatives are a very real phenomenon.

It’s the “stupid/evil” debate that continues to rage to explain conservative positions. Regular readers know that I fall deep into the “evil” camp—I think conservatives, especially the leadership, know what they want and how to get it. In fact, I’d say that their choices are often more effective than liberal choices, for various complicated reasons that belong in another post. I think part of the reason that liberals tend to condescendingly lean towards the “stupid” explanation is perversely due to liberals having a tendency to want to think the best of people. It’s so unfathomable that conservatives might actually want a stifled society with great economic insecurity and widespread poverty that we want to believe that they’re just dumb instead of mean-spirited and selfish.

But part of the reason that this happens is because conservatives don’t argue straightforwardly for what they want, instead choosing to pay lip service to the liberal values that define America while seeking to undermine those very values. Over and over again, conservatives claim to share the goals of liberals—a happy, prosperous, healthy society—and front like the disagreement is over tactics. Since their tactics are obviously ineffective at reaching the stated goals, it’s easy to conclude they’re idiots. But I maintain that conservative leadership, and much of the conservative followers, aren’t stupid. They’re just dishonest and argue in bad faith. I made a table to show some of the common conservative arguments, and how they’re demonstrably made in bad faith and are not a result of idiocy.

You can probably think of a dozen more. The point is clear: conservatives have made arguing in bad faith an art form. It’s really second nature, to the point where I think more than a few probably have trouble articulating a good faith argument. And the astonishing gap between their stated goals and their actual goals really confuses a lot of people.

It gets really comical in the reproductive rights debate, as I’m sure you all know. Lynn Harris has a really great interview with Carole Joffe up at Salon, and the comments were the usual forehead-slapping nonsense, the typical “but antis really BELIEVE what they say!” crap:

Ms. Harris, you will never win the abortion war, because there are enough people who genuinely believe that abortion is murder.

People can snidely put down the intelligence of anti-choicers, or belittle them by claiming they are just puppets of various religions. But that won’t change what a lot of thoughtful people believe—in fact, belittling them only makes them more convinced that they’re right.

What makes this comment so funny is that just two comments before, someone a little less trained in bad faith faux concern for children dropped this tidbit:

And thanks to Planned Parenthood for sending all those condoms to Haiti after the quake.

I’m sure that’s exactly what they want right now. Food and water are SO overrated!

Now, one could point out that anti-choicers are pretty fucking stupid if they think they can stop people from fucking just by depriving them of contraception. This guy’s belief that we should exploit this tragedy in Haiti in order to bully an entire nation into swearing off sex is the sort of thing that encourages liberals to think conservatives are really fucking stupid. But even though this argument is made is slightly less bad faith than the one before it, it’s still a bad faith argument. It’s not that he sincerely thinks that he convince people to stop having sex, or that having safe sex somehow prevents you from getting food and water. He just figures that people who continue on experiencing pleasure and intimacy in the wake of a national tragedy should be punished with STDs and unintended pregnancy, because sex wigs him out and he’s probably not too keen on Haitians as a people anyway. He might be stupid, but he’s not really being stupid here—cutting off badly needed disease prevention aid probably will accomplish the unstated goal of adding more misery to the situation by increasing STD transmission and causing unintended pregnancies in a time when access to abortion services and prenatal care is practically non-existent for a good portion of Haiti’s women. But he can’t come right out and say that, so he’s going to argue that condoms are somehow preventing food and water from getting to people. His anti-choice concern troll counterpart is disingenuous as well, but just more sophisticated about it.

Anyway, just one example among many.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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