the naysayers vs the apologists

Obama Budget

Consistent with the current climate of extreme division, Democrats frequently seem to fall into two distinct (and extreme) groups: those for whom the President Can Do No Wrong, and those for whom the President Can Do No Right. In reality, I don’t think Democrats believe either. I think these groups reflect different ways of dealing with political rhetoric.

The Democrats Who Believe The President Can Do No Right (let’s call them the “naysayers”) say things like this: “It’s cool that he got Osama Bin Laden, but it would have been better if we could have had a trial.” “It’s fine that we got a health care bill passed, but he didn’t even try for a single-payer system.” “It’s great that he’s drawing down troops in Iraq, but these other wars need to end, too.” “I understand that he needed to make compromises in the debt ceiling debate, but he should have been stronger about his position.” And so on.

The Democrats Who Believe The President Can Do No Wrong (let’s call them the “apologists”) say things like this: “He got health care passed, didn’t he? How do you know that if he had dug in his heals on something better, it wouldn’t have made them dig their heals in and made the whole thing collapse?” “At least we got the debt ceiling raised. With the kind of opposition he has, what would you have done… just not raise it?” “He’s gotten so many things accomplished, why don’t you just trust him. It could be that he has a broader strategy that you just aren’t seeing.” And so on.

On the surface, both of these stances have a ridiculous tinge to them. Moreover, when you actually talk to these people, their actual feelings aren’t really that extreme, or that different from one another: both sides will say that they like the president generally, that they agree with much of his vision of America, and that he’s done many things—but not everything—right.

So what’s the deal? If deep down they agree on their core assessment of the President, then why are they at each other’s throats when they talk out loud about it? Why do they seem so extremely apart on the rhetoric?

I think this reflects a difference in strategy more than a difference in opinion about the President… even though I don’t think most of them are even consciously aware of it. And behind that, I think it reflects a difference in personality.

If you are a Naysayer, you see yourself as standing alone. You imagine that your voice will be evaluated on its own merit and not in relation to anything else, and you expect to be judged that way. You would be incensed if you thought your reactions or judgments were being evaluated in relation to the things other people thought. You have evaluated the facts, and your own opinions, and that is what matters. When you speak, on some level you picture yourself in a room with the President, maybe, as if you are the President’s personal adviser. And if you are an adviser, what good does it do for you to tell the President all the great things he’s done? What’s the point of that? No, you want to direct him, help correct the places where you think he is off course. You imagine that you are so smart, the President will listen to you, and more: you imagine that he will be listening to nobody else but you. If you don’t give him the “bad news”, then who will? Even if you think he is doing things (for example) 80% right and 20% wrong, the 80% is a given. You have to tell him about the 20%! Since you see yourself as his one-and-only adviser, it’s your job. You are the one he relies on.

If you are an Apologist, on the other hand, you are part of a pool that makes up the “voice of the people.” In that pool, you are one of many and have no special place or role. You are very aware of the fact that “the voice of the people” is a global phenomenon that is experienced not only by the President, but also by the people themselves. So when you speak up, you deliberately are trying to influence the “voice of the people” to reflect your own feelings. If you think that the President is doing things (just for example) 80% right and 20% wrong, then you look at the chatter of the voices that are out there… and if you feel like the chatter is already biased toward 30% criticism, then you will try to balance things out by focusing only on the positive. In this way, you work as part of the collective to sway the average and produce an overall voice that reflects approximately the ratio of good-and-bad that you actually feel about the job the president is doing.

This is how I see the two “personalities” in the Democratic Party. And in this analysis, I have no qualms admitting that I am an Apologist. I feel there are things that the President has done wrong, and I think there are things that the President can and should work on doing better. The President is too moderate for my tastes, and is not aggressive enough. But I already see more than a fair share of people out there pointing out these criticisms. On the other hand, I see too little in the way of recognition of the good things that the President has done.

So even though I might say that my “personal approval assessment” of the president might be something like 70% approval and 30% disapproval, I spend a good 99% of my time focusing on praising, and trusting, and defending the President. Not because I think I “can’t” question our leader. And not because I agree with everything that he says and does. But merely because I’m trying to get the “voice of the people” a lot closer to the 70%-30% split that I believe in… than the 50%-50% that I hear in the screaming world out there right now.