soft bigotry, meet low expectations, part II

Conor Friedersdorf continues to muck around in the Big Hollywood fever swamp. He links approvingly to this piece, entitles his post “The NEA Flirts with Propaganda,” and says “This is another item getting most of its play on Andrew Breitbart sites and Fox News — and it is plainly a story that the mainstream media would do well to cover.”

This is strange advice. Conor fails to actually quote what is exactly supposed to be so nefarious and improper that was said in that now notorious conference call. The full transcript has been kicking around for some time, and the best anyone can come up with is this passage:

“All of us who are on this phone call were selected for a reason, and you are the ones that lead by example in your communities. You are the thought leaders. You are the ones that, if you create a piece of art, or promote a piece of art or create a campaign for a company, and tell our country and our young people sort of what do and what to be into, and what’s cool and what’s not cool.”

Excuse me for a moment.

screaming gif

Yes, that’s it. That’s that horrible piece of unAmerican propaganda currently poisoning our government and causing Lady Liberty to weep bitter tears. That’s it; that’s what Conor thinks is worthy of national media attention. Do I even need to go on? Don’t bother looking for recriminations or punishment for artists who don’t produce pro-Obama artwork, or do produce anti-Obama (or anti-Democrat, or anti-government) artwork. There’s no such coercion anywhere– you know, the kind of coercion that the people pimping this pathetic story so desperately want to find. What’s there is precisely the kind of vague, empty bureaucrat speak that suffuses not only every branch of government, regardless of the party of the sitting president, but also every corporate conference call promoting “synergy” and collective effort for collective goals.

Let me ask you a question– do you think that it would be workable for the members of government bureaucracies to not work to meet the goals of their department’s leadership, so long as those goals aren’t illegal or unconstitutional? I’m not talking about elected officials; I’m not talking about members of the legislature; I’m not even talking about the cabinet level officials that should counsel the president away from actions they find detrimental to the country. I’m talking about low level bureaucrats who were hired to actually, you know, do what the government tells them to do– and which the sitting government is empowered to do by the fact that they won the election. I’m asking if Conor or anyone else thinks that employees of branches of government should not talk about effective ways for those branches to carry out their agendas. Perhaps it would be nice for certain strains of conservatism which see government failure as success, but for the actual day to day prosecution of government, not so much. Would Conor write that the Department of Defense flirts with propaganda if it endeavors to fulfill the wishes of the president? I don’t think so!

Oh, by the way– that conference call? Yeah, it’s actually about the President’s National Day of Service, which does not involve the NEA’s puny $155 million dollar budget. Conor didn’t bother to actually fact check the post he was linking to so enthusiastically. (Neither, I’m willing to bet, did the other commenters on the post at the American Scene; reading them, I suspect that they just took at face value that something really evil was happening.) As SEK from the Edge of the American West blog says, the actual ends that this call is trying to achieve are an increase in community service, such as seeing more young people at blood drives. This is the alleyway the drunken husk of conservatism has crawled into, opposing service to one’s country and community as tantamount to socialism.

Now, that’s what matters– the fact that what was said was absurdly trivial, and that the conservatives screaming and carrying on like they’ve found a dead body in Joe Biden’s trunk are actually completely wrong about what they think the call is about. But, yes, the hypocrisy rankles. It does indeed bother me that the ideology responsible for having people sign written pledges declaring their support for President Bush before they see our elected officials speak now complains about this. It does indeed piss me off that a few short years ago, Republicans were routinely doing things like calling for Howard Dean’s hanging for criticizing the war in Iraq, and yet now they stand enraged over this meaningless conference call. It does indeed make me angry that the president himself declared that anti-Iraq war argument “gives comfort to our enemies,” and yet now I read Conor Friedersdorf calling for national prominence on this nothing of a story. Yes, indeed, it makes me angry that a party and ideology that represented nothing more forcefully or loudly than the notion that dissent was unpatriotic and treasonous, and that supporting the president and his aims were our solemn duties, now turn around and complain about something like this. Yes, that makes me angry.

This was not a great post from Conor. But it’s of a piece, sadly, with what we’ve come to expect from conservatives who are laboring away in the wilderness of a collapsed and empty party and ideology. What a sad, pathetic display the last several months have been from our conservative commentators. Again and again, we see posts that operate from a conservative position, yet assume so little of conservatism and conservatives that were I to write them they’d be seen as horribly elitist and condescending. The assumption that conservatism is a vehicle driven by dishonesty, a lack of integrity and opportunism suffuses our conservative blogosphere, and yet never is there a consideration that perhaps this means the ideology should be abandoned, or that perhaps some credit should be given to its counterpart for holding itself to a higher standard.

This isn’t the soft bigotry of low expectations, really. This is the harsh bigotry of no expectations. Sad to say, the bigotry is brought not against the party being held to no expectations, but to its antagonist. Sad, and strange.

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69 thoughts on “soft bigotry, meet low expectations, part II

  1. I’m not a fan of the Federal government calling up artists and saying “hey, maybe you could do a little something about (topic)” while jingling the purse.

    This is the NEA which hands out grants… let’s say that there is a piece out there that fully encapsulates what the NEA was asking for. Service, for example. And let’s say that there is a piece out there that has, I dunno, Obama painted up as The Joker.

    Which one of these do you think will be up for the next NEA grant?

    Follow-up question: Do you think the artists came to a different answer to that question?

    At the end of the day, it may come down to an issue of what kind of pies one feels it appropriate for the Federal Government to have its thumb in. If one doesn’t see a natural limit to the number or type of pies, well, hell. Let’s have the Federal Government call up artists and jingle its purse and ask for art of a particular type.

    If, however, one is one of those “glibertarians” who doesn’t feel “art” is something that the Federal government should be involved in at all (what? are you opposed to the Vietnam Memorial too?) then you probably would find it inappropriate to have the government ask for art to back up various government initiatives… just like they are opposed to government funded sidewalks. It need not be pointed out that these glibertarians can be dismissed out of hand.

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    • Except that none of the NEA’s budget was apportioned in this conference call, and, indeed, there is no specific mention of financial remuneration for art that supports… anything at all, in the conference call in question.

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      • Really? You, as an artist, would not hear the purse jingling?

        Sure, I know that the government did not *SAY* “hey, we’re the government and we have money to hand out by the truckload!!!”

        Do you think that anyone on that call was not painfully aware of the fact that the government has money to hand out by the truckload?

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        • I am saying exactly that, particularly as, again, no money was apportioned from the NEA during that call, nor was this particular push about commissioning art at all. Please read the transcript if you’re going to continue to weigh in on the call in question.

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          • You aren’t hearing me. I am not saying that the NEA was saying anything about money.

            I am talking about the semiotics of the call.

            I can dig that you are saying that you don’t see anything untoward signalled by this call. Indeed! Money was never, ever mentioned.

            The question is whether it is reasonable to question whether a signal was being received by the audience, whether a signal was intended by the speaker, and whether those signals (if they exist, of course) line up.

            I’m of the opinion that the government was trying to get artists on board with their goals and to get them to create art to help “the kidz” get on board.

            I can see, I guess, how someone might not necessarily think that that is creepy.

            I can’t see how someone might not reach the conclusion that the art in question is something akin to an audition. Of course the best work will be rewarded by an opportunity to create more. Of course it will. Of course.

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            • Why would they need artists to get the kids onboard? I thought they were “indoctrinated” earlier this month when the president gave them a positive message regarding working hard and staying in school.

              Trust me, nothing is “getting the kids on board” like the lunacy of the right wing fringe they can hear from people on the airwaves and the drivel they could read on freeper sites.

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                • See, they’ve got this day, called National Service Day, and they are trying to plan the best way to spread their specific messages about community service, staying in school and taking care of your health. They weren’t actually talking to artists qua artists but rather to bureaucrats from the NEA who have some experience with spreading this kind of message– you know, the kind that no one but a rabid ideologue or troll could see as partisan– through artistic means. So they asked for advice. They didn’t put restrictions on artistic expression for people funded through the NEA, didn’t offer to pay artists who pull freight for the Obama administration, didn’t concoct a plan to indoctrinate people into liberalism through art, none of it. They were discussing getting the word out on National Service Day. Don’t like National Service Day? Advocate against it. But, really, if you’re arguing against the tiny expenditure that National Service Day represents, you should be probably be frying bigger fish.

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                  • Freddie, I can totally understand how someone might come to the conclusion that you’ve reached. Doubly so, given your assumptions about what is (and is not) appropriate for the Federal Government to be doing. My arguments are *NOT* that you shouldn’t see the phone call as anything but innocent.

                    The arguments are about how someone could, theoretically, see something as having been signalled. Is it your position that someone might have seen something inappropriate going on a thought that could only arise out of being under-informed and/or having a partisan agenda (or some combination)? Seriously?

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                    • Could I see some signaling? Sure. But here, I don’t, really. Nothing explicit, and certainly nothing to compare to the loyalty oaths of the eight years prior. And I don’t understand how you can possibly take political power without there being some kind of reflection of your political stances in policy. As far as that goes, a conference call about using art to spread the message of “kids do your homework” seems pretty small bore.

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                    • And I see the signalling as taking place.

                      Please don’t think that my use of “inappropriate” is intended to be read as “Stalin Reborn!!!”

                      Please don’t think that my use of “inappropriate” is intended to be read as “If only Bush had thought of this first.”

                      Please don’t think that my use of “inappropriate” is intended to be read as anything more strongly than, say, a word like “tacky” would be.

                      I do think that there was some serious signalling going on there. Even if nothing was explicitly stated.

                      (Why is the Federal Government talking about homework and the importance of doing it??? What the hell???)

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                • Your paranoia is showing.

                  Look, at today’s Finance hearing, Sen. Grassley acknowledged that there is no public option is Baucas’ bill, but he STILL said that it COULD lead to socialism. What Friedersdorf is doing is the same thing: trying to play on people’s fears of “what might happen”… As if Obama’s administration has some nefarious plot to strong-arm America into something other than a democratic republic.

                  As for the answer to your question, I don’t know… maybe they were trying to inspire artists? Ya think? I don’t know about you, but all the artists I know (and I know many) are way, way to the left of Obama.

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                  • I’m one of the nutters who doesn’t think that the government ought to be telling artists to create stuff.

                    You want the government to commission a work? Fine. Put together a line-item in a farm bill or something. That’s great. Vote on it.

                    The whole “let’s have a phone call to hip artists to get them to make service-kinda art” smacks of inappropriateness. “What’s inappropriate about it?”, I hear you ask. Well, I will ask you to imagine Bush asking artists to X.

                    Is your first reaction is to wonder if right-wingers would have complained about Bush asking artists to X?

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                    • What’s the difference between hip artists making public service-oriented art and Kid Rock making an ad for the Army Reserve (could have been the National Guard, I may be wrong about that) while Bush was president?

                      You don’t think it is appropriate for the government to advocate and inspire young people to get involved in their communities? And here I thought one of the most basic tenets of conservative philosophy was an emphasis on contributing to society.

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                    • “You don’t think it is appropriate for the government to advocate and inspire young people to get involved in their communities?”

                      Nope. Not for a second.

                      We can discuss whether it might be theoretically okay for the government to talk to parents about talking to young people, though.

                      “And here I thought one of the most basic tenets of conservative philosophy was an emphasis on contributing to society.”

                      Well, you may have mistaken me for a follower of “conservative philosophy”. I’m more of a night-watchman libertarian (I speak anarcho-capitalist, though I am not a practitioner however). That said, I was not aware that one of the most basic tenets of conservative philosophy was an emphasis on contributing to society. According to whom?

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  2. Some of the highlighting in the transcript is totally hilarious. For instance, this passage is highlighted for no apparent reason:

    “Hello everybody. It’s really good to hear some (sic) many familiar voices. Welcome to your government.” (page 23)

    I suppose “welcome to your government” is supposed to be something Obahitler says before he takes away all your freedoms, guns, and health care?

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  3. It’s not like the Republicans haven’t been screaming about the NEA for as long as I can remember. Like, prior to the Tinkle Christ and the guy who took pictures of that one guy tinkling on that other guy, they were complaining about it. More recently, Giuliani did some fine grandstanding against that mixed media piece of the Virgin Mary (that relied on clippings from gentlemen’s magazines and dung).

    Even if they shouldn’t have mocked Dean for his anti-war stance and even if they should not have used the argument that the anti-war stance is one of giving aid/comfort to the enemy (dude, they *TOTALLY* should not have and it’s disgraceful that they did), that has *NOTHING* to do with the reflexive Republican opposition to the NEA and NEA grants.

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  4. A few things:

    1. I’m not sure how fair it is to tar Conor and others with the abysmal way in which the Bush Administration and movement conservatives treated anti-war liberals, particularly given that there were at least some voices who in fact expressed anger and resentment at the way in which anti-war liberals were portrayed as unpatriotic, etc. To be sure, it’s true that movement conservatives were really bad back in the day and certainly worse than most liberals have been so far (although I do seem to recall a Paul Krugman column accusing anyone who didn’t support a stimulus package of treason or something like that). But that doesn’t by itself make them wrong on this particular issue, and there’s nothing wrong with non-movement conservatives (who very well may have objected to the way movement conservatives acted during the Bush years) picking up on a story being pushed by movement conservatives.

    2. I was initially prepared to agree with you on all of this, particularly after reading the initial back-and-forth and I still agree that on the overall outrage scale, this should rank pretty low. But, looking at the full transcript, I think there is some something in there that makes me a bit uncomfortable. Let me explain.

    a. The paragraph you quoted, by itself, is nothing to be alarmed about. Frankly, even if you include the language about “pushing the President,” I’m not at all alarmed beyond my normal objection to government promotion of its own programs (ie, I don’t see how it’s remotely as problematic as the government’s various anti-drug campaigns). Asking artists to push the National Day of Service (with the implicit backing of government funds) is not even in the same league as simply asking artists to create an anti-drug poster, to be commissioned with government funds. So far, so good.

    b. But……there is a context that bothers me and which says to me this was about more than simply pushing the National Day of Service. That context is that, just before the above-referenced paragraphs, Skolnik says “I think Shepard and the Hope poster obviously is a great example, but it’s clear as an independent art community as artists and thinkers and tastemakers and marketers and visionaries on this call, the the role that we played during the campaign for the president and also during his first 200 some odd days of his presidency and the president has a clear arts agenda and has been very supportive of using art and supporting art in creative ways to talk about some of the issues that we face here in our country and also to engage people.” Another speaker holds up the “Hope” poster as an ideal again later in the transcript.

    c. In holding up the “Hope” poster as “a great example” and referencing the role the artists played in the presidential campaign, Skolnik takes this outside the realm of merely asking for support for the National Day of Service and turns this into a political discussion about promoting the President himself, with the implicit backing of government dollars. If I’m an artist on the phone call, the connection between the quid and quo is pretty clear – put out art that politically supports the President and you’ll have better access to NEA funding.

    d. At several points during the call, there is a direct connection made between participation in the program and the artists’ support during the election campaign. This strikes me as pretty typical of efforts by government officials to harness the strength of their campaign supporters into support of their governing agenda. I’d say this is probably “no harm, no foul,” although in context I can see a good faith argument that it implies that the purpose of the National Day of Service is only to help liberal constituents, particularly given the quote “we wanted to connect them with federal agencies, with labor unions, progressive groups, face groups, women’s groups, you name it.”

    The bottom line – some of this does cross the line into relatively seedy conduct, but in the grand scheme of things, this is a pretty minor scandal, primarily standing for the less-than-shocking proposition that support for a candidate’s campaign ensures better access to the government if that candidate is elected. While this may be a problem, it’s a problem without a real solution. Moreover, I can think of better examples of this problem from the Bush years that the media likewise largely ignored.

    All of which is a long way of saying that although there is something wrong with the actions on this phone call, it’s not something worth getting outraged over too much. Frankly, if this is the Obama Administration at its most corrupt, then the Obama Administration is the least corrupt administration in recent memory.

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    • You know, every post I write seems to inspire this response from the fellow Gentlemen: “I don’t condone what conservatives and Republicans have done in the recent past, but….” Part of my question then is why you continue to see any value whatsoever in the conservative ideology or mythos if it results in such continued and explicit distancing. You can see how this is frustrating for me, and you can see how it falls exactly into the patterns of behavior that I describe in the last couple paragraphs of the post.

      In holding up the “Hope” poster as “a great example” and referencing the role the artists played in the presidential campaign, Skolnik takes this outside the realm of merely asking for support for the National Day of Service and turns this into a political discussion about promoting the President himself, with the implicit backing of government dollars.

      I disagree both with what you are saying is explicit and what you are saying is implicit. First, this is an example of using art to fulfill a certain message. And, as I must keep repeating here, that message is literally the most innocuous stuff I can think of– kids staying in school, people doing community service, young mothers going to the doctor. Again, this is not an instance of the NEA discussing how to appropriate dollars; there is no proposal for a tradeoff between government money and works of art that fulfill these messages. No NEA money was apportioned for this endeavor. Such a thing was never on the table.

      This is beyond a reach; this is simple, partisan nonsense. In my opinion.

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      • Well, I for one see nothing in conservatism since I consider myself a libertarian. I for one have also been pushing for the last two years for an electoral coalition of liberals and libertarians. In other words, I don’t consider myself remotely part of the conservative tribe and have no problem distancing myself from them whatsoever. Where I have a problem is with the assumption that conservatism is inherently a bad-faith ideology just because movement conservatives often act in bad faith. I have a problem with saying that conservative ideology is responsible for loyalty pledges, and therefore conservatism is dishonest/bankrupt in a way the liberalism is not.*

        I would say that, regardless of whether liberalism, libertarianism, or conservatism is “right” (and I have no idea how one could ever determine that one or the other is “right”), each ideology has its share of partisans for whom the ends justify the means in implementing that ideology. Each ideology, when given the reins of power, is also equally susceptible to the principle that power corrupts.

        As I noted above, Krugman has recently pulled out the “treason” card. Few liberals objected, many conservatives did and Krugman is not exactly a minor player in progressivism. When it came to judges a few years ago, the filibuster was a sacred institution for many, many liberals, the preservation of which justified maintaining a shortage of judges in the federal courts; now, it is an unacceptable impediment to reform that should be done away with or circumvented. Liberals have a tendency to put FDR on a pedestal just as conservatives do with Reagan, which is fine, but regularly ignore questions about whether the way FDR achieved his objectives was justifiable (e.g., court-packing scheme). Liberals tend to ignore that the Clinton Administration’s record on civil liberties was not terribly good, either. I could go on, too.

        The point is that none of the above discredit liberalism any more than the examples you cite discredit conservatism.

        *I also object to the continued lumping of libertarians and conservatives together, particularly on these sorts of issues. A year and a half ago, many/most movement libertarians in the blogosphere, if you had to put them on one team or the other, were probably on the “left.”

        “First, this is an example of using art to fulfill a certain message. And, as I must keep repeating here, that message is literally the most innocuous stuff I can think of– kids staying in school, people doing community service, young mothers going to the doctor. Again, this is not an instance of the NEA discussing how to appropriate dollars; there is no proposal for a tradeoff between government money and works of art that fulfill these messages. No NEA money was apportioned for this endeavor. Such a thing was never on the table.”

        No one is saying that it was explicitly on the table, though, just that it was a subtext that ran throughout the call. Let me put it to you this way: if this phone call was completely innocuous, why hold up the “Hope” campaign poster as an example of what was being asked? Why repeatedly draw the connection between this project and the callers’ work on Obama’s election campaign?

        Moreover, it’s worth pointing out that at least one person on the call seems to have believed the call was more political in nature, given that he specifically asked how this program could be used to push for cap-and-trade legislation and other policy changes. The official on the call recognized that making this explicit would be out-of-bounds, so he refused to provide instructions on how to do this, but he had no problem redirecting the questioner to someone who could. I’m only pointing this out to note the perception of people on the call.

        Look, maybe there is a totally innocuous explanation for these connections being made in the call. But in order to come to that conclusion, you have to give the officials the benefit of the doubt; you have to be willing to disregard as unintentional the connection between, for instance, the “Hope” poster and the purpose of the call. Conservatives aren’t going to give liberal officials the benefit of the doubt any more than liberals are going to give conservative officials the benefit of the doubt.

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        • I can think of a very good reason for bringing up the Hope poster: it’s the best example of art having a dramatic effect on public awareness within the past few years. Since the call is all about driving the public discourse on the National Day of Service and also encouraging them to push whatever they’re “passionate about” I can’t see why the Hope poster wouldn’t be the perfect example to mention.

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          • Which is fine, if you view it solely as “the best example of art having a dramatic effect on public awareness within the past few years.”

            If, however, you view it primarily as a piece of pro-Obama art, then its placement in an administration-organized conference call about pushing for art that supports a pet program of the President is going to be inherently suspicious.

            The reality of course is that it was both of the above. The problem is that it’s not so easy to separate “the best example of art having a dramatic effect on public awareness within the past few years” from the “piece of pro-Obama art.”

            I don’t find it unreasonable to conclude that the “piece of pro-Obama art” part of things was as much an intended part of the message as “the best example of art having a dramatic effect on public awareness within the past few years” part of things.

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        • I’m with you Mark. As a neoliberal myself I’d be over the moon to get some libertarians into the party. I for one welcome our possible new libertarian friends. *takes down the Hail to the Ants sign*.

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      • Concering conservatives, since I consider myself a Republican and a conservative, I have to take issue with painting all of us with a broad brush. I’ve done a lot of complaining over the years about the conservatives during the Bush Administration. But I also know conservatives who a decent and thoughtful people, who are also appalled by the present trajectory and who are doing a lot to try to change things such as Log Cabin Republicans, Republicans for Environmental Protection and so on.

        Also, just because conservatives have committed sins, does not mean that liberals get a pass. What I saw going on here might not have been as bad as the whole Monica Goodling affair, but it did look bad. To have someone from the NEA staff who represents an agency that gives out money to artists in on a call which includes artists that drifts toward the political is in bad taste. This person was in a position of influence and needed to pursue discretion.

        If a bunch of artists and Obama folk want to get together to find out how to support the President, that’s fine. But leave the NEA out of it.

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    • Of course, because the lunatic fringe has freaked out again. That’s your defense?

      Really, Jay, at some point, you are going to have to get beyond just picking whatever position is as far from mine as you can. Seriously. It’s so transparent, and a little sad.

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      • “Really, Jay, at some point, you are going to have to get beyond just picking whatever position is as far from mine as you can. Seriously. It’s so transparent, and a little sad.”

        Snort. As a libertarian, I won’t tell you that you shouldn’t flatter yourself. Whatever gets you through the day.

        I wonder, however, what your response would be if I posted a comment that said “Freddie, you seriously need to stop posting crazy shit just to see me comment on it.”

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        • It is demonstrably the case that you continue to weigh in on issues about which you care very little– about which you say you care very little– in order to disagree with me. That’s fine, it’s your dime, but perhaps you should find yourself a little hobby, rather then spending so much time prosecuting arguments that you yourself say are of little relevance.

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          • If I limited myself to commenting only on issues about which I care very much, I would comment only on the Batman threads… which, may I point out, there are not enough of.

            It ain’t “in order to disagree with you”. It’s “in order to put forward an opinion”… which brings us to the next question:

            “Are you surprised that libertarians would regularly disagree with your positions?”

            And the followup:

            “Seriously?”

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              • Well, one can then argue the finer point of “let’s assume the existence of an NEA and take it as a political given. Is it appropriate to have the White House call artists in order to have them work on issues related to National Service Day and have them make ‘do your homework’ pieces?”

                Is it possible, for example, to see such things as “The Lincoln Memorial” as “par for the course” but not “do your homework” stickers (appropriate for sticking to stop signs) as outside of “acceptable for the Federal Government to be having conference calls about”?

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                • Jaybird, you could always start some Batman threads, or an entire Batman blog. Heck, you could even write fanfic if that’s your bag. The one thing you don’t need to do is waste your time and everyone’s time making hollow arguments about what might conceivably be interpreted as being said in a call, even though nobody said it. By your logic, I could interpret what you aren’t saying to mean anything whatever – and you would have no coherent response. Don’t you get tired of this easy and pointless game?

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                  • Well, Nick, here’s the thing:

                    The argument that the Feds were jingling the purse and the artists heard it jingling is being made by more than just me. Scroll down and you’ll see it again. Click the link and you’ll see it over at the scene.

                    It is my use of the word “semiotics” alienating?

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                    • Not alienating, just conceptually lazy. It’s an old and tired game to read into statements what you want to read into them, despite a lack of any sort of evidence. Surely you have better ways to spend your life? How about the Batman blog?

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                    • The wacky thing that I have found about libertarianism-in-practice is that it has to allow for other people to value different things differently.

                      This one person can think that a lifestyle without children is the best lifestyle while that one can think that a lifestyle with kids is the best way. They can both show up at a pokergame and say “you don’t know what you’re missing” and walk away shaking their heads at the folly of the other guy… and both of them can have made the right decision for themselves. They, despite any of their own claims to the contrary, are not exactly engaging in libertarianism-in-practice. “I’m doing it the right way, you, who disagree with me, are doing it the wrong way” is a very, very unlibertarian sentiment.

                      While we can discuss matters of taste vs. matters of morality and which is which and what is what and so on and so forth, I would hope that we would agree that, in this instance, how I live my life is a matter of taste.

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    • “Inappropriate” was used by a spokeswoman for an independent group (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington), NOT the White House.

      What the WH said:
      “The point of the call was to encourage voluntary participation in a national service initiative by the arts community. To the extent there was any misunderstanding about what the NEA may do to support the national service initiative, we will correct it. We regret any comments on the call that may have been misunderstood or troubled other participants. We are fully committed to the NEA’s historic mission, and we will take all steps necessary to ensure that there is no further cause for questions or concerns about that commitment.”

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        • Right. “It is the policy of the administration that grant decisions should be on the merits and that government officials should avoid even creating the incorrect appearance that politics has anything to do with these decisions.” Because, as Freddie said, the fringe freaked out. Mountains out of mole hills.

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          • Eh. I tend to take the attitude that if there wasn’t a problem at all, then it would be exceptionally easy for the White House to argue that there wasn’t a problem.

            We can discuss whether the appearance of improperness is too high a standard, if you’d like.

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              • I will quote myself (thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so):

                The question is whether it is reasonable to question whether a signal was being received by the audience, whether a signal was intended by the speaker, and whether those signals (if they exist, of course) line up.

                I have come to the conclusion that the signals between us are not lining up and suggest that it may be appropriate to take words at face value in this particular case.

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                • No, no, Jaybird, that’s clearly not what you mean. Semiotically, you are saying ‘I have no sort of argument or evidence, and therefore am only posting here for my own malicious purposes and abusing the tolerance of others”. I notice that when challenged, you invariably resort to weak-sister libertarianism, rather than actually responding. More signal, less noise, please.

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                  • If you would like to go full meta-, I’d point out that you are deliberately twisting words in such a way that only someone hoping to obscure meaning would do. When I was pointing out semiotics, I was pointing out a signal that more than merely myself was hearing… so I have evidence of a signal being received by multiple people in different places.

                    The word twisting you are doing, however, seems to be little more than an ad absurdum argument beginning from a strawman of my position.

                    I’d ask if you thought that Reagan’s speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi was an example of “dog whistle” politics. Perhaps Bush’s references to “Dred Scott”.

                    If you are willing to agree that, maybe, it’s possible to send a message without saying anything explicitly, then, maybe, we can discuss whether it’s reasonable for such a conclusion to be reached here.

                    Perhaps your opinion is that if transcripts are all we have, we owe it to the transcripts to “not read between the lines”. Is that your position?

                    Or is it only your position when it suits you?

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      • Aren’t statements like this, “We regret any comments on the call that may have been misunderstood or troubled other participants,” generally known as a “non-apology apology?” We are sorry that you are so dense and misunderstand what was said.

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  5. If I read you correctly, Freddie, this is a non-issue because 1. ) there was no explicit coercion and 2.) these people were doing what is ostensibly their job, enact the agenda of the sitting government.

    Having read the transcript, I think it’s quite clear that the conference call was focused on supporting Serve.org and community service initiatives – nothing particularly controversial, even laudable. When given the chance, they also specifically point out that OFA and serve.gov are different and the former is the appropriate forum for supporting the President’s policies.

    That said I find your arguments to be really sloppy. That there was no explicit coercion or direct quid pro quo, doesn’t preclude the possibility that artists who support the President’s agenda/President will be looked upon more favourably when it comes to NEA grants, and the comments Mark mentions above could really go either way. That isn’t an excuse to assume the worse nor, however, does it give free license to assume only one valid interpretation, the most benign possibility.

    As for your second point, you rhetorically ask,

    “I’m asking if Conor or anyone else thinks that employees of branches of government should not talk about effective ways for those branches to carry out their agendas. … Would Conor write that the Department of Defense flirts with propaganda if it endeavors to fulfill the wishes of the president?”

    For someone who criticizes Conor for not fact checking, you’re casually overlooking an important difference between DoD and the NEA when it comes to agendas and governance. The NEA is an independent federal agency, meaning it exists outside of the executive agencies. So while your analogy would seem ludicrous in terms of the DoD, it doesn’t hold to the NEA, where a good faith argument can be made that efforts to the support the President/enact change in our communities, even if they are laudable goals, are counter to the purpose and culture of the NEA.

    In terms of policy, the organizational set up is precisely to give it insulation from the President and political agendas that don’t meet the muster of federal law. Historically, some agencies are more independent than others but if this were a conference call organized by the NTSB, FEC, or EPA about how the groups they regulate/govern can support the President, the shadiness of the act would be more apparent.

    As for your second point that outrage over this is the height of hypocrisy, I think it’s an entirely overbroad criticism but not without merit. I just don’t see the value in discussing how *shock* conservative agitators are hypocritical, when the same critique applies to scores of commentators and politicians on the left as well. What’s the point?

    I guess I come down on the middle, I think you’re basically right, I just wish you hadn’t oversold your point with such sloppy attacks and comparisons.

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  6. It’s strange, and unfortunate, to live in a country where one party explicitly fires federal prosecutors for partisan gain and that is less of a story than this.

    As per usual, our commenters spend no time considering the most important part of my post, which is the by now flatly obvious fact that conservative and libertarian pundits hold the liberals the excoriate to far higher standards of conduct than they hold themselves, and to the detriment of our dialogue, and our country. End transmission.

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  7. Wait, so people are having hissyfits about one conference call involving an agency with a paltry $155m budget?

    Does anyone remember Bush’s $8 billion “Faith Based Initiatives” where agencies dolled money out to hundreds if not thousands of relgious groups with no ‘separation of church and state” strings attached?

    Does anyone remember that the Bushies deliberately hid all of these allotments, kickbacks, and giveaways deep inside agency budgets and refused to consolidate the information for congressional review or freedom of inforation act requests?

    Jebus folks.

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  9. Pingback: Why the NEA Affair Matters - Hip Hop Republican

  10. Surely you have better ways to spend your life? How about the Batman blog?

    Nick T,

    As you’re a smart guy, I’m sure you’ll read our comment policy and find the subliminal message, which states that the only person on this blog who is allowed to be an overbearing, pompous, insufferable prick is not you, but me. Consider that the next time you ask an irrelevant question about Jaybird’s Batman blog, ok?

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        • I didn’t feel it appropriate to comment (all the way back to February!)but I’d like to point out that Nolan’s fight scenes in the first movie were chaotic and awful. Sure, he wasn’t Batman yet… but the subsequent fight scenes also relied far too much on shaky camera followed by showing us the winner instead of showing Batman punching a guy in the back and thinking something to the effect of “okay, the spleen, he’ll get out of the hospital around the time that the prosecution can schedule him to stand in front of a judge.”

          If you know what I mean.

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