Sunday, September 5, 2010

Nobody's Perfect.

I was explaining to a friend over vacation my goals of maintaining the positive tone of this blog, and keeping it supportive of the Obama administration. He asked me what I do in situations where I might not agree with a particular presidential decision. My answer was that I never face such a dilemma, though I had some difficulty explaining why not. It's not that I think the president is perfect, or that I agree with every single thing he does. In fact, I think it would be odd to agree with anyone 100% of the time. But I would turn the question around this way: If I agree with someone 90% of the time, why on earth would I feel compelled to attack him for the 10% of the time where I personally might see an issue in a slightly different way? I would rather try to understand or explain or reconcile myself to those few areas of disagreement.

Most professional pundits seem to see their job quite differently. They seem to feel an obligation to criticize everything they do not personally agree with, as if we should judge any public figure's actions by just how often they happen to agree with the personal views of whichever exalted columnist is keeping score. And I would tell such critics--I'm talking to you, Frank Rich--that it's fine if you want to announce every time you personally don't like a presidential speech.  Maybe you think it adds to your credibility by serving as a critic.  (Or maybe you think your job is to review the administration as if they were putting on a Broadway show.)  But if you're going to do that, I would also like to see you admit once in a while that there might have been a few occasions when you were wrong and the administration was right.  Or else explain what makes you so perfect.

I'm not a professional pundit. I'm a trial lawyer. So it comes more naturally to me to adopt someone I admire as if they were a client. That means I see it as my "job" to represent the administration faithfully, and to make the best case for them that I can. I'll leave it to others to take the other side if they want. I don't envy the critics, however, because the case for the other side is pretty weak.

(still from Some Like It Hot)


  1. This is a good post. You made some excellent points. If you are going to point out what you think might be wrong, then be fair and point out when you made the mistake and the other person was right.

  2. Joe, from one trial-lawyer-who-was-excited-and-inspired-in-2008 to another, it was most interesting to see you equate this blog with the attorney-client relationship. However, there are some nuances that should be discussed if this analogy is to be pursued.

    Should representation mean the absence of criticism? Not necessarily. Let's say that I'm representing a client who did something that neither judge nor jury would feel was appropriate, in reaction to prior bad behavior on the part of the opponent. In presenting the case, do I try to ignore what my client did, try to sugar coat it, or frankly admit that it was boneheaded?

    Personally, I believe that if I try to weasel, and do not confront issues honestly, the judge/jury will think that I'm a typical lawyerly sleaze, and disregard me as not credible. Thus, my tactic would be to be honest and forthright, and admit that my client made a mistake. That would give me the credibility needed to convince people that they should provide my client with an appropriate award, because his bad behavior was far overshadowed and indeed caused by the opposition.

    So be loyal and faithful, but do not be a shill or a cheerleader. Do not dodge controversy. And welcome constructive criticism.

  3. Thanks for the comments. Fred, I'm familiar with the theory that says a lawyer has more credibility if he acknowledges bad evidence. And once in a while it might be an effective argument to admit that your client did something stupid, though not deserving of liability. But I also think you have to be really careful about how you do that, because as soon as you even open the door by admitting your client made a mistake, the first thing you hear from the other side is, "even his own attorney admits that he made a mistake." And there is research suggesting that juries always discount everything lawyers say to some extent, and always assume that the evidence is a bit worse than you admit it is. So once you admit your client might have made a mistake, the jury will assume something worse than that.

    In politics the way that translates is that if Frank Rich or Paul Krugman or Rachel Maddow or any other liberal pundit criticizes the president, the other side will pounce on that criticism and trumpet the fact that even the president's friends don't agree with what he did. Somehow the right seems to get this but the left does not, which is why you rarely heard Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh ever criticize the Republican administration. Instead they would be more likely to tie themselves in knots defending their team. And that doesn't seem to hurt their credibility with their audience.

    This year we have the almost unprecedented spectacle of Republican incumbents facing lots of primary challenges from really extreme opponents within their own movement. That should allow the Democrats to hold onto Congres this fall if they can only show some unity. Democrats could well blow this opportunity, however, if they resort to their usual practice of tearing one another apart. So my suggestion is that we not do that.

    I don't intend to dodge controversy, but I don't mind being a cheerleader. As for constructive criticism, if the president were to take me aside for a private conference and ask me if I had any constructive criticism, I might offer it. Otherwise, I will leave that to others. There is way more than enough criticism out there already.

  4. One of the reasons the middle to center right (70% of Americans) elected Obama was because we wanted changes. We don't agree with everything any politician says but we all agree enough to make political change. Specifically, those changes that the majority of Americans favor. When any politician (or his party, i.e. Pelosi and Reid) messes with that equation they will face the music. Just being elected isn't enough. The People don't really know a politician until he leads. Think Supreme Court Justices after appointment. Obama is an example of a politician many Americans didn't know well but were enamored with. They know him, Pelosi and Reid better know. That's going to result in change. In a democracy like ours an elected official had better do things that are scene as morally true and correct over 'ideological' or, eventually, they will be discovered and dismissed.

  5. Joe -- I agree with your examples of Hannity and Rush as those being unable to criticize recent Republicans. I also noted that you correctly left out oft referred to conservatives (who are self proclaimed independents) O'Reily and Beck. They have both correctly _hammered_ the Republican party for years.

  6. KP, my best effort at figuring out the changes Americans favor was posted here:

    I think a more realistic goal for politicians would be for them to just do what they think is best for the country. Politicians also need to do a better job at working together and getting along with one another, instead of so much grandstanding for the people.

  7. Thanks Joe, I did re-read the blog entry. For me, politics is the application of deeply held values. When applied in an honest manner politics could be considered spiritual. As much as we (people in general) have in common spiritually, we seem to see the distribution of energy (money is no more than energy and resources) slightly differently. But that important issue is often one of the only things we see differently.

    It is worth noting that most of us agree on most things! Love, family, some type of God, virtue, peace, the value of all men and women, our safety, the precious nature of earth. It would be nice if we were able to focus more on what we have in common. That's how Obama got elected.