Is It Time To Shift the Paradigm?

Cynics like me have often opined that the two-party system is more or less a one-party system. For example, aside from health-care reform, to what extent has President Obama differed from President Bush? You get the picture.

Now, however, it may be time for cynics and others to assert their preference for the the Repub licans’ to (I shall keep it basic) get their shit together. The usual caveat obtains: the Dems are no bargain. Nonetheless, the GOP seems to oppose the following:

1. Ordinary, fair voting. You know it’s true. They seek to suppress the vote, at least. Or: they can’t imagine themselves winning without cheating.
2. Abortion–even for women who are raped.
3. The fact–established fact–of human-influenced global warming.
4. Modest but necessary taxes on the upper-income brackets. I get weary of asking people simply to look at the tax-rates under Reagan, Carter, Nixon, LBJ, Kennedy, and (not a socialist!) Eisenhower. Seriously, look at them. I also get weary of suggesting that incoming revenue might be a valid piece of the deficit-puzzle. Ya think?
5. Advice and consent. Instead of considering and then voting upon President Obama’s nominees for the courts (etc.), Mitch McConnell has decided to filibuster and never to go into recess. To go to Washington to stop the process of government? Is this what the founding dudes had in mind? Five words: Bring it to a vote.
6. Any discussion of arms control. Remember when arms control was kind of a foreign policy issue? Now we have to assume that anybody has the right to bear any arm. A magazine of 50 rounds? You bet! Shoulder-mounted missiles? Jefferson wanted one! An A-Bomb in the basement? What would George Washington do? The alleged defense of the Second Amendment is not the issue. The issue is the maturity involved in allowing a rational discussion of limits. But, oh no, the GOP would rather behave like middle-schoolers newly acquainted with Meth. Dude, let’s party with automatic weapons!
7. Anything not White. The GOP opposes Blacks, browns, Asians, Indians, and so on and so forth. Oh, yes, they will cite distracting examples of the contrary. But seriously: they’re not even up to the task of opposing President Obama on political or policy issues.l Instead they have to go for race, religion, origin, and all the other horse shit.

The Democrats are no bargain; or, at least that used to be the case. But now the world isn’t even safe for cynics. Republicans have made Democrats seems almost okay.

Do political scientists grapple with this new reality? Or do they simply play the metronome game? This side says this, and this side says that.

Seven Types of Pseudocracy

With a tip of the cap to William Empson’s renowned literary study, Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930), we list here Seven Types of Pseudocracy–“pseudocracy” being “the rule of falsehood” that corrupts our polity. (Wild Bill and I had more to say about these and other aspects of the pseudocracy in “When Did We Start Just Making Shit Up? Origins of U. S. Pseudocracy,” a paper presented to the Western Political Science Association meeting in Portland, Oregon, last week.

1. The elimination and/or suppression of facts indefinitely in political debates.

Example: One major political Party, the GOP, will not engage in serious debate about global warming. It pre-emptively dismisses the possibility that the phenomenon exists and that, were it to exist, humans have anything to do with it.

2. Extending confidence-games indefinitely.

Example: “Trickle-down economics.” Example: The Dems look out for “the little guy”: really? Example: Regulation = bad. Romney has the cheek to say this just three-to-four years after an economic meltdown that resulted, in part, from lax regulation of Wall Street. We’re now well into the third decade of the anti-regulation con.

3. Multiplying roles and erasing boundaries in professional polity.

Examples: Karl Rove and George Stephanopolous. Campaign strategists, executive-branch employees, “contributors” to Cable and Network TV, and in the case of Rove, a creator of news (he was a driving force behind Governor Walker’s election and subsequent hijinks) and commentator on news–and now a major GOP fundraiser. Possible result: the continuing decline of journalism, the continuing manipulation of media by political parties. Possible result: the obliteration of expertise: Who ISN’T “qualified” to be a “contributor” to FOX NEWS or CNN? Who ISN’T “qualified” to be a Democratic or Republican “strategist.”

4. Campaigning permanently; or, governing-as-campaigning.

The notion was formalized by a Carter operative, Pat Cadell. (See Joel Klein’s piece in TIME about “the perils of the permanent campaign”–he refers to Pat Cadell: )

Grotesque example: George W. Bush, in flight-suit, declaring “Mission Accomplished.” What percentage of citizens didn’t think, and perhaps don’t think now, that it was grotesque, however?

5. Making peripheral issues central.

Santorum and contraception. Gay marriage. Clinton going out of his way to return to Arkansas to “oversee” an execution, just to prove . . . what? Gingrich and $2.50 gasoline–at a time when demand is down to ’97 levels and supply is much greater than it was in the Bush administration; and he doesn’t mention what speculation on “futures” does to the price. It’s not so much that car-fuel is a peripheral issues; it’s that the price of car-fuel springs from dynamics over which a president has limited control, so that the issue really isn’t central to who is going to be the better president. Gingrich used the issue to pander and to distract.

6. Refusing to enter into accountable discourse.

Gingrich’s changing the subject and making the media “the enemy” when asked a simple question about his marital hijinks. Attorney General Gonzales answering, in a Congressional hearing, dozens of times, “I don’t remember.” Never, ever, beginning a debate with agreed upon facts.

7. Making points of view or differences of opinion personal and extreme.

So: instead of merely disagreeing with a policy put forward by President Obama, a GOPer is instead obligated to call him a “socialist” (as if!), or a Kenyan colonialist (whatever!), or not-an-American. Or Demo Congressman Grayson saying the GOP’s health-plan is to have you die. We have Gingrich, among others, to thank for what often seems to be a near-total absence of subtlety and of adult discourse.

“A Strife of Interests” and Other Definitions from Bierce

American writer Ambrose Bierce was born in 1842 and disappeared (in Mexico) in 1913; so his closing date is often given as 1914.

Those who have attended American high schools are likely to have been asked to read Bierce’s short story, “Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge.” Those who favor satire are likely to have glanced, at least, in the direction of Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, from which the following definitions are taken, via several Web sites:

Alliance – in international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other’s pockets that they cannot separately plunder a third.

Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.

History is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.

Patriotism. Combustible rubbish ready to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name.

Politics, n. Strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles.

For more information about Bierce, please visit this site:

Emile Durkheim Defined Sociology

One upon time, those who taught English–specifically, composition–and who adhered to the advice of Strunk and White believed they had, in the discipline of sociology, a perfect example of a jargon-fountain. Then came Structuralist and post-Structuralist literary theory, a Niagra Falls of jargon, as well as a more clear-eyed view of Strunk’s and White’s limitations, including the fact that some of their “rules” were, of course, merely idiosyncratic preferences.

If you are looking for a clear, spare definition of sociology, look no further than the work of sociologist Emile Durkheim, who wrote . . .

“Sociology can then be defined as the science of institutions, of their genesis and their functioning.” (from The Rules of Sociological Method)

Strunk, White, and Orwell might have objected to the use of the passive voice here, but I think Durkheim’s use of it here is appropriate and, at worst, a nit to pick.

I have borrowed the definition from the excellent site, .

Mark Twain On Politics

Start with a foundation of hard-earned cynicism. Add abundant humor, as well as whimsy. Finish with a fine, dry talent for understated rhetorical flourish–sometimes well disguised in apparently homespun wording. The final product? Words of political wisdom from Mark Twain. There is an excellent chance you will enjoy them. We borrow the quotations with sincere (as opposed to insincere) thanks from . . .

The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.
Mark Twain in Eruption

The new political gospel: public office is private graft.
– More Maxims of Mark, Johnson, 1927

Yes, you are right — I am a moralist in disguise; it gets me into heaps of trouble when I go thrashing around in political questions.
– Letter to Helene Picard,
22 Feb 1902

In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.
Autobiography of Mark Twain

…one of the first achievements of the legislature was to institute a ten-thousand-dollar agricultural fair to show off forty dollars’ worth of pumpkins in — however, the Territorial legislature was usually spoken of as the “asylum”.
Roughing It

When politics enter into municipal government, nothing resulting therefrom in the way of crimes and infamies is then incredible. It actually enables one to accept and believe the impossible…
– Letter to Jules Hart, 17 December 1901

[In the Galaxy Magazine]: I shall not often meddle with politics, because we have a political Editor who is already excellent and only needs to serve a term or two in the penitentiary to be perfect.
– Mark Twain, a Biography

All large political doctrines are rich in difficult problems — problems that are quite above the average citizen’s reach. And that is not strange, since they are also above the reach of the ablest minds in the country; after all the fuss and all the talk, not one of those doctrines has been conclusively proven to be the right one and the best.
– “The Privilege of the Grave,” Who Is Mark Twain?

“Politics” Defined

We reckoned definitions of “politics” might be useful in this first post.   We borrow the definitions with sincere thanks from the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language (online). In this blog, we will discuss and analyze language related to the multiple definitions of politics and related to media and institutions concerned with politics.  Here are the definitions, with examples, and with some names you may recognize, including Thomas Hobbes, Henry Fielding, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Plato, Aristotle, David Hume, T.S. Eliot, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Samuel Butler, Benjamin Disraeli, and Aphra Behn:

“With sing. or pl. concord. (App. with plural concord only until the early 18th cent. and thereafter freq. when a set of distinct principles, policies, or practices is in view.)

1. Usu. with capital initial. A treatise on the science or theory of politics; spec. the treatise written by Aristotle.

a1475 (1450) S. SCROPE Dicts & Sayings Philos. (Bodl. 943) 154 Aristotle..componede..the book of Etiques and of Polettiques [a1460 anon. Polletyques]. c1475 tr. C. de Pisan Livre du Corps de Policie 56 The doctrine of declared in his boke of Polytykys. 1531 T. ELYOT Bk. named Gouernour II. xiv. sig. Xvi, Aristotell in his politykes exorteth gouernours to haue their frendes for a great number of eyen, earis, handes, and legges. c1550 Complaynt Scotl. (1979) Prol. 8 Aristotil sais in the fyrst beuk of his politiques, that [etc.]. 1651 T. HOBBES Philos. Rudim. xii. 185 For these men are invited by their vacancy sometimes to disputation among themselves concerning the Common-weal, sometimes to an easie reading of Histories, Politiques, Orations, Poems, and other pleasant Books. 1661 (title) Sir Harry Vane’s Politicks. 1709 B. KENNETT tr. J. L. G. de Balzac (title) French favorites: or, the seventh discourse of Balzac’s Politicks. a1754 H. FIELDING Jrnl. Voy. Lisbon (1755) 180 Merchants..changed the Metabletic, the only kind of traffic allowed by Aristotle in his Politics, into the Chrematistic. 1831 Encycl. Brit. III. 529/1 His [sc. Aristotle’s] two treatises of the Nicomachean Ethics and the Politics, are together a refutation of the erroneous doctrines in moral and political philosophy contained in Plato’s political speculations. 1887 W. L. NEWMAN (title) The Politics of Aristotle, with introduction, two prefatory essays and notes, critical and explanatory. 1916 B. DUGDALE & T. DE BILLE tr. H. von Treitschke (title) Politics. 1989 M. WHITFORD & M. GRIFFITHS Feminist Perspectives in Philos. (BNC) 81 Aristotle said something very interesting in that extract from the Politics which I quoted earlier.

2. The theory or practice of government or administration.

a. The science or study of government and the state.
{dag}the politics, public ethics, the branch of moral philosophy dealing with the state (obs.).

a1529 J. SKELTON Collyn Clout (1545) 625 But noble men borne To lerne they haue scorne,..Set nothyng by polytykes. 1565 T. COOPER Thesaurus at Ciuilis, Scientia ciuilis, morall philosophie, the politikes. a1619 M. FOTHERBY Atheomastix (1622) II. xiv. §2. 356 Morall Philosophie..hath three parts: Ecclesiastickes, Oeconomickes, and Politickes. 1690 J. LOCKE Ess. Humane Understanding II. xxii. 135 That would be to make a Dictionary of the greatest part of the Words made use of in Divinity, Ethicks, Law, and Politicks, and several other Sciences. 1713 Boston News-let. 21-8 Dec. 2/2 A Person of Great Penetration, and a sound Judgment, as well in Divinity as Politicks and Physick. 1739 D. HUME Treat. Human Nature I. Introd. 5 Politics consider men as united in society, and dependent on each other. 1820 T. JEFFERSON Let. 4 Aug. in Writings (1984) 1436 Speaking of Plato, writer, antient or modern, has bewildered the world with more ignes fatui, than this renowned philosopher, in Ethics, in Politics and Physics. 1882 B. A. HINSDALE Garfield & Educ. I. 117 He faced to law and politics, to science and to literature. 1902 Royal Charter in Encycl. Brit. (1910) I. 104/1 The promotion of the study of the moral and political sciences, including history, philosophy, law, politics and economics. 1980 Economist 15 Mar. 104/1 Several books of sociology, history, politics and literary criticism uneasily brought together into one weightily erudite but sprawlingly inconclusive survey.

b. Activities or policies associated with government, esp. those concerning the organization and administration of a state, or part of a state, and with the regulation of relationships between states. Cf. POLITIC adj. 3.
Freq. as second element in collocations designating an area of administration, as imperial politics, national politics, domestic politics, foreign politics, etc.

1616 R. ANTON Philosophers Satyrs II. 17 To be practicke, not talke profound, And mazes of true politicks of State, That towse graue heads with windings intricate. 1664 S. BUTLER Hudibras II. ii. 104 Remember how in Arms and Politicks, We still have worsted all your holy Tricks. 1690 J. CHILD Disc. Trade x. 194 The Portugeeze (except they alter their Politicks..) can never bear up with us, much less prejudice our Plantations. 1712 J. ARBUTHNOT John Bull III. iii. 13 You would have burst your sides to hear him talk Politicks. 1780 E. BURKE Speech Econ. Reform in Wks. (1792) III. 320 In the management of the colony politicks. 1823 I. D’ISRAELI Curiosities of Lit. 2nd Ser. I. 121 ‘The art of governing mankind by deceiving them’; as politics, ill understood, have been defined. 1857 E. C. GASKELL Life C. Brontë I. iii. 52 He fearlessly took whatever side in local or national politics appeared to him right. 1898 LD. ROSEBERY in Daily News 2 Mar. 4/6 One very simple demonstration of how carefully the Progressive party have cut themselves aloof from Imperial politics. 1926 Chicago Evening Post 12 Nov., It results in part from ignorance of foreign politics and international relations. 1936 H. A. L. FISHER Europe 151 The conspiracies and intrigues which are the web and woof of oriental politics. 1994 Sunday Times 6 Mar. (Books section) VII. 6/5 Is it a sign of maturity or of cultural penury that democratic politics are now more a matter of managerism than of Big Ideas?

c. Public life and affairs involving matters of authority and government. In later use esp.: this sphere viewed as a profession.

1680 A. COWLEY True Effigies of Monster of Malmesbury 11 If Versifying be a Sign of Youth, The Man of Politicks [sc. Hobbes] is youthful still. 1714 D. MANLEY Adventures of Rivella 117 She now agrees with me, that Politicks is not the Business of a Woman. c1740 VISCT. BOLINGBROKE Idea Patriot King xiii. 113 The choice Spirits of these Days, the Men of Mode in Politicks. 1792 C. SMITH Desmond III. x. 131 This excursion into the field of politics, where..we, you know, have always been taught that women should never advance a step. 1826 B. DISRAELI Vivian Grey IV. i, There is no act of treachery, or meanness of which a political party is not capable; for in politics there is no honour. 1891 Law Times 92 124/1 politics, and sat in the House of Commons. 1918 B. TARKINGTON Magnificent Ambersons xvii. 256 Politics is a dirty business for a gentleman. 1936 R. C. K. ENSOR England, 1870-1914 vii. 215 He [sc. Rosebery] had come to the front as the Prince Charming of politics{em}young, handsome, rich, eloquent, candid, and popular. 1981 LD. CARRINGTON in Observer 24 May 13/1 If you take yourself too seriously in politics, you’ve had it.

3. a. The political ideas, beliefs, or commitments of a particular individual, organization, etc.

1662 R. COKE (title) A survey of the politicks of Mr. Thomas White, Thomas Hobbs, and Hugo Grotius. 1681 N. TATE Richard II II. iv. 21 Simon Shuttle, I never lik’t thy Politicks, our meanest Brethren pretend to the spirit of Governing. 1736 T. CARTE Hist. Life Duke Ormonde II. 273 He was a fourbe in his politicks..and thought to be a secret convert to the Roman Catholick Religion. 1769 Junius Lett. (1772) I. iv. 35 Most men’s politics sit much too loosely about them. 1792 C. SMITH Desmond II. xix. 278 Such was the colour of his politics. 1842 Nonconformist 2 656 Whig politics..appear to exert a peculiarly unhappy influence upon character. 1856 R. W. EMERSON Eng. Traits xi. 175 Too pleasing a vision to be shattered by..the politics of shoemakers and costermongers. 1897 ‘O. RHOSCOMYL’ White Rose Arno 74 Oh what are all your politics to women? A woman’s politics are the man she loves. 1920 T. S. ELIOT Sacred Wood 23 His literature and his politics and his country life are one and the same thing. 1977 Listener 20 Oct. 498/1 In the 1930s, it was fairly easy to get a handle on the politics of the screenwriting community. 2001 London Rev. Bks. 22 Feb. 33/2 The modest direct-action politics of the Wordsworths, who put honey in their tea instead of sugar as a protest against slavery.

b. The assumptions or principles relating to or underlying any activity, theory, or attitude, esp. when concerned with questions of power and status in a society. Usu. with of.

1874 Internat. Rev. May 314 What we may call the politics of despair, by which is meant..a conviction that the United States are being borne on to an end not seen. 1888 R. KIPLING Phantom ‘Rickshaw 71 We talked politics{em}the politics of Loaferdom. 1902 Westm. Gaz. 21 Aug. 3/2 The fall of a skirt is a point second to none in importance in the politics of a costume. 1958 Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune 14 Jan. 4/3 One reason Gaitskell has been so that he represents what one commentator has called the politics of envy. 1973 Alderney Jrnl. 8 Oct. 4 Much has been said about the politics of building vivier tanks at the end of the harbour jetty. 1995 .net Feb. 41/1 Before we get stuck into thoughts on the politics of censorship or the joys of long-distance relationships, it’s time for a bit of smut.

c. With indefinite article. A political structure, outlook, or ideology.

1875 E. W. BENSON Let. in A. C. Benson Life (1899) I. 390 The Academic side of a great man is full of a Politics which I am not up to. 1901 Philos. Rev. 10 15 The ambitious aims of a politics which sought to make all of Greece center in Athens. 1906 Daily Chron. 7 Dec. 6/4 She [sc. Australia] has a politics of her own, and Europe is all the poorer for being out of touch with it. 1970 I. L. HOROWITZ Masses in Lat. Amer. i. 23 If the United States model is to succeed in Latin America..a pluralistic politics of competitive, numerous, but autonomous groups must emerge. 1991 Dædalus Summer 74 A politics where social forces confront each other directly.

4. a. Actions concerned with the acquisition or exercise of power, status, or authority. Freq. derogatory.
to play politics: see PLAY v. 13e.

1677 A. BEHN Town-fopp V. 57 Sir Tim. I know there is a way to gain all mortal Woman-kind, but how to hit the Critical Minute of the Berjere{em}Phill. Is past your Politicks at this time Sir. 1693 Humours & Conversat. Town 135 Thou art as much out in thy Politicks, as a Niggardly Father is. 1715 POPE Temple of Fame 36 Calm thinking Villains, whom no Faith can fix, Of crooked Counsels and dark Politicks. 1741 C. MIDDLETON Hist. Life Cicero II. ix. 259 What strange politics do we pursue? 1777 N.-Y. Gaz. & Weekly Mercury 9 June 3/2 Ye cursed varlets! Who can view the consequences of your baneful politicks, and not despise and detest you? 1839 LORD HOLLAND in C. Norton Eng. Laws for Women (1854) 169 Certainly justice is not a thing to sacrifice, either to ‘the convenience of politicks or the pedantry of the law’. 1881 J. MORLEY Cobden I. 121 He was intolerant of the small politics of the Borough-reeve and the Constables. 1930 N. R. STEPHENSON Nelson W. Aldrich xx. 327 The expulsion of the Brownsville soldiers was mere politics, a play to the gallery to make sure the hold of the administration on the Southern Republican machine. 1952 Manch. Guardian Weekly 11 Dec. 13 The ‘politics’ key posts are not the private appetites of machine politicians or rarely that. 2004 Ottawa Citizen (Nexis) 26 June (Style Weekly) 15 The status politics of jazz is, like the federal election, almost over.

b. Management or control of private affairs and interests, esp. as regards status or position. Cf. office politics n. at OFFICE n. Compounds 1.

1749 H. FIELDING Tom Jones VI. XVI. vii. 57 Mrs. Western was reading a Lecture on Prudence, and Matrimonial Politics to her Niece. 1816 SCOTT Antiquary I. xiii. 283, I was telling it [sc. the story] to Lovel this moment, with some of the wise maxims and consequences which it has engrafted on your family politics. 1855 F. E. SMEDLEY Harry Coverdale iii, The governor’s letter contains a budget of family politics. 1883 Congregational Year Bk. 58 To many, Church questions seem as trivial as the politics of a rookery. 1930 G. F. YOUNG Medici xii. 293 There were very intricate family politics..through which a way must be found if his cherished scheme was ever to bear fruit. 1967 T. W. BLACKBURN Good Day to Die i. 5 I’m not interested in Bureau politics. 2004 Spectator (Hamilton, Ont.) (Nexis) 4 Oct. GO2 It’s not the actual holiday that gets to me. It’s politics.”
We offer our thanks once more to the OED.
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