A surprising gesture
Working through the discourse that accumulated while I was reading and listening to what my students had to say, I found a fine post from none other than Steve McIntyre on the Virginia’s ‘fraud investigation’ against Michael Mann, one of his leading adversaries in the Hockey Stick Wars. McIntyre calls out the publicity stunt for what it is–a “repugnant piece of over-zealousness”:
To the extent that Virginia citizens are concerned about public money being misappropriated, Cuccinelli’s own expenditures on this adventure should be under equal scrutiny. There will be no value for dollar in this enterprise….
To the extent that there are issues with Mann or Jones or any of these guys, they are at most academic misconduct and should be dealt with under those regimes. It is unfortunate that the inquiries at Penn State and UEA have not been even minimally diligent, but complaints on that account rest with the universities or their supervising institutions and the substitution of inappropriate investigations by zealots like Cuccinelli are not an alternative….
I intend to write Cuccinelli expressing my disdain for his actions.
Read on to learn how this relates to the previous post.
Why is so much political talk so dull?
Hannah Arendt commented that surprise is central to real politics. Someone stands up in front of his or her fellow citizens, and makes a start at something–a beginning, a first thing, a principium. Something “startlingly unexpected” appears, and the rest of us are also called on to act in some new way.
I remember as a kid getting to stay up late to watch the roll call of the states at the Democratic and Republican national conventions. It was exciting, because once or twice it was “startlingly unexpected.” None of the adults around seemed sure what would happen. Now these events resemble a superbowl halftime show, or perhaps a Disney theme park. They appear scripted; down to the last delegate from Wyoming, everyone is on message.
Presidential debates could have the same interest. Put these two guys together, let them be challenged and challenge each other. Maybe in the course of the interaction one of them will show us something we hadn’t seen before. Of course, behind the scenes the candidates’ handlers and advisors are trying to clamp down on what they have to consider dangerous uncertainties, crafting sound-bite replies on every predicted topic. Unfortunately, they’ve largely succeeded.
That’s one of the big downsides of being a rhetorical analyst. Very much of what is out there is so very predictable. It could have been composed by a computer, and a computer would do well enough in “analyzing” it–say by counting up the number of times some slogan appears, perhaps. No human brain needs to intervene.
Mark Morano, for example, doesn’t surprise us when he takes the enemy of his enemy as his friend. He cranks up his partisan discourse machine. Interviewed, he says:
I have no problem with what Cuccinelli is doing. Scientists are not above the law. It is quite refreshing to see a novel legal avenue pursued in going after publicly funded professors. Michael Mann deserves every bit of hassle this investigation will entail. When you accept taxpayer funds, let’s not pretend to be shocked when government officials come asking questions.
Morano at least lives up to his ordinary frankness by admitting that it’s not so much that Mann deserves to be investigated under a particular Virginia statute, but that, having caused Morano’s side so much hassle, he deserves to be hassled in return, by any means necessary. Politics-as-usual is overriding any deeper principles Morano might otherwise profess, e.g., about the rights of citizens to be free of governmental intrusions.
McIntyre, by contrast, doesn’t let in even a bit of “Mann got what he deserved.” He appears to be following a principle–a principle that stands athwart politics-as-usual and leads him to a temporary alliance with a man he otherwise batters vigorously. He has even surprised some among his blog’s community, who complained about being “confused” by the “cognitive dissonance” he was showing in his defense of Mann. Several even make a sort of inverse Golden Rule argument:
I’m sure that if the situation was reversed, and you were under investigation for the actions you took in order to expose the fraud of Mann et al, Michael Mann would encourage such an investigation and complain that it is not harsh enough. So let’s all wait and see what comes out of this and then comment based on facts not speculation (“Gad Levin“)
To which McIntyre replies:
I’ve taken a consistent position that the ends don’t justify the means. I don’t agree that you can justify withholding adverse verification r2 because you think that your cause is righteous or that you should exercise executive power capriciously or vindictively because you think that your cause is righteous. Both are slippery slopes. This is bedrock in our civil society.
Edited 7/26 to correct SM’s name; my bad!
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