|In response to David Brooks's column on how to write about politics, Jonathan Chait offers some ideas of his own. It probably won't surprise you that I like Chait's a little better. Here's a pretty good rule:
Don't debate straw men. If you're arguing against an idea, you need to accurately describe the people who hold them. If at all possible, link to them and quote their argument. This is a discipline that forces opinion writers to prove that they're debating an idea somebody actually holds. And quoting the subject forces them to show that somebody influential holds it — if the best example of the opposing view is a random blog comment, then you're exposing the fact that you're arguing against an idea nobody of any stature shares. This ought to be an easy and universal guideline, but in reality, it's mostly flouted.You'd be shocked how many professional writers don't do this. Much like a boxer who wants to fight the best in the world, you want to take on the best of your opposition, and their most credible arguments. [...]
This is not only for the benefit of people who read you, but for your own. To paraphrase Douglass, a writer is worked on by what she works on. If you spend your time raging at the weakest arguments, or your most hysterical opponents, expect your own intellect to suffer. The intellect is a muscle; it must be exercised. There are cases in which people of great influence say stupid things and thus must be taken on. (See Chait on George Will's disgraceful lying about climate change.) But you should keep your feuds with Michelle Malkin to a minimum.
Another "rule" needs broader application as well. Opinion writing at its worst is ego-stoking, propagandizing or parroting. At its best, however, it's a key element of political activism—advocacy. And successful advocacy depends on persuasion. I can't count the number of professional opinion writers I've encountered whose point of view I've agreed with but whose utterances were utterly unpersuasive.
There's no single way to achieve persuasiveness. No single style meets all needs. Mockery and wonkery and ferocity and sardonicity all have their proper places. The most compelling persuasion comes not by means of the cleverest turn-of-phrase but from meeting the views of one's opponents head on, factually and without apology. To be sure, some people—oh, all right, a godawfully large number of people—are persuaded by intellectual manure. But the honest, the open-minded and the skeptical recognize what's phony and what's not. A good opinion writer, an advocate, ought always to be thinking of what it takes to persuade those individuals in their audience, not the numskulls.
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2003—But the war is over!:
|It must be nice being President Bush, with everything being black and white. Today he will announce the war is over, so we can all move on [to] bigger and better things. Like tax cuts.
But for our poor men and women in Iraq, nothing is over.
Attackers lobbed two grenades into a U.S. Army compound Thursday, wounding seven soldiers just hours after the Americans had fired on Iraqi protesters in the street outside, a U.S. intelligence officer reported. [...]The revenge cycle is starting. None of the injuries from this attack are life-threatening, but such luck won't last forever. This is not a good situation for our soldiers.
On today's Kagro in the Morning show, Greg Dworkin notes a UK measles outbreak tied to anti-vax agitation, Sen. Kelly Ayotte scrambles to deal with gun vote backlash, and Larry Flynt endorses Mark Sanford. The gun news is sadder than usual, with two young boys killing their preschool aged sisters in the last two days. Armando joined in to discuss all that, plus the "Green Lantern" theory of presidential powers. Other topics: living in a 401(k) world, and the outrageous (and still growing) CEO-to-average-worker pay gap & what's driving it. PS: 1.5 million downloads in April! Why not join us?