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Politics, neuroscience, literature and writing.  Three subjects that have filled my life.  Words and thinking, in one way or another, occupy my life.  My long time readers might notice that I'm not one, typically, for short diaries.

I like to get my arguments just right, support them with strong logic, fill them with passion and force.  I'm very persnickety about words, but I've learned to have a limit about just how precise the choices I make are.

Folks like NYCEve, Slinkerwink, and David Waldman probably do the same thing, and have good intentions.  But they've fallen into a verbal trap that I think too many of our people have: the trap of the literal word.

You ever notice something?  How preachers preaching that they follow the bible literally can't seem to agree?  In Artificial Intelligence terms, we could call what should show up isomorphism: one meaning for one symbol.  In this case, we could talk about just a few simple words: I support the Public Option.

If they don't say that, what more cause do you need to worry?  They must be planning to double cross us!

It's been a tough few months, politically speaking.  Obama's been knocked off his pedestal, the crazies seem to have dominated the stage, politically speaking.  And yes, the liberals are turning on each other.

But just look.  The public supports us, if you ask the questions right, and avoid the verbal landmines of the dogwhistles (God, is that ever a mixed metaphor, but what the hell. ;-) )  Folks like our ideas.  We're just kind of too polite about it.  We need to take charge.  But the good news is, if we do take charge, we got the support.

I really doubt that Democrats in the House are going to oppose a strong Public Options.  Not enough to be an impediment.  The President, if handed a bill with a strong Public Option, will almost certainly sign on the dotted line of healthcare freedom.

Our biggest problem is the Senate.  It's those morons in the Senate who still think that it matters what the Republicans say who have us at this impasses.

So why hit the Progress Dems in the house?  Because they aren't signing a pledge?  Hell, I see David Waldman beating up on Anthony Weiner, an out-in front advocate of Healthcare reform!  If the guy see Public Option healthcare reform put in front of him, good reform, what are the chances he votes it down?

We've been told to watch pledges made to one particular site, with one particular set of words, and have that be our guage of who's on board.  It just strikes me that the actions of these people have been so much a better guide of where they stand, and who we should push.

But the FDL folks are just hung up on that pledge.

The same way some are hung up on everything being won this round that this is the ultimate and only test.

Here's the thing:  words are not exact things.  In my experience, words are like herbivores: often safer with a herd of others to keep them company, to define what they mean, to give them their context.

If we're not looking at more than just a few words out of what people say, if we're relying on words along to tell us where people stand, if we're reliant on a pledge to tell us who's in our company, we're really misleading ourselves.  We're making up states of mind that might not be there, fueled mostly by political anxieties that don't really help us to focus on who we really need to be dealing with, the human obstacles we really need to be clearing.

Words can be treacherous, because what one person means may not be what another person hears.  Maybe somebody says something that they believe amounts to what we want to hear about the public option.  But because the wording doesn't satisfy some, it's taken completely the other way.

And sometimes people say things that they have to say.  Take Anthony Weiner for example.  He has a single payer bill out there, the bill, I believe, that the FDL folks are so up in arms against.  Now, this bill is unlikely to pass.  Here's the question.  Do you think Weiner is simply going to vote against a Public Option, when push comes to shove, just because he advocates Single Payer first and foremost?

In the Political world, sometimes folks are playing a game of verbal chess, especially nowadays with the press that gets so deep into what people might have meant in a soundbite that they're practically looking for cavities in the politician's teeth.  In such games, there's often an incentive to say the right things only at the right time, a certain diplomatic pacing to what is said a flavor to how it's said.  Why is this done?  Because politicians are often negotiating, often negotiating a path fraught with what they have said before.  In an age of mindless literalism, it's often a sad reality that an almost inhuman amount of care is necessary not to be misunderstood, if one is seeking to be understood in the first place.

I think we play into that unfortunate tendency when we get hypersensitive to words and phrases, when we don't look between the lines and behind the words, when we don't use our heads to look at a situation for ourselves.

We must realize that listening to what others say is not a passive process, and kneejerk narrow responses to what we hear are not the best course of action.  Communication between people is not like communication between computers.  The information we retrieve is all too often dependent on what we expect to retrieve.

Finally, let me end with an observation: rationality and irrationality are not separate in people.  People who we put on the defensive aren't necessarily going to tell us, or do for us, the same things that they might do if we let them remain calm, and if we remained respectful ourselves.  Additionally, if we look at things purely in terms of anger or despair, that can color the possibilities we permit ourselves to see and follow up on.  We must realize that, as is said in Frank Herbert's classic Dune, fear is the mind-killer.  If we operate from our anxieties, if we operate from our mistrust, if we don't keep ourselves centered and disciplined, we will be walking on eggshells or rushing to conclusions we ought not to.

We have to realize that we won't have the right influence over what others feel, until we have control over what we feel, what we think, and what we say.  We got to better discern what we should say and how we should say it, and be wary of the way that our words and our audience's impressions might fail to connect.

Originally posted to First Amendment Remedies on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 12:18 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Yep. (0+ / 0-)

    I can haz rashunality?

    by Troubadour on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 12:22:21 PM PDT

  •  Sometimes we need to take yes for an answer (5+ / 0-)

    The effort on health care has been absolutely necessary, but the direction and tone has risks setting us back.

  •  IMHO, this diary is complete bullshit. (0+ / 0-)
  •  True Dat (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KayCeSF, Elise, The Raven, dmh44

    We have to realize that we won't have the right influence over what others feel, until we have control over what we feel, what we think, and what we say.

    This simply can't be emphasized enough.  I completely shut down when someone comes at me with strident anger, no matter how right their cause is.  You want me to listen to you?  Calm the fuck down and articulate your points.  It doesn't mean that I'm going to agree with you in the end, but it does guarantee that I'll at least hear you out.  

    Or, what you said. :)

    More than one thing at a time != Doing EVERYTHING at one time.

    by RinaX on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 12:59:02 PM PDT

  •  Nicely put, this: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    In my experience, words are like herbivores: often safer with a herd of others to keep them company, to define what they mean, to give them their context.

    Words are safer in a herd environment.  There are strong words there that tend to protect the weak ones.  

    And every now and again, the herd-words band together and kick the ever-living $hit out of any predatory illogic that tries to cut one word out of the herd.

    Thanks for another thoughtful diary, Stephen.

    Our promises are made in proportion to our hopes, but kept in proportion to our fears.-LaRouchefoucauld

    by luvsathoroughbred on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 01:06:43 PM PDT

  •  Words lost meaning (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    with the rise of the TV commercial.

    Simultaneously, politics and elections became all about the TV commercial.

    So words especially lost meaning in politics.

    Which is to say, it doesn't make sense to analyze politicians' words too carefully.  Because you can only get elected telling people what they want to hear.  And you especially can't raise money if you don't shape and target your words to fit your audience.

    Sometimes well-received diaries on Daily Kos are similar in that a certain amount of anger helps you get on the Recommended List.  It's not what they-- Democrats in Washington-- want to hear, but it's what progressives like us want to hear.  "If you aren't outraged, you aren't paying attention"-- as a column by Paul Krugman put it.

    Republicans are far worse though.  They let corporate interests shape their words for them, dispense these lies to the people and seem almost indifferent to the consequences-- even losing votes-- as long as they raise money and do the bidding of the wealthy few.

    •  Words will never lose meaning. (0+ / 0-)

      It's an audiovisual medium.  Note how much you hear people talking and saying things.

      Go watch a movie.  Images can be compelling, but so can a monologue, so can a critical speech.

      The truth is, all these things are just the cues for an experience, an experience people can fall into or learn to distrust and distance themselves from.

      Everybody's seen those puppy-dogs, apple pie and American flag ads.  Everybody seen those evil-drone in the background, nasty things said in the foreground ads, with clippings and still photos.

      People have adapted to these things.  the key is how we adapt a message to get around it, how we move the dynamic of public opinion.

      Reject the drama like Barack Obama!

      by Stephen Daugherty on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 03:22:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you. Great diary. nt (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ChurchofBruce, KayCeSF
  •  But but but (0+ / 0-)

    then we wouldn't be able to pull political stunts! What would Jane "Blackface" Hamsher do if she didn't have "Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party" purity pledges to wave under the noses of such apostates as Ed Markey and Patrick Kennedy???

    DKos: The left's home for sanctimonious defeatism since 2008.
    "The last time we broke a president, we got Reagan"--Bush Bites

    by ChurchofBruce on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 02:00:21 PM PDT

    •  I don't want to sound cynical, but I think... (4+ / 0-)

      Jane Hamsher wants to be a powerbroker, a mover and shaker.  She wants to show she can get a big netroots audience to push around the Democratic caucus for her.  That's my thought.  It helps explain why, of all people, she goes after people you really could leave to go for a Public Option by their own devices.  Get them committed to doing things her way, and she can exact that pull again on another issue.

      Reject the drama like Barack Obama!

      by Stephen Daugherty on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 03:26:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's pretty cynical (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        askew, KayCeSF

        and I agree with every word :). I don't doubt slinkerwink or nyceve's sincerity (especially the latter) but I think the tactics suck, and I think Hamsher is using those tactics as a "mememe" move. Wouldn't be the first time.

        DKos: The left's home for sanctimonious defeatism since 2008.
        "The last time we broke a president, we got Reagan"--Bush Bites

        by ChurchofBruce on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 03:52:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Well, the alternative isn't much better. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          askew, ChurchofBruce, KayCeSF

          The alternative is that she's such a zealot on that one bill that she'd risk alienating allies with her open, naked distrust of their motives.

          That's a possibility.

          The alternative that I spoke of gives her credit for being politically savvy enough to think that she could get additional people to sign pledges by essentially questioning their loyalty to progressive policies.  That she doesn't grant outright that there is serious overlap between those who advocate single payer, but are willing to vote for a Public Option is telling.

          Reject the drama like Barack Obama!

          by Stephen Daugherty on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 04:45:50 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  What bugs me (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            askew, KayCeSF, Sybil Liberty

            is just the whole purity bullshit.

            Look, given a choice between a bill that has crummy coops and no public option but that also puts some real limits on insurance companies (can't kick people off for getting sick, can't exclude for preexisting conditions forever), I'd want my rep to vote yes.

            It's NOT what I want. (I want single payer and would settle for a public option). But I'm 44 years old and this issue has been on the table my entire life, and half a loaf is better than none.

            DKos: The left's home for sanctimonious defeatism since 2008.
            "The last time we broke a president, we got Reagan"--Bush Bites

            by ChurchofBruce on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 05:41:35 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  It was on Kennedy's table all of his life too (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              John Podesta: "...When it came to reaching across the aisle and forging compromise and getting something done -- Senator Kennedy was simply in a league of his own. This great man bridged the idealism and purpose of an earlier generation and helped usher its revival today."

              hmmm...will they ever forgive John Podesta?

              highly unlikely

              "Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. And don't be attached to the results." -- Angeles Arrien

              by Sybil Liberty on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 08:46:37 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  The thing is Jane did this before on the war (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            KayCeSF, littlebird33

            supplemental. She bullied progressives into pledging to vote against the bill, then bragged that she was kicking Rahm's ass. When the inevitable happened and Rahm twisted the progressives arms into voting for the war supplemental, Jane lashed out at the progressives and Rahm. Now, she is repeating the same pattern.

          •  "pledging" and "power moves" (0+ / 0-)

            ....reminiscent of a very wrong-headed college sorority of sorts.

            "Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. And don't be attached to the results." -- Angeles Arrien

            by Sybil Liberty on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 08:34:41 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Hmm. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    For a diary about the importance of interpreting words, it's a little strange that you're so sure I'm "beating up" on Weiner, when in fact, I do no such thing.

    I thought I was rather understanding of his position.

    But I know that people sometimes like to find a point of departure from some diarists and front pagers, inflate them, and post refutations of the imaginary position instead. I think that's what happened here.

    Do I think Weiner is simply going to vote against a Public Option, when push comes to shove, just because he advocates Single Payer first and foremost?

    Well, that's not actually the question I'm asking. If words are important, let's ask the same question I'm actually asking. Do I think Weiner may vote for a bill that doesn't include a public option, when push comes to shove, even though he advocates single payer first and foremost?


    •  I should add... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      that I mean that I think it's entirely possible.

      If they need his vote to pass a conference report that ultimately doesn't have a public option, I believe it's not nearly out of the question that he'd provide it.

      If they don't need his vote to pass it, he may very well withhold it. But I take his reluctance to commit to opposing any bill without a public option in it all the way through conference to mean that he'll be taking a wait and see attitude on the conference report.

      I didn't even offer any judgment about that. I said it was understandable.

      But that's not very exciting to argue with in a diary, so you changed it.

      Because words mean so much, and all.

      •  You folks miss the real reason for the imagined. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        KayCeSF, Sybil Liberty

        Why doesn't he commit now?  Because logically Being unequivocally for the Public Option and being the author and advocate of a Single Payer alternative are two mutually exclusive logical positions.

        He can't say "I won't support anything else but a Public Option", and then sincerely present the single payer as an alternative without logically contradicting himself.  Only after the Single Payer bill has been voted down can he, without equivocation, take your approach.  But by that point, likely, there will probably be a vote on the Public Option, and if it's the kind that can get through Reconciliation, he'll likely vote for it as a compromise of his much more liberal position..

        You forget: the Public Option is itself a compromise.  Going after Weiner, or any of the other supporters of this bill for not unequivocally supporting the Public Option is ridiculous, if you think about it; these are the people most likely to vote for the Public Option when they compromise, rather than against it, as the Blue Dogs would.

        Which leads me to reiterate my previous statements in other diaries and comments: go after the folks who will more likely be the hard sells on this.  Stop bothering the natural allies just so you can get them to agree to some pledge.  If your interest is primarily bending the trajectory of this bill towards success, stop wasting your time browbeating the strongest advocates of Healthcare reform.

        Reject the drama like Barack Obama!

        by Stephen Daugherty on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 08:53:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Let me add another comment here: (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The fact of the matter is, you don't maintain truly perfect objectivity.  You strongly raise the possibility that he might not vote for the bill.  I'm not really twisting your words, you're twisting his, making an unlikely interpretation of his actual position.

        And you're doing this with others, and generating anxiety among Democrats that might be entirely unfounded in the process.  You're implying the only firm way to make the statement of favoring the Public Option, the way you have it formulated.  And I think that's an excessively narrow lens to focus on who supports and who doesn't support the Public Option.

        It's only useful for those looking to put these people on the spot for the sake of flexing political muscle.  If you want to do more or better than that, it's the Blue Dogs, and particularly those in the Senate that the folks here should get cracking on.

        Reject the drama like Barack Obama!

        by Stephen Daugherty on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 09:13:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Can't agree more. (0+ / 0-)

          I don't know that I agree that Public Option is the compromise... I'd like an explanation of that point, it confuses me.  But everything else you say, I agree with.

          Thank you for this well-reasoned, well-written diary.

          •  Single Payer would be like... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            ...medicare for all.  Government pays all or most of your medical bills, with minimal or absent out of pocket costs.

            Public Option is insurance provide by the government, mostly paid for by insurance premiums you pay.  If you're poor, and on the Public option, the government subsidizes.  But it's not single payer.

            The point of the Public Option is to give insurance companies an incentive to reduce costs and improve efficiency, while leaving private insurance largely in place.

            Reject the drama like Barack Obama!

            by Stephen Daugherty on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 10:08:10 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  And you're welcome! ;-) (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Reject the drama like Barack Obama!

            by Stephen Daugherty on Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 10:09:57 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Perfect objectivity was never of interest. (0+ / 0-)

          Why even try? That doesn't hold any interest for me.

          But you're going round and round trying to have my part of the argument for me, which means we're done here, and you can imagine the whole thing going the way you wish it was going. And the good news is, you'll probably win!

          I'm perfectly clear about why Weiner didn't commit, and that's perfectly clear in the story.

          You're wanking, and that's fine. You're allowed. I just don't have to help you do it. You think that anyone who would write about the public option vote can only be approaching it either from your perspective, or that of diarists like slinkerwink and nyceve. That's ridiculous on its face, and if it's going to continue to be the basis of your one-sided, imaginary conversation, that makes my decision not to participate both easy and free of guilt.

          You don't know what I'm doing, and finding out is not important to your fantasy.

          •  I wasn't saying you need perfect objectivity. (0+ / 0-)

            I was saying you were pretending to be undecided, even though you ventured rather far down the road to being pretty well decided, enought that you were urging a certain kind of action.  If you already decided that it's necessary to take certain action, then you've crossed a critical threshold from being undecided.  You're taking your suspicion serious enough to act on it.

            You're wanking, and that's fine.

            Wanking.  Right.

            Like I said, you're taking their rhetoric serious enough to tell other people to act on it.  You might want to feel as if you're keeping an open mind, but you're not acting the part.

            To wit:

            Good thing? Bad thing? Just a thing? Different question. Point is, there's "flexibility" everywhere. And if you can be "flexible" enough to cosponsor single payer bills (when it doesn't matter because they're not coming to the floor) but then vote no (when it does matter because it is coming to the floor), then it's not beyond question to ask whether your commitment to a strong public option can change with the circumstances, too.

            Everybody knows that the quickest path to single payer is through a Public Option.  He might, in some unlikely event, vote against the final bill.  But it would be a lot more unlikely than not that he would do so, because he knows the Republican's angle if HCR doesn't pass.

            His flexibility works in our favor, more likely than not, because though his first option isn't mainstream in the party, the next option he would likely pick wouldn't be some damn co-op, or insurance mandates without some limit.  No, his next best option would a robust Public Option.

            That, unlike Kent Conrad or Ben Nelson, who we would likely have to force towards a Public Option, if we ever could.

            We shouldn't be the roosters that think our crowing brings up the sun.  The sun will come up on its own, and progressives like Weiner will likely go for the Public Option once they've aired their single payer alternative.  They'll do this because most of them know which side their bread is buttered on in terms of the success of their movement.  We don't win if the Republicans kick the shit out of us next year.  We win if we pass a Public Option over their objections.

            I'm not wanking here.  I'm following the natural dynamics of the situation, and following what you said.  Maybe you're not in entire agreement with the FDL crew, but in the instance that set me off in opposition to you, you certainly were arguing in their vein.  Weiner won't give unequivocal support to a Public Option alone as long as he has that bill out there.  Once that bill is out of the way, though, the question is whether he is more or less likely to vote for a Robust Public Option.  My guess is that he'd go for that in a heartbeat.  I don't think he's a political moron.

            What I would say to you is that unequivocal support is not necessary for sufficient support.  He doesn't have to be certain to say yes to the Public Option and nothing else to be likely to say yes to it.

            Reject the drama like Barack Obama!

            by Stephen Daugherty on Wed Sep 02, 2009 at 07:54:31 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

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