Monday, August 17, 2009

The Assholes and Idiots Theory Redux

For my 1,000th post, I wrote about something I like to call the "Assholes and Idiots Theory." The original post is a little long, so I thot I would provide a condensed version.

The Assholes and Idiots Theory is quite simple, and says that in every political party, movement, coalition, or sufficiently large organization, there are a certain number of assholes and idiots, and that one of the duties of the leaders of that party/movement/organization is to contain the assholes and idiots. The Assholes and Idiots Theory makes no distinction as to ideology; there are just as likely to be assholes and idiots on the left as on the right.

Assholes are people who believe that they have the right to impose their will on other people, regardless of how those people feel about it. Assholes tend to be addicted to anger; they're usually furious about something. They also tend to blur ethical or legal lines when trying to impose their will. One reason that there seems to be so much anger on the right now is that the last administration completely failed to contain either the assholes or idiots. Of course, the reason why is not hard to figure out: Bush & Cheney didn't contain the assholes or idiots in the GOP because, of course, they were both. They didn't just not contain the assholes and idiots: they appointed them.

Idiots are people who believe that they are smarter than reality, and that their ideas about how the world should work are absolutely right, whether or not there is any empirical evidence to support it, and even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Assholes and idiots tend to oppose compromise. This does not mean that people who oppose compromise are automatically either assholes or idiots; far from it. There are often very good reasons of principle and policy to oppose compromise on specific issues. The trick for leaders is knowing when people are opposing compromise out of principle or for good reason, and when they are doing so because they are either assholes or idiots.

People who are assholes and/or idiots will almost never admit to it. Which is why containing them is so difficult, but also why it is so important.

There are several strategies leaders, particularly presidents, use for containing assholes and idiots. Reagan had great credibility as a conservative, so he could compromise without completely alienating his base. Also, despite my strong feelings at the time, he was a decent human being, and not all that stupid. Clinton mostly contained the assholes and idiots because he had some credibility as a liberal on social issues (particularly race and feminism), and because he was just a damn good politician. Clinton also made it clear from the beginning that he would be willing to criticize those on the left. This was why the "Sister Souljah" moment was so important. Not that Sister Souljah herself was either an asshole or an idiot. But by criticizing her, Clinton read the public right; he angered some liberals, but not enough to lose them when it came time for the election, but he also scored points with moderates.

The assholes and idiots seem to be out in force on the right these days, although I see it that way because I'm a good liberal. Obama's strategy for containing the assholes and idiots among his opponents seems to be to stay calm and collected in contrast. Not a bad strategy, when your opponents are yelling and screaming. The most effective, but most expensive, weapon against assholes and idiots is time: idiots are eventually exposed as deeply wrong and in conflict with reality, while assholes eventually alienate too many people to have a base of support. Obama doesn't have much time in the health care debate, but he does have another three years before the next election. Which is crucial, because there is one crucial ingredient in using time to contain assholes and idiots. It is not enough that they prove themselves wrong. You have to prove that you are right. Which means that you have to be right.

No comments: