Does anyone care about America anymore?
June 15, 2005 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Why do we only hear negative criticism of the US President?

During Clinton's terms, there was a neverending string of complaints. Clinton could do nothing right. Similarly, Bush 2.0 gets nothing but complaints.

Why don't the critics ever present one or two good things about a given president? Examples - complain all you want about clinton's affair, but hey that telecommunication act of 1996 sure was nice. Or - complain endlessly about Bush's iraq war, but biodiesel really is an interesting new fuel option.

I'm not interested in hearing praise from a president's support base, I wondering why we don't hear a small number of good things from the opponents.

This matters because it seems to me that we should be more concerned with improving the United States than ensuring that only democrats or onyl republicans win.
posted by b1tr0t to Law & Government (41 answers total)
This is how I look at it: These people jobs are to do Good Things. Nobody makes a big deal about it when I probably code a PHP/mySQL backend- that's my job.

Politicians are like Pit-Bulls. You don't praise the dog every time it doesn't crap on your rug. But you chastise it when it does.
posted by zerolives at 1:44 PM on June 15, 2005

Beside which listen to a little talk radio, the sitting president has got his fan boys.
posted by Mitheral at 1:46 PM on June 15, 2005

It's easier, and it wins elections.
posted by madajb at 1:49 PM on June 15, 2005

How would encouraging opponents of the President to say nice things about him improve the United States?
posted by 23skidoo at 1:52 PM on June 15, 2005

what would "positive criticism" (as opposed to "negative criticism") sound like?

And, if you're not hearing all the positive bullshit about the president (most of it lies and misinformation), you're just not listening to the right tv/radio or reading the right boards/blogs/newspapers (do they still make newspapers???).. may I direct you to our friend Rush perhaps.
posted by HuronBob at 1:53 PM on June 15, 2005

i feel compelled to comment, but know that i'm drunk and really should refrain. what an inner conflict.
the best i can do is to refrain (in a drunken unrefraining kind of way) and just encourage constructive banter. go on, banter !
what is the best thing your worst enemy has done?
posted by hayeled at 2:03 PM on June 15, 2005

I know his stances on Foreign Policy, WMDs in Iraq, Affirmative Action, the Environment, International Relations, Religion in Politics, the way he handled 9/11, the way he runs campaigns and holds town hall meetings but only invites his supporters... and that's just the tip of the iceberg. How about, when he does something I agree with, I'll let you know... because I haven't seen it yet. The only time I feel safe or happy is when he shuts his goddamn mouth and goes out biking with his iPod.
posted by banished at 2:08 PM on June 15, 2005

This matters because it seems to me that we should be more concerned with improving the United States than ensuring that only democrats or onyl republicans win.
You've hit the nail on the head. This is exactly what is happening and has been happening for at least as long as I've paid any attention to U.S. elections and politics. In general people don't make decisions on who they're going to vote for, they support a party and the members of their party are unblemished by negative characteristics. Conversely members of the opposing party have no redeeming values whatsoever.

Legitimate concerns can't be heard over the noise. It doesn't help that politicians themselves are among the worst offenders either.

I don't think that it's just saying nice things about the president. It might be admitting that the president raises a valid concern then going on to illustrate that the president's solution is flawed.
posted by substrate at 2:13 PM on June 15, 2005

what would "positive criticism" (as opposed to "negative criticism") sound like?

Constructive criticism?
posted by o2b at 2:16 PM on June 15, 2005

because all our presidents suck and we live in a horribly run country?

Certanly a logical conclusion.
posted by delmoi at 2:26 PM on June 15, 2005

i think there's a general understanding that being "decent" no longer wins you elections. instead, the idea is to get away with as much as possible. it's simply more efficient. people believe some percentage of whatever you throw at the guy, whether it's right or not, so you simply throw as much as possible to up the odds. and when you call them (people like amberglow or matteo) on it, it seems to come down to then either being evil, and so deserving no respect anyway, or that "they do it too".

you could blame the people who do this, but some responsibility has to lie on the stupid average voter, too. 50% of people are more stupid than average. that's a lot of stupid people.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:27 PM on June 15, 2005

There's a "deeper" or more fundamental reason for this, however, at least among actual elected members of the parties. Historically, this is how the system is supposed to work. Traits specific to the US aside, the structure of the system is to a great degree founded upon parliamentary principles, and in that context, one side is very specifically the Government and the other is the Opposition. There are quite well defined roles - one side is tasked with proposing things, the other side is tasked with opposing them and suggesting alternatives.

In fact there is a lot more gray in the system than the black-and-white of a true parliamentary system like in the UK or Canada - but the formal roles are still there and is a heritage that is hard to break.

Another way of putting it - it's the Government's job - not the opposition - to be positive about things. It might seem like a good idea to appear balanced, but the fact remains that it's not the opposition's job to support the government. That's how adversarial systems work.
posted by mikel at 2:33 PM on June 15, 2005

Es ist einen tröll.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 2:37 PM on June 15, 2005

I would have to agree with mikel. A similar question would be: why doesn't the prosecution ever say anything nice about the defendant in a criminal trial?
posted by Doug at 2:49 PM on June 15, 2005

for example, see amberglow's fpp on schiavo. making the point that she should not be used to make a political point. the mind boggles, but the fact is most people don't give a damn about whether or not he's a hypocritical propogandist - all that counts is which side scores the most points against the other.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:50 PM on June 15, 2005

because we're not all prosecution lawyers?
posted by andrew cooke at 2:50 PM on June 15, 2005

Newspapers and magazines are not well-suited to in-depth, balanced critical thought regarding current leaders, as they focus on current events. The kind of criticism you're looking for is generally provided in hindsight, and through books.

Re: Clinton, for example. A former White House pres correspondant from the Post just published a book. (Skim through the beginning of the review explaining Clinton-hating to the actual description of the book, about halfway through.)
posted by desuetude at 2:51 PM on June 15, 2005

>>Why don't the critics ever present one or two good things about a given president? < br>
Well, first you have to realize that often the critics of the sitting president are often found in the opposing party.

The primary goal of any political party is to be the party in power. Since lauding the opposing party is unlikely to get your party back into power, one must (to paraphrase an old song) accentuate the negatives and eliminate the positives surrounding the President.

Morally, you ask a good question. Many moral people would indeed give credit where credit is due. In common vernacular, it's often referred to as 'sportsmanship'.

If one lesson is clear about politics is that it can often be an immoral occupation (snarky pun intended).
posted by AccidentalHedonist at 2:53 PM on June 15, 2005

I have a couple of good things to say about Bush: he runs a sharp, focused, and disciplined presidential campaign*, since his reelection he's increased his exposure to the press, and his initial handling of Afghanistan was OK. (I was probably one of the people who made up his 90% approval rating immediately after 9/11 because he approached Talibanistan the same way pretty much any president would have.)

However, his negatives are so considerable, in my opinion, that they outweigh the positives. My complaints about the Iraq invasion aside, he's blown two opportunities to be a great president.

When he was elected in 2000, more people voted against him than voted for him, and a lot of those people, rightly or wrongly, had strong reservations about his legitimacy. Bush never made an attempt to be those people's president. The country was divided and he could have gone a long way to healing that divide by emulating Lincoln's "with malice toward none" Second Inaugural Address in both his speech and how he governed. Instead, from day one, he put the lie to his claim to be a uniter, not a divider.

The second missed opportunity was his response to the attacks of September 11. Instead of discussing the possibility that the history of the United States' foreign policy might make people in other countries want to attack us, he continued that history by invading a country on false pretenses. (And, when his stated reasons for the invasion were shown to be untrue, refused to acknowledge any errors.) Instead of rallying Americans with a call for shared sacrifice, he told them to go shopping.

He may be a great guy to have a beer with, but he's a miserable failure at being president.

* Taking a page from Clinton's book; Bush emulated Clinton and won and Gore and Kerry refused to follow Clinton's lead and lost.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:04 PM on June 15, 2005

The president and his managers have gotten where they are by taking their opponents' genuine desire for comity and compromise and abusing it until those opponents no longer exist (cf. Ted Kennedy and No Child Left Behind; the Texas Democrats; and so on). Additionally, they have extended no comity or compromise to any of their opponents and govern in the winner-take-all mode. As a result, only dupes are considering playing the game the old way at this point.
posted by felix at 3:12 PM on June 15, 2005

Clinton got nothing but complaints?

Speaking from north of the border, but I've almost never heard anyone with anything bad to say about him.

Even the Monica thing was sorta 'whatever'.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 3:18 PM on June 15, 2005

If you want good things about a US president, all you have to do is wait for the media coverage that accompanies their death.
posted by helvetica at 3:41 PM on June 15, 2005

It depends upon the forum. If you listen to conservative talk radio you hear overblown complimenting of Bush. If you listen to Air America or read MeFi you hear overblown criticism of Bush. When Clinton was in office he was conservative talk's whipping boy and my guess is had Air America existed at the time it would have been nothing but praise.

From my perspective there doesn't seem to be any forum that gives an honest assessment of how the president is doing no matter who the person in office is.
posted by Carbolic at 3:42 PM on June 15, 2005

Bitrot: I've written political columns that praise Bush administration policy, but y'know, when the most important things that the administration is doing are all Evil with a capitol Evil, those are kind of more important.
Also, if you haven't seen the rhetorical technique of "My opponent does this, this and this well. But he's a fucking moron in the most important way, and here it is," you're not reading very much.
In the end, the answer to your question is that your question is kinda ignorant.
posted by klangklangston at 3:47 PM on June 15, 2005

This is not an ignorant question; it's a great question. It's a question that forms the core of American politics.

The truth is, our nation was founded on dissent. I never realized just how ingrained this conflict between liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, "good" vs. "evil" is until I read Joseph J. Ellis' Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation.

Our country has essentially been rehashing the same arguments for over two hundred years.

Here's a big-ass quote from Founding Brothers:
It is truly humbling, perhaps even dispiriting, to realize that the [modern] historical debate over the revolutionary era and the early republic merely recapitulates the ideological debate conducted at the time, that historians have essentially been fighting the same battles, over and over again, that the members of the revolutionary generation fought originally among themselves. Though many historians have taken a compromise or split-the-difference position over the ensuing years, the basic choice has remained constant, as historians have declared themselves Jeffersonians or Hamiltonians, committed individualists or dedicated nationalists, liberals or conservatives, then written accounts that favor one camp over the other, or that stigmatize one side by viewing it through the eyes of the other, much as the contestants did back then. While we might be able to forestall intellectual embarrassment by claiming that the underlying values at stake are timeless, and the salient questions classical in character, the awkward truth is that we have been chasing our own tails in an apparently endless cycle of partisan pleading. Perhaps because we are still living their legacy, we have yet to reach a genuinely historical perspective on the revolutionary generation.

But, again, in a way that Paine would tell us was commonsensical and Jefferson would tell us was self-evident, both sides in the debate have legitimate claims on historical truth and both sides speak for the deepest impulses of the American Revolution. With the American Revolution, as with all revolutions, different factions came together in common cause to overthrow the reigning regime, then discovered in the aftermath of their triumph that they had fundamentally different and politically incompatible notions of what they intended. In the dizzying sequence of events that comprises the political history of the 1790s, the full range of their disagreement was exposed and their different agenda for the United States collided head-on. Taking sides in this debate is like choosing between the words and the music of the American Revolution.

What distinguishes the American Revolution from most, if not all, subsequent revolutions worth of the name is that in the battle for supremacy, for the "true meaning" of the Revolution, neither side completely triumphed. Here I do not just mean that the American Revolution did not "devour its own children" and lead to blood-soaked scenes a the guillotine or the firing-squad wall, though that is true enough. Instead, I mean that the revolutionary generation found a way to contain the explosive energies of the debate in the form of an ongoing argument or dialogue that was eventually institutionalized and rendered safe by the creation of political parties. And the subsequent political history of the United States then became an oscillation between new versions of the old tension, which broke out in violence only on the occasion of the Civil War. In its most familiar form, dominant in the nineteenth century, the tension assumes a constitutional appearance as a conflict between state and federal sovereignty. The source of the disagreement goes much deeper, however, involving conflicting attitudes toward government itself, competing versions of citizenship, differing postures toward the twin goals of freedom and equality.

But the key point is that the debate was not resolved so much as built into the fabric of our national identity. If that means the United States is founded on a contradiction, then so be it. With that one bloody exception, we have been living with it successfully for over two hundred years. Lincoln once said that America was founded on a proposition that was written by Jefferson in 1776. We are really founded on an argument about what that proposition means.
The current "cultural battles", the current criticism of the President, is just a part of the never-ending cycle of eternal return.
posted by jdroth at 4:19 PM on June 15, 2005

"From my perspective there doesn't seem to be any forum that gives an honest assessment of how the president is doing no matter who the person in office is."

Then the terrorists have won. This function was formerly performed by 'the free press', before it was chestbursted from within by the current political party and their supporters.
posted by felix at 4:30 PM on June 15, 2005

klangklangston - That was an "ignorant" answer. Nothing new there.
posted by Carbolic at 4:32 PM on June 15, 2005

Carbolic: The premise of the question, that writers never compliment their political opponents or work for common goals, is fundamentally flawed because it's demonstrably not true. And JDRoth's answer, while correct in some ways, relies on mischaracterization and simplification of history in order to neatly package the answer.
But then again, I'm sure I don't have to explain your dumbassery to you. After all, you live with it.
posted by klangklangston at 4:49 PM on June 15, 2005

Klang: Read your own comments about current administration in this string and others. Your going to tell me that they are not filled with exaggeration and hyperbole? Why is that? You seem incapable of making an even handed statement on any subject.

"Evil with a capitol Evil"

I remember being that way myself once upon a time but then I turned thirteen and got a clue.
posted by Carbolic at 5:09 PM on June 15, 2005

Great quote, jdroth. Anyone who thinks recent political discussion is over-the-top and excessively partisan should read the quarrels of the 1790s. Even the well-educated and civilized types got pretty nasty; Monroe wrote to Jefferson in 1798: "...a gang of greater scoundrels never lived [than the present administration]. We are to dance on [Washington's] birth night, forsooth, and say they are great & good men, when we know they are little people." And the popular press was cheerfully slanderous.

I think some people are missing b1tr0t's point, which (if I understand it) is not that he never hears criticism of the president but that he never hears critics say anything good to balance out the bad. If only for tactical reasons, you'd think they'd try, but generally it's "Bush bad!" from the Bush-bashers and "Clinton bad!" from the other side. But it's always been like that.
posted by languagehat at 5:56 PM on June 15, 2005

While I know Bush is a national disaster, and thus am a critic of his policies, I do say stuff "Hey - that was really decent. Kudos to the guy" when he does something right. Usually this is more out of sheer surprise than on principle though - if he was merely a so-so president, regardless of whether I usually disagreed or agreed with him, I probably wouldn't bother with either criticism or praise. As it is, I sometimes bother with both. Unfortunately his actions are more rarely praiseworthy, and his good deeds are not even in the same ballpark as his bad, so the praise sometimes feels like commending a police officer for helping a kid tie their shoelaces right after he shot three other kids because he didn't like the colour of their laces.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:31 PM on June 15, 2005

(Not ragging on police officers - quite the opposite, I used "police officer" because you epxect them to not be criminal)
posted by -harlequin- at 6:33 PM on June 15, 2005

Languagehat: I got to go through election coverage archives for a paper I wrote on editorials in history, and enjoyed the Jacksonian days the most. The rampant speculation about illegitimate children and miscegenation, along with allegations of British sympathies are hilarious. Or the trash talk about Quincy Adams...

Carbolic: Ah. You're 13. That makes sense. When you get older, you'll realize that calling, say, torture of innocent women and children at Abu Ghraib is, indeed, evil.
And hey, just to bring you up to speed on this whole internet commenting thing: it tends to favor glibness. That's why I wouldn't post an editorial I wrote about how the Bush administration had the right idea with regard to multilateral talks with North Korea, and Kerry's bilateralism was useless contrarianism. Maybe when you're older, you'll get that.
posted by klangklangston at 6:35 PM on June 15, 2005

I'm somewhat annoyed that this thread has turned into nothing but a string of attacks on GWB, when 1.) that wasn't the question and 2.) you can find those, oh, anywhere else on MeFi.

So to answer your question, I think a lot of people think they are justified in attacking the president because they expect him to be a perfect role model for the entire country. That's why Clinton can't get blow jobs; that's why George W. Bush can't use improper grammar. Even vice-presidents aren't allowed to make spelling errors.

There is one thing that Clinton did that a lot of Republicans support, though, and may even give him credit for, and that was passing NAFTA.

Oh, and klangklangston: too bad I haven't found an age where people stop being downright assholes. Apart from "dead", of course.
posted by dagnyscott at 6:53 PM on June 15, 2005

A similar question would be: why doesn't the prosecution ever say anything nice about the defendant in a criminal trial?

This is an excellent analogy. People really do think of politics in america as a trial to win or lose, not a conversation to make the country better. My vague impression from the time I've spent in england is that there's a little more room to seek middle ground there, but I don't know if that's true... it may just be that the whole religion boogyman is pretty much non existent.

Anyway, I find myself less and less interested in discussing politics every day because it seems to be a fight for the win, not a real attempt to work out the truth. Iraq is a prime example of this. I know way too many people who almost seem to take glee when something goes wrong in Iraq. I was skeptical about the invasion & felt things were handled poorly from the start, but I still appreciated Chris Hitchens' viewpoint, because on a plain old straightforward level, who's not for overthrowing ruthless dictators? But somehow to hope that things end up working out okay is viewed as disloyal to the left...

This is certainly no less a problem on the right, but it is still annoying. The actual outcomes of things are more important than whether you predicted the outcome accurately.
posted by mdn at 7:03 PM on June 15, 2005

why? ... because government's becoming another form of entertainment ... not all critics have always expressed themselves so negatively ... in fact, there have been times when they expressed their differences intelligently and precisely

but that doesn't make a very good circus, does it?
posted by pyramid termite at 7:11 PM on June 15, 2005

I believe this is an artifact of having essentially only two choices in an election coupled with psychology and human behavior. It is easier to cast dispersions and create doubt than to set an example to follow. In other words, it's easier to mud sling to force votes away from the other candidate, and by virtue of the two party system, voters pushed away from the one candidate go to the other.
Notice that in a multi-party system that negative attacks are not nearly as beneficial. In a 3 party system, only half the disaffected voters will go to the attacking party, in a 4 party system, only 1/3. Thus the more viable parties you have, the more value in building up your party, versus tearing down the other guys.
posted by forforf at 8:04 PM on June 15, 2005

Klang: "torture of innocent women and children at Abu Ghraib"? Which side of your ass did you pull that one out of? Why not just throw in puppies too?

Wait, are you basing that on the videos Sy Hersh promised us of US soldier sodomizing Iraq boys that has yet to materialize?

Is that what you mean by "glibness"?
posted by Carbolic at 8:04 PM on June 15, 2005

Carbolic: Yeah, right out of my ass. That's what I mean by glibness, asspipe. But, to be fair, I also find the well-documented torture and killing of innocent men to be evil with a capitol Evil. Perhaps you're of the "frat highjinx" camp?
posted by klangklangston at 10:51 PM on June 15, 2005

It's easier, ....
posted by madajb at 1:49 PM PST on June 15 [!]

Bingo. Which begs the question, why is it easier to be negative than positive/constructive?
posted by yoga at 4:59 AM on June 16, 2005

Carbolic: Yeah, right out of my ass.

You expect to link to an official-looking document and figure "Hey, it's long, no one will read it" so that they don't realize that it supports none of things you've been saying?
posted by dagnyscott at 7:35 AM on June 16, 2005

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