Praise and Disses By Political Orientation

In Michael Totten's "Builders and Defenders"


The Raw Data

Version 1.0 (May 10, 2003)



In order to understand the argumentative strategy deployed in a recent controversial blog post, I have analyzed Michael J. "Totten Builders and Defenders" and assigned labels to individual "Argumentation Units" based on whether they support ("praise") or attack ("diss") a left or right political position. Details are discussed and data are presented below.


I assume that the reader will take this document cum granis salis. Yes, it is accurate and I do think it does in some sense illuminate Michael's argument trends. At the same time, the task of taking apart someone's post like this is not a little ridiculous.  This heightened sense of the absurd sustained me mightily during the thankless, but necessary, task of compiling the data.


It is my fervent hope that no one inflict such an analysis on any of MY posts.


*   *   *


Method Of Data Collection


The Argumentation Unit was set at one sentence because usually, there is one persuading technique employed per sentence. Occasionally, I have combined two or more sentences into one because structurally they can be thought of that way. In one place I divided one sentence into two for the same reason. To some extent, this is arbitrary; I have tried not to pad the analysis either Michael’s or my way.


It became clear as research proceeded that while Michael employed only two persuading techniques, the praise and the diss, they were deployed at different intensities, from a fulsome unequivocal statement of political position to a milder implication of position. Both left and right views are represented in all intensities. Thus, there are eight basic categories:


1-2 Outright praise of liberals/right

3-4 Outright disses of liberals/right

5-6 Subtle praise of liberals/right

7-8 Subtle/hedged disses of liberals/right



Michael, on a comment board, has drawn attention to the distinction between far left and liberal statements, and he makes similar ones for the right and far right in his post.  Accordingly, here, in the raw data, I have also distinguished between them whenever it seemed appropriate. A revision may break these down more precisely, but they would not affect the overall balance between left and right praising or dissing.


Finally, I created a category called "serious distortions," in which I believe Michael is flat-out wrong in his assertions. I have annotated my reasons for believing so. I suspect that he may disagree.


Some sentences appear under two categories, as the meaning can be construed as a simultaneous swipe at one side and praise for the other. Some sentences were not categorized as they served neither praising or dissing functions.


While I have tried to be fair, I recognize that another observer might assign the sentences of Michael's post to these categories somewhat differently than I have. I've tried to give him the benefit of a doubt when I had doubts (by defaulting sentences that confused me to what I thought his point was), and I've annotated many of the somewhat ambiguous sentences with what I believe they mean.  










Total Number of Praises and Disses


Total number of praises of liberals/leftists/far leftists: 9

Total number of praises of right/far right: 20


Total Number of disses of liberals/leftists/far leftists: 46

Total Number of disses of right/far right: 20


Serious Distortions: 4



Breakdown of Results by Intensity


Outright Praise of Liberals:  8

Subtle Praise of Liberals/Leftists: 1


Outright Liberal Disses: 24

Outright Disses of the Far Left: 7

Subtle/Hedged Disses At The Liberals and the Left: 15


Outright Praise of the Right: 11

Subtle Praise of Right/Far Right: 9


Outright Disses of the Right: 9

Outright Disses of the Far Right: 2

Subtle/Hedged Disses of the Right: 9


Serious Distortions: 4








Nb: My annotations appear in brackets [ ].



Outright Praise of Liberals



1. It seems (to me) that liberals are more likely to travel...


2. Liberals are more likely to listen to “world music,” and are more likely to watch foreign films.


3. The New Republic and Dissent both publish excellent analyses of international relations and foreign policy.  [New Republic is not liberal any more, but I'll give Michael the benefit of a doubt.]


4. Liberals want to build a good and just society.


5. The first priority of builders is the immediate surrounding environment, starting with the home and moving outward from there.


6. Next is the community, followed by the city, the region, and the nation.


 7. Liberals, as I’ve said, are builders. And Israel is inside the sphere of liberal influence.  [Structurally, one sentence.]


8. The Arab regime in Sudan enslaves black Christians. This indeed is odious. But it’s far beyond the ability of liberals to affect.



Subtle Praise of Liberals/Leftists


1. A protest against Sudan would be utterly useless. The regime wouldn’t listen, and everyone knows it. [Liberals don't waste time. But see next sentence: this is just a setup for a subtle swipe.  But I'll give Totten the benefit of doubt and say it's subtle praise.]



Outright Liberal Disses


1. After September 11 I discovered an intellectual weakness on the left that I never noticed before.


2. For some reason, perhaps for several reasons, liberals and leftists are bored by the outside world.


3. …publications like The Nation and The American Prospect rarely feature articles about what happens in other countries.


4. "…only some leftists I know have actually engaged in a years-long course of education in the history of international politics (no, Howard Zinn isn't sufficient), or long study of military theory and history, or even, in many cases, long study of political history that isn't simply doctrinaire propaganda from a similar didactic point of view." [three major disses in one sentece and counted as such]


5. Liberals are more likely than conservatives to study the negative consequences of American foreign policy.


6. look at other left magazines like The Nation. Foreign policy is unmentioned except as an excuse to whack the Bush Administration.  (one sentence structurally).


7. Many of these articles could easily have appeared in The Nation or other left magazines, and yet they didn’t.


8. Presumably the editors are bored with the subject, or their writers don’t know enough to write about it.


9. But I find this [writers lacking historical knowledge] far more often on the left.


10. I learn more about world history from them  [conservative links] than I learn from the left.


11. The Nation has nothing informed or accurate to say on that subject [of Iraq].


12. Its writers usually ignore it completely.


13. And because they ignore it, because they don’t study it, when they do pipe up they tend to get everything wrong.


14. Why are liberal intellectuals less interested in the history of foreign countries than conservatives are?


15. I have never heard anyone ask this question, and I wonder if others even notice the problem.  [based upon 14, above; "the question" is the diss here.]


16. The other side of the world is the lowest of all priorities [to liberals].


17. I assure you the left hasn’t noticed [that they are less interested in learning history than conservatives.]


18. It [principle of self-interest only in foreign affairs] partly explains why Tom Daschle focused on prescription pills for old people in war time.


19. The right side of the blogosphere laughed uproariously when anti-war protesters carried placards that said “Peace In Our Time.”


20. The left just didn’t get the reference.


21. One of the most common criticisms of liberals lately is that Israel is held to a Middle East double-standard. Every Arab state is guilty of far worse than anything Israel has ever inflicted on Palestinians. [one sentence structurally: add "but" between the two.]


22. Liberals: Read about Iran.


23. Don’t just read about American policy there, read about Iran.


24. Find out what happens when America isn’t looking.



Outright Disses of the Far Left


1. In other pieces I’ve noted an annoying equivalence between the far-left and far-right.


2. The far-left says Republicans are Nazis.


3. Radical leftists think the Bush Administration is like the Nazi Party for one specific reason. They haven’t studied the rise of the Nazis. (structurally, one sentence).


4. They truly believe the comparison is apt not because they misunderstand Republicans, but because they misunderstand Hitler.


5. This [a radical left comparison of Bush and Hitler] is paranoid like McCarthyism, but the cause is quite different.


6. What he [radical leftist] doesn’t understand, very unlike Joseph McCarthy, is what it’s like to live in the other country


7. McCarthy knew Stalin well. The Indymedia poster knows nothing about Saddam Hussein. [one sentence structurally]



Subtle/Hedged Disses At The Liberals and the Left


1. They'll do it [liberal mags publish articles on other countries] occasionally, but almost always in the context of how it relates back to America. [Left /liberai approach is myopic]


2.  The Nation might report on the effects of Iraqi sanctions, but rarely does it publish anything about Iraq in its own context. [Left /liberai approach is myopic]


3. Those bored with foreign countries generally are less likely to study international politics and history. [From previous quote, "those bored" really refers to leftists]


4. Liberals think of themselves as more worldly than conservatives.  [Liberals are deluded. Hedged immediately in next sentence, 5 below, but still a separate thought.]


5. This is true in some ways, but not so in others.  [Liberals are partly deluded]


6. It seems (to me) that liberals are more likely to travel, and are more likely to visit Third World countries in particular. (If you meet an American traveler in, say, Guatemala, odds are strongly against that person being aRepublican.)  [Structurally one sentence] [Liberals seek out poor countries that have little influence on overall world affairs.]


7. Liberals are more likely to listen to “world music,” and are more likely to watch foreign films.

[Liberals like the "softer" aspects of a foreign culture as opposed to economic figures, study of politics, etc]


8. And it [articles in "liberal" New Republic and Dissent] isn’t all filtered through a partisan lens. [But much is.]


9. Conservatives don’t write about China and Iran because they’re into Taoism or because they swooned at the Persian film festival.  The interest is there because these countries are dangerous. [One sentence structurally. Liberals don't see dangers that conservatives see.]


10. It's not that the left is stupid. [Implication is that left are something close to stupid.]


11.“Think globally” but “act locally” is a bumper sticker for the left. [Leftist thought is just a slogan.]


12. Rather, because liberals are builders not defenders, liberal intellectuals focus on internal problems rather than threats from outside. [Liberals just can't see foreign threats.]


13. They [far right] understand Lenin perfectly well. It’s the Democrats they don’t understand. [One sentence structurally. Whatever, this means, it sure isn't praise and implies some kind of diss. Possibly means: Democrats are so confused, even Lenin makes sense. Possibly means: far right can't understand why Democrats can't see external threats.]


14. So what looks like hypocrisy and a liberal double-standard is partly a result of perfectly rational priorities. [Liberals often look like hypocrites with double standards. If you look closely, some of it may be based on reason.]


15. Everybody needs to get out of their rut. Start small. [Structurally one sentence. In context of the recommendations, there's a clear diss of liberals: Liberals start small by learning square one about Iran. Conservatives should enhance their understanding by taking in a  Persian film.]



Outright Praise of the Right


1.  If you want to learn about the history of the Ba’ath Party, Saddam’s human rights abuses, the fate of the Marsh Arabs, or Iraqi public opinion, you have to seek out magazines and journals of the center and the right.


2.  If you want to find a person who knows the history of pre-war Nazi Germany, the Middle East during the Cold War, or the partition of India and Pakistan, you’re better off looking to the right than to the left.


3.  I did this  [link to good conservatives] for one reason only, the same reason I read them myself in the first place. I learn more about world history from them than I learn from the left. [Structurally, one sentence.]


4. The pieces on Iraq [in conservative magazines], though, are indispensable.


5. Conservatives defend what is already built and established.


6. Defenders, unlike builders, are on the lookout for threats.


7. This is what conservatism is for.


8. The interest [by conservatives is in China and Iran ] is there because these countries are dangerous.


9. Conservatives are more likely to study pre-war Nazi Germany because they’re watching out for a repeat.


10. Joseph McCarthy had a deep understanding of Communism.


11. McCarthy knew Stalin well. [I believe Totten means this a compliment, but I could be missing a subtle sense of humor.]





Subtle Praise of Right/Far Right


1. Compared with conservative magazines, publications like The Nation and The American Prospect rarely feature articles about what happens in other countries.  [By comparison, conservative mags are better on foreign countries.]


2. (If you meet an American traveler in, say, Guatemala, odds are strongly against that person being a Republican.)  [Republicans wouldn't waste their time in an insignificant country.]


3. Read The Weekly Standard and National Review and you can easily find articles about, say, China or Iran.


4. I included a list of what I call “good conservatives." [Not all conservatives are good, but these are.]


5. The right side of the blogosphere laughed uproariously when anti-war protesters carried placards that said “Peace In Our Time.” [The right knows that this is an historical error of hilarious proportions.]


6. Far-right conservatives have the opposite problem. They understand Lenin perfectly well. [Structurally one sentence. Far-right conservatives have a perfect understanding of at least one subject.]


7. And he did find some Communist spies. But he saw the tentacles of Communism everywhere, whether there were adequate grounds for it or not. [Structurally one sentence: just drop the "and." While there’s some dissing here regarding his paranoia, the overall gist is that, McCarthy was successful, and while he went overboard, there were times he had good reason for his suspicions.]


8. What he [radical leftist blog poster] doesn’t understand, very unlike Joseph McCarthy, is what it’s like to live in the other country. [Joseph McCarthy knew what it was like to live in another country.]


9. This  [conservatives refusal to complain about Uzbekistan] can be explained by “realism,” and there is a case to be made for it here. [Conservative foreign policy that looks hypocritical can plausibly construed as "realistic," given these circumstances.]




Outright Disses of the Right


1. I have little interest in what National Review says about labor unions, taxes, abortion, the death penalty, or the environment. [Note: first outright diss of the right occurs halfway thru article.]


2. Conservative writers hardly ever complain.[about Uzbekistan].


3. The Uzbek regime is our “ally.” But it’s the same sort of filthy ally Saddam was when he took on the mullahs in Iran. [Structurally one sentence.]




Outright Disses of the Far Right


1.  In other pieces I’ve noted an annoying equivalence between the far-left and far-right.


2. A hyper awareness of threats leads to hallucinations of banshees in the bushes.





Subtle/Hedged Disses of the Right



1. Liberals are more likely than conservatives to study the negative consequences of American foreign policy. [Conservatives tend to ignore unpleasant consequences that they shouldn't.]


2. It’s easy to find writers on both the left and the right who lack historical knowledge. [There's lots of right wingers who don't know history.]


3. I read those articles [articles about domestic issues in magazines on the right] occasionally because I need balance, and sometimes the magazine makes good points. [Sometimes the right is right.]


4. But I rarely agree as a whole no matter how well-written the article. [The articles at least have the virtue of being well-written, but I don’t think they’re entirely right.]


5. Conservatives are myopic in ways that look hypocritical, too. [Conservatives can look hypocritical but they are only myopic.]


6. But it sure looks hypocritical, [Conservatives look hypocritical.] [Structurally one sentence. It isn't really hypocritical, but it very much looks that way.]


7. …and it weakens the case on the right against other dictators.  [Structurally one sentence. On a practical level in terms of overall foreign policy, the Uzbekistan policy makes it difficult to confront other dictators.]


8. Conservatives: If you live in a major city, next time the Persian film festival comes to town, buy yourself a ticket. [Get a life, conservative policy wonks!]


9. The outside world is greater than the sum of its threats. [Threats are important, but they're not everything.]



Serious Distortions


1. This is not a partisan point I’m making. I’ve been on the left forever, and I have no reason whatever to shill for the right. [Use of the"Above the fray" technique, i.e., narrator assumes the stance of “objectivity.” But even casual study of the article contradicts this.]


2. That we shouldn’t meddle in other countries if our own needs work is also a liberal idea. [Normally Michael is clear, but not  here. I believe Michael is referring to what is known as "realpolitik." If it is realpolitik, then in fact, it is Kissingerism. It may be a liberal idea but Kissinger made it famous.]


3.The right side of the blogosphere laughed uproariously when anti-war protesters carried placards that said “Peace In Our Time.” [I never saw such a sign at any peace march. Assuming they were even there, in crowds that numbered between 200,000 to 400,000 or higher, they were vastly outnumbered by other signs and people with no signs.]


4. Joseph McCarthy had a deep understanding of Communism. And he did find some Communist spies. [The former is, to be kind, borderline hilarious. As for the latter, having thankfully not kept my 50's red-baiting chops in the best of shape, I'm curious who the commies were that McCarthy found; according to Navasky this week in The Nation, they were small fry.]