Thursday, November 09, 2006

On Enemies and Opponents...

I don't know much about Tony Snow but I've linked to Wikipedia if you want to find out more.

That's not my point.

This is:

Snow was recently quoted (CNN) as saying:

"...We do have an opportunity to return to a prior period where you still had big, vigorous disagreements, but at the end of the day you could still acknowledge that the people with whom you're disagreeing are respectable, likable, good people."

Kate McMillan points to an article by Victor Davis where Davis notes some of Donald Rumsfeld's accomplishments. Check the Rumsfeld's history here or here. Lord knows that the guy has made mistakes, big freaking mistakes, on the world stage no less. But I've gotta hand it to a guy with enough modesty to say this: "Learn to say 'I don't know. If used when appropriate, it will be often."

Anyways, I went looking for Rumsfeld quotes. I found them here ( and here (Slate) and, well, all over the place once I went looking.

Sorry--but warts and all, I like the guy. I might not want him as Secretary of Defence, but I'd be tickled to have him over for coffee.

A few Rumsfeldisms...

"I don't know what I said, but I know what I think, and, well, I assume it's what I said."

"There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."

"Everyone is so eager to get the story, before in fact the story's there, that the world is being fed things that haven't happened."


Read what Billy Beck has to say on Rumsfeld. Billy is spot on about this (and why Bush Jr's actions are more than callous), and I'll add that I agree that the situations Rumsfeld had to deal with were skewed enough by the time he took the reins that shortcomings are understandable and certainly not entirely Rumsfeld's fault. And I'll agree that Rumsfeld handled the episode of his dismissal with grace.


Enough about Rumsfeld and back to my overall point, which is also Snow's point, I think:

People are not their caricatures. Very few people are as fully evil as painted by their histrionic enemies, nor are they often as good as described by their most fervent admirers. Instead, most folks are some mix of wise and foolish, knowledgeable and ignorant, caring and thoughtless, and--consequently--correct and wrong.

Don't misunderstand me. One of the most valuable points ever made by Ayn Rand (The Cult of Moral Grayness/1964)was that very few things--and certainly not moral proinciples--are gray in this life, but that it is most important when things look gray to carefully work to discover exactly what is white and what is black. Put another way, Rand noted that "there may be "gray" men, but there can be no "gray" moral principles" which is connected (but probably not intentionally) to the Alcoholics Anonymous sophism: "Principles before personalities."

An example: As closely as I remember the details, there was a debate I saw between John Ridpath and Leonard Piekoff (Capitalist/Objectivists) on one side and Jerry Kaplan and Jill Vickers (both ideological socialists). At one point an audience member asked Ridpath a question in terms that clearly identified Caplan and Vickers as Nazis or murderers or some exaggeration of that sort. Ridpath took the time to explain, as much as he disagreed with his opponents, that he would be very hesitant to state anything like that without strong, clear and specific evidence. Ridpath, in other words, kept the debate to principles not personalities.

I try to do the same; I try not to see those I disagree with as enemies. Sometimes they are merely opponents. Enemies and opponents are not the same thing. I've put something similar this way, for years: No one was ever insulted into changing their mind. But people have had their minds changed.

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