As An Interesting Follow-Up: Personification And Systems-Thinking

I really encourage you to check out Matt Taibbi’s pwn-tastic takedown of Obama’s economic team (Obama’s Big Sellout).

I’d be remiss however if I failed to mention the severe criticism he’s taking from Tim Fernholz (The Errors of Matt Taibbi) and Andrew Leonard (Matt Taibbi Goes Obama Scalp-Hunting).  Their main issue is that there are some pretty glaring factual fuck-ups and misrepresentations that mar an otherwise representative progressive piece.  Here’s Fernholz:

Is it disconcerting that employees of the financial industry make a ton of money? Yes. Is it the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street problematic? Yes. Does the Administration take it too easy on the banks? Absolutely. Are White House advisers too centrist for progressive tastes? Sure. But when you try and tell that story with a lot of lies and innuendo, and misunderstand the basic policies that these people are producing, you don’t hurt them. Now anyone who criticizes the Administration will just be lumped in with Taibbi’s meandering conspiracy. (Sidenote, I thought it was Goldman Sachs we all had to be worried about?) The problems Taibbi tries to describe aren’t some kind of ridiculous cabal. They come from group-think and structural influences and as a result of a complex interplay of interests and institutions; the policies they produce aren’t either good or evil, they’re in need of analysis to determine which help regular people, which hurt them and how to change the latter into the former. (Emphasis added by me)

In defense, we have Digby (Stop Making Sense), Felix Salmon (Fernholz vs. Taibbi), and Taibbi himself (On Obama’s Sellout).  Salmon and Taibbi proceed to fact-check Fernholz’ fact-check, and end up arguing that what is claimed as misrepresentation is largely a difference of opinion, not of fact.  Digby makes the point that while Taibbi is a “flamethrower and polemicist”, he:

has a way of making people understand complicated issues, which used to be something to which journalism aspired… he gets to the heart of things in a way that most journalists do not… It’s why a good number of them turn to Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. What those charlatans say may not be true, but at least it emotionally “makes sense.” (Emphasis again added by me, I thought it tied in to the last post well)

The above gets to what I think is most interesting- where do we draw the line between simplistic models that are misrepresentative and destructive versus ones that are illustrative and legitimately provocative?  How much do we accomodate what ‘makes sense’ to what is true?  I would argue that in many ways the Obama model (however you define it) remains the best way of motivating people to act.  In an era that demands action, that’s extremely valuable.  But what happens when people feel that what they were sold- what emotionally makes sense- does not get backed up by what is delivered- what is ‘true’ in the ramifications of the policy?

I return to Fernholz’ line bolded above.  Is the personified model of the cabal a useful identification people can relate to that stands in for a complex recognition of system-wide, structural failure at play?  Granted, such a simple model suggests a too-simple solution- get rid of the Rubinites.  But I think it provides something that packs an emotional punch that our reasoning fails to provide, while being decently representative of the problem- a point Taibbi makes in his defense I linked to above.  Which is also why ‘Change’ is more compelling than a policy laundry list to those who have felt unaddressed by our political discourse.  In an era that demands action, we can’t discount emotional punch and accessibility.

The question that crystallizes the moment for me is how do we deliver ‘Change’ ™ we can believe in?



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Filed under Calling Out Corporate Bull, Digby, Economic Crisis, Ideological Transparency, Matt Taibbi, President Barack Hussein Obama, Radical Critique, The Media

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