American Politics and the Structure of Betrayals
Published on: April 11, 2012
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  • Fred

    Perhaps Fehrnstrom should have used the word ‘palimpsest’ to make things easier for scholars? But then, of course, few of the journalists he was talking to would have understood him.

    I do wonder why you felt it necessary to make that little parenthesis. Did you wish to convey that you are too intelligent and serious a person to have any truck with children’s toys? It certainly reads as a form of condescension out of place in an article about religion and morality.

  • John Barker

    Perhaps we middling folk should get off the couch and get busy taking back the country. Publications like AI appeal to those who want to read serious thinking about events, and eschew partisan cheer leading. Commenting on blog posts may be the beginning of intelligent activism. I am confident that these pages are read by the powerful or at least by their associates.

  • Anthony

    If only they (PUBPOLS) were willing to risk the salvation of their souls for the good of the country, then American politics and structure of betrayal would be at least more tolerable – perhaps both Machiavelli and Neibuhr ought to be re-read.

  • Dave

    My goodness, such a revelation! Politicians “adjust” their message to suit the time and their audience.

  • John Mainhart

    Apparently the last concern of our leaders is to tell the truth. Sad

  • Cunctator

    Good article — and very thought provoking. Thank you.

    I agree that betrayal is inherent in any liberal democratic political system. Yoiu just cannot please all the people all the time — but you have to try to do so. But if we acknowledge that there is an element of morally reprehensible conduct built into the system, there is a readily available control mechanism. The best remedy for deceitful political leaders is an electorate that is informed about the issues and willing to engage those leaders on the issues (even if engagement is limited for most to casting a vote).

  • thibaud

    It’s not “betrayal” – that’s too grand a term for this phenom – but hypocrisy, a lesser vice. Also a necessary one for any advanced society.

    As fundamental vices go, hypocrisy’s a pretty good one to have: certainly better than the grand and small larceny that characterizes the leadership of so many other nations.

    The only reason that the term “betrayal” even comes up is because of the ridiculous self-importance that each party’s zealots attach to their particular hobbyhorses.

  • Jim.

    Until I see Walter Russel Mead step forward with a full-throated endorsement of Mitt Romney for president, I will not believe that Centrism is anything other than a way for people who imagine themselves to be in the “middle” of our political spectrum to imagine themselves to be superior to those of us who are not afraid to advocate a not-quite-fashionable political stance.

  • Robert

    Oh Sir: I can understand why you may never have experienced the Etch a sketch. I don’t think your parenthetical statement was condescending at all. I feared at first you’d been deprived as a child but after a bit of research I understand you had much more important matters to attend to when these toys were popular. I have provided a link, had I the money I may have sent you one. I only hope that, before the last night falls, some close friend or admirer of yours will gift you with one. 🙂
    Thanks for your article!

  • I don’t think Mr Berger is being condescending about the Etch-a-Sketch. I think he just doesn’t know what one is. They are still available on Amazon and there are even Etch-a-Sketch apps for the iPhone. Your punishment Peter, should you choose to accept it, it to spend $7.75 on the “Pocket Etch-a-Sketch”.

    I would comment that the two incidents are not well matched. One is an embarrassing sin of commission by the candidate himself, the other is an overly candid admission by a staff member, not really rising to the level of embarrassment. I have to agree with Thibaud that both are commonplace political hypocrisies. Still, I found the article thought provoking and worthwhile.

  • Brendan Doran

    @ WRM,

    Yes you do know what an etch o’ sketch is if you grew up in America at all. Perhaps you simply forgot. Do google.

  • Brendan Doran

    The problem is both parties and the Civil Service itself are hopelessly corrupt.

  • CBDenver

    This article is so wrong-headed it is hard to say where to begin in rebutting it. How about this statement for starters “I don’t know what either man truly believes”. Well then, that really is a problem, isn’t it? A politician doesn’t really have to conceal his true beliefs in order to appeal to the electorate — unless his true beliefs are so far outside the mainstream that it renders him unelectable.

    Those dreaded party activists reprenting the “base” are not as rigid as Berger seems to believe. The majority of the base realize that they will not agree 100% with a candidate on specific positions; they are just looking for a candidate who has a similar governing philosophy. People can deal with differences of opinion on specific policy decision. There is no reason for a politician to conceal his basic beliefs. So the idea that “Betrayal is built into the very structure of the political reality” is nonsense.

    I think the most disturbing part about Berger’s views are in the last paragraph where he talks about “the lessons taught by Neibuhr”. The idea that politicians must “decide which betrayals are an acceptable price to pay for whatever good purposes they want to achieve” is nonsense. People aren’t babies who don’t understand that life involves hard choices. Telling the electorate those truths is not electoral suicide as Berger seems to believe. It appears to me that Berger believes that people can’t really govern themselves, they can’t understand the complexities of life, and thus the “philosopher king” politicians must do whatever they can to get elected so they can do they, in their Olympian widsom, deem best. I call BS on this.

  • FeFe

    That “city” of which Machiavelli spoke was mostly of common heritage or culture and like minded in their notions of fairness, but now our masterminds are dealing with Star Fleet Command boardrooms and share holders. Hardly a moral Enterprise.

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