I’m Sure I’m Right, and You’re an Idiot

Reading a New Yorker story (Dec. 10) on New York Governor Eliot Spitzer reminds me that the political right has no patent on sanctimonious certitude. And certitude and imperiousness don’t draw people to you or your point of view.

It’s a tough balance to strike, being a passionate believer and pushing for what you think is right without pushing away people who don’t agree with every word you say — we talk about that on this blog a lot. Sounds like Spitzer hasn’t found that balance. Although he won 69% of the vote when elected a year ago, a recent poll showed only 25% of New Yorkers would vote for him today. And he’s at loggerheads with the New York legislature.

As a communicator, he apparently uses a jackhammer. Spitzer had road tested the idea of giving illegal immigrants drivers licenses during his campaign and hadn’t heard much resistance. When, as governor, Spitzer proposed it as policy, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to the New Yorker, “raised questions about the plan, citing worries that it would diminish a license’s value. In a characteristic display of excessive rhetorical aggression, Spitzer responded, ‘He is wrong at every level — dead wrong, factually wrong, legally wrong, morally wrong, ethically wrong.'”

OK, then, Eliot, you just go off to your corner of the playground, I’m done playing with you.

Why not say, “I’m happy to listen to the mayor’s concerns. Here’s why I think this is good policy for all of us…”

Spitzer is a true Progressive, fighting the concentration of selfish power on behalf of the individual. I hate to see him lose his effectiveness because he’s so damned sure of himself and treats others like lower beings.

John Edwards is becoming increasingly strong and angry in his challenge of excessive corporate power, but I don’t hear from him the tone of “I know everything and if you don’t agree with me you’re an idiot and an ethical leper.” Edwards is sure of himself, but not closed. “Without vigilance and humility, righteousness can become self-righteousness,” Spitzer said of his own communication style in August. He’s still got a lot to learn.

We’ve had too many presidents who aren’t open to dissent or ideas other than theirs — LBJ on Vietnam, George W on everything. I’m listening for leaders who have strong convictions but can also listen and learn.

–Bruce Benidt

4 thoughts on “I’m Sure I’m Right, and You’re an Idiot

  1. Dennis Lang says:

    Please, nice commentary but hopelessly naive isn’t it? You tell us. What politician isn’t in someone’s pocket? Can anyone really, truthfully expect any, however remote paridigm shift in the way politics operate? The best intentioned are destined to be lost in a beaurocratic morass and tied to where the money is.

  2. Sometimes alienating certain groups can be a strategy in itself. Depends on the intent, I think. But yes, unintentional alienation has definite drawbacks.

  3. Sanctimonious certitude (by the way, wonderful phrase) extends far beyond politics in our increasingly combative society.

    A local story here in Colorado has received national attention because a Pennsylvania skier is suing an 8-year old boy for bumping into him on the slopes. What a jerk, I thought, and I’m sure so did many others. But at least a few more decided that the person suing the boy must be wrong – dead wrong. Here’s a couple of paragraphs from an article in the Rocky Mountain News on Christmas Day:

    “David Pfahler and his wife, Marlene Ambrogio, have had to leave their Allentown home for the holidays because people who got angry after reading the story tied up the family’s phone lines using “robocalling” technology, or repeated, automated calls, attorney Jim Chalat said.

    Others have called Reader’s Digest, where Pfahler works, and demanded he be fired.

    “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Chalat, whose Denver law firm also has received angry e-mails and calls.”

    I guess the guy bringing the suit must be everything from dead wrong to morally wrong. Don’t we have courts to decide these sorts of things?

    Here’s the link to the newspaper article –
    http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2007/dec/25/kid-suit-sets-off-storm/

    And, here’s the link to the Spitzer story in the New Yorker story – come on, you guys, your blogging software has a little “thingy” that allows you to cut and paste these impossibly long links and highlight the words “New Yorker Story.”
    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/12/10/071210fa_fact_paumgarten

  4. Dennis Lang says:

    Mr. Benidt–This stiff is suing an eight-year old–regardless of the law, whatever happened to a sense of conscience and moral responsibility? The populace, slightly over-the-top, but justifiably indignant.

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