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Tilting at Windmills

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May 30, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

ME vs. "ME"....I haven't clicked over to Martin Devon's site in a while since he hasn't been blogging very regularly for the past year or so, but I surfed over there today and found this post from last month. He's using me as an example of the difference between the way people come across in person vs. how they come across on their blogs:

This ties in with the experience I have of bloggers in person versus their blog personas. For example...Every time I've had a conversation with Kevin Drum I've found him to be smart, reasoned and clever. All that is in evidence in his writing, and... yet... when I casually read what Kevin writes there's a sarcastic edge to it.

Now, when I go back and read his words in his own voice, I can actually hear a tinge of frustration, and hear his deep commitment to this country as a place of liberty. Is it really there? For that matter, is the sarcasm I heard the first time actually there? Who knows. But my knowing who Kevin is in real life allows me to listen to his writing beyond my own biases. But if you are a right winger who doesn't know Kevin, how does his work read to you?

But this can all be true, can't it? I am frustrated with politics in America, and that frustration does often get expressed as sarcasm. In fact, I learned long ago that I had to tone down my natural sarcasm in person — though I relapse all too frequently — and one of the nice things about the blog is that it allows me to vent some of that steam. And that's a win-win for all of us. The blog is more fun for you while I manage to keep my brain from exploding. Most of the time, anyway.

Kevin Drum 8:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (53)

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Comments

It's hardly common for individuals to have different affects in person and en masse. And it's perfectly admirable to be polite and diffident in person and combative in the world of cyberspace. Nobody has to come here, so those who volunteer to do so shouldn't be offended.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on May 30, 2007 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

In fact, I learned long ago that I had to tone down my natural sarcasm in person — though I relapse all too frequently

I understand exactly what you're saying, Kevin. I'm naturally sarcastic, to the point that I tell my friends, if I ever stop being sarcastic toward them, they have reason to worry. Yet, sometimes, I forget to whom I am speaking -- sometimes it's someone prominent -- and something slips out -- and I hope they can take the joke.

Posted by: pol on May 30, 2007 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK

I think of you and wonkish and maybe even slightly earnest, to tell the truth, Kevin. Not without snark, but certainly nothing so biting it's offputting.

Posted by: gus on May 30, 2007 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

That's funny, I tend to think of you as one of the least sarcastic bloggers I read. Then again, you're in the mix with some pretty sarcastic bastards.

Posted by: Walter Crockett on May 30, 2007 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

Are you sarcastic? Sometimes.

Is this a problem? Not yet. I haven't seen any viciousness, and it's hard to avoid a little sarcasm now and then when comparing, say, presidential utterances and facts. It hasn't gotten to the point of being a shtik.

Posted by: anandine on May 30, 2007 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

But enough about me. What do YOU think about me?

That's sarcasm.

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on May 30, 2007 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

But enough about me. What do YOU think about me?

That's sarcasm.

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on May 30, 2007 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

Greek sarkasmos, from sarkazein to tear flesh

I don't have much use for sarcasm, but I share your frustration about politics. Also, I am curious about your silence regarding "Assault on Reason". While it is true that we already know much of the information described, I still was thrilled listening to it - almost as much as I was when I read the final report "A Nation of Spectators" a few years back.

Posted by: kandis on May 30, 2007 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

Before I saw a picture of him, I imagined Kevin as the exasperated dad from Calvin and Hobbes.

Posted by: Old Hat on May 30, 2007 at 9:01 PM | PERMALINK

yeah, given that the contrast-class is other bloggers, I would say you come across as more earnest than sarcastic, careful not to shoot from the lip, inclined not to rush to judgement, etc.

but then again, it's a medium that encourages extremes of glib irresponsible sarcasm. So if the contrast-class were normal human beings, you might seem unbearable.

Posted by: kid bitzer on May 30, 2007 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

Ooooh... and redundant.

Bad me!

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on May 30, 2007 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

Well, this is my adopted country and I can barely stomach what happens here. I can only vaguely imagine the frustration Kevin feels. Although I feel a kind of kinship with Kevin being exactly a month younger than him, I feel that he often holds himself back much more than the "crass politics" and its practitioners who populate the stage deserve.

The other blogger I compare Kevin with often is Josh Marshall. While Josh does a great job, it comes across more as a professional crusade (well, it does), whereas with Kevin it appears to be more heartfelt and passionate. That doesn't sound like a compliment, though its meant to be.

Posted by: DesiPanchi on May 30, 2007 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

While Josh does a great job, it comes across more as a professional crusade (well, it does), whereas with Kevin it appears to be more heartfelt and passionate. That doesn't sound like a compliment, though its meant to be.

It is so weird, the different takes readers have. I see Josh as having a more heartfelt, passionate view of his work than Kevin does. It's not that I think Kevin lacks beliefs or conviction about many things, but I generally don't see the fire in his belly for effecting significant change I see with Josh and some others.

That's just not Kevin's style, and I think Kevin is more comfortable with the basic status quo than Josh is. But different bloggers play different roles, and that's as it should be.

Anyway, although I think he can be thin-skinned about criticism from Democrats and liberals, I don't find Kevin overly sarcastic. Or maybe I just love sarcasm.

Posted by: shortstop on May 30, 2007 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

This is the blog I cannot do without, but the sarcasm that has been surfacing of late appears to me to be the byproduct of Kevin's intense desire to not to seem shrill and to conform to his perceived persona of a radically moderate liberal.

I think the times demand shrill.

Posted by: gregor on May 30, 2007 at 9:37 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, your tone is fine. George Orwell's daily journalism had quite a bite, so you are in good company.

Posted by: troglodyte on May 30, 2007 at 9:47 PM | PERMALINK

People with their head up their ass always seem to be so sensitive about the tone of voice you use when you tell them they have their head up their ass.

Posted by: chance on May 30, 2007 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

You are the most exasperating blogger I follow, but your sarcasm has never bothered me - it's your gullibility that drives me nuts. Maybe its because I dislike Bush as much as you do I find your attacks on him are often unfair but not out of bounds.
If you want to write a self-criticsm post I'd like you address the party-line-swallowing aspect of your writing. Why, for example, do you have more faith in the UN than a six year old in Alabama has in Jesus, despite the last 40 years of empirical evidence to the contrary. When I read this blog I can see why the New Republic types in the 1940's had no trouble defending the peccadillos and flaws of Uncle Joe Stalin against the vicious atrocities of the USA.

Posted by: minion on May 30, 2007 at 9:51 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see you as being overly sarcastic nor do I find you off-putting at all. In fact, I find you welcoming. I think you run a responsible and informative blog; I especially like that any and all comers are allowed, without recourse to the censorship, registration and funny little alpha-numeric word games common at many blogs. Those other bloggers say it's about spam, whereas it's really about control. Neither you nor the Washington Monthly seems to find such control necessary.

I do share some folks' expressed frustration with your sometimes inexplicable evenhandedness. I know you do this from a sense of fair play and a desire to avoid being too partisan. But I would like to get more of a sense of where you stand on some issues. I'd also like to see you responding to more posters than you now do, but I understand that volume, etc., come into play there.

On the whole, an excellent blog. Timely topics and lively discussions. An essential stop for me.

Posted by: Nixon Did It on May 30, 2007 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK
Before I saw a picture of him, I imagined Kevin as the exasperated dad from Calvin and Hobbes. Posted by: Old Hat on May 30, 2007 at 9:01 PM

I don't understand, you mean he isn't?

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on May 30, 2007 at 10:21 PM | PERMALINK
"People with their head up their ass always seem to be so sensitive about the tone of voice you use when you tell them they have their head up their ass."

Is that sarcasm? Well, I can play, too: "George Bush is the worst president ever."

Hmm ... doesn't seem to be working.

Posted by: Martin Devon on May 30, 2007 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

I do share some folks' expressed frustration with your sometimes inexplicable evenhandedness. I know you do this from a sense of fair play and a desire to avoid being too partisan. But I would like to get more of a sense of where you stand on some issues.

There are lots of places one can find hyperpartisan echochambery. There aren't lots of places you can find fair play, though, and Kevin's blog is one of them. Kevin's writing sometimes has a sarcastic edge. But it strikes me as a fairly gentle sarcasm born out of genuine exasperation.

I'm not sure what "inexplicable evenhandedness" is supposed to mean. Kevin strikes me as a fairly predictable, mainstream, common sense, moderate liberal Democrat. It's not like he take an even number of "Republican" and "Democratic" positions. There's definitely an emphasis on the latter.

Just my .02.

Posted by: Jasper on May 30, 2007 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

Sarcastic? I don't think so.

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on May 30, 2007 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

Sarcasm can be an effective way to communicate. It can be a drag if it is overused. Just ask anyone who has worked with me.

Kevin, you are, at times, sarcastic, but never to excess or in a manner designed to demean.

I have met you in person, at the Farmers' Market, and you came across pretty much like you do in your writing. I have not found that to be typical of people who write; there is usually marked difference.

Posted by: James E. Powell on May 30, 2007 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

Does Martin Devon use a lot of mind-altering chemicals?

Posted by: Timmy Tweed on May 30, 2007 at 10:39 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin

I wish I could write with half your style and flair.

So do a lot of other people.

They also wish I could write with half your style and flair.

Seriously, you are not sarcastic. You are a voice of calm when compared to many of the other well known bloggers. That is why a lot of people read you every day. That and your band of loyal characters, er commentators.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 30, 2007 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK
The blog is more fun for you while I manage to keep my brain from exploding. Most of the time, anyway.

Manage to keep your brain from exploding? Then what is that gray matter I am picking off my screen after reading your posts.......

Oh, never mind. It's my brain.

Posted by: Rook on May 30, 2007 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

What Ron Byers says regarding Kevin's style and flair goes without saying. Of course.

Posted by: gregor on May 30, 2007 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, being an old style liberal living in a new age democratic party world, I find your occasional excursions into outrage and nastiness at the perversions of the American political and idealogical landscape validating. Not of me, of you.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08! on May 30, 2007 at 10:56 PM | PERMALINK

Frustration with politics is reduced once one begins to appreciate that it is kind of silly to expect people to agree with one's views, or to care about the same things, or to the same degree. It is that frustration that often leads to the most tiresome aspect of political blogs; the lazy assumption that people with whom one agrees with politically are possessed of wonderful personal qualities, while those with whom one disagrees with politically are possessed of horrible personal qualities. Kevin falls into this trap, but nearly all political blogs do, and Kevin certainly is not the most predictable in this regard. I regret that I once referred to Kevin, in a moment of, yes, frustration, as a Democratic Hugh Hewitt, since that was not fair. There are plenty of Democratic Hugh Hewitts out there, however.

Posted by: Will Allen on May 30, 2007 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK

Is there something bad about sarcasm?

Posted by: mattsteinglass on May 30, 2007 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I like reading this blog because I find your posts honest and intelligent.

One critical observation, which is not sarcasm but may come across that way. Some of your posts focus on areas where you and your readers can feel superior, but which are side issues.

For example, you have every right to skewer Lou Dobbs for dissembling. And, it's certainly fair to blast President Bush's attack on his opponents' fear-mongering, when he uses the same tactic himself. But, both are trivialities, compared to the actual impact of the immigration law.

Posted by: ex-liberal on May 30, 2007 at 11:36 PM | PERMALINK

I've always found Kevin's blogging "tone" a bit on the milquetoast side, actually. He's not nearly as sarcastic as, say, Duncan Black.

Posted by: Pocket Rocket on May 30, 2007 at 11:45 PM | PERMALINK

I am frustrated with politics in America, and that frustration does often get expressed as sarcasm.

Kevin, if you want to improve your outlook, spend less time on this web site. The whiny liberal complainers who comment here can make anyone sarcastic if you don't have a strong moral compass which, as a liberal, you don't of course.

Posted by: Al on May 30, 2007 at 11:45 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter commentariat: keep doing what you're doing, Kevin. "If you're getting criticized from both sides - too sarcastic, too moderate - you must be doing something right!"

Posted by: Tim P. on May 30, 2007 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter commentariat: keep on doing what you're doing, Kevin. "If you're getting criticized from both sides - too sarcastic, too moderate - you must be doing something right!"

Posted by: Tim P. on May 30, 2007 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry for the clutter, I thought it didn't go through the first time.

Posted by: Tim P. on May 30, 2007 at 11:53 PM | PERMALINK

So long as you're not shrill, Kevin, or even worse, uncivil, you can do no wrong.

Oh, I'm sorry, was that sarcasm? I guess I just can't help myself.

Posted by: craigie on May 31, 2007 at 12:06 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, if you want to improve your outlook, spend less time on this web site. The whiny liberal complainers who comment here can make anyone sarcastic if you don't have a strong moral compass which, as a liberal, you don't of course.

Thanks, Al. Had to laugh at that one. Being verbally assaulted by Al is like being stung by a stingerless bee.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08! on May 31, 2007 at 12:18 AM | PERMALINK

Al: "Kevin, if you want to improve your outlook, spend less time on this web site."

LOL! What does that say about how you spend your time, fat-ass?

Posted by: Kenji on May 31, 2007 at 12:25 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin:

Your Tone is Great!

While I occasionally take issue with some odd Mr. Middle tangents you get lost on, your sincerity and caring come through as genuine, as does your intelligence. (The only time you come through as uncaring usually turns out to be one of your fits of cluelessness.)

It would be unnatural to not be sarcastic and frustrated at times with the way things are going in the country right now! If you are even LESS sarcastic and frustrated in person I worry that you might not be alive.

Posted by: mirror on May 31, 2007 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Honestly? When I read your writing there's most often a wimpy edge to it in my mind.

You do good substantive stuff but by god, you never actually advocate for anything.

Posted by: MNPundit on May 31, 2007 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

What is sarcasm?

Posted by: parrot on May 31, 2007 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

Even after all of the moderates' dreams come true, those on the Left will still be frustrated. The exploding heads will be ours in 2016, while the Iraq withdrawal debate continues and moderates will be counseling us to vote Democratic or else another Repuclican will be elected president.

Posted by: Brojo on May 31, 2007 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen:

If you actually spend time with politicians, and don't completely close your mind, then you're likely to be cured of that particular affliction. When I was working for a Senator from Colorado back in the late 1980s, I discovered that there were plenty or politicians with whom I agreed, but were not very nice human beings. Likewise, there were those whose politics I found abhorrent (like Jesse Helms), who I found to be very decent human beings.

I'm pretty sure that I've been able to separate "I agree with him/her" from "I think he/she is a great person" most of the time, since then... but I suspect that Hugh Hewitt is in fact not a very nice person.


Frustration with politics is reduced once one begins to appreciate that it is kind of silly to expect people to agree with one's views, or to care about the same things, or to the same degree. It is that frustration that often leads to the most tiresome aspect of political blogs; the lazy assumption that people with whom one agrees with politically are possessed of wonderful personal qualities, while those with whom one disagrees with politically are possessed of horrible personal qualities. Kevin falls into this trap, but nearly all political blogs do, and Kevin certainly is not the most predictable in this regard. I regret that I once referred to Kevin, in a moment of, yes, frustration, as a Democratic Hugh Hewitt, since that was not fair. There are plenty of Democratic Hugh Hewitts out there, however.

Posted by: Will Allen on May 30, 2007 at 11:08 PM |

Posted by: keith on May 31, 2007 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

"If you're getting criticized from both sides - too sarcastic, too moderate - you must be doing something right!"

Oh, my. Thus does the mainstream media excuse itself daily for its abdication of all journalistic responsibility. Let's not invite bloggers to join that party.

The whiny liberal complainers who comment here can make anyone sarcastic if you don't have a strong moral compass which, as a liberal, you don't of course.

I know Al makes some of y'all mad, but comments like this simply make me love him.

So long as you're not shrill, Kevin, or even worse, uncivil, you can do no wrong. Oh, I'm sorry, was that sarcasm? I guess I just can't help myself.

But monsieur le craigie will always be my first Political Animal love.

Posted by: shortstop on May 31, 2007 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

Keep up the sarcasm, Kevin. It's a big part of your appeal (at least to me.)

Posted by: Brian on May 31, 2007 at 7:50 PM | PERMALINK

Who was the blogger who (back in the Calpundit days) always referred to Kevin Drum as "The Mild One"?

Though my favourite reference to Kevin's famed moderation was the commenter who said "[Kevin] knows that one day Tom Friedman is going to drive that Lexus into that Olive Tree" and there'll be an opening for house liberal at the NYT.

Posted by: MikeN on May 31, 2007 at 8:06 PM | PERMALINK

> But this can all be true, can't it? I am
> frustrated with politics in America, and that
> frustration does often get expressed as
> sarcasm.

You can explain sarcasm emotionally, but logically it has everything you need to argue against most cynical political abuse quickly, decisively... and honestly.

Sarcasm allows an argument to be short. It needs an common morality, otherwise the audience doesn`t know its sarcasm. But, most importantly, once recognized as sarcasm a smart audience should understand that that facts may be a lot more nuanced, but that the moral core of the joke/argument remains. In fact, it should be the core of the debate, instead of the traditional burying facts with more facts twisted to the point where the facts and how hard they are shouted are the emotions.

--- example ---
For the last decade or so, a group of right-wing "sound science" advocates has been implying that the agricultural ban on DDT is really a blanket ban and that millions of poor Africans have died as a result. Why? [snip] Short answer: the tobacco industry. Surprise!

The alternative to sarcasm: Lists comparing cynical machinations of a big industry lobbies compared on their effects on health (world health!) culminating in an argument that the tobacco lobby relatively speaking, sucks.

The result: the readers learns that compared to the principles of transparent democracy the tobacco lobby sucks. All of that is pretty much conveyed in a single word. Not a single fact was twisted in the making of this argument.

Patrick Fitzgerald provides a summary of Valerie Plame Wilson's status with the CIA's [snip] Guess what? She was covert.

Rather than count the many lines apologists spend muddying up the waters over this fact and than estimating the effect these many newspaper pages could have had say debating the options for limiting the conflict in Sudan 5 words do the trick. Again the genuinely interesting debate of what Plame was up (a cia spy!) to wasnt harmed, but the key and intentionally buried question of whether outing agent right or wrong (and compatible with a "strong/macho/bauer against terror" attitude) gets another chance after wasting no more than 5 words.

Posted by: asdf on May 31, 2007 at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK

in the last year,

you have improved greatly in your directness and your articulation of dissapointment in the way the political system is working these days.

you don't owe any apologies to anyone.

sarcasm is a great tool: ridicule even greater. use them both.

just avoid the cursed on-the-one-hand-on-the- other-hand commentary.

Posted by: orionATL on May 31, 2007 at 11:18 PM | PERMALINK

Is sarcasm defined by the author's conscious intent or by the response of the reader? You are brilliant at framing issues in such a way that your commentators will rush in to beat you and each other to a pulp, but that's not sarcasm.

Posted by: PTate in FR on June 1, 2007 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin is so un-sarcastic, he and Josh Marshall are the places to send independants or Gopers you'd like to convert.

Posted by: American Citizen on June 1, 2007 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, Kevin, you're perfect just the way you are!

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