Scene In Passing: Nitwiticisms — pols’ theater of the absurd

Politics, often called the art of the possible, actually borders on a national pseudo-science spawning boredom, ugliness and logjams.

The problem, with politics and government so intermingled, is the art gets ugly and boring during political races and it doesn’t stop into the politics of the governing period.

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” said Sen. Barry Goldwater when he challenged President Lyndon Johnson for the White House in 1964. Goldwater added: “And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

The verbiage didn’t help him and 51 years later seems pretty tame in light of the flotsam and jetsam that has since bedeviled us in national races. Still, as a reference point it provides insight.

Recall, if you can, or be aware if you weren’t around in those bygone days, that LBJ’s campaign returned fire with TV ads playing on fears of bellicosity bringing a nuclear holocaust. Go for the heart, bypass the brain. It was Goldwater’s words versus LBJ’s pictures. Never mind who would have been the better president; the road not taken is always a cul de sac.

Ever since, if possible I’ve spent at least 80 percent of my time and attention on what politicos do, 20 percent or less on what they say or portray for us in their lust for office, low or high.

Undoubtedly a wordsmith crafted Goldwater’s infamous 1964 speech, pairing liberty (good stuff) with extremism (strong-sounding if strident stuff) and justice (again, good stuff) with moderation (implying moderation ain’t so good when you’re after something good like justice). It was nothing but a rhetorical flourish.

What it meant was taking extreme measures (the means) to reach a good result like liberty (the end) justifies those means, which is patently false and an absurd minefield fraught with potential troubles at every turn. What it also meant is using moderation as a means to pursue justice as an end isn’t virtuous because — wait for it — extremism once again is the way to go. Some call this circular logic; I call it BS bereft of logic.

On the other side of the coin, depictions of a nuclear mushroom cloud with a child holding a flower in the foreground may show the power of illusion over any illusory pseudo-logic via rhetorical flourish, but where was the logic in LBJ’s counter-attack giving Goldwater the face of death? Only in one-upping Goldwater. If you think about it, LBJ by TV pictures took Goldwater’s extremism comment to the unfathomable extreme.

The above is why an article in GOVERNING Magazine, published by Congressional Quarterly this month, was of value. It named Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and five other governors as pragmatists and moderates.

“From the get-go, Sandoval...has taken a moderate approach to governing this swing state,” the article by Louis Jacobson asserted. An example? “(H)e opposed a decision by Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt — a fellow Republican — to join other states in suing to overturn (President) Obama’s executive actions on immigration.”

The national bloodsport of politics by nitwiticism also is why covering local politicians and government is a joy by comparison. Emotions can intervene here, too, but local elected officials, chosen on a non-partisan basis, try to govern with some sensible stewardship. They sometimes even achieve consensus-built accomplishments rather than constantly indulging in caustic caterwauling.

It’s possible.

John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at


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