Tuesday, February 14, 2023
#45 / Having It Both Ways
You may recognize the guy on the left. That's Mario Cuomo, former Governor of New York. But who is that fellow on the right, staring Cuomo down? That is Peter Quinn, and the picture was taken in Notre Dame, Indiana, in 1984, according to The Wall Street Journal, which recently ran a review of Quinn's latest book, Cross Bronx: A Writing Life.
I know something about Cuomo, but I had never heard of Quinn - not until I read that recent review in The Journal. The Wall Street Journal, incidentally, is not too complimentary about Quinn, basically accusing Quinn of trying to "have it both ways."
Quinn, says The Journal, is unabashedly devoted to the New Deal ethos, believing that "every bad thing comes from the free market, and every good thing comes from the government." Despite this, The Journal reports, Quinn went from being a speechwriter for the very liberal Cuomo to becoming the "chief speechwriter for the executives at Time Inc." While Quinn apparently says, in his latest book, that "he never got comfortable in the business world," Quinn nonetheless worked for Time for twenty-five years and retired with a fat pension based on a more than generous "private-sector salary." This is why The Journal claims that Quinn tried to "have it both ways."
It is hard for me to evaluate Quinn's personal conduct, since I don't, automatically, assume that The Wall Street Journal is always the best and most accurate interpreter of our national political life. I do think, though, that many of us - probably most of us - tend to be partial to opportunities that permit us to "have it both ways."
And maybe that's not so bad!
A lot of good things did come from the New Deal, but I am quite prepared to discount the idea that "every good thing comes from the government." That is not really an accurate statement, it seems to me. Consider, for instance, the various wars in which our nation has engaged, including the War in Vietnam, which was not a high point in our nation's history - at least not the way I see it.
According to The Journal, Quinn's retrospective indulges in unfair invective. I don't really know, but let's say that is correct. The key, to me, is not how best to delegitimize those with different political views, but how best to achieve the political views that you believe are the right ones. In fact, making "concessions" is a very good way to do that, and I'd like to think that those who share my (pretty progressive) political views should be able to do exactly that! Maybe that is what Quinn has done. Like I say, I really don't know.
Recognizing some merit in the arguments with which you may ultimately disagree is not, really, trying to "have it both ways." Instead, it is a way to admit the problematic nature of any of our judgments. That way of talking about "the truth" is sometimes pretty effective, in fact, just in terms of being a good way to argue your point. You can, in fact, "concede to win." Sometimes, in fact, that's the best way!