Conservatives See Liberalism Itself As The Scandal

The recent outbreak of scandalmania shows how differently liberals and conservatives see the world: liberals in terms of facts, conservatives in terms of meaning.

I have a new op-ed up at Al Jazeera English, "'Scandal' and the politics of definition", which looks at the recent explosion of scandalmania in terms of how differently liberals and conservatives define scandal, and in turn use scandal to define politics more broadly. It begins like this:

The most basic political act of all is the act of definition, starting with the very definition of what counts as political.

Modern second-wave feminism illustrates this point most forcefully. Before its appearance, millions of women experienced personal frustrations - something you take a pill for, maybe. "No," second-wave feminism said, "what you're feeling is political subjugation" - something you take political action for.

These are the same feelings, but triply reframed by identifying them as political: first, as universally shared, not individual; second as socially constructed - and hence contingent - not natural and necessary; and third, as the results of changeable power relationships, not immutable biology. All this was summed up in the phrase: "The personal is political." This reframed everything, redefined everything.

Most acts of political definition are not quite so earth-shaking, but they are still profoundly powerful, as is richly illustrated by the phenomenon of scandal narratives, made manifest in the recent explosion of "scandalmania" here in the US. The disturbing fact that two of the scandals - Benghazi and the IRS - don't seem to have any real substance to them, at least as the White House scandals they are supposed to be, underscores our need to understand scandal narratives as things in themselves, quite apart from the empirical facts they may or may not be connected to.

You can read the whole column here, and by all means comment on it below. I'll be posting more about scandalmania in the next few days, so consider this just a jumping-off point.

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