Whenever public figures speak, a lot of people respond with snark. They try to cast ridicule or contempt on such figures, and to demonstrate that they are mere cartoons or even demons.
Political snark comes in just a few basic flavors that can be wheeled out on almost every occasion. For readers of political snark and for those seeking to produce it, here is a consumerís guide.
Hypocrisy. Senator Smith objects that President Barack Obama has taken an unduly expansive view of presidential power. You might ask: Did Senator Smith say the same thing about President George W. Bush? If not, sheís a hypocrite, and she needs to be exposed.
Hereís a variation on the same theme: Senator Jones believes in the importance of public education and strongly opposes voucher systems, but he sends his own children to private schools. Isnít he a hypocrite?
But it isnít hypocritical to believe in the importance of the public school system while also sending your kids to private school. In any case, his views deserve to be evaluated on their merits.
Conflict of interest. Mary Johnson, head of a large corporation, argues against campaign-finance regulation, contending that it violates the right to free speech. You might object: Would Johnson say the same thing if she didnít have a ton of money to spend on campaigns?
Hidden agenda. Representative Smith argues in favor of restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions. The restrictions would impose big costs on the coal industry. You might object: Smith has a hidden agenda; he wants to kill the coal industry.
Absurdity. Representative Taylor argues against recent food-safety regulations, contending that they will cause serious economic damage, especially to farmers. You might object: Taylor doesnít believe in regulation at all. He would have opposed the Clean Air Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, too.
Cowardice. Senator Burns supports a fiscal deal that allows funding for programs to which he recently expressed strong opposition. You might object: Burns has no guts; he is pandering to special interests.
But Burns probably believes the deal is the best he can get. In American politics, most compromises reflect a form of principled pragmatism. Burns might be wrong, but that doesnít mean heís gutless.
Cass Sunstein is Robert Walmsley University professor at Harvard Law School