Sabl’s Law of U.S. Political Rhetoric

“No argument can succeed in American politics if it contains a subjunctive.” Consider the wiretap debate.

“No argument can succeed in American politics if it contains a subjunctive.”

This is not a probabilistic but an infallibly true proposition. It’s the greatest advance in social science since Gresham’s Law, and probably an easy corollary thereof.

You heard it here first: please spell my name right.

P.S.: I thought of this when reflecting on the wiretap debate. The Administration never says the people it’s spying on might be terrorists, or that it would be a good idea to tap their phones if they were terrorists. They ARE terrorists, the whole policy is a program for keeping track of terrorists, and anyone who opposes it is easy on terrorists. Conversely, imagine Democrats trying to say that the power “might” be abused: “You’re accusing the President of dirty tricks! Where’s the proof, you paranoid Deaniac?”

UPDATE: reader Ed Whitney of Denver writes:

Shouldn’t that be “No argument can succeed in American politics if it contain a subjunctive”?

An we go down that road, well, …

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.