You're probably heard this old joke about prison humor, where the inmates have told their jokes so many times they give each of them a number:
A man is sent to prison for the first time. At night, the lights in the cell block are turned off, and his cellmate goes over to the bars and yells, "Number twelve!" The whole cell block breaks out laughing. A few minutes later, somebody else in the cell block yells, "Number four!" Again, the whole cell bloock breaks out laughing.
The new guy asks his cellmate what's going on. "Well," says the older prisoner, "we've all been in this here prison for so long, we all know the same jokes. So we just yell out the number instead of saying the whole joke."
So the new guy walks up to the bars and yells, "Number six!" There was dead silence in the cell block. He asks the older prisoner, "What's wrong? Why didn't I get any laughs?"
"Well," said the older man, "sometimes it's not the joke, but how you tell it."
I thought of it when I saw this Democratic Strategist memo about party infighting:
On the central issue of Obama’s performance, the vast majority of these analyses will fall into one of the following six categories:
1. Obama is basically doing as well as is realistically possible in the circumstances – his unpopularity is an inevitable side-effect of his trying to pass controversial legislation in an adverse economic environment.
2. Obama has made substantial mistakes on various issues, but overall he still deserves support.
3. Obama adopted too radical an agenda. He should have embraced more moderate, centrist positions than those he chose.
4. Obama allowed himself to be caricatured as more radical than he and his programs actually are. He needs to substantially revise his rhetoric and behavior.
5. Obama was too cautious and timid in embracing a coherent progressive program. He needed to take a significantly more forceful and indeed radical stance in a number of different areas, the economy in particular.
6. Obama allowed himself to be dragged down into Washington’s permanent culture of corruption, a culture that embraces not only the White House but all of Congress and the political system. Democrats cannot achieve meaningful change without fundamentally reforming the entire system.
Whatever their choice among the six views above, analysts will also argue that five other specific issues also profoundly affected the election outcome (1) “structural” factors like the normal, more conservative demographic slant of off-year election voters and the unusual number of Democrats who were running for re-election from basically Republican districts (2) the bad economy (3) the exceptional “inside” view voters had of the “sausage making” for the health Care bill (4) the huge and unprecedented partisan role of Fox and the right-wing media and (5) the massive surge of secret campaign contributions.
Yet, despite the inevitable outpouring of articles and commentaries on all these subjects, few Democrats will really expect any serious shifts in thinking to occur. Realistically, there are always enough ambiguities in election results to provide some support for any of the major points of view within the Democratic coalition and, as a result, the major intra-Democratic strategic perspectives have all been stable and enduring features of the Democratic Party’s ideological landscape for the last half-century. The truth is that all Democrats know perfectly well that in the next three or four months none of the six major viewpoints noted above is going to suddenly and magically disappear as a result of any new data or analysis that emerges from the intra-Democratic debate about this election.
I actually think the handy numbering system could save a lot of time. Instead of the tedious, repetitive op-eds we've been reading for 30 years, it could be a quick round of "Listen you hippies, 3." "5, you corporate shill!"
But the conclusion of the memo is, basically, since we all have heard these arguments a million times and nobody is going to change anybody's mind, why have them at all? The answer, of course, is the same as the reason for the inmates shouting out the numbers: You're all trapped together and nobody has anything new to say, so what else are you gonna do?