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Hullabaloo


Sunday, September 30, 2007

 
The Difference

by tristero

UPDATED: SEE BELOW

Much has been, and will be, said about the far-right group of zillionaires operating under the paranoid name of "Freedom Watch." Of course, they're a propaganda outlet of the White House, and they're crazy as bedbugs. But I would like to draw attention in the Times article to one of my ongoing concerns: the problem of modern rhetoric.

Please understand: I love Eli. I'm pointing this out simply to make it clear how, even today, rightwing nuts with reputations of respectability deploy the most vacuous of cliches coupled Neanderthalian vitriol and still retain a sense of "seriousness." Here's some of what the crazies say in the article:
“Ideologically, we are inspired by much of Ronald Reagan’s thinking — peace through strength, protect and defend America, and prosperity through free enterprise,” Mr. [Ari] Fleischer said...

“A bunch of us activists kept watching MoveOn and its attacks on the war, and it just got to be obnoxious,” said Mr. [Mel] Sembler, a friend of Vice President Dick Cheney. “We decided we needed to do something about this, because the conservative side was not responding.”
The emptiness of Fleischer's comment is self-evident (although, at a different level, the association of Reagan with all these "goodies" is more subtle than you might think). But Sembler's are rather interesting.

Notice the colloquial, ungrammatical "A bunch of us activists." You'd think he was some kind of stringy-haired student with a denim jacket full of "Peace Now" buttons. In fact, as the Times puts it, he's "a shopping center magnate based in St. Petersburg, Fla., who served as the ambassador to Italy and Australia."

This far removed from the fake erudition of an old-style conservative like William F. Buckley who could demand, in perfect Miss Grundy grammar, that those diagnosed with HIV should have their "buttocks" - his word- tattooed. But don't kid yourself: The use of "us activists" is quite deliberate, setting up the equally grammatically crude putdown "it just got to be obnoxious." Sembler may actually talk like a stoner in real life - who knows or cares? - but clearly he's doing so on purpose here. Remember: this is coming from an ambassador, not some Motley Crue fan slurping on a bong.

Here is what Eli said in response:
“This is the fourth or the fifth group that intends to be the right-wing MoveOn,” Mr. Pariser said, naming other fledgling groups like TheVanguard.org and Grassfire.org. “So far, it’s not clear that this group is anything other than a big neoconservative slush fund. They are a White House front group with a few consultants who are trying to make a very unpopular position on the war appear more palpable [sic]...”

I think people see that Freedom’s Watch is a few billionaires, and not a large, mainstream constituency,” [Pariser] said.
This is all perfectly fine, but it's not great, and that is my point.

Wingers got the following emotionally-laden phrases and words in their comments; "Inspired; Ronald Reagan; thinking; peace; strength; protect; defend; America; prosperity; enterprise; obnoxious; do something about this." (To their audience, Reagan is a positive.) Eli got in "right-wing MoveOn; big neoconservative slush fund; White House front group; few consultants; unpopular position; a few billionaires."

We can quibble about this, adding or subtracting a few words here and there but the difference is quite clear. The wingers' language is simple and direct, filled with monosyllabic feelgoods, and a nasty one-word putdown. The response was hedged ("So far"), polysyllabic, included words with complex structure and meaning ("palpable," but "palatable" is meant), and unjustifiably restrained. Certainly both Fleischer and Sembler can easily be characterized as "obnoxious," and that's the least of it.

So yes, Eli made his point (and of course, he's right: I'm talking only about the use of rhetoric here) but it was nowhere near as memorable as "us activists" and "obnoxious." Nor did it have the levels of association embedded in Fleischer's words. Again, this isn't about Eli Pariser, but about the extent of the problem we all face with modern rhetoric.

I am not - repeat, NOT - advocating a Rhetoric of Stupidity - monosyllabic and contentless. The rightwing has a lock on that. What I am saying is that until normals can find a truly persuasive style of presentation, we will continue to fight an uphill battle, rhetorically speaking, against rightwing extremists. And that ain't real good.

[UPDATE: Some of us have been trying, in comments, to come up with what we think Eli should have said. But, thanks to Nell, we have a topper. From WaPo, and don't you just love it when wingers sue each other?
Larry Klayman, the conservative lawyer best known for repeatedly taking the Clinton administration to court in the 1990s, sued supporters of the Bush administration yesterday, claiming they appropriated the name "Freedom's Watch" for use in a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign in support of the Iraq war.

Klayman, who supported the initial invasion but now says he is against the "chaotic" war, accuses what he says is an "arrogant Washington elite" of adopting a name he has used for nonprofit work since 2004.
Freedom's Watch is made up of an arrogant Washington elite." I like it, I like it! ]


[Updated to take notice that "palatable," not "palpable" was meant.]


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