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Hullabaloo


Thursday, September 02, 2010

 
Crazy? Like Fox.

by tristero

Matt is still making the same basic mistake he made years ago. He still believes that those who have demonstrated repeated contempt for liberal values adhere to liberal norms of argumentation and persuasion.
I don’t see any evidence that the particular apocalyptic “my enemies are totalitarian madmen” strain of Birch/Beck/Goldberg conservatism has helped anyone win any elections.
Hoo boy.

Let's ignore all the obvious contradictory examples, like Bachmann and Coburn and Tancredo and DeLay and so on and so on and - solely for the sake of argument - go so far as to entirely concede Matt's point: no one gets elected by being a rightwing loon. That doesn't mean that lunacy has no palpable effect on the public discourse, or on policies that national-level politicians deem to be politically acceptable. In fact, the effect of extremist rhetoric within mainstream discourse is very well known and lunatic ideas are clearly being employed by the right in precisely this fashion: To shift the palette of acceptable ideas further and further to the right. Sure, it's silly to believe Obama wasn't born in this country, but having that idea out there enables "moderates" to declare, with something resembling a straight face, that they take Obama at his word when he says he's a Christian. By any rational standard, that's a wacky thing to say, but compared to out and out Birtherism - which, remember, was deliberately mainstreamed not by a raging lunatic but by the "well-respected" and "intelligent" Lou Dobbs - it's a somewhat reasonable position to hold in re: the "Obama legitimacy controversy."

Matt goes on:
But there’s no real upside in lying to the choir. Political movements need to adapt to the actual situation, and that means having an accurate understanding of your foes. You need to see them as they actually are so that you know the right way to respond.
Matt makes some seriously faulty assumptions here. The most egregious is that he mistakes playing a lunatic in public with actually being a lunatic. He assumes that Beck really believes what he says, the way a good liberal might, rather than accept the far more likely possibility that Beck simply doesn't care what he says, as long as it helps his career. No doubt, Beck is a deeply disturbed man, but the fact that he said Obama is a racist doesn't necessarily mean he's crazy enough actually to believe it to be true.

What Beck does understand, and understands with complete accuracy, is that calling Obama a racist will infuriate liberals and help sow doubt about Obama among his listeners. That is precisely what a sane opportunist in Beck's position would want to do. (FWIW, it's just the same trick all over again now that Beck has decided that Obama is "practicing" liberation theology: whether it's true or not isn't the point. It makes us angry, it feeds his flock and it sets up a dichotomy that establishes fundamentalism as the norm and any other religious interpretation a perversion.)

Matt here also lumps people like Goldberg in with Republicans who don't act as crazy (usually) and yet benefit enormously because they come off as "men of reason, Republicans you can talk to" - eg, Grassley - in comparison. Rest assured that people like Grassley have a deeply accurate picture of who their Democratic opponents are. And Grassley well understands the usefulness of portraying them, as Grassley did during healthcare, in a manner as reality-challenged as Goldberg did to liberals.

Despite what Matt says, the rightwing has quite an accurate picture of what liberals and Democrats are likely to believe, and how they are likely to behave. They have played us like a virtuosic, if thoroughly demented, violinist. One of the most useful techniques in the rightwing repertoire is The Crazy Lie. And we still haven't found any effective riposte to it - or at least, any effective rhetorical counter-strategy that mainstream politicians would be willing to use. Matt's failure to understand how incredibly effective this tactic has been for illiberals, and how debillitating it has been for liberals, is simply astonishing.

This ain't no party. This ain't no disco. This ain't no serious effort to persuade based on the truth. This is, as far as the right is concerned, about getting power, holding on to power, and extending power.

And this ain't no foolin' around.

UPDATE: As for Matt's larger point...well, let's just say that in a healthy democracy, criticism of the sort Matt extols would be such an obvious given, no one would bother to comment about it. But we don't live in a healthy democracy. In the present United States, I don't see liberals' willingness criticize themselves in public as necessarily advantageous or necessarily destructive. Clearly, the far right has garnered enormous political power and I doubt that marching in goosestep has hampered them that much. Meanwhile, liberals have their self-respect, Rachel Maddow, and a few decent congresscritters.

I'm hardly saying that our willingness to self-criticize is the cause of our lack of power and influence, nor do I believe it. I simply think it is not necessarily an asset, and not necessarily a problem. In the case of Kos's book, we'll all have to wait to read it before we can decide whether the bad review it got from the American Prospect was deserved. Or, as in Kevin's case, not read it.



Update: From digby --- My thoughts on the bad review here. I received the book this morning and will write more about it after I get a chance to read it.


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