On Hippie Punching

On Hippie Punching

By digby

I haven't weighed in on this because Susie pretty much said it all. But this post in the NY Times persuaded me to say something. It details the exchange with Axelrod, where she asks him if he knows what "hippie punching" is. Tobin's summary:

"He was apparently at a loss. So, I assume, were plenty of other people. “Madrak was referencing a phrase thrown around by bloggers who think the Obama administration has treated its liberal base with disdain,” reported CBS News’s Stephanie Condon, which seems fairly obvious in context, but isn’t much help in terms of derivation or meaning. As for being “thrown around,” I can only remember seeing the phrase once before, and not on a liberal blog."

He then links to Ann Althouse to explain it. (I assume he did that since she's a female and so is Madrak? There's absolutely no other reason to consult a right wing crank like her on the matter.)

Ok, first things first. The term "punch a hippie" has been around for decades, although it's recently cropped up again on the right blogosphere. It's considered a pastime, fun, a sort of recreation for ignorant neanderthals. I don't know how many people actually do this (real hippies aren't as easy to find as they used to be, and you might just make a mistake and beat up Ted Nugent or Toby Keith) but they love to chit chat about it in joking fashion. It's one of those primitive, sadistic forms of wingnut entertainment like blowing up frogs or tying cats tails together and throwing them over a clothesline.

Let me give you an example from the violent right wing "humor" blog IMAO** (most famous for his side splittingly funny t-shirt that said "Rope, Tree, Journalist"):

Often I'm asked, "Why, if I punch a hippy, would I be arrested for assault? Are we supposed to believe that the Founding Fathers wanted hippies to walk around un-punched?"
He's practically begging for me to punch him. Why can't I?

First off, the Founding Fathers hated hippies as much as you and in no way intended America to be a place hippies could feel safe. What they knew, though, is that allowing people to punch hippies could lead to abuse of the law where someone would punch a non-hippy and claim he thought he was a hippy. So the reason we can't punch hippies is to protect non-hippies from being punched.

I would support a change in the law, though, where it is legal to punch hippies, but the punched can afterwards legally challenging the punching by claiming to not be a hippy...

Now, I'm not saying these legal changes in the area of hippy punching won't cause some problems, I'm just saying it will be worth it to put forth the clear message that if you're a hippy and dare walk the street in America, you will be punched.

The hilarity continues in the comments:

Why stop at punching when we can blow thier[sic] LSD addicted brains out.

Then there is the slightly more serious permutation like this one from the early days of the war, in which bloodthirsty right wing sites sold t-shirts that looked like this, to support the marine NBC journalist Kevin Sites had caught on camera in the act of killing a wounded Iraqi in cold blood inside a Mosque:

This was the sales pitch:

Support our Marine

The Marine who killed the wounded insurgent in Fallujah deserves our praise and admiration. In a split second decision, he acted valiantly.

On the other hand, Kevin Sites of NBC is a traitor. Beheading civilians, booby-trapped bodies, suicide bombers?? Sorry hippie, American lives come first. Terrorists don't deserve the benefit of the doubt. This Marine deserves a medal and Kevin Sites, you deserve a punch in the mouth.

Printed on high quality superheavyweight, preshrunk cotton (6.1oz)

That's the right wing "hippie punch" rhetoric that's been around forever, which apparently the NY Times has never run across before, but with which those of us who actually know right wingers in our real lives are unpleasantly familiar. And it's an article of faith among them that liberals are hippies.

Here's Ann Coulter to make it obvious:

My pretty-girl allies stick out like a sore thumb amongst the corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie chick pie wagons they call "women" at the Democratic National Convention.

Unfortunately, the Democratic political establishment, timorous and afraid of their own shadows as always, are petrified that Real Americans might make that same absurd connection. So nearly forty years on from the chaotic '72 Democratic convention, the left, whether Netroots or "Professional" are still seen as disruptive, scary hippies and it is assumed they are loathed by all decent people. Just like the idiotic right wingers, they conflate "the left" with that carefully nurtured anachronistic wingnut fantasy of the "smelly, dirty, hairy" leftist and are scared to death of being tarred by it. And it is why many in the left blogosphere defiantly took the moniker "DFH" which stands for Dirty Fucking Hippie.

The blogosphere's subsequent adoption of the term "hippie punching" is a shorthand to describe how Democrats like to debase the left in order to appeal to so-called Real Americans. It's a sort of proxy bullying, in which the Party attempts to prove their middle of the road bonafides by attacking what they believe Americans see as their out-of-the-mainstream fringe. (It's like a gang initiation where you have to beat up your childhood best friend to prove your loyalty to the new crowd.)

Needless to say, this is neurotic and delusional. Nobody is ever convinced and the Republicans spend huge amounts of time and money to make sure of it. No matter how much they distance themselves from the left, they will never be able to escape being associated with it and by demeaning their own largest political faction they ensure that a certain number of Real Americans continue to believe there is something truly distasteful about them --- and by extension, the Democrats in general. After all, if the party leadership is repulsed by their own voters, even if they aren't literally "fragrant, hirsute pie wagons," there must be something awfully wrong with them. What kind of party would even associate with such people?

When the administration complained about liberals and "the professional left" they were plugging into a long-standing meme in Democratic politics that goes all the way back to the 1980s. Aside from 1992 campaign, when Clinton managed to eke out a win in a three way race with his DLC poll tested triangulation technique, it hasn't really worked very well for the Democrats over the long term. Instead, it's created a nation in which identifying with the left is equated with something viscerally unpalatable.

That's the background to Susie's question. The situation was unusual because nobody ever brings it up in polite, establishment company (of course, DFHs are rarely invited into polite establishment company, so the opportunity doesn't happen very often.) This tension has been around for a very long time but it hasn't been articulated until fairly recently.

What we know is that the way the Republicans treat their base is substantially different than the way the Democrats treat theirs. The GOP may go to some trouble to downplay the Christian Right, for instance, but they would never publicly insult them to gain respectability among the beltway chattering class or big donors. They see them as an asset to be managed rather than a target to be used to prove their mainstream bonafides. It's a very different approach.

Maybe this will still work out well for the Democrats in the long run. I doubt that anyone cares what a bunch of bloggers think about anything, so this kerfuffle will hardly change the course of history. But the Democrats, of all people, should remember that it only takes a few lefties to peel off to a third party run to throw an election to the other side. It's not like it hasn't happened before (and for many of the same reasons.) It could easily happen again and there won't be anything the DFH bloggers can do about it.

*I'm not sure when "punch a hippie" came to be adopted by the left as a way to describe this phenomenon, but I know the first time I heard it. It was right here, in a post by dday. I've been using it ever since.

** You can find that link from googling the quotes. I'm not up for a troll invasion today.

Update: Fergawdsake. Yeah Steny, that'll impress people.

Update II: How's all this working out for us?

Overall, would you describe the views and policies of each of the following as too extreme, or as generally mainstream?

The Republican Party

Too extreme 36%

Generally mainstream 58%

Mixed/Neither (vol.) 4%

No opinion 3%

The Democratic Party

Too extreme 42%

Generally mainstream 53%

Mixed/Neither (vol.) 3%

No opinion 2%

The Tea Party Movement

Too extreme 43%

Generally mainstream 41%

Mixed/Neither (vol.) 6%

No opinion 10%