New Rule: Don't step on your dogwhistle

New Rule: Don't Step On Your Dogwhistle

by digby

I missed Bill Maher's commentary about sane vs insane last night, but from the transcript it sounds great. (Too bad he found it necessary to diss Markos and Grayson a couple of weeks ago for using the "T" word and then went on the next week about how frightened he is that Mohammed is a popular baby name in England. But consistency isn't his strong suit.)

But I do think he's right:

And finally, New Rule, if you're going to have a rally where hundreds of thousands of people show up, you might as well go ahead and make it about something. With all due respect to my friends Jon and Stephen, it seems to me that if you truly wanted to come down on the side of restoring sanity and reason, you'd side with the sane and the reasonable, and not try to pretend that the insanity is equally distributed in both parties.

Keith Olbermann is right, when he says he's not the equivalent of Glenn Beck. One reports facts, the other one is very close to playing with his poop.

And the big mistake of modern media has been this notion of balance for balance's sake, that the left is just as violent and cruel as the right, that unions are just as powerful as corporations, that reverse racism is just as damaging as racism. There's a difference between a mad man, and a madman.

Now, getting over 200,000 people to come to a liberal rally is a great achievement, and gave me hope. And what I really loved about it was that it was twice the size of the Glenn Beck crowd on the Mall in August! Although it weighed the same.

But the message of the rally, as I heard it, was that if the media would just stop giving voice to the crazies on both sides, then maybe we could restore sanity. It was all non-partisan, and urged cooperation with the moderates on the other side, forgetting that Obama tried that, and found out there are no moderates on the other side.

When Jon announced his rally, he said that the national conversation is dominated by people on the right who believe Obama's a socialist, and people on the left who believe 9/11 was an inside job. But I can't name any Democratic leaders who think 9/11 was an inside job. But Republican leaders who think Obama's a socialist? All of them! McCain, Boehner, Cantor, Palin, all of them! It's now official Republican dogma, like tax cuts pay for themselves, and gay men just haven't met the right woman.

As another example of both sides using overheated rhetoric, Jon cited the right equating Obama with Hitler, and the left calling Bush a war criminal. Except thinking Obama is like Hitler is utterly unfounded, but thinking Bush is a war criminal? That's the opinion of General Anthony Taguba, who headed the Army's investigation into Abu Ghraib.

You see, Republicans keep staking out a position that is further and further right, and then demand Democrats meet them in the middle, which is now not the middle anymore. That's the reason health care reform is so watered down; it's Bob Dole's old plan from 1994. Same thing with cap-and-trade; it was the first President Bush's plan to deal with carbon emissions. Now the Republican plan for climate change is to claim it's a hoax.

But it's not. I know that because I've lived in L.A. since '83, and there's been a change in the city: I can see it now. All of us who live out here have had that experience. Oh look, there's a mountain there! Government, led by liberal Democrats, passed laws which changed the air I breathe for the better. OK, I'm for them! And not for the party that is, as we speak, plotting to abolish the EPA. And I don't need to pretend that both sides have a point here. And I don't care what left or right commentators say about it; I only care what climate scientists say about it.

Two opposing sides don't necessarily have two compelling arguments. Martin Luther King spoke on that Mall in the capitol, and he didn't say, "Remember folks, those Southern sheriffs with the fire hoses and the German shepherds, they have a point too!" No, he said, "I have a dream, they have a nightmare!" This isn't Team Edward and Team Jacob. Liberals, like the ones on that field, must stand up and be counted, and not pretend that we're as mean or greedy or short-sighted or just plain batshit as they are. And if that's too polarizing for you, and you still want to reach across the aisle and hold hands and sing with someone on the right, try church!

Obviously, everyone knows where I stand on this. But I have to defend Stewart and Colbert just a little. The whole rally wasn't about false equivalency. Indeed, as I wrote at the time, the ironic subtext was a clear and piercing dogwhistle to the liberal tribe throughout. Those of us who follow liberal politics, and especially their shows, knew exactly who they were talking about. Even their silly, off tune song was dripping with sarcasm:

Mr. STEPHEN COLBERT:(Singing)I love America from USA to USZ.

Mr. JON STEWART: (Singing)I'd marry Uncle Sam if I could do it legally.

Mr. COLBERT: (Singing) I lull myself to sleep at night by counting detainees.

Mr. STEWART: (Singing) I use French words like croissant and bourgeoisie.

Mr. COLBERT: (Singing) I love NASCAR halftime shows with tons of TNT.

Mr. STEWART: (Singing) My hybrid electric scooter gets 100 mpg.

Mr. COLBERT and Mr. STEWART: (Singing) From gay men who like football, to straight men who like "Glee."

Mr. COLBERT: (Singing) From the shores of Idaho to the shores of Kentucky...

Mr. COLBERT and Mr. STEWART: (Singing) ...there's no one more American...

Mr. STEWART: (Singing) ...there's no one more compassionate...

Mr. COLBERT and Mr. STEWART: (Singing) ...there's no one more American than we.

But at the end they took a wrong turn with the media equivalence and Jon got all earnest, as he is sometimes wont to do, and they ended up stepping all over the message they had up to then (with the exception of that stupid Kid Rock song) successfully conveyed throughout.

Stewart really does seem to believe that there's some happy "middle" where most people live. But I think he believes that middle is pretty much like him. And that just isn't true. People disagree, for real. Yes, we all put aside our politics at work because we have to in order to keep our jobs. And social mores require that we not break into heated political arguments all the time at the kids' soccer practice. Our political disagreements haven't made the society devolve into total anarchy (yet.) But the fact is that there are competing ideologies and philosophies at work in this country about how to govern ourselves. Denying that doesn't make it go away. We can certainly argue for days about the best way to wage the battle, but a battle it is.

I think what disappointed me about Stewart's closing was that I thought he'd staged a pretty nice gathering of the liberal tribe, replete with its hipster irony and inside jokes and recognizable signs of solidarity. No, it's not "We Shall Overcome" but it is a response to the kooks on the right and it's not an invalid way for the true believers to communicate with each other. (God knows the other side has no problem practically speaking in tongues amongst themselves.) No, nobody explicitly called for people to vote, but I think it's fairly clear that anyone who watches Stewart and Colbert are engaged in politics enough to know that an election was imminent.

The problem was that by calling out both sides at the end, he sent a signal to the Villagers that their false equivalence, he said/she said, above it all, "view from nowhere" approach to politics was correct and I think that's a shame. The right doesn't give a damn about this phony construct and the only ones who lose are the liberals. Olberman under fire for being explicitly political is a good example of where that leads.

Anyway, I think Maher and Stewart and especially Colbert are brilliant political observers and satirists --- the best communicators our side has --- but they sometimes succumb to the same conceits to which all of us liberals have a tendency to succumb: the overriding desire to prove that we aren't hypocrites. The problem is that everybody is a hypocrite on some level. And one thing Americans all obviously do agree on is that hypocrisy is in the eye of the beholder.

Update: Woid in the comments makes a good point:

I watched the Maher show on Friday. The New Rule was funny and to the point. I absolutely agree with what he has to say about false equivalency — but there's an interesting bit of context that's worth mentioning.

The commentary came at the end of a show where one of Maher's panelists (and one who's been a guest of his many times) was that reprehensible Replicant Representative Darrell Issa.

(Issa is one of the worst. For details, look at some of Howie Klein's posts over at Down With Tyranny.)

Issa will be the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee. In that role, he'll be conducting many the bogus "investigations" of the Obama administration that are sure to come next year. He's already announced his intentions in that area, so we can expect a lot of show trials and Fox fodder coming from his committee.

Maher did some needling and sparring with Issa, but basically let him evade questions and spout the usual evasive right-wing bullshit, accompanied by lame jokes and big happy grins. Maher pressed him to say that impeachment would be "off the table," Pelosi-style. Issa wouldn't say that, and for good reason.

Maher almost always has right-wingers on the panel, sometimes two or even three out of three. I guess he thinks he's matching wits with them and winning — but they don't play that game. They do the usual, getting their message out by blatantly lying, and by out-shouting any dissenters. Maher rarely has the facts on hand to call them on their bullshit, so they get away with it.

He's enabling these people, giving them yet another platform, and acting like it's all in good fun. If he wants to have right-wingers as "friends of the show," fine — it's his show.

But to follow up his jokey non-confrontation with Issa by putting down Colbert & Stewart the way he did... well, there oughta be a New Rule against that.

He's got a point.