Note to progressives: stop being wimps

Recently I wrote a post that said Mitt had a spine made of surgical tubing, which provoked this response from a conservative friend: “May I remind you that there is a fine line between sharp humor and bile, and this time you have crossed the line.”

Bile? That’s bile?

This same friend regularly listens to Rush Limbaugh, and laughs when I criticize Mullah Rush. (Although I suspect he might feel differently this week.) Now this fellow is no fool. He has degrees from Cambridge and Harvard and is a very successful CEO. But over the last fifty years, the right has methodically and relentlessly moved not only policy but the language of debate to the right. Right-speak has become “fair and balanced,” center-speak has become socialist, and left-speak has become bile. And we on the left have been either too lazy or too smug or too polite to stop it.

Tell you what, friends. We need to get our bile back. We need to get the outrage and passion back into our discussions. We need to push the center back to the center, and the right back into the fetid hole it crawled out of.

Think about it. They have Fox News and we have Current TV. They have the passion and do-anything-to-win spirit of Rush, Beck and Hannity and we have the bemused detachment of Bill Maher, the earnestness of Rachel Maddow and the irony of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. When I listen to Rush, I slap the dashboard in frustration. When I listen to progressive radio—well I don’t listen to progressive radio because I don’t want to doze off and drive into a ditch. Once upon a time WE had passion. WE had days of rage. WE expressed ourselves in strong and compelling ways. Now we are too busy being fair and balanced to be effective.

How have we gotten ourselves into this mess? Part of it is the right had a plan and worked it relentlessly. Ailes has been at this for fifty years.

But for the most part, their success is the result of our lack of trying.

Perhaps growing up with a liberal media led us to assume we didn’t need to do much because the mainstream media would do our work for us. Perhaps, but after two decades we should have noticed that the mainstream media is now no longer our friend. Declining ad revenues and negative growth have turned fearless newspapermen into old guys hiding under desks and hoping the owners don’t loot their 401K’s. Loss of share to cable has turned the big three TV networks into mice. And the constant bombardment from the right has made journalists gun-shy. In 2008, Katie Couric was crucified for being too tough. Really. Katie Couric.

Perhaps this has happened because we’re lazy or timid or too obsessed with being cool. Perhaps we never go over the line because we believe we will lose credibility. We assume credibility comes from quietly and confidently telling the truth, when Fox (and Newsmax and Breitbart and Heartland) have shown it comes from saying something over and over, no matter how foolish it is. Asking people to ignore that constant clamor and sort our facts from their lies is asking too much.

Perhaps we think we will win them over with fairness. We will never win them over with facts and fairness. Last year I wrote a blog saying we should give up the fight on gun control for reasons of pragmatism. I expected some acknowledgement by the right. But not the acknowledgement I got—dozens of comments demanding that I recant and admit I’d changed my mind not because of pragmatism but because of the Second Amendment. It’s not enough I agree with them, I have to agree in the same exact words. They don’t want to just control my life, they want to control my thoughts. Their brains are like ratchets, they only turn one way.

Whatever our reason for being so darn fair-minded, it isn’t working. We are getting our asses kicked. In the sixties, we were upset about being in one illegal war. Now we are in three. Science is being systematically driven out of the education system. All the gains we thought we’d made—women’s, minorities, gays, and the environment are being eroded. We have simply replaced overt racism with stealth racism and enlarged our bigotry pool to include not only blacks, but Latino’s and Muslims. And we need to stop congratulating ourselves for electing a “socialist” president, because an objective analysis of his policies says he’s slightly to the right of Richard Nixon.

Enough of this responding with subtle irony that the right can’t or won’t follow. We need to respond with a brick. If they don’t get that, we need to reapply it until they do. We need fewer dickless men wearing bow ties and more more pit bulls with microphones.

We need fewer witty asides, and more slaps to the side of the head.

We need fewer real facts and more compelling ones. Instead of climate science, we should just say, “Alabama’s going to get hit with a hundred tornadoes every year until the oil companies stop selling the carbon-free oil to China.” Instead of economics, say, “We could erase this deficit tomorrow and give everybody a $10,000 check if we just made those billionaires who inherited all that money pay their fair share.” Instead of explaining the complex politics of the Middle East, say, “We done won the damn war and killed Osama in Iraq, now let’s bring our boys and girls back home again.”

We need to get our bile back.

Stop smiling for Christ’s sake. It’s not fucking funny what they’re doing to our country.

7 replies »

  1. From my perspective, my lack of bile has been largely due to a desire to not act like the rude, pushy, angry people on the right who butt in, drive the conversation, refuse to answer the question that was asked. So imagine my surprise this when Rush blamed his most recent bad behavior on the left:

    “Against my own instincts, against my own knowledge, against everything that I know to be right and wrong, I descended to their level when I used those two words to describe Sandra Fluke. That was my error. I became like them.”

    I know that if we don’t fight back assertively, we lose. I’m not sure if the country wins if we’re all yelling. But if we can’t even be heard, we can’t convince anyone that we’re right.

    And appealing to reason in this environment seems to be moot (see Russ’s recent post). Reason, intellect, understanding are all undervalued and, n some quarters, considered faults, not virtues. In a land where “facts are only one way to the truth,” how do we make headway?

  2. Agree. Just want to point out that in the mainstream media on TV, Ed Schultz and Dylan Ratigan speak out forcefully for progressives on MSNBC. Incidentally, loved Abbie Hoffman.

  3. I agree, which is why I wrote the satire appearing today on pandering. I would say that Bill Maher’s one million dollar donation to Obama is more than “bemused detachment.,” though I think he’s wasting his cash if he wants systemic reform. Wrote guy, wrong mindset. Of course, using bricks is what Occupy has strictly avoided doing, except metaphorically.

    P.S. That’s some pop gun in the photo. 🙂