Local post-election navel gazing in recent days has, for some reason (not sure – maybe it was this guy), turned to which side of the political cheddar-sphere engages in the most "anger and vitriol" as it drives its various issues and agendas. As the title above indicates, we’ve been here before – that time talking about hypocrisy as an evaluative device.
The issue came to a head after Obama’s landslide victory last week, when some guy named Peter DiGuadio went off his rocker in Owen Robinson’s comment thread, saying: "If I had the money, I’d put a bounty on his melon. Seriously." DiGuadio then pulled a double-McBride, taking down his long-running Texas Hold ‘Em Blogger site in the middle of his hissy fit (McBride only hides hers); then, just that quickly, putting up a new one and offering this non-explanation for his hysterics: "Do I hope someone shoots The Messiah [on his old and new blog, DiGuadio just loves to mock the lofty status Obama has never claimed]? No. [yeah, but you said...] It would deprive their children of a father, and no child deserves to have his or her father taken away." Well, OK, so now a childless President Obama would be a worthy assassination target, but, you know, he cares so much about the children. Whatever.
I don’t know what there is to discuss after all this. Nobody on the left ever put a hypothetical bounty on Bush’s melon. The most we’ve ever done is call for his well-deserved impeachment, back when it would have mattered. Despite the right’s repeated lie about a Bush Derangement Syndrome and how we all hated Bush so much, our contempt for the most radical-right and worst administration in U.S. history (not a coincidence that these two go together, by the way) was never personalized to Bush, who was an empty-suited puppet willing to execute orders that came from Dick Cheney and others. Our problem with Bush wasn’t personal; it was the disastrous policies that were done in his name, by his administration.
For personal invective, just look at how the right-wing message machine treated Bill Clinton, who was accused of everything, including murder. Unable to beat him on the substance of the issues, they went after him personally with a ferocity that showed contempt for civil discourse and, yes, the office of the presidency itself. If we wanted to play those games, we would have had lots of ammunition with Mr. Drunk-till-40 (imagine if Clinton had the same history), but, a) we didn’t need it, we fought him straight-up on the issues, and b) we don’t play that. No, only one side has cornered the market on the politics-of-personal-destruction, and the other side is not interested.
But, I think the focus on tone is a little off the point of who does what out here, what is fair and unfair argument, who masks the weakness of their arguments behind rhetorical devices, etc. The focus on which side throws off the most heat misses a more interesting point: which side argues more fairly and honestly? On that point, I offer the following stark contrasts of who does what between left and right:
Recitation of talking-points: In a very entertaining and informative must-read grenade tossed into the secretive mainstream talk-radio foxhole that is 620-WTMJ, former staffer Dan Shelley lets us in on what actually happens at the radio station when Charlie Sykes prepares for his daily poisoning of the public discourse. "Conservative talk show hosts would receive daily talking points e-mails from the Bush White House, the Republican National Committee and, during election years, GOP campaign operations. They’re not called talking points, but that’s what they are. I know, because I received them, too. During my time at WTMJ, Charlie would generally mine the e-mails, then couch the daily message in his own words." He also writes about Sykes checking on what Limbaugh and other nut-right radio hosts are saying, the better to harmonize with the GOP choir.
In his snarky, revealingly-defensive and uncharacteristically-long response (Shelley obviously struck a nerve at Radio City), Sykes claims to send the GOP e-mails right to his junk mail folder. Right. An opportunistic message-Republican makes sure has doesn’t get his e-mails from Karl Rove in the White House, lest his pure message be sullied by undue co-mingling. That’s why his daily messages just happen to synch up so nicely with every other national and local wing-nut in the country. Sykes really insults his readers’ intelligence here. He should save his lies for his radio show. Speaking of which...
Lies: One thing I have always given Sykes and Mark Belling credit for is that they are smart enough to know that what they often say, repeatedly, are lies. They are both smart enough to know that man-made global-warming is real. They both know that the selection of Sarah Palin was an embarrassing joke. They both know what Joe Biden meant when he said Obama would be "tested". They know better than to think Obama is a socialist; that Bill Ayers is relevant to anyone about anything; that the Joe the Plumber thing was a transparent and desperate campaign ploy; blah blah blah.
But they pretend they don’t know – in fact, they pretend that they believe the exact opposite – just to drive the talking-points created by whatever campaign for which they are providing free advertising. This sort of intellectual dishonesty is part-and-parcel of their shtick.
For the most part, the left doesn’t do either of these things. If I see an interesting take on a political issue on, say, the excellent Huffington Post, the last thing I am going to do is parrot it here. As for lies, well, the truth has been far more entertaining and unbelieveable than anything you could make up when it comes to the Bushies, whose days in the White House are now thankfully and mercifully numbered.
Every indication is that the right-wing echo chamber on talk-radio and the blogs will continue to take their marching orders from above and continue to spin lies-as-truth. Once in a while, one or another will fly off the handle and show their true colors, like DiGuadio or Belling going off on another racist rant. [UPDATE: Well, that didn't take long. This afternoon, Belling was using the sad story of the child who died in abusive foster care to blame the death on "fat" social workers and the preference to put black kids in black homes. There is no tragedy that Belling will not exploit for his ugly racist message.] It is going to be even more frustrating for them, after President Obama puts the lie to their dire predictions and puts together an effective coalition with people of all political persuasions in his effort to recover from the Bush Disaster.
More and more, the hot-headed right will be barking in the wilderness, with no one listening but themselves and their dwindling number of the target wing-nut demographic that Dan Shelley identifies as "a segment of the population that feels disenfranchised and even victimized by the media". In terms of its own eventual extinction, the right-wing media doesn’t have to fear a renewal of the Fairness Doctrine as much as they should fear themselves.