Steve Almond has an essay in yesterday’s New York Times magazine that, in the words of Charlie Pierce, makes me want to guzzle anti-freeze. The very title — “Liberals Are Ruining America. I Know Because I Am One” — made me groan before I even read it, and once I did, I wanted to throw it across the room.
His basic premise is that if we ignore the right-wing noise machine like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News or somehow seal them off from the civil discourse that the grown-ups are having, they will go away.
Imagine, if you will, the domino effect that would ensue if liberals and moderates simply tuned out the demagogues. Yes, they would still be able to manipulate their legions into endorsing cruel and self-defeating policies. But their voices would be sealed within the echo chamber of extremism and sealed off from the majority of Americans who honestly just want our common problems solved. They would be marginalized in the same way as activists who rant about racial purity or anarchy.
Rush Limbaugh would be a radio host catering to a few million angry commuters, not the alpha male of conservatism. Fox News would be a popular fringe network, not the reliable conduit by which paranoid hogwash infects our mainstream media.
In this world, it would be much harder to mislead people because media outlets would shift their resources to covering the content of proposed legislation, the exploding role of corporate influence in our affairs of state and the scientifically confirmed predicaments we face as a species.
Liberals and moderates would no longer be able to mollify themselves by watching Jon Stewart mock conservative wack jobs. They would be forced to consider their own values and the sort of actions necessary to reify [sic] those values in the world. They might even consider breaching our artificially inflated partisan divide.
To that I say with all the due respect and decorum that I can muster: Bullshit. We have tried that approach before, and it hasn’t worked. It didn’t work in the 1990’s when the machine went after the Clintons. Yes, Bill Clinton survived impeachment and Newt Gingrich was tossed out, but like the monster in Alien, Newt came back; we just spent a year enduring his inanities, and it wasn’t as much fun this time because he’s still insufferable and boring as whale shit. They do not go away — Mr. Almond as much admits that — they only get worse. So why does anyone think that by ignoring them or isolating them will work this time?
I know all too well how little stomach progressives have for aggressive politics. We would much rather have a nice discussion over a nice glass of wine and reason together. But that’s not what the haters and the right-wingers want. In the first place, those reasonable Republicans have all been primaried out of office, and even the ones who try vainly to sound reasonable are still capable of calling you a Nazi.
Liberals have got to get over their squimishness. The way to fight back is to fight back. Don’t give an inch. It’s like fighting a wildfire; you put it out in one area, it comes back somewhere else, so you put it out there. You respond to every provocation, every nutty e-mail sent by your whack-job relative about Kenyan birth certificates and Michelle’s garden. It doesn’t have to be a long discourse with facts and figures; they don’t work, and well-intentioned pearl-clutchers like Steve Almond only enable them. Knock it off. You call bullshit and you call out the racist bigoted Neanderthal bullies that they are. You don’t bring a peace pipe to a knife fight, and you don’t win the argument by conceding anything. Of course, that assumes they want to have an argument. They don’t. They want to end the chit-chat and get on with the bloodletting.
Take it from someone who spent a lot of his early years at the mercy of bullies: it’s surprising how fast they run for their momma when you actually do fight back. It works. And it feels very, very good when you win. But you can’t ever let your guard down, and no matter what happens in November, they’ll still be out there.