March 04, 2007

How Not to Fight the Right

I'm not thrilled to be writing about Ann Coulter twice in one day, but I wanted to revisit something that just didn't hang well with that last post.

When Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan quit the Edwards campaign, I held the incident up as an example of why I'm not yet supporting anyone who's running for the 2008 presidential nomination. There were people who asked me what I thought Edwards should have done differently, or what else I could really want after the campaign decided not to fire them.

Beyond the plain failure to plan for such an obvious eventuality, a clear-to-me indicator that Somebody isn't yet ready for prime time, I said this:

... When I heard about the decision [to hire the two bloggers], I thought well, finally a Democrat has decided to pull a reverse 'Sister Souljah' and have a head on confrontation with the poisonous arbiters of what passes for civility these days. I thought that a Democrat might finally have decided it was time to have a serious discussion about whether bad words really are worse than material harm done to thousands of women or intentionally stoking racism, whether they're worse than calling for genocide, the hanging of political opponents and assassination as a standard tool of foreign policy. But that isn't what happened, and so here we are. ...

Here we are. Where this was in my inbox from David Bonior of the Edwards campaign yesterday:

... Did you hear about Anne Coulter's speech this afternoon attacking John? A friend just forwarded me the video and it's one of the worst moments in American politics I've seen.

I can't bring myself to even repeat her comments. Her shameless display of bigotry is so outrageous you actually have to see for yourself to believe it.

This is just a taste of the filth that the right-wing machine is gearing up to throw at us. And now that it's begun, we have a choice: Do we sit back, or do we fight back?

I say we fight. Help us raise $100,000 in "Coulter Cash" this week to show every would-be Republican mouthpiece that their bigoted attacks will not intimidate this campaign. I just threw in 100 bucks. Will you join me? Just click here.

Coulter's attack was no accident. It happened on national television at one of the year's biggest conservative conferences. Dick Cheney and most of the Republican candidates were in the audience. She was even introduced by Mitt Romney.

John was singled out for a personal attack because the Republican establishment knows he poses the greatest threat to their power. Since they have nothing real to use against him, Coulter's resorting to the classic right-wing strategy of riling up hate to smear a progressive champion. And the Republican attack dogs will keep playing this despicable trick as long as they think it works.

But this time, you and I can change the game. ...

Yeah, David, I'm not so sure that you and I can change this game. Know why? Because this was the sum total of Edwards' statement on the blogger fuss:

The tone and the sentiment of some of Amanda Marcotte's and Melissa McEwan's posts personally offended me. It's not how I talk to people, and it's not how I expect the people who work for me to talk to people. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that kind of intolerant language will not be permitted from anyone on my campaign, whether it's intended as satire, humor, or anything else. But I also believe in giving everyone a fair shake. I've talked to Amanda and Melissa; they have both assured me that it was never their intention to malign anyone's faith, and I take them at their word. We're beginning a great debate about the future of our country, and we can't let it be hijacked. It will take discipline, focus, and courage to build the America we believe in.

Note the absence of any challenge to the credibility of Marcotte and McEwan's detractors. Note the failure to challenge a media narrative in which, to supposedly objective and dispassionate journalists, Bill Donohue and Michelle Malkin are credible critics of other people's morality, intentions and good faith. Observe that Edwards makes no attempt to explain the feminist critique of religiously motivated public policy that harms women every day, or to discuss why separation between church and state is better for both church and state. And from the other candidates? Sorry, the crickets drowned out the swooshing sounds made by their collective duck-and-cover.

So while it makes me angry to read about the pointless vandalism of Edwards' online campaign headquarters and angrier to read about Coulter's latest outrage, I still just don't think these campaigns really get it. Elizabeth Edwards made a great point about the way in which Coulter's words were hurtful to gay people, but it's not just about Coulter or hate speech against gays, it's about the whole host of bottom-feeding bigots that are legitimized when their arguments and complaints are taken at face value.

If it was just Coulter, maybe she could be marginalized. But she stands with a pantheon of others who reinforce her tactics and messaging. Some of them specialize in attacking gays, others focus their wrath on feminists or racial justice advocates, yet others routinely slam environmentalists, anti-poverty activists and anyone who thinks that 'social work' might mean something besides exchanging business cards at a three-martini lunch, but they all stand together. They attack everyone who stands with progressive causes with impunity, with a great deal of crossover, always echoing larger narrative themes and disparaging the overall legitimacy of their opponents.

What do Democratic candidates do? They tacitly accept some of these criticisms, play into the game, then act shocked when they're attacked on some other front and respond back to the one individual or group responsible. They scrape away at the edges of a juggernaut whose only goal is to shatter liberal and progressive coalitions into a multitude of groups that they can describe to voters as people who aren't like you. They fight little battles but don't seem to know they're in a war, or that they're actually on the same side as the bloggers and mouthy activists they're so willing to distance themselves from.

Until the day when the media is challenged by high-ranking elected officials and other well-known public figures on their tolerance of right wing hate speech, lying and distortion as a whole: This. Will. Keep. Happening. Because as long as it keeps working, keeps being accepted by the arbiters of public discourse and isn't addressed head on by people living under the media microscope, conservatives will keep doing it.

Posted by natasha at March 4, 2007 10:11 AM | Wingnuts | Technorati links |

The problem with this logic is that when politicians do challenge the media, the media goes after them with extra vigor. Witness Howard Dean in 2004, who didn't deserve it, and Gary Hart in 1988, who did. (And if you want to get picky, to a lesser extent, note most of the Republicans most in the public that went after Clinton and harrumphed most noisily over his infidelity - most were forced, or felt compelled, to leave office, on account of the media publicizing their own infidelities and "moments of loss of character".)

I think it is up to ourselves to create our own independent attack dogs, if the candidates won't create their own. No matter what we do, the Republicans will continue their smears. In combination with "selectively starving the media" effectively by calling them to account (which both the Bush campaigns in the past have done, and which, to a lesser extent, Obama has done with Fox News), we might be able to better call the media to heel.

We have those dogs already, really, though the blogosphere. The next step is to get their, and your, message more into the general public eye, IMHO.

Posted by: palamedes at March 5, 2007 10:41 AM