So I've been following recently the debate that's been going on between Digby and Jamelle Bouie over whether it's really wise to use hyperbole and over-the-top mockery to thrash your political opponents. As you can imagine, I largely side with Digby on this matter and find constructions like this from Bouie to be particularly annoying:
Unlike myself, Moulitsas isn't a journalist, and his job isn't to be an honest broker for ideas; no, it's to rally progressives and score points against conservatives.
Bouie seems to me like the sort of person, to use the phrase of an old acquaintance, who would have been extremely upset that the wicked John Swift would suggest eating all those Irish babies.
Using hyperbole and outlandish mockery to skewer one's political opponents is a wonderful human tradition that extends back centuries. Not only is it a terrific way to blow off steam, but if done smartly it also garners attention by making your opponents convulse into fits of rage. Newt Gingrich understands this better than any other political figure -- he'll say stuff that he knows is outrageous and untrue simply to capture media attention and to push the conversation further to the right. Instead of coming out and saying, "I disapprove of Obama's plan to open up exchanges where people can get government-subsidized health insurance," he says something along the lines of "Barack Hussein Obama's secular socialist machine and its government takeover of health care post a greater threat to the United States than Hitler ever did." While liberals will all shriek and hem and haw about Gingrich's ridiculous rhetoric, the media will report it as, "Liberals deny that Obamacare is worse than the Nazis."
The idea is that you should always be whacking your opponent in the face with something that will force them to respond in a defensive manner. Markos understands this very well which is why his blog has been such a huge success in mobilizing people and money to elect progressive candidates over the past decade. The liberal establishment, best exemplified by Bouie's quote above, thinks that we only need to be "honest brokers for ideas" in order to win over the American public. Sorry but that ain't so.
I also think that in order to use hyperbole and caricature successfully, you have to also do it intelligently. If you're looking for a no-so-smart way of thrashing your opposition, look no further than this example cited by Bob Somerby today. This is Ed Schultz doing absolutely everything you don't want to do when you go on offense:
Beck’s rally, I’m telling you, folks, was no big shakes. It is not going to have any impact on the midterms. It’s what’s in our hearts and what we want to do to save this country is what it’s all about. Thousands of his followers—let me say it again so they don’t have to edit the tape: They were old, white, angry Americans who can’t stand the fact that there’s a black guy in the White House.
Let us count the ways that this is a really dumb and obnoxious thing to say:
- First, Schultz uses the words "old" and "white" as derogatory adjectives. Fellow liberals, this is a very silly way of trying to go after your opposition. In the first place, we liberals generally defend things like Social Security and Medicare, which are both designed to help old people, most of which are old white people. What's the point of expressing contempt for the people you're trying to help? Also, old white people vote in very large numbers. Do you really want to hand the vote of old white people to the GOP by calling them racists? And yes I know Schultz doesn't think every old white person is a racist. But why, then, use the terms "old" and "white" like they're slurs?
- Second, Schultz attacks people who are less powerful than he is. This is a major no-no for any major pundit or political figure. It allows demagogic jackasses like Beck and Palin to go on air and say, 'See? Ed Schultz thinks that if you're old and white you must hate black people!' Make no mistake, Republicans positively love it when a progressive lashes out at old, white people. They also love it when we call other people "rednecks," "trailer trash," and other terms intended to disparage blue-collar white people. Again, these are the people we're supposed to be helping out. They are unlikely to ever support us if we think they're all inbred hicks.
Now, I've made my share of yokel jokes about Confederate Yankee in the past so I'm just as guilty of this as anyone. But I've come to the conclusion that it's just not cool to use derogatory terms that are intended as insults to working-class people, no matter their race.
Now before you accuse me of being a Jamelle Bouie-style softy, let me say that I believe wholeheartedly in going after your opposition and whacking them as hard as you can. But it's something that has to be done by going after the elites within the Tea Party movement rather than individual protesters.