November 03, 2004

Unsolicited Advice

It's not for the touchy, this one. May also contain unhealthy levels of sanctimony. You've been warned and you agree to proceed at your own risk.


First, to the many fine bloggers on the right:

If it's good to be gracious in defeat, it is even better to be gracious in victory. You could start (and many of you have) by acknowledging the should-be-obvious fact that not every human being who voted for Kerry--

--hates America
--fails to recognize the seriousness of the terror threat facing this country
--is a Stalinist
--is deranged
--is amoral
--has no shame/ethics/honor
--wants Osama or other terrorists to teach the U.S. a lesson
--wrote in "Saddam Hussein" for Vice President
--insert other "I've Heard This Crap Way Too Often" denigration here

I know some of you can't help but go looking at sites like Daily Kos, quoting lunacy like this, and saying, "See? There you go. That's just how they are," while occasionally covering your ass with, "Oh! I know that's not how they all are, but it's how a lot of them are."

News flash: It's known left and right that there are crazies out there and that the fringes on the left attract a good many of them, not that the right has been without its share.

And it's fair to point out when the mainstream left is downplaying, sheltering, or coddling the lunatic left.

Still, it's the difference between going up to someone at a crowded gathering to whisper, "Pardon me; I just wanted to let you know you've got some lettuce on your teeth," and shouting to the rooftops, "WHOOOOO-EEE! Y'all see that guy right there with PARTIALLY-CHEWED FOOD IN HIS TEETH? That is NASTY!"

My father has an expression he's fond of: "You don't have to tell someone when they've dropped the ball." That person knows already. In cases where that person might not know there's a problem, the pardon-me-I-couldn't-help-noticing approach might, just might, be less likely to provoke an angry, defensive reaction.

Then maybe we could quit indulging in the faulty circular reasoning that takes those angry, defensive reactions and says, "See? That's just how they are on the left."

I've seen left-leaning folks try to engage right-leaning commenters, with the left-leaner usually opening with a polite query, only to get blasted out of the water with charges that he's Obviously Brainwashed by the Liberal Media or Clearly Just Trolling or Probably a Third-Generation Communist, too many times to count. If I get some time this weekend, some blogs are coming off the roll on the left precisely because of that phenomenon. It's not the so-called "lefty trolls" I object to; it's the right-leaning asshole commenters who attack them and the right-leaning site owners who let them.

I'm done; I can't read those sorts of threads anymore. If you make the case in your post that, say, a free Iraq is in America's national interest, and some guy wants to know why, then, there was so much emphasis in the pre-war argument placed on finding weapons of mass destruction . . . you know, do we always have to shoot that guy?!? Is that necessary? He's just asking the question, and it's a valid question.

Now if a few people answer him politely, and he then pulls the bait-and-switch, and nothing ever, ever satisfies him, and things start getting ugly . . . okay, now maybe you have a troll. There are certainly too many commenters who don't realize that a personally-owned web site is not Metafilter, not Slashdot--not a public forum for his rhetorical fun and games. I get that.

What I'm saying is I'd like to see less of the automatic knee-jerk pile-on when a commenter shows up on a right-leaning blog who maybe wasn't convinced by the elegant prose of the post, and has a few questions he'd like to ask. Of course, I'd like "an ice cream pony that shat twenties," too, so I'm not holding my breath.

Ultimately, if 49% of the electorate voted for Kerry, the only thing you can surely conclude is that 49% of the electorate preferred Kerry to Bush. Period. All else is speculation.

The gracious thing to do would be to consider what, if anything, Bush could have done to make that number 44%, 40%, 39%; to wonder, was there a case not made? Was there an argument or a message that failed to get out? Is there a misconception we left uncorrected? And frankly: Do we have a few Michael Moores of our own we could kick once in awhile? Because nothing's more hypocritical than demanding the left denounce this, that, or the other guy while you're still linking material by someone who wishes McVeigh had hit the New York Times building.

Or you can kick up your heels and shriek, "Fuck you, lefties, you lunatic America-haters! We won! Choke on it!" WHICH IS FINE (and if it's done tongue-in-cheek I might even enjoy it), but if you're stating that in all seriousness, if you're actually being earnest about it, don't ever expect me to have sympathy for you when you cry about The Viciousness of the Left again. Okay? Okay. Let he who is without sin, etc.


And speaking of sin, which reminds me of religion, a note to the many fine lefty bloggers:

It's the condescension I can't take, okay? It's the condescension that makes me click off. I don't shriek in your comment threads; I don't write you angry emails; but I do click off--and any arguments you've made to that point go right out the window.

Knock it off with the condescension--about flyover country, about "stupid Americans," about religious people, about the right-wing "propaganda machine," about ignorant backwoods folk brainwashed by the "language of fear"--all of that. IT'S INSULTING. I can't believe I even have to point that out.

Kill the condescension, and then ask yourselves exactly what I suggested those on the right ask themselves: Where'd we lose 'em? Where'd those 51% of American voters go? What could we have done differently?

I like a lot of you. I read a lot of you. On many issues, I even agree with you. But the condescension! It's how I get things like a friend defending me to a left-leaning guy with the rationale that I must be a victim of "sparkly propaganda"--and she meant well, that's the kicker there. I don't even get to be mad about it 'cause the heart was in the right place . . . though the sting of it lingers. And I get things like this (emphasis added):

It's clear that the Bush campaign used paid and unpaid media to their advantage in their ability to label Kerry, and effectively made this election one of style over substance for many.
You know, what unpaid media are we talking about here, exactly? Because I really, really hope it isn't blogs. Rent's due today, and my check from Karl Rove still isn't here. That bastard!

I can wholly appreciate the urge to believe it was "style over substance;" it's also known as sticking your head in the sand or, What Republicans Did During the Clinton Years. You remember: He was only a popular President because he was Slick Willie. Because he seduced people. Because he had charm, because he lied, because he had no morals, because the liberal media bronzed his baby shoes and tacked his fingerpainting on the wall for an adoring American public to collectively "awww" over . . . .

These are all just excuses for why your candidate didn't get in. Often there's even some truth to them, but they're still excuses; and by their condescending nature, they necessarily insult the very people you're trying to excuse. Which this election, I dunno if you noticed, is only HALF THE COUNTRY.

I'm not saying 50 million Elvis fans can't be wrong, because God knows 50 million Britney Spears fans could be, and were. Obviously people can suffer an attack of mass stupidity. There's no lack of evidence for that.

But you do live in a country where--despite Karl Rove, Rupert Murdoch, Ralph Reed, and whoever else is on the shit list this week--most people have access to hundreds of information sources; the literacy rate is quite good; education, however poorly provided to some, is still free for all--you don't live in a country where it's likely that half the population suddenly came down with the stupids. Or rather: It is more likely that half the population heard the message and either could not (due to fundamental disagreements) or would not (due to poor message delivery) be convinced by it. That is far more likely than that half the population was brainwashed by "the language of sin, evil, and American providence." See also: the principle of parsimony.

The primary attribute of the left that I honestly don't get is this idea that the left is synonymous with progress and that progress is always good. The "enemies of progress" you can then split into two camps; they're either misguided or malicious, with the latter driving on the former.

Progress is not always good; I know people who are making good progress at ruining their livers. I'm making terrific progress in my quest to die owing money to absolutely everybody on the planet. Despite the existence of the word "regress" in English, in common usage we describe every day the progression of bad things. No one wants to hear that his cancer is "progressive."

If you tell me you're for a progressive future, I'm naturally going to want to know what that future looks like. And if one of your progressive ideas happens to be one I don't want in my future, yet you're not willing to do without it, well, then, I'm going to have to agree to disagree with you, and au revoir, have a nice day.

That does not mean I am stupid, bigoted, fundamentalist, or reactionary. It means we do not agree about the value, nature, direction, and shape of progress.


That's all really. It's just a wish list. I wish I'd never hear about feminazis on the right again, never hear about fundamentalists on the left again. Not because I want us to all sit around singing folk songs about peace and love, but because the last four years have been exhausting. I'm exhausted, is all, and I hope the next four aren't so wearing.

Posted by Ilyka at November 3, 2004 09:50 PM in hell is other people

A note: By "unpaid media" I mean old- and new-media endorsements that weren't officially endorsed by the Bush campaign, but that weren't specificially denounced either. They helped the campaign gain capital and helped to set the agenda, and shifted the opinion of Kerry in a way that dubbed him "the most liberal senator" and a "flip-flopper." Thus, my comment on style over substance, as many non-Kerry voters cast a ballot for Bush because they didn't like his look and thought he was too "indecisive." It's the political framing by these media outlets that helped push the Bush camp along.

The Kerry campiagn wasn't as effective using media to the same effect.

Posted by: Lauren at November 3, 2004 11:01 PM

Amen, Ilyka. Yours is a post that had to be made.


Posted by: Margi at November 3, 2004 11:32 PM

Fair enough. In light of Dan Rather's comments to Ed Bradley last night that "the blogging machine, which the White House and the Bush-Cheney campaign has used for any number of purposes over their four years will start now, if it hasn't started already, to say, listen, Kerry-Edwards, for the good of the country, need to concede," however, I had to consider the possibility that unpaid media = blogs.

Any media boost the Bush campaign received didn't come from CBS, that's certain--unless it came in the form of a backlash against Rather's general looniness.

Posted by: ilyka at November 3, 2004 11:40 PM

Did you see Rather's inane metaphors and similes during the coverage last night? Luckily they reigned him in a bit. The 2000 coverage was almost unbearable.

Posted by: Lauren at November 4, 2004 01:07 AM

The Kerry campiagn wasn't as effective using media to the same effect.

Jusging from the outcome, no. Which is not to say they didn't try.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at November 4, 2004 03:35 AM

what is it about being sort of smart that makes people feel completely superior. being smart gives someone more opportunities, but most seem to use them to think poorly of others.

Posted by: rammer at November 4, 2004 03:38 AM

"If I get some time this weekend, some blogs are coming off the roll on the left precisely because of that phenomenon."

I've been moving that way for a while now, myself. I've removed all of the mega-bloggers and all of the others with a predominantly political theme. It was just getting tiresome. Politics is OK but I prefer reading about the minutiae of daily living.

Posted by: Rob at November 4, 2004 11:28 AM

While venting to Angus this morning, one of the points I had made was that now so much change is going to occur.

"So you're against evolution and progression?" he, the Devil's Advocate, asked.

"It's not that. It's just preparation for the change." I replied.

"Right." he nodded. "You're a Luddite then."

And that shut me up and has ceased all venting since:

1) he has a point
2) change might be good
3) he used the word "Luddite" which made him seem very brainy and sexy and I had to have a go at him.

We all have our levels of waking up and shrugging, knowing that the middle road is a comfortable place to be.

Posted by: Helen at November 4, 2004 11:46 AM

Great post. I hope the message gets spread widely.

Posted by: John at November 4, 2004 04:56 PM

I'm really tired of being called a bible thumping, bigoted, imperialist, ignorant rube. It's everywhere. What happened to Kerry's message about healing and bringing the country back together? I haven't seen a single Kerry supporter backing that yet.

I've been pruning my blogroll too, both to the left and right. Now I've just got to take the time to actually reflect that on my weblog.

Posted by: Jim at November 5, 2004 03:53 PM

You know, when Kerry voters stop calling Bush "chimp" and "moron", and stop doing chicken little imitations of the sky falling down, they might become amenable to reasonable conversation.

But until then, I think they deserve to be dissed bigtime.

Posted by: BKR at November 5, 2004 05:17 PM

You know, when Kerry voters stop calling Bush "chimp" and "moron",

. . . by which I infer that you've never called Kerry "Lurch," "John F---ing Kerry," "a traitor to his country," etc., etc.

If you stand around demanding all the concessions while making none of your own, you get bupkis.

Posted by: ilyka at November 5, 2004 08:09 PM