Friday, May 12, 2006

What Liberals/Progressives Can’t Bring Themselves to Do

What liberals/progressives can't bring themselves to do: repeat, without equivocation, the equivalent of: "Al Gore claims he invented the Internet."

Or, if you like, liberals and progressives won’t spread a lie, perpetuate propaganda, settle for half-truths…

You might think this is true because liberals and progressives are better equipped to identify lies and are also fortunate in that the simple (?), logical truth already supports their opinions. You could say liberals and progressives are too engaged to waste their time on lowbrow noisemaking. Or, you could just admit that the first thing a liberal or progressive is inclined to do when faced with an error of fact is look to correct it. Yes, my above guesswork is targeted toward a friendly audience (generalizing). However, I happen to think there are kernels of truth in the above. Something that causes the left to be more self-critical and hold its members to a higher standard. Daily examples aren’t hard to find....expand
Thursday, May 11, 2006 - “Dean mischaracterized his party's platform on gay rights in an interview courting evangelicals, then set the record straight Thursday when an advocacy group called him on it.”
That’s all fine and good. It’s even great. But it’s also a mistake of a sort. If we’re each striving to be the sharpest tool in the shed--and who among us is not trying to be smarter than the next guy or gal--it doesn’t take long before our conversation stops making sense to those less engaged. Like it or not, the lie that Al Gore lied about inventing the internet resonated with a lot of people. People who are not as scrupulous as we are. People who would never take the time to dig deep enough to find out what Gore actually said. They’re generally disinterested. If anything, that’s all they were waiting to hear. That lie makes it an easy decision. That lie won Bush votes. And if you look at the margin of his 2000 win(sic), it’s not unimaginable that it, the lie, accounts for his margin of victory.

The point, however, is the willingness of intelligent conservatives to perpetuate and tolerate these simple little lies that, in the end, win them closely contested elections. Like those for President of the United States.

Let me be clear. In this Machiavellian age, idiotic sound bites are but one of the ingredients of a winning formula. The reason I think they deserve our attention is those stupid little lies, although unsophisticated in the extreme, still work. Yet we have failed time and again to fight fire with fire.

Instead, we’ve allowed patently counterfeit organizations like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT), whose sole function was to generate and publicize these little lies, succeed unopposed on the field of dirty tricks. But is what they’re did really that bad? I don’t think it is.

Before any campaign even gets rolling, the majority of voters are already party affiliated. Campaigns change very few minds. But there are malleable, dull minds out there among the undecided. And as long as conservatives are willing to actively participate in perpetuating mistruths, or at minimum turning a blind eye to them, Republicans will win over the dim every time. And they won’t apologize. They’ll be as justified in their lies as a parent is justified in not telling the whole truth when answering their six-year-old's question about sex.

Did SBVT defame Kerry in your mind? Of course they didn’t. But did they change your opinion of Kerry? No. You’re not an idiot. No harm no foul. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is, it’s only a stupid game. A stupid game that really only affects people who need affecting. People who need the world explained to them in the simplest of terms, and as is often the case, the truth just can’t compete when it comes to keeping things simple.

One crucial point is this. Conservatives don’t think less of Rove or Rush or any of their other generals for perpetuating these lies. Among conservatives there is an understanding that Rush doesn’t actually believe Gore claimed to have invented the internet. Rush knows exactly what Gore said. Rush’s public stance is that of a knowing liar to those who know better. He’s not stupid and he’s not to be criticized for pretending to buy into the lie. He’s selling it. He’s selling it to the simpleminded and listless. And it’s this understanding, this unwritten agreement that we liberals and progressives lack. We’d just a soon jump down each other’s throats as we would Rush’s. No sooner does a liberal or progressive fight dirty (tell a useful lie), than they’re in trouble with liberals and progressives.

Sure it was bullshit. In poor taste. Pedestrian. But I have to ask: was what NARAL did any worse that what SBVT did? No. And did NARAL stop because conservatives started foaming at the mouth? No. NARAL stopped because liberals and progressives joined the chorus of criticism. In stark contrast, SBVT never stopped or backed off one iota. In fact, the more press and criticism they got, the harder they pushed. Of course a SCOTUS nomination and a Presidential Election are apples and oranges. But the point remains. You can’t get a majority of liberals and progressives to not tell the truth.

The only counterargument to fighting smart but dirty that I give any credence to is the idea that negative, fallacious politics turns liberals and progressives off. The same can’t be said for conservatives. We know the latter to be true. I suspect this is because whatever kind of conservative someone considers themselves to be, they believe that the ends justify the means. In that light, when answering for the conservative’s reasoning, I suspect we don’t give ourselves enough credit if we think liberals or progressives won’t apply that same ends-justify-the-means logic when it comes to presidential politics. It’s not that you have to agree that the ends justifying the means. But when push comes to shove, are liberal and progressives really going to cut off our nose to spite their face on polling day? Not this liberal.

In retrospect, don’t you think it might have been a good idea to tolerate, if not promote little lies about Bush? It’s not as if the guy hasn’t given us plenty of material. I mean, how bad would it have been if we’d spread a lie based on this one quote:

"Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country."
How about, say, Bush supports of male prostitution, saying, "[They] aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country." I mean, seriously, if we’d spread that little half-truth, if we’d fueled that little lie along with some others, we might have swayed some thousands of votes. Are these incurious minds not up for grabs? It would have made a/the difference:

Iowa - Bush: 751,957 Kerry: 741,898
New Mexico - Bush: 376,930 Kerry: 370,942
If only we’d given some traction to Bush, "I'm the dictator." And, as it turns out, sometimes a half-truth turns out to be a whole truth.

But Bush is a past example. Chances are the GOP’s next golden boy won’t enjoy the cover of a reputation for habitually misspeaking. The key is a lie that will embarrass. It has to be ego stripping and juicy. Past drug abuse? No big deal. Paid for your girlfriend’s abortion? So. Ducked out of military service? Prove it. Supports the rights of male prostitutes? Well, that’s a problem because everyone knows most male prostitutes are gay. It’s juicy too. It’s a square peg that settles nicely into the memories of people who prefer information that supports their close-minded prejudices.

This isn’t really an argument for dirty politics as it can be reasonably argued that both sides partake to varying degrees of success. What it is, is an argument for smart dirty politics. Again, SBVT. Unlike their near counterpart,, SBVT is a throwaway entity. They were a tool created solely to influence the 2004 presidential election and that’s all. They have no reputation to maintain. They have no need to attract and sustain a large membership. They were expendable. Kamikazes. They served their purpose. This is an argument for liberals and progressives to follow suit. To prepare to create a sacrificial organization whose sole purpose is to wound the 2008 GOP nominee for President without care or concern for their reputation, future or fortune.

My basic thesis is this. Remember the 1988 story about George H. W. Bush?

During a photo opportunity at a 1988 grocers' convention, President George Bush was "amazed" at encountering supermarket scanners for the first time. *
In 2006, that whopper wouldn’t have risen to the status of an urban legend. And who would have been responsible for debunking it in its tracks? Liberal and progressive webloggers. You and me.

So the next time you happen on a catchy whopper about a Republican, will you use your online publishing power to:

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