Saturday, July 24, 2010

we did it to ourselves

I had an interesting exchange with a liberal political hack friend of mine today with regards to a blogger from the left who seems as much of a stark-raving lunatic as many of the teabagger and birther bloggers of the right. My friend winced at what this woman was writing, her unsupported accusations and insinuations, rumors and hints and things written as questions so that they do not actually cross the line into the perilous legal area governed by libel laws.

"So, does X beat his wife? We can't tell, he won't answer our calls so we can ask. Why do you think that might be? What is he hiding?"

That kind of stuff.

Wince-worthy? Sure. Especially since it's being done in the name of liberal politics.


We like to think ourselves above such nastiness. We like to think ourselves beyond the petty crap, the dishonest stuff, the underhanded, illegitimate, not-entirely-legal world of political hijinks named in the 1970s by operatives and practitioners as "ratfuckery."

We don't DO that, we tell people. We are the ethical ones.

For the record, ethical lines got blurred so badly during the heyday of ratfuckery that some boneheads thought it was a legitimate political tactic to break into the headquarters of the opposing political party and tap the phones and steal information.

The break-in was a bad idea to begin with.

The cover-up changed the history of the world.

Think of where we would be today if Richard Nixon had not resigned in disgrace, if people had not been caught and prosecuted and bribes paid and cover-ups attempted and failed, and Gerald Ford took over and pardoned everybody and then Jimmy Carter was elected because he seemed homespun, but then he turned out to be homespun and kind of out of his depth and then we got Reagan. Eeeeeejeebus. See what I mean?

What would have happened if Nixon had finished out his second term? What would have happened? Who the hell knows. Nobody can guess.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan had a guy in his administration who was just bonkers. Guy's name was Thomas K. Jones, and he was the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for strategic theater nuclear forces. Jones got everyone riled up when he argued, in front of a reporter with a pen and notebook at the ready, that an attack by nuclear missiles was easily survivable: "Dig a hole, cover it with a couple of doors, and then throw three feet of dirt on top. Everyone's going to make it if there are enough shovels to go around."


I remember that. Doors and shovels. Yep, way easier (and cheaper!!) than all those bomb shelter kits people bought during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Clearly Jones was a nutter. Nobody really argued that. I mean, nobody locked him up where he could not get out, but really, a lot of smart people paid him no mind.

But a lot of not-so-smart people liked the easy simplicity of his words, they liked that he told them a fairy tale that made them feel safe, and after all, it is easier to go along with a myth that does not challenge us to get off our butts, even if we have an inkling of an idea that it might really be a myth.

And somewhere, a large lesson was learned and a large lesson was missed.

First, the lesson that was learned.

(Actually there were several.)

Surrounding yourself with a variety of people is a good idea. Making sure that at least one of them is fucking nuts (but politically manageable) is brilliant.

Because while everyone flipped their shit about Jones and his doors and shovels, that one comment suddenly made Ronald Reagan's other neo-fascist henchmen look, well, not as bad as that guy.

Ding. Valuable lesson: being around crazy people makes you appear sane in the way being around short people makes you look tall. Doesn't mean you are, just means it appears that way.

The second valuable lesson learned was that vast numbers of people really want to be led like sheep. And sheep are happiest when other people do their thinking for them, just so long as they have grass to eat and someone keeps an eye out for wolves and stuff. And sheep will do things that are actually against their own best interests if they are convinced that there is a threat driving them.

Ding. Valuable lesson: you can get people to do what you want, if you scare them. You can get them to hurt themselves if you tell them it will keep them safe from the imagined threat.

Shortly after those years came the emergence of conservative talk radio, and the charge was led by that dipshit multi-million-dollar-a-year champion of the working man, Flush Dimbaugh.

Lots of people understood that Dimbaugh (I refuse to use his real name and garner the inevitable google hits and trolls) was a circus performer, a barker who riled up the crowd and got people excited. Lots of people understood that he made up great swaths of "information" on his radio program and that, even if it was corrected by smart people who were right, the fact that the lie was out there once was enough to give it a life of its own.

Ding. Valuable lesson: If you say a thing often enough, people will believe it, even if it is patently false.

Conservatives in America were learning these lessons very very well. They encouraged dipshits like Dimbaugh and his ilk to bleat loud and constantly, secure in knowing that a scared populace is easily led, to the point where it will hurt its own members and blame someone else for the actions of its own members.

OK, so we've established that the right is willing to lie and abuse people -- even its own -- to further its agenda.

Let's take a look at what happened in the progressive world during those same years.

At the end of the 1970s, the progressive movement was divided, scattered and unsure what to do with itself. The was in Vietnam was over, Reagan had trumped Carter and the hostages were home from Tehran. The economy was on the upswing, the ERA was dead, the liberals had all split into separate camps and the gay men had begun dying from a mysterious illness without a name. Feminists had ousted the lesbians, who went off to communes and pouted. Progressive men had been branded as sweater-wearing academics and wimps who were run by their wives, except for the Kennedys, who were just run by alcohol and their dicks.

At some point, progressives looked around and decided to get mobilized. By our nature, we like to be inclusive and honor the thoughts and ideas of each person, but somehow, every time one of our fringe elements would speak up, Flush and his crowd would point and laugh and we'd lose ground.

So we started cutting off our fringes. We tossed them overboard. The radical fringes of our political side of the aisle disappeared.Only a few holdouts remained. The Dennis Kuciniches and (pre-sell-out) Howard Deans of our party were (and still are) ridiculed and teased as starry-eyed true believers, pie-in-the-sky idealists and dreamers and fools. Kucinich was referred to by liberal commentators in recent years as "the Democratic Party house elf." LIBERAL commentators called him that. Including me. Paul Wellstone was viewed largely as a kook, a nut with such high ideals and ethics as to render him useless in serious debate.

We decided, for better or for worse, that in order to get votes, we were going to have to act like the popular guys who were presently getting votes. So we started doing things foreign to our natures. Instead of arguing that rehabilitation might be a better path for our corrections system, we "got tough of crime" and supported more prisons and less preventative measures. We buckled under to a lot of what the conservatives were doing, and eventually drew off some of their supporters. But in doing so, we had become them.

So we muzzled our fringes. Progressive commentators hunkered down in print journalism where they could write one or two pieces a week and never have to ad-lib a thing, and they STILL got hammered by the right. Meticulously researched facts and pristine prose have a hard time standing up to a barrage of myths and accusations applied with the four-inch fire hose of talk radio.

Some progressives got out of the game almost entirely, withdrawing to the ivory towers of academia where they got tenure and job security, even if they gave up the adrenaline rush of the political world.

Then, suddenly, in 2010, some of us looked around and said "how is it that we worked so hard to get a majority in both houses and the white house and we still are getting kicked in the gut at every turn?"

Well, a couple of things here. First, we have become our own enemy. We have been so careful to not threaten the dominant paradigm that we have become part and parcel of it. We have become more effective at shutting down our renegades than our opponents ever could have hoped.

And we have become the pigs in Orwell's Animal Farm. We are running the farm, overworking our people, and treating them as harshly -- perhaps even more so -- than the humans had before us.

Dissent is not tolerated in the political sphere. Not among progressives. Conservatives handle it better than we do: "well, Flush doesn't speak for everyone, but he's got a right to say what he thinks. First Amendment and all that..."

Us? We drum people out in stupid, ill-advised, politically correct ways (can you say Shirley Sherrod? I knew you could!) then look the fool when someone mentions that the emperor has no clothes.

We had a moment, in the 1980s, when ACT-UP and Queer Nation and the Lesbian Avengers made some noise and made people uncomfortable and raised awareness, but by the time we marched on Washington for glbt rights in 1993, those folks had been ushered first to the back of the bus and then under it. We wanted to be like our oppressors. We wanted to not threaten middle-class white America, so we became middle-class white America, and anyone who did not fit that design was quietly (or not so quietly) told that they were not welcome at the party. Butch dykes in leather? Um, can't you just put on a nice pant suit? Drag queens and high femme boys? Can you at least try not to lisp?! Jeez, we're trying to be taken seriously here.

Our fringes have now gone underground, where it is safe from both the enemy without and the one within our own houses. Our fringes have become bloggers. Our fringes have been largely ignored for a while, but might be making some inroads as Internet access becomes more available.

But the point remains. How pathetic is it that we have done to ourselves what our opponents could never have accomplished? We have assimilated. We have been absorbed. The "progressives" of today are more conservative than Richard Nixon was in his day. Truth. Nixon created OSHA. Nixon went to China. Nixon appointed Supreme Court justices that today represent the most liberal arm (ineffective flipper, perhaps?) of the court. Yes, he was crooked and wrong about a lot of things, but his policies would be viewed as nearly seditious by modern standards.

So, when a liberal blogger rants and rails and raises difficult questions, I say good. We need our fringes. Our diversity is our strength. The diversity of any organization is its strength. Look at what the conservatives have done. Their party chairman is a black man. The governor of Louisiana is an Indian-American rumored to have practiced voodoo healing rituals and the governor of Hawaii is a closet... um, no, can't go there. The governor of Florida is a closet... no. The Senator from Idaho is..., oh, hell. Um, anyway, the Log Cabin Republicans are pretty active.

We NEED our fringes. We need them desperately. We need our version of the guy yelling about doors and shovels. We need our version of Pat Buchanan. I'd say we have it in Rachel Maddow, but she's smarter, more articulate and more accurate than Pat. Not to mention way better looking.

When I was in college, I was a student activist. I got on the news occasionally, and sometimes I made the mainstream queer movement people cringe. What was I trying to do? Undermine all of their hard work? A Maine State Senator came to my defense one day at a meeting of the glb (we had no T in our world back then) political folks. "We need Dawn," she told them (paraphrasing here), "Because she and her very brave friends doing actions in Farmington, like the ACT-UP folks, make is much easier for me to talk to people in the state house. Without her, and without them, I am the radical fringe."

Our diversity is our strength, not a liability. If we are ashamed of our members, how do we expect to gain the respect of anyone else?

I say let us celebrate our fringes. No, they don't speak for all of us, but they've got as much right to the First Amendment as anyone else, and I say let them use it fully. Let us not abandon all of what makes us us in our effort to achieve the same rights and freedoms as the rest of society. Media whores? We need 'em. Political insiders? We need them, too. Gay republicans? Not sure why, but we probably need them as well. Academics? Yes, we need them! Clergy? Absolutely! Big dykes and drag queens and foster moms and accountants and lawyers and Teamsters and poets - we need every bit of us, and we need ALL the input to make us strong. Some will do the political thing. Some will live on the fringes. That's fine. But we need to not eat our own in this battle.

Let us celebrate the liberal version of doors and shovels!

Oh, one last thing. Here is a very cool video that made the rounds on facebook last week. Enjoy!


Andi P said...

Fucking spot-ON. Other than one type ("was" should be "war"), this is an absolutely PERFECT analysis.

Anonymous said...

I agree until the end, but sorry, can't get there. I want my crazy left-wing fringe to be ranting and raving and pushing the rest of us to get up off our asses and do what has to be done. I want them shutting down cities by lying in the streets. I want them screaming in the halls of congress about true socailism being the only way. I want them camping out at the gates of CEOs' homes and making their lives miserable. I don't want them to be polite. I don't want them (or anybody else, for that matter) to be to the right of Tricky Dick. Most of all, though, I don't want them to be bombing things or being the left-wing version of Dimbaugh or Dreck. Those tactics are b-a-d.
And I can't believe you called Kucinich the house elf. Shame!


msladydeborah said...

I love this post Dawn!

But I do have to say that I like Dennis. I think he does one helluva job representing the O-State.

Miss Trudy said...

Great post. Lots of food for thought there.

MRMacrum said...

Certainly we need the fringes. If for no other reason than to define where the middle is. But it sounds like you would like the Left to allow the fringes the power the Right has given it's fringes. Instead of leading their constituency out of darkness, for the sake of owning the power, they lead them into the dark hole. Is this what the Left wants? Power based on keeping people stupid?

Count me out. When the fringes control the message, we are all in trouble.

I want a society based on common sense, not based on political expediency.