Friday, January 06, 2006

Unhinged, revisited

Dave Neiwert responds to my posts responding to his critique of Michelle Malkin's book, Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild.

Neiwert believes I'm wrong to equate political nastiness on the right and the left when the right is clearly so much worse. (Of course, a lot of my conservative commenters think I'm wrong to equate political nastiness on the right and the left when the left is clearly so much worse.) It may well be that I'm wrong. I'm not a believer in balance for the sake of balance, an approach which Dave summarizes with this acid quote: "If two groups are locked in argument, one maintaining that 2+2=4, and the other claiming that 2+2=6, sure enough, an Englishman will walk in and settle on 2+2=5, denouncing both groups as extremists." There are certainly many instances ("intelligent design" vs. Darwinian evolution, communism vs. anticommunism) where I don't think that each side has its good points.

But what about Dave Neiwert's specific rebuttal?

Look at the examples Young proffers:
-- Some Democratic Underground commenters who intentionally chose not to stop and help a Bush supporter with auto trouble by the roadside.

-- Markos' "screw them" comment regarding the four contractors killed at Fallujah.

-- Some Manichean "us and them" rhetoric from Howard Dean.

-- Some remarks from Michael Moore and Garrison Keillor that even Young admits are not really all that ugly.

Notice something missing? How about the fact that none of these people on the left come even close to having the kind of mass audience that Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh enjoy?


Time out. Michael Moore and Howard Dean don't have a mass audience comparable to O'Reilly & Co.? All right, neither of them broadcasts daily, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily less influential. (Dean routinely adresses and fires up Democratic audiences around the country.) Markos Moulitsas -- the Daily Kos -- has a huge Internet following. Garrison Keillor has an audience of about 4 million on National Public Radio. (I should clarify, by the way, that my example of Markos' "Screw them" remark was cited as a specific parallel to Rush Limbaugh saying that the peace activists who were taken hostage in Iraq were asking for it.)

Neiwert goes on:

But the main element lacking in these examples is pretty self-evident: None of these remarks are eliminationist. None of them describes a desire to simply eliminate a significant bloc of one's opposition, let alone its entirety (though Keillor's, which wishes for the disenfranchisement of born-again Christians, comes close).

In particular, Neiewert takes exception with this comment from my second blogpost:

No one really thinks (I hope) that Limbaugh, Coulter, and O'Reilly are seriously advocating the murder and incarceration of millions of liberals. What makes their rhetoric so poisonous is that (a) as Neiwert points out, it amounts to "a declaration of enmity" rather than a desire to debate, and (b) certain ideas, such as killing or rounding up one's political opponents, are too vile to be broached even as a "joke."

Viewed that way, there isn't that much distance between urging deportation and urging secession.

(Bold added by Dave Neiwert.)

Neiwert comments:

Perhaps Young finds this distance so short because her description elides the most significant component of this: the desire to inflict harm. If you go back and read the post that Young cites, you'll see that I describe the problem with eliminationism thus: "It's simply a declaration of enmity and the intent to cause harm."

Viewed this way -- that is, as reality -- there is a significant distance between deportation and secession. The former indeed wishes serious harm upon its victims, including deprivation of their rights, their livelihoods, and their property; while the latter wishes not to be politically obligated or connected to their opponents any longer -- it merely severs the relationship, instead of inflicting actual harm.


As reality? Does Dave Neiwert think that Bill O'Reilly really thinks it would be okay for the Al Qaeda to blow up San Francisco, or that Rush Limbaugh really thinks that it would be a good idea to kill all the liberals except for a couple who should be preserved as living relics? I don't. As much as I loathe Ann Coulter, I don't think even she really wishes that Timothy McVeigh had driven his explosives-laden truck into the New York Times building.

Neiwert cites his earlier post discussing "eliminationism" in which he says:

And yes, it's often voiced as crude "jokes", the humor of which, when analyzed, is inevitably predicated on a venomous hatred.

But what we also know about this rhetoric is that, as surely as night follows day, this kind of talk eventually begets action, with inevitably tragic results.

As surely as night follows day? Examples?

I think the liberal-bashing rhetoric Neiwert rightly finds appalling is bad because it's poisonous and hateful, because it treats the opposition as the enemy, and because it precludes dialogue or engagement or any search for common ground -- not because it is an actual declaration of intent to harm. I guess we simply disagree on that one. I will note that in his examples of the hatefulness of this rhetoric, Neiwert quite rightly cites not only comments threatening liberals with harm, but also things like this Coulterism: "They are either traitors or idiots, and on the matter of America’s self-preservation, the difference is irrelevant. Fifty years of treason hasn’t slowed them down."

Neiwert also points out that in the 1990s, extremist conservative speech -- specifically the wild rhetoric about Clinton -- had no real counterpart on the left, and that the rise of left-wing nastiness was simply a reaction. I think it's quite true that in the 1990s, right-wing talk radio vitriol had no counterpart on the left in terms of crudeness, name-calling, overt polemical vitriol, conspiracy-mongering, etc. But as I noted in my first "unhinged" post, there definitely was a lot of nastiness (and demonization) of a more genteel sort -- the "Republicans are evil people who want to poison the air and water, starve kids, throw Grandma out on the streets, enslave black people and kick puppies" variety, the portrayal of Republicans and conservatives (not only in overtly political speech, but also in movies and on television) as cloddish, bigoted, selfish, greedy, dumb, etc. etc. And I do think that many conservatives' hostility to liberals was driven by this sort of contempt -- just as, for many conservatives, the politics of demonization began with the attacks on Robert Bork (who, for all his manifold sins, certainly did not deserve to be accused of wanting a return to "segregated lunch counters") and Clarence Thomas.

Neiwert asks:

Indeed, one has to wonder where Young was during most of the 1990s, when the right was frothing over with hatred of Bill Clinton and the mainstream left. Much of the eliminationist right-wing rhetoric that flourishes today, as well as the utter lack of civility and decorum on both sides, originated in those years.


For the record, I was writing a column for The Detroit News (no longer available online thanks to the Supreme Court decision protecting free-lance writers like me from having their work electronically reproduced without their permission, and to my own negligence in returning the permission form), in which I criticized, more than once, the Republicans' Clinton obsession. But I also remember other things from the 1990s. There was, for instance, the rhetoric suggesting that conservative critiques of big government had helped set the stage for the Oklahoma City bombing, or that Timothy McVeigh was driven by the same kind of ideas that led to the 1994 Republican victory in Congress. There was Al Gore's 1998 speech to the NAACP, in which he said that opponents of race-based affirmative action "use their colorblind the way duck hunters use a duck blind -- they hide behind it and hope the ducks won't notice," and went on to implicitly link them to hate crimes against blacks.

Finally, about solutions to the problem: Dave Neiwert says that if the left makes a conscious effort to stigmatize political hate speech in its ranks, it won't do much to promote civility or dialogue because the right will only get nastier. I think that, in the current climate, unilateral disarmanent is unlikely to work, on either side. That's why my suggestion from the start was a liberal/conservative coalition against hate (so to speak). I was thinking of a joint initiative by politicians, but in the meantime, why not us bloggers right here on the Internet? We already have a "Porkbusters" initiative; how about "Hatebusters"?

36 comments:

Ampersand said...

There was, for instance, the rhetoric suggesting that conservative critiques of big government had helped set the stage for the Oklahoma City bombing, or that Timothy McVeigh was driven by the same kind of ideas that led to the 1994 Republican victory in Congress.

Do you really think it was a coincidence that McVeigh targeted a government building in the middle of a huge wave of extremist anti-government rhetoric?

Don't get me wrong; I think no one but McVeigh is responsible for McVeigh's acts. But it should be possible to hold McVeigh accountable, while at the same time acknowleging that if conservatives (or liberals) spend years broadcasting an over-the-top message of hating government, it's unsurprising that a few scary extremists will take it seriously.

The critics quoted in the Mediawatch link you provide are, by and large, raising this point in a moderate fasion; and yet you seem to find even bringing up the question to be a kind of hate rhetoric. This, to me, is a problem. Whether or not hateful rhetoric is a catalyst for violent fringe extremists is, it seems to me, a legitimate question, and not one that should be dismissed as hate rhetoric.

There was Al Gore's 1998 speech to the NAACP, in which he said that opponents of race-based affirmative action "use their colorblind the way duck hunters use a duck blind -- they hide behind it and hope the ducks won't notice," and went on to implicitly link them to hate crimes against blacks.

No, Gore didn't go on to do that. Here's the speech itself (the source you linked to was, put mildly, biased). Gore cannot reasonably be interpreted in the way you suggest - nor did he say that the opponents of AA must want to murder black people, which is how your source interpreted it.

A more reasonable interpretation of the "duckblind" analogy is that Gore was saying that some people use the rhetoric of colorblindness to provide cover for opposing legislation that helps African Americans.

The dubiousness of your examples, I think, tends to support Neiwert's point: Nothing in the mainstream left in the 1990s matched the mainstream right for vitrolic hatred.

But that was then, this is now. And in the 2000s, even if the right-wing sells more hateful books, the hateful rhetoric on both sides has gotten so extreme that I cannot see any point in trying to say that one side is better than the other on this score. It's like arguing over which ocean is bigger; maybe the Atlantic holds a greater volume of water, but in the end they're both oceans.

"Hatebusters" is an interesting idea. It would be difficult to do it without running into constant charges of bias, however.

Johnny said...

I think ampersands comment has merit.

I worry that you are comparing two modes of thought....

1. Your political attitude will make horrible things happen, and that makes you horrible.

2. Your political attitude will make horrible things happen and you should be killed/arrested/deported/blown up.

I rarely accept violent rhetoric as jest.

You seem to be equating "you are a fool" and "you are a fool and deserve to die."

You say the following:
As reality? Does Dave Neiwert think that Bill O'Reilly really thinks it would be okay for the Al Qaeda to blow up San Francisco, or that Rush Limbaugh really thinks that it would be a good idea to kill all the liberals except for a couple who should be preserved as living relics? I don't. As much as I loathe Ann Coulter, I don't think even she really wishes that Timothy McVeigh had driven his explosives-laden truck into the New York Times building.

Well, I don't know about Mr. Neiwert, but for meyself....

Yes, I take Bill at his word. I see no reason to disbelieve him. He does not present himself as a "satirist" or a comedian, but as a newsman and commentator. Why shouldn't I believe him?

If we had taken the voilent rhetoric of radical Islam more seriously, perhaps we would not be having the problems we are now having. If I am supposed to take threats from radical Islam seriously now...why am I not supposed to take death threats from other extremists like Coulter, O'Reiley and Pat Robertson (Pat, as many know is a certainly welcome at FOX as a patriot, or at least he has been).

I don't know...if someone says they want me dead, if they say they want to blow me up or deport me, it would be pretty weak and irresponsible of me to ignore them, or act like they have not threatened me.

A death threat is a death threat.

Maybe I just don't have a sense of humor anymore.

As a life long Buckley reader, I'm trying to imagine Buckley saying that type of thing, or approving it being said. And I suspect he would understand exactly what I am talking about.

A death threat is a death threat.

Regardless of it being a "lefty" or a "righty" who says it.

Tim P said...

Hate speech is unacceptable from any quarter, however, in the post, mention is made of how there was no left counter to talk radio in the 90's and that the present feverswamp of leftist vitriol is a reaction to rightwing talk radio of the 90's, etcetera. Basically, that blames the right for starting it.

However, I can remember democrats demonizing Goldwater and making a major part of their campaign a play on the fear that if he was elected, he would start a nuclear war.

The hatred of Nixon by the left was visceral and almost palpable.

More recently, the hatred directed at Reagan when he was elected was readily evident to anyone paying attention. Clark Clifford's characterization of Reagan as an amiable dunce for one example. The media implicitly characterized him as the same and dangerous too. Who that was present, can forget the hysterics of imminent armageddon during Reagan's first term.

In all these cases, it was the democrats and the left who crossed a new threshold of nastiness and partisanship and lowered the bar of public discourse.

The right wing talk radio of the 90's was a reaction to this hatred and condecension, which prior to that had no outlet for expression. Notice the one big difference between the rightwing talk radio of the 90's and Air America today, talk radio had a huge listenership. Air America does not.

The internet also was a new venue for public expression and it has been a much more effective tool for the right than the left.

In both the cases cited above, what happened was the democratization of news dissemination and many who had no voice before were at last being heard.

The present day hatefest which is primarily from the left and much of the MSM stems from their loss of control of the gates for spreading information to the public and the ability to frame the debate and the narrative of events.

In their desperation, they have become, well, desperate.

However, hate speech, character assasination and smear by innuendo were pioneered by the left and the democrats. To blame the right is just punishing the kid who threw the second punch and was just hitting back. Not that that makes it any more acceptable, but let's just get the story straight.

Lori Heine said...

Our only hope for a return to sanity in this regard may be simple, old-fashioned good sense. I by no means disagree with everything an Ann Coulter or a Michael Savage has to say. But on the main, they and others like them go too far over the top to retain credibility. The stupid things they say cancel out, in many people's minds, the more intelligent things.

One of my best friends is a fiercely conservative Republican, and though I'm a Libertarian, we agree on many matters. I used to find conversation with her quite stimulating. But now that she spends two or three hours every day listening to Right-Wing talk radio, and evidently much of the rest of it watching Fox, she is becoming a crashing bore. Say a single thing that departs from conservative dogma and her eyes just sort of glaze over. Then out of her mouth comes a recorded message on the subject from Rush, Sean or O'Reilly.

Thank the good Lord she has no violent tendencies. She is so dead-sure that many people in our society are the incarnations of evil that if she got her gun, they'd be in trouble.

Many of my other friends now leave the room as soon as she enters. They refuse to take seriously a word she says. I assure them she's really quite intelligent and interesting, but not very many are any longer willing to find out whether that's true.

When people let raving nitwits in the media form their opinions for them, the effect on their brains is no less destructive than that of a hallucinogenic drug. They'd hurt themselves a lot less if they simply sat back and smoked a few doobies.

Revenant said...

Do you really think it was a coincidence that McVeigh targeted a government building in the middle of a huge wave of extremist anti-government rhetoric?

There was no "huge wave of extremist anti-government rhetoric". Militia-type sentiment has never spread beyond the lunatic fringe. What there was, was a huge wave of sentiment that the government was too large and too intrusive. But blaming the advocates of that sentiment for the activities of people who favor *killing* the government is ridiculous.

Now, it IS true that there was a wave of harsh criticism of the Clinton administration's behavior at Waco, and a widely-held sentiment that the government had at best caused the deaths of, and at worst actually killed, a lot of innocent people through its use of unnecessary force. And it is true that McVeigh was, among other things, motivated by a desire to avenge that act. But blaming critics of Waco -- which was, by any standard, a horrible government act of government abuse of power -- for McVeigh's terrorism is as ridiculous as blaming critics of the Vietnam war for the left-wing terrorism of the 60s and 70s.

inmypajamas said...

It's amazing to me how the left sees the right as the current King of Crude when Hitler/Nazi/fascist references to the Bush administration abound. Looking at the signs waved around by some of the anti-war protestors is pretty revealing. And who says the left's attacks are not "eliministic"? Remember in Florida that talked about shooting Rumsfeld? Conservative students across the country have had their newspapers stolen and speech shut down in an effort by lefties to eliminate their point of view.

What some on the left don't realize is that Rush and Coulter are over the top at times to put their point across through humor (though you may not share their brand. I mean, not everyone thinks Monty Python is funny). They are most definitely not serious and it's pretty obvious.

inmypajams said...

I have no idea what happened with that last post (it didn't occur on preview). I was just trying to provide a link for the Dem ad I referred to in the post. Sorry about that.

Anonymous said...

There was no "huge wave of extremist anti-government rhetoric". Militia-type sentiment has never spread beyond the lunatic fringe. What there was, was a huge wave of sentiment that the government was too large and too intrusive.

And incidentally, I agree with libertarians/conservatives who say that the government completely screwed up at Waco.

OTOH, it's interesting how many conservatives are eager to overlook an intrusive government when their own party is in power.

And Cathy, getting rid of shrill hatred would totally ruin the fun of blogs ;-)

Anonymous said...

Oh, and that post was me:

-Brad R.

Revenant said...

OTOH, it's interesting how many conservatives are eager to overlook an intrusive government when their own party is in power.

If the Branch Davidians had murdered three thousand people a few years before the Waco incident I doubt many conservatives would have been critical of Janet Reno's treatment of them. I consider the Republican concern about Al Qaeda and Islamic terrorism to be a lot more rational than Democratic concern about tiny cults in Texas.

Katherine said...

I spent 4 years living in the most liberal state in the nation (Vermont) and 5 living in the most conservative (Utah). Prior to moving to Utah, I had spent my entire life surrounded by liberals, and never really knew any actual conservatives. I thought of religious, red-state conservatives as scary, violent, stupid, ignorant, and dangerous. I really did. It took two years of living in Utah before I was able to break through the deeply-ingrained cognitive constructs enough to really be able to understand conservatives.

Now, I'm in the rare position of being able to understand and appreciate both liberals and conservatives. I've realized that to truly understand the other side on any individual issue, you need to have a deep understanding of their entire moral/ethical worldview. And that doesn't come from reading a few books. It comes from hundreds/thousands of hours spent trying to really understand the other side. Enough that you can shed everything you take for granted and at least temporarily adopt the precepts that the other side takes for granted.

So here's my two cents on this debate. Liberals are more often correct in their positions. But they're also more close-minded and they have MUCH less of an understanding of conservatives than vice versa. This becomes apparent just from reading some of the comments here. The fact that any liberal would actually take Coulter or Limbaugh's jokes seriously is ridiculous. Most conservatives understand that those two are over the top entertainers who put on a show to make money. Using Ann Coulter as a big example of conservative thought is similar to a conservative using Howard Stern as some beacon of liberalism. Sure, both Coulter and Stern have some actual die-hard fans, both those fans are usually not too bright.

Here's why I think liberals are much more likely to have false ideas about their opposition: because blue-state liberals never have to confront actual conservatives or conservative culture.

In contrast, red-staters are forced to confront liberals every day, because this country's popolar culture is liberal. Simple as that. They have to deal with Will & Grace and Sex & the City. Even if they don't watch that kind of stuff, everyone else does. Conservatives also have to modify their values and conduct at work, in order to conform to a culture that won't tolerate, for instance, prejudice against gays. No liberal has to do that. No liberal has to live in a culture where the class that owns the media/hollywood sends out non-stop conservative product. Imagine trying to teach a child, for instance, to save sex for marriage in this culture! Impossible.

Because of this dynamic, I've found that conservatives tend to have a very clear idea of what liberals are like and what their ideas and values are. Liberals, on the other hand, can choose to live in places where they never have to engage with conservative people or culture. And that's why they develop ridiculous, exxagerated stereotypes about conservatives as violent morons who would be happy to string up and kill gays. And this dynamic allows liberals to demonize their enemies for more than conservatives do.

L. Ron Halfelven said...

The question of political unhingedness is one to which Neiwert brings a certain amount of hands-on experience.

Revenant said...

Paul,

That's a great link! I love how Dave slaps the label of "fascism" on Republicans, then immediately proceeds to concede that they meet none of the key requirements for fascism. With the weasel word caveat of "yet", of course. His point seems to be that, if Republicans actually became fascists, then it would be ok to call them fascists, so let's just go ahead and call them "pseudo-fascists" for now. I wonder how he would react to calling Democrats "pseudo-traitors" -- because, after all, they haven't betrayed America... "yet".

Ampersand said...

Katharine,

Although I realize you haven't identified as a conservative, it appears that you've taken on some conservative stereotypes about liberals. For a start, you really should distinguish between libertine and liberal values; they're not the same thing, except in the stereotypes of conservatives. And the idea that no one can ever express prejudice against lesbians and gays in our culture is ludicrous - people do so all the time.

Next, it seems unfair to make broad generalizations about liberals based on the comments of one or two people on this blog.

Do I think that Bill O'Reilly really wants San Francisco blown up? No. Nor do I think Rush Limbaugh would seriously advocate mass-murder of liberals. But I do think that those folks and other conservatives - and the utter unwillingness of "respectable" conservatives to condemn such statements- are contributing to a political culture of hate and contempt - a political culture in which respectful disagreement is not possible - and that's bad enough.

I also think you're wrong to say that liberals have no contact with the conservative worldview. Conservatives, after all, dominate all three branches of government, talk radio, and at least one TV network. They're hardly avoidable.

Furthermore, even fictional TV is hardly as left-wing as you're implying. Will and Grace is an outlier; in the vast majority of TV shows, lesbians and gays don't exist. And there continue to be shows that idealize very conservative values, such as 7th Heaven and Everybody Loves Raymond.

The problem is, engagement through TV isn't enough. We won't have a political culture worth living in until it becomes typical for Americans to have friends, close enough to invite over to dinner, from the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Anonymous said...

But I do think that those folks and other conservatives - and the utter unwillingness of "respectable" conservatives to condemn such statements- are contributing to a political culture of hate and contempt - a political culture in which respectful disagreement is not possible - and that's bad enough.

When confronted with an opposition party whose LEADER is stating that the Republicans are evil; when confronted with a party where one of the newer big names doesn't want a withdrawl of troops in Iraq that can be viewed as something besides a defeat --- yeah, some people might be a little irritable.

I also think you're wrong to say that liberals have no contact with the conservative worldview. Conservatives, after all, dominate all three branches of government, talk radio, and at least one TV network. They're hardly avoidable.

Rush's audience is about 20M a week. I'm sure he's quite easy for libs to miss. And that conservatives "dominate" one network hardly overcomes liberal domination of the other 3.

People in NY have no clue, whatsoever, what people in, say, AL are like. None whatsoever. Southerners have a solid idea of what NY'ers are like, because we have the "greatness" of NY and other liberal enclaves thrown in our faces on a far-too-routine basis.

Furthermore, even fictional TV is hardly as left-wing as you're implying. Will and Grace is an outlier; in the vast majority of TV shows, lesbians and gays don't exist. And there continue to be shows that idealize very conservative values, such as 7th Heaven and Everybody Loves Raymond.

Raymond idealizes "conservative" values in what way, exactly? The lead actress is pro-life, but she didn't exactly bust out the pro-life monologues on that show --- well ever. And do you REALLY wish to argue that both of 7th Heaven's fans are big enough to negate an overwhelmingly liberal bent to pop culture?
-=Mike

Cathy Young said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Once again--I think that if we try to figure out "who started it," it's going to be a long and largely fruitless exercise. Liberals said nasty things about Reagan, I'm sure conservatives said nasty things about Jimmy Carter, etc. (Though I have to say, going back to the Reagan era, that I don't really recall anything like the vitriol directed at Bush these days.)

I think that there is a difference in style between vitriol on the left and the right. In the 1980s, liberals traditionally dominated the mainstream media, while the conservative media were the populist upstarts -- hence their much more abrasive, in-your-face tone. Yet some very hateful sentiments can be expressed in a "genteel" manner.

Barry:

Do I think that Bill O'Reilly really wants San Francisco blown up? No. Nor do I think Rush Limbaugh would seriously advocate mass-murder of liberals. But I do think that those folks and other conservatives - and the utter unwillingness of "respectable" conservatives to condemn such statements- are contributing to a political culture of hate and contempt - a political culture in which respectful disagreement is not possible - and that's bad enough.

Oh, I fully agree. Which is why I think that there isn't all that much difference between a hyperbolic "Liberals ought to be sent to Guantanamo Bay" and a not-so-hyperbolic "Republicans are evil." I don't think the "intent to cause harm" is really there, but the hatred and contempt are.

And yes, that's bad enough.

Re Gore's speech: no, I don't think he literally meant that opponents of affirmative action want to kill blacks. But he was using a metaphor based on hunting for sport and killing for a general intent to do harm; I think that's still pretty hateful and inflammatory. And he did rhetorically inquire what opponents of affirmative action have to say about various racist murderers who've targeted blacks, thus implying that they have to make a special effort to distance themselves from such killers. I think that if someone said, "What do Jesse Jackson and the NAACP have to say about Colin Ferguson?" (the black man who shot up a suburban train in New York, specifically targeting white people), that would be widely seen as a racist statement.

Katherine, interesting point - I'll respond later.

And Mike: can we please refrain from slurs like "libs" on this blog? Because frankly, when I see language like that, it makes me tune out whatever valid points the person may be making.

Katherine said...

Ampersand - I think your list of conservative media only serves to point out how thoroughly liberal our pop culture is. AM radio is hardly a major influence on pop culture. And I agree with Mike that Everybody Loves Raymond isn't a conservative show - it's a completely moderate show about a family that bickers.

So fine, let's not look at outliers like Will & Grace (a huge hit, btw) or 7th Heaven. Let's look at two of the most mainstream, top shows of the past decade: Seinfeld and Friends. Now to a liberal, these shows are completely mainstream and there's nothing particularly noticeable about them. But to a certain type of religious conservative, these shows portray casual sex and secularism as the total norm. They also focus entirely on the invididual (the liberal's champion) rather than on the family (the conservative's champion). And let's not even get into the number one channel for kids...MTV.

Also, I agree with you that Howard Stern's libertine values are quite separate and distinct from liberalism. But that's why I used him as an analogy.

In general, I agree with Cathy. People on both sides have used aggressive and poisonous rhetoric. I don't see the balance tipping one way or the other so much that any real trends can be divined (or books written).

However, because liberals are the opposition right now, I think that in quantity, there's a lot more coming from their side (just like there were more crazy Clinton-haters in the 90s). That doesn't mean that invective isn't sometimes more valid than at other times. For instance, I think hatred is a more legitimate reaction to a President who sends our country off to a needless war than it is to one that gets it on with an intern. But still, hatred is never the best way to advocate for a position.

A few more things:

I've noted that conservatives tend to think of liberals as foolish, misled, and immoral. Liberals often think similar things. But liberals are much more likely to use the word "evil".

Also, I remember back before the 2004 election, Slate ran a piece where they had a writer visit a conservative stronghold and a liberal one, both times wearing a tee-shirt and political buttons of the opposition. In the conservative town, everyone ignored him. In the liberal town, he was sworn at, confronted, asked to leave an establishment, and given dirty looks. I don't find this surprising, for the same reasons I argued before. Conservatives are just more used to dealing with and tolerating liberal culture than vice versa.

Revenant said...

I think hatred is a more legitimate reaction to a President who sends our country off to a needless war than it is to one that gets it on with an intern.

I don't think a significant percentage of Bush haters became such because of the war. There are few people in the vehemently anti-Bush camp who weren't already in it from pre-9/11.

Similarly, most of the people who hated Clinton hated him long before they found out he boinked Monica.

Cathy Young said...

Katherine:

I've noted that conservatives tend to think of liberals as foolish, misled, and immoral. Liberals often think similar things. But liberals are much more likely to use the word "evil".

You know, I think that up until a few years ago that would have been true. But not anymore. Don't forget Sean Hannity's recent book (which I believe was a conservative best-seller), Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism. Inside the book, Hannity repeatedly refers to the Democratic Party and individual Democrats, such as Bill Clinton, as "evil."

As for the Slate article, here it is:

Political Poseur

It's an interesting piece, though it's worth noting that the reaction to the author's Bush T-shirt in a liberal neighborhood was not uniformly hostile -- a lot of people who reacted to the shirt seemed merely amused, others seemed to think that he had to be wearing it as a joke. And no, he was not asked to leave an establishment, though in one cafe a woman sat down next to him very reluctantly when there were no other seats available and moved to another table when a seat opened up.

The writer's visit to a Bush stronghold in a Kerry T-Shirt may be an imperfect comparison, since he visited one wealthy, country-club Republican neighborhood and one middle-class town that voted 60% Republican in 2000. In the former, he did get some dirty looks and mutterings of "crazy idiot." In the latter, most people didn't seem to particularly care about the election, and the writer reports that he only saw two campaign signs on people's laws -- one pro-Bush, one pro-Kerry.

I wonder what the results would have been if he had repeated his experiment in the Bible Belt? Especially, say, wearing a pro-choice or pro-gay-rights T-Shirt?

Revenant said...

Will and Grace is an outlier; in the vast majority of TV shows, lesbians and gays don't exist.

I think the prevalence of gays and lesbians on TV is a lot higher than its prevalence in American culture. I think I know more openly gay TV characters than I know openly-gay people in real life, and I live in California. Don't get me wrong -- I think it's nice that homosexuality is that open on TV, because it gets people more used to the idea of gay people and helps reduce our residual homophobia. But it is still unusual.

Furthermore, homosexuality is, so far as I've noticed, NEVER presented as inherently wrong, and homophobes are ALWAYS portrayed as at best ignorant, and at worst actively bad. Again, I shed no tears for this phenomenon, but it is the exact opposite of how many Americans view homosexuality. Can you picture a show where, say, the hero is the person trying to *prevent* a gay teacher from getting a job teaching young kids, or a Very Special Episode about gay marriage wherein we learn that gay marriage really isn't deserving of recognition? I can't, unless it is airing on CBN or something.

Ampersand said...

Which is why I think that there isn't all that much difference between a hyperbolic "Liberals ought to be sent to Guantanamo Bay" and a not-so-hyperbolic "Republicans are evil." I don't think the "intent to cause harm" is really there, but the hatred and contempt are.

And yes, that's bad enough.


I agree. And I do think the hatefulness and panic I hear from a lot of my lefty and liberal friends - and the unwillingness of many lefties to admit that someone can be right-wing and rational and well-intended - is a huge problem.

Re Gore's speech: no, I don't think he literally meant that opponents of affirmative action want to kill blacks. But he was using a metaphor based on hunting for sport and killing for a general intent to do harm; I think that's still pretty hateful and inflammatory.

I think you're bending over backwards to try and argue that left and right were equally hateful in that time period, but you're seriously distorting Gore's speech to make your case. There's a huge difference between Rush Limbaugh - who uses beyond-any-doubt hateful language like "feminazis" on a routine basis - and Al Gore, who has made hundreds of speeches which have been fine-combed by opponents for any possible point of criticism, and this stretched interpretation is the best they came up with.

Given that Gore has made hundreds of speeches, the vast majority of which don't have anything in them that can be twisted into anything resembling hate rhetoric, why isn't it a reasonable possibility that "duckblind" was an unthinking metaphor, not an intentional hateful comment?

(I've objected in print to the "George Bush is stupid" idea on similar grounds. Anyone who has every word recorded for months on end will occasionally misspeak or say something that wasn't thought through; it's not a sign of stupidity).

The way you're interpreting Gore - insisting that he's hateful, even though that's obviously the least charitiable of the reasonable interpretations - is part of the problem we're discussing, Cathy. He's a liberal democrat, so you're bending over backwards to find a hateful intent in a metaphor. Do you honestly think you'd interpret someone who agreed with your political views with this little benefit of the doubt?

And he did rhetorically inquire what opponents of affirmative action have to say about various racist murderers who've targeted blacks, thus implying that they have to make a special effort to distance themselves from such killers.

Actually, the group he was talking about was specifically those who deny anti-black racism matters anymore: "We hear voices now in America arguing that our nation's historic struggle is over -- that we've already reached the promised land -- that we have a color-blind society." That group opposes AA (as Gore stated), but it doesn't reasonably follow, as you seem to think, that all who oppose AA fit into that group.

And "how do you account for hate crimes against blacks" is a perfectly reasonable question to ask someone who denies that anti-black racism exists or matters.

I think that if someone said, "What do Jesse Jackson and the NAACP have to say about Colin Ferguson?" (the black man who shot up a suburban train in New York, specifically targeting white people), that would be widely seen as a racist statement.

Yes, because it takes place in a context in which black leaders are constantly asked to comment any time any black person commits a high-profile crime and misdemeanor. But it's silly to pretend that any such parallel situation exists for white leaders; this is a case in which white leaders and black leaders are not similarly situated. In the real world, when Bill Clinton was asked about racist hate crimes, he wasn't being singled out for that question because of his race.

More importantly for our disagreement, however, your example is not an accurate race-reversal of Gore's statement. If someone - black or white - was denying that anti-white prejudice could ever exist or matter, asking that person about Colin Ferguson would be a perfectly legitimate and rational question. That would be the genuine race-reversed parallel to Gore's speech, and it's neither racist nor hateful.

Look,I can read Ann C. or tune into Rush L. and I can rely on them to say something hateful - not borderline, not subject to reasonable interpretation, but hateful - on a regular basis. The word "feminazis" doesn't leave much room for interpretation, and Rush used the words hundreds of times in the 80s.

To suggest that Al Gore using a metaphor you find questionable in one isolated speech is at all in the same category is the worst sort of "let's pretend both sides must be equally bad, regardless of merit" equivocation.

Gore criticized people who say that racism is a solved problem in harsh terms; but you're bending over backwards to interpret that in the least charitable way imaginable. Similarly, people asking, in moderate tones, if hateful rhetoric in popular discourse can encourage violence at the margins are apparently considered to have committed hate speech.

If not being hateful means that liberals are never allowed to make such criticisms, then "not being hateful" becomes a partisan instrument of criticizing views that you and other conservatives don't agree with. There has to be some distinction between "saying hateful things about conservatives" and "raising issues that make conservatives uncomfortable," and I'm not convinced you're successfully making that distinction.

Ampersand said...

And I agree with Mike that Everybody Loves Raymond isn't a conservative show - it's a completely moderate show about a family that bickers.

Actually, it's a show about a stay-at-home mom and her breadwinner husband, who live an idealized life (albeit with lots of genuinely funny bickering). Why is it that a show that has a gay character is pushing liberal values, in your view, but a show that's praised by conservatives for containing conservative family values is not pushing conservative values?

Katherine, you can't have it both way. If merely showing a happy gay character is left-wing, then merely showing a happy "conservative family values" family must also be right-wing. Unless you're using a complete double-standard.

Let's look at two of the most mainstream, top shows of the past decade: Seinfeld and Friends. Now to a liberal, these shows are completely mainstream and there's nothing particularly noticeable about them.

Actually, both shows have been frequently criticized by liberals for their depiction of an apparently 100%-white New York City, and for their crassness and materialism.

And yes, a white-centric worldview and a materialistic worldview are both pretty commonplace on TV; but that shows that liberal values aren't as predominant as you imagine.

Personally, I think it would be more accurate to admit that most pop-culture TV shows, while they often reflect cultural values, aren't really partisan one way or the other; they're really out to entertain. If many red-staters didn't find watching promiscuous New Yorkers and fabulously gay Jack and Will entertaining, the ratings wouldn't be so great; it's not like the only people watching those shows are the folks living in San Francisco and NYC.

The one way that mainstream TV fiction will always piss off the left is in failing at inclusiveness; that is, most TV will never include many minorities or gays in any significant fashion. (Hence the mysteriously all-white NYC of Friends, or the mysteriously all-white college campus on Buffy).

One way mainstream TV fiction will always piss off the right is tolorance; because no one looks likable while being anti-(whoever), no likable character on TV will ever make an anti-gay speech. But the lack of overt anti-gay speeches is hardly proof that Malcolm in the Middle disses the right wing.

Simply presenting gay characters as normal human beings can be seen as biased against the right, I suppose. But it's hard to see how it's possible to do a well-written gay character who doesn't come off as human and sympathetic; ALL well-written TV characters, apart from Evildoers on adventure shows, come off as human and sympathetic. That's the nature of the medium.

Also, with very few exceptions, mainstream TV will never say anything about characters' religion. I'm not sure I'd call this "secular," however; it's not like TV is awash with avowed athiests. It's more like TV writers try to avoid this controversial topic altogether.

But to a certain type of religious conservative, these shows portray casual sex and secularism as the total norm. They also focus entirely on the invididual (the liberal's champion) rather than on the family (the conservative's champion).

But there are tons of family-focused shows. And individualism has more to do with libertarian conservativism than with current-day liberals; hence liberal support for welfare and the like.

Revanent wrote:

I think the prevalence of gays and lesbians on TV is a lot higher than its prevalence in American culture.

I doubt that anywhere near 2% of all characters on TV are lesbian or gay. And those that do appear, appear in only a very limited context. How often do TV shows present committed same-sex couples raising children, for instance?

Revenant said...

Hence the mysteriously all-white NYC of Friends, or the mysteriously all-white college campus on Buffy

UC Sunnydale is not "all-white". The crowd and classroom shots show people of different races, and the speaking parts for students are played by actors of different races. The high school was another story, of course, but then the whole setup was that Sunnydale was, on the surface, supposed to be this bland whitebread town.

I doubt that anywhere near 2% of all characters on TV are lesbian or gay

I said "openly gay". A sizable percentage of the characters on television -- a large majority of them, when you count guest characters -- have no specified sexual preference. They could be gay, or straight, or bisexual, or whatever. It is like you said with regard to religion on TV -- just because a person doesn't say they are, doesn't mean they're not. It is like that in real life, too -- only a fraction of gay people are openly gay. The average American probably doesn't personally know ANYONE who is openly gay -- TV therefore comes across as much "gayer" than the average person's life experiences.

And those that do appear, appear in only a very limited context. How often do TV shows present committed same-sex couples raising children, for instance?

"Six Feet Under" and "The L Word" come to mind. A good case could be made that that is statistical overrepresentation, actually, since only around a third of a percent of children are raised by same-sex couples.

Besides, the point isn't how often they are shown in a normal, positive light, but how often they are shown that was as opposed to in an abnormal, negative light. Homosexuality is almost never portrayed as wrong or immoral; it is almost always portrayed as fine and normal. That is a strong liberal bias. It could also be said to be a strong bias in favor of objective reality, but that's just because this is one of those rare cases where liberal beliefs and objective reality mesh. :)

Anonymous said...

I think you're bending over backwards to try and argue that left and right were equally hateful in that time period, but you're seriously distorting Gore's speech to make your case. There's a huge difference between Rush Limbaugh - who uses beyond-any-doubt hateful language like "feminazis" on a routine basis - and Al Gore, who has made hundreds of speeches which have been fine-combed by opponents for any possible point of criticism, and this stretched interpretation is the best they came up with.

OK, I'll bite. When was the last time Rush called somebody a feminazi? How many years ago? If it's done "on a routine basis", you can give me an idea the last time it happened, no doubt.

And Rush was quite clear and explicit as to whom he referred to as a feminazi: "A feminist for whom completely legalized abortion is the only issue of any importance and the only issue that matters". It's not like he painted his opponents as being part of the "Extra-chromosome" set, as a certain former VP did.

He also expressly said it refers to a tiny, tiny number of people --- less than 50 in the country.

Given that Gore has made hundreds of speeches, the vast majority of which don't have anything in them that can be twisted into anything resembling hate rhetoric, why isn't it a reasonable possibility that "duckblind" was an unthinking metaphor, not an intentional hateful comment?

I could mention that he was trying to protect a potential Presidential run. After 2000, his speeches have been quite hate-filled.

"Digital brownshirts" is hardly a friendly term.

Actually, the group he was talking about was specifically those who deny anti-black racism matters anymore: "We hear voices now in America arguing that our nation's historic struggle is over -- that we've already reached the promised land -- that we have a color-blind society." That group opposes AA (as Gore stated), but it doesn't reasonably follow, as you seem to think, that all who oppose AA fit into that group.

But, for you, Rush's "feminazi" comment refers to all feminists, even though he expressly said who he refers to.

And "how do you account for hate crimes against blacks" is a perfectly reasonable question to ask someone who denies that anti-black racism exists or matters.

Well, since black-on-white violence doesn't get listed as a "hate crime", the black hate crime statistics are skewed significantly and of little use in any comparative sense.

Look,I can read Ann C. or tune into Rush L. and I can rely on them to say something hateful - not borderline, not subject to reasonable interpretation, but hateful - on a regular basis. The word "feminazis" doesn't leave much room for interpretation, and Rush used the words hundreds of times in the 80s.

1) He did not use it 100's of times. That is patently false.

2) "On a routine basis" means over 16 years ago?

If not being hateful means that liberals are never allowed to make such criticisms, then "not being hateful" becomes a partisan instrument of criticizing views that you and other conservatives don't agree with. There has to be some distinction between "saying hateful things about conservatives" and "raising issues that make conservatives uncomfortable," and I'm not convinced you're successfully making that distinction.

Gore called conservative bloggers "digital brownshirts". He called conservatives "members of the extra choromosome set". Clinton blatantly said that talk radio, such as Rush, led to the Oklahoma City bombing.

Bush has managed to avoid that quite nicely.

Actually, it's a show about a stay-at-home mom and her breadwinner husband, who live an idealized life (albeit with lots of genuinely funny bickering). Why is it that a show that has a gay character is pushing liberal values, in your view, but a show that's praised by conservatives for containing conservative family values is not pushing conservative values?

So, stay-at-home mom = conservative values? That's quite an Olympian leap of logic there.

Again, if there was any discussion of, well, ANY conservative values, you'd have a solid point.

Katherine, you can't have it both way. If merely showing a happy gay character is left-wing, then merely showing a happy "conservative family values" family must also be right-wing. Unless you're using a complete double-standard.

Again, feel free to point to the conservative values the show espouses. You have yet to do so. Using your logic, "All in the Family" was quite the right-wing show.

And yes, a white-centric worldview and a materialistic worldview are both pretty commonplace on TV; but that shows that liberal values aren't as predominant as you imagine.

Actually, you can argue that it is difficult to write a black character in a comedy without risking outrage by some obscure "civil rights" group seeking some publicity and money.

One way mainstream TV fiction will always piss off the right is tolorance; because no one looks likable while being anti-(whoever), no likable character on TV will ever make an anti-gay speech. But the lack of overt anti-gay speeches is hardly proof that Malcolm in the Middle disses the right wing.

Well, at least you don't stereotype folks too much.

I doubt that anywhere near 2% of all characters on TV are lesbian or gay. And those that do appear, appear in only a very limited context. How often do TV shows present committed same-sex couples raising children, for instance?

More than show homosexuals as bed-hoppers, which is more accurate. As it would ALSO be for heterosexuals, based on most studies of fidelity.

If you wish to deny that Hollywood has serious problems with PC, I'll mention this:

In the movie Clear and Present Danger, Tom Clancy wrote the terrorists as being Arab Muslims. The movie changed them to Russians, for no fathomable reason.
-=Mike

Ampersand said...

UC Sunnydale is not "all-white".

A history professor friend of mine who used to be at UCSD pointed out that his typical classes had about 40% asian students, whereas it's rare to ever see an asian student in UCSunnydale.

Most UC campuses have student bodies that are over 50% minority (asian, hispanic, american indian, or black); at UC Santa Cruz, where minority enrollment is relatively low, minorities are still a full third of the student body. Compared to any real-life UC campus, the UC Sunnydale campus had extraordinarily few minority students.

Don't get me wrong - Buffy is pretty much my favorite TV show ever. But despite the presence of Forrest, the campus on Buffy was much, much whiter than any UC campus in real life.

Geez, is this ever a thread drift!

L Word and Six Feet Under are both elitist pay-TV shows; I thought we were talking about more mainstream stuff. :-P

I said "openly gay". A sizable percentage of the characters on television -- a large majority of them, when you count guest characters -- have no specified sexual preference.

Point well taken.

And yes, you're right, there aren't many gays presented as horrible inhuman freaks. If that's what conservatives mean by calling the media left-dominated, then okay. I think the real thing is a lot more complicated, though; mainstream TV has a mix of very liberal and very status quo/conservative assumptions running through it.

Revenant said...

A history professor friend of mine who used to be at UCSD pointed out that his typical classes had about 40% asian students

For UCSC and UCSB it is 15%.

whereas it's rare to ever see an asian student in UCSunnydale

Asians were probably underpresented, but then again blacks were overrepresented. BtVS used color-blind casting for guest roles and extras, and there are a lot more 20-something black actors than Asian ones. But in any case, your claim was that UCSunnydale was all-white, which it wasn't. If whites are overrepresented it is because they're the ones who showed up at the casting office. :)

L Word and Six Feet Under are both elitist pay-TV shows; I thought we were talking about more mainstream stuff. :-P

Six Feet Under had ratings comparable to Buffy, actually. I wouldn't describe either network as elitist -- word has pretty much gotten out that there's a lot of damned good TV on those networks.

mainstream TV has a mix of very liberal and very status quo/conservative assumptions running through it.

I honestly can't think of any conservative assumptions that get significant representation. Even the stay-at-home mom of "Everybody Love Raymond" is such because she wants to be, not because she is expected to be. That sort of thing is no more conservative than it is liberal.

Personally, my biggest pet peeve "conservative" belief that never gets a fair airing on TV is gun ownership. There are three kinds of gun owners on TV: cops, criminals, and crazies.

Cathy Young said...

Mike, I think amp has a point. If a show with a prominent gay character is by definition "liberal," why isn't a show with a happy stay-at-home mother "conservative"? Of course not all stay-at-home mothers are politically conservative, but not all gays are politically liberal, either.

Barry:

Actually, the group he was talking about was specifically those who deny anti-black racism matters anymore: "We hear voices now in America arguing that our nation's historic struggle is over -- that we've already reached the promised land -- that we have a color-blind society." That group opposes AA (as Gore stated), but it doesn't reasonably follow, as you seem to think, that all who oppose AA fit into that group.

Personally, I think that was a bit of a low blow too -- I can't think of any major critics of AA who claimed that we already have a colorblind society.

This article by Jim Sleeper, a liberal critical of AA, does a pretty good job analyzing Gore's tendency (in the late 1990s) to demonize AA critics and to cast racial issues in stark and, no pun intended, black-and-white terms.

(While the link is to the website of FrontPage magazine, the article itself originally ran in The New Republic.

Ampersand said...

Personally, I think that was a bit of a low blow too -- I can't think of any major critics of AA who claimed that we already have a colorblind society.

"Major" critics, no. But at the grass-roots level, I've run into countless white conservatives who explicitly argue that the only real disadvantage that still exists in the job market is AA prejudice against whites. And some significant conservative intellectuals, such as economist June O'Neill, have spent careers arguing that racial prejudice against minorities no longer matters.

But yeah, I agree that it was kinda a low blow. But I'd still argue that there's a world of difference between making bad (or bad faith) arguments or refusing to understand what the opposition is saying; and the sort of hateful speech that I think the "unhinged" threads have been talking about. If making bad arguments, or failing to really understand the opposition, is hate speech, then we've all been hate speakers at one time or another.

The Jim Sleeper article does a good job establishing that Gore is inflexible and makes bad arguments regarding AA; but I don't think the "demonization" aspect is clear from that article. Conservatives tend to consider any liberal who mentions racism or homophobia or sexism to be "demonizing" the opposition. Sometimes that's a fair critique; but sometimes what happens is that good-faith concerns about bigotry are dismissed by conservatives as ad hom arguments.

(And by the way, some conservatives play the race card eagerly. I can't even count how many times I've been called a racist by conservatives because I favor AA.)

Anonymous, I don't think that "feminazi" is the only hateful thing Rush has ever said; I just used it because it was, I thought, the sort of hate speech no one could defend. My mistake.

Revenant said...

And by the way, some conservatives play the race card eagerly. I can't even count how many times I've been called a racist by conservatives because I favor AA.)

You've been called racist for believing that some people should be treated better than other purely on the basis of the color of their skin? Imagine that.

William R. Barker said...

Tim P. is right. That's point number one.

Point number two... read the comments by "Johnny" posted on this thread concerning Bill O'Reilly. Ridiculous! Absolutely ridiculous. As is often the case, with their own words certain posters on this site provide clear examples of exactly the sort of thing conservatives are talking about!

Moving on... like Lori, I don't spend a great deal of time obsessing over the shock commentary of Coulter or Savage. And unlike Lori's friend, I disagree with so-called mainstream conservative dogma quite frequently. (*SMILE*)

I think Katherine makes a lot of sense. (Well... excepting her comment about liberals being having the better policy prescriptions.) (*SMILE*)

Someone mentioned TV. Come on... can anyone sincerely claim that conservatives are skewered far more than liberals on American TV? Sure, there are fictional shows where conservatives are usually the "good guys," but on the whole the "preachy" shows are sharply liberal leaning... take Boston Legal for example.

Cathy... there you go again bringing up someone like Hannity. For the vast, vast majority of Americans you're talking inside baseball. Give us your opinion of how the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee behaved vs. the Republicans. In your opinion, did ANY of the Republicans behave with the meanness and pettiness of Ted Kennedy???

Revenant... good points throughout your postings on this thread.

A comment on Rush Limbaugh. He's a funny guy. "Feminazi" is a clever term of derision, not hatred. Anyone who thinks Rush Limbaugh is a hater either doesn't have much first-hand knowledge of Rush's show or else their definition of "hater" is so broad as to be meaningless.

Anyway... that's my two cents.

BILL

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