Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, September 5, 2010 11:29 pm

Matt Yglesias is a very smart guy …


… but he can be remarkably naive and/or oblivious sometimes:

I don’t see any evidence that the particular apocalyptic “my enemies are totalitarian madmen” strain of Birch/Beck/Goldberg conservatism has helped anyone win any elections.

To which Tristero responds, in effect, Yo, dude, do the names Bachmann and Coburn and Tancredo and DeLay ring a bell?

Let’s ignore all the obvious contradictory examples … and  — solely for the sake of argument — go so far as to entirely concede Matt’s point: no one gets elected by being a rightwing loon. That doesn’t mean that lunacy has no palpable effect on the public discourse, or on policies that national-level politicians deem to be politically acceptable. In fact, the effect of extremist rhetoric within mainstream discourse is very well known and lunatic ideas are clearly being employed by the right in precisely this fashion: To shift the palette of acceptable ideas further and further to the right.

Yup. In 1988, everyone thought it was insane that Newt Gingrich was arguing for privatizing Social Security. But by 2005, that was the primary plank in the GOP’s domestic agenda. Only an inspired effort by the liberal blogosphere, led by Josh Marshall and Talking Points Memo, prevented that disaster from being foisted on the country — and just imagine how much worse we’d be screwed today if more of people’s retirements had been in private investments, as Gingrich and his ilk wanted.

Yglesias goes on:

But there’s no real upside in lying to the choir. Political movements need to adapt to the actual situation, and that means having an accurate understanding of your foes. You need to see them as they actually are so that you know the right way to respond.

And there he goes again, being all liberal and rational. Unlike, that is to say, the people he’s writing about, who, it is obvious to pretty much everyone but Washington media, are neither.

No real upside? Horseshit. Lying to the choir has an enormous upside. It’s worth tens of millions a year to Beck alone. You play to people’s fears and resentments, you tell ’em somebody else — ideally, someone not like them, someone brown and/or foreign and/or of a different religion and/or someone who is better educated than they — is to blame for their troubles. And then you ride those folks’ votes into office, turn right around and screw ’em out of every last dime they have, and then lie some more when/if you get caught.

Because for the last 40-plus years, that is exactly how it has worked.

Tristero takes it home:

Matt makes some seriously faulty assumptions here. The most egregious is that he mistakes playing a lunatic in public with actually being a lunatic. He assumes that [Glenn] Beck really believes what he says, the way a good liberal might, rather than accept the far more likely possibility that Beck simply doesn’t care what he says, as long as it helps his career. No doubt, Beck is a deeply disturbed man, but the fact that he said Obama is a racist doesn’t necessarily mean he’s crazy enough actually to believe it to be true.

What Beck does understand, and understands with complete accuracy, is that calling Obama a racist will infuriate liberals and help sow doubt about Obama among his listeners. That is precisely what a sane opportunist in Beck’s position would want to do. (FWIW, it’s just the same trick all over again now that Beck has decided that Obama is “practicing” liberation theology: whether it’s true or not isn’t the point. It makes us angry, it feeds his flock and it sets up a dichotomy that establishes fundamentalism as the norm and any other religious interpretation a perversion.)

Matt here also lumps people like [Jonah] Goldberg in with Republicans who don’t act as crazy (usually) and yet benefit enormously because they come off as “men of reason, Republicans you can talk to” — e.g., [Sen. Roger] Grassley — in comparison. Rest assured that people like Grassley have a deeply accurate picture of who their Democratic opponents are. And Grassley well understands the usefulness of portraying them, as Grassley did during health care, in a manner as reality-challenged as Goldberg did to liberals.

Despite what Matt says, the right wing has quite an accurate picture of what liberals and Democrats are likely to believe, and how they are likely to behave. They have played us like a virtuosic, if thoroughly demented, violinist. One of the most useful techniques in the right wing repertoire is The Crazy Lie. And we still haven’t found any effective riposte to it — or at least, any effective rhetorical counter-strategy that mainstream politicians would be willing to use. Matt’s failure to understand how incredibly effective this tactic has been for illiberals, and how debilitating it has been for liberals, is simply astonishing. …

This ain’t no serious effort to persuade based on the truth. This is, as far as the right is concerned, about getting power, holding on to power, and extending power.

It is more than a little surreal to see that Yglesias, who gets so much right on health care and other issues, so completely misses this when it’s all going on right in front of his face.

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