Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The new golden age of American liberalism has begun...

The conservative movement in America will be killed by its own hubris. This is inevitable. The only question is how long it will take and how much more wreckage will accumulate before it happens. Sometimes I’m optimistic and I believe that the right-wing will be in shambles by the end of the decade, clearing the way for a resurgent, enlightened liberalism. Other times my thoughts are more dire–these people have invested a lot of money and energy into their tycoon’s revolution, after all–and I worry that we might be stuck with despicable and incompetent rightists in power for most of the rest of my life. I don’t want that to happen, so I give a lot of thought to how liberals and progressives can hasten the discrediting of contemporary conservatism. It’s a tricky question, and one I can’t pretend to have a perfect answer to.

Yet I’m certain that we can prevail if we remember something they willfully forget: fear is a choice. Moreover, it is the wrong choice. Those in the conservative movement, in their attempts to harness it and ride it to power, have become ruled by it and this has sealed their fate. Afraid of change, afraid of history, afraid of difference, afraid of the greater world, afraid of homosexuals, afraid of Muslims, afraid of facts, afraid of the law, and afraid of democracy–never before have such cowards had such sway over our nation. The administration makes anxiety sacred and its million raving apologists go a mad dash to prove that they’re terrified enough to be true patriots. The noise they generate–the tremendous show of rage against those their dim ideology deems infidels–is about as potent and impressive as a shut-in screaming at the shadows in his basement. Paying too much attention to it is futile and distracting–it’s nothing more than a group therapy session for political neurotics.

It’s a mistake to be intimidated by this arrangement. The insults they hurl are feeble, the analyses they’re so proud of are trite and self-serving, and their jokes are the lame, panic-stricken kind that the comic relief in a horror film cracks just before the monster eats him. They’re scared and they want you to be scared too; they wet their pants and want you to think they’re putting out fires. Chest-thumping doesn’t imply strength, however, vehemence doesn’t imply wisdom. Churlishness has nothing to do with passion, venom can exist without bite, and self-importance is not the same thing as importance. Don’t waste your time hunting for facts among the mavens of the right, search them out only to be assured that your opponent is still spinning his wheels, still miserable, still convinced that his ignorance and arrogance makes him holy. Take a quick look and move on, because nothing good in our nation’s future can be found in the crybaby brigade’s daily complaint.

Liberals need to rise above this level. Fortunately, this is not very hard to do. We accomplish this by being thoughtful when it’s easier to be contemptuous, by being funny when we’re tempted to be mean, and by admitting error when they’d just get up and grandstand about how it’s all our fault. If it’s going to be an us-versus-them era, its up to us to make sure that it’s them who come off as the angry ones, the bitter ones, the humorless ones. A lot of times I hear that we need our own liberal Rush Limbaugh, a liberal Ann Coulter, a liberal Bill O’Reilly. To hell with that. One of the pleasures of being a liberal is that you don’t have to rely on some barking empty suit to tell you how to think. We shouldn’t consider our independence and discernment as weaknesses and we shouldn’t indulge in fantasies of some quick-witted figurehead to lead us back into power. We don’t need one, not when we have better ideas.

I’m not saying we should raise the white flag in the rhetoric wars, however. I just think we need to fight it on our terms. They’ve got slick debating tactics honed in a hundred think-tanks, but recent events have shown us that where they fall short is in the actual running of the country. That should be the focus, not some interminable rear-guard action to prove we’re not the drooling scoundrels they’re always accusing us of being. Too often, fierce liberals get caught in the web of bullshit their enemies spew. They think they’re engaging in debate, but they’re really just being suckered by people who won’t get in the poker game without a stacked deck. We react too much, we should say the things we want to say and not worry about how the thin-skinned professional thunderers might take it. They will merit a response from us when they become reasonable. If they can’t manage that, they’ll just have to seethe indefinitely. This will be doing them a favor: one day they’ll be marginalized, so they might as well get used to it now.

Of course, ignoring the 24-hour blather machine will hurt it far more than our cutting remarks ever can. It takes our disdain as a compliment, after all. Unfortunately, we have some tearing down to do before we can finally turn our back on it for good. This is within our reach, and we don’t have to be hostile, nebbishy, or dishonest to do it. We can instead activate our country’s creditable distaste for pretension against their preening victor’s self-regard. We can point out how, in a nation founded and fostered by pragmatic, independent, and ethical thinkers, we are ill-served by this current crop of fanatic ideologues, lock-step doctrinaires, and ends-justify-the-means mercenaries. It might also be prudent to ask, forcefully and repeatedly, why a movement that claims to be favor of personal responsibility feels compelled to blame all its scandals and incompetencies on some combination of liberals and the media. These are certainly not new questions, but the right-wing coup will not be rolled back until these and dozens of other, similar queries attain more common currency. Finally, once this is accomplished, we can counter their fear and hysteria–which is, in the end, all they have to offer–with our optimism and openness.

Otherwise, we’ll really be screwed.