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Fighting Fire with…Fire Retardant

Posted by Rick · September 9th, 2004 · 2 Comments

It’s difficult to adhere to my favorite kind of writing — marrying discussions of cases to discussions of current events or issues — because there’s just so much going on in the world and so little time to look at it all, let alone write about it. Maybe I need to spend a day updating the blog design to allow you to see the Categories; that way, people who don’t like the political commentary could just go straight to what I call “quasi-legal writing.” Your best bet until I do is to click on the curriculum vitae link (which appears in the menu at the top of the page) to locate some of the legal writing.

Anyway, of late, my friend Mark King and I have exchanged several emails on the question of liberal timidity in political discourse.

Mark thinks I’m trying too hard to play nice. Liberals in general, he notes, are making this mistake and potentially costing us the election. He notes that Rush Limbaugh and his ilk are much more successful at swaying the electorate than liberals and, if I’ve understood him right, he suggests that we need to adopt similar methods if we have any hope of winning people over.

I disagree. Still.

Mark refers me today to an article by Lee Siegel, a contributing editor to Harper’s, television critic for the New Republic (how did that happen?) and a recipient of the 2002 National Magazine Award for reviews and criticism. Siegel wants us to know that we can “[r]elax, it’s OK for liberals to hate Bush.” And he (Siegel, not Mark) asks,

How did a Republican Party that has left vast stretches of the population convinced Bush stole the presidency, that dragged the nation into a purposeless war under false pretenses, that gives no quarter to dissenters within its own ranks, that compares John Kerry to Hitler and sponsors a smear campaign against him — how did this truly fanatical, extremist political party succeed in making its critics feel guilty about the intensity of their criticism? Lee Siegel, Election ’04: a Guide for the Complexed, LA Times (online) September 9, 2004 (last visited 9/9/2004); free subscription required.

Siegel’s suggestion, like Mark’s, is that it happened because they convinced the liberals to attend more to their belly-buttons than to political buttons. Instead of emulating Rush Limbaugh, we’ve paid too much attention to the issues. People don’t vote based on issues; they vote their emotions. And whoever does the best job of manipulating the emotions of the electorate wins. (There seems even to be an implication of “and rightly so!” appended to this.)

Apparently, it’s only by “hating Bush” that we can win. No, we need more than that. We need to hate Bush and be very vocal about our hatred.

I’ll grant that some liberals — and Kerry’s camp seems to fall under this rubric — are too worried about offending people; too worried about coming off as extreme, over the edge, hysterical, or what-have-you. And Republicans have capitalized on this. When Dean gave a whoop-and-a-holler to fire up an audience during his campaign, everyone went bananas talking about how “over the top” he was. Frankly, I saw the clip of his shout, many times. And I never understood why this inspired people to think he was unstable. If he’d done that in the middle of a State of the Union address, perhaps I could understand it. In the context of a political rally, it did not seem inappropriate.

I mean, we have people over on the Republican side telling you that Jesus (apparently, Jesus Himself, personally) told them to do things like contradict everything they’d ever said before (e.g., castigating Hilary Clinton for moving to New York to run for the Senate), pick up and move to another state where one of the main platforms they would be that “Jesus wouldn’t vote for [my opponent].” (And I won’t even go into the way these very same folk have Jesus also telling them to contradict everything he himself supposedly said.) I remember the days when people who talked like that were hospitalized, or at least medicated.

We have, in office right now, a Vice-President who tells you he does not favor a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, presumably because having a gay daughter, he is unable to get behind that type of intolerance. (But then he exiles her from the Republican National Convention because gays and Republicans don’t mix.) And this Vice-President stands in front of a group of people and says (I’m paraphrasing here): “If you vote for John Kerry, terrorists will attack our country!” Now that’s a funny name for a future ex-Vice-President to call disgruntled Republicans, isn’t it?

The problem for Democrats — and liberals in general — isn’t that they spend too much time discussing the nuances and complexity of the issues. Hell, the problem is that they spend too much time discussing the words “nuances” and “complexity”! How about some discussion of the actual nuances and complexities themselves? How about explaining them? Standing on a platform or before a television crew and complaining that nuances and complexities make communicating your message difficult without adequately either detailing what they are or communicating your message seems pointless.

Besides, it’s misleading. And evasive.

I’m reminded of my first year of law school. My mid-term grades were less-than-stellar. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the material; quite the contrary. My problem was that I understood it too well. (This is not merely my own assessment of myself and isn’t meant as braggadocio; I’m aiming at making a point.) Consequently, I could probably have spent three hours answering one question — in great detail — including all the nuances and complexities of the law. Heck, I once spent several pages discussing the evolution of “intent” in criminal law. And guess how many points towards my grade I got for those pages? Probably close to zip. Worse yet, you have three hours to write an entire exam which typically consists of either two or three questions; I was spending nearly two hours on just one question.

The purpose of a law school exam, of course, is to communicate to the professor that you have learned the relevant material. That virtually always means you have some familiarity with the legal terrain of the subject at hand. What I needed to do was to learn how to ignore — or at least limit myself to “telegraphing” — the nuances and the complexities when writing exams. I needed to remember that my goal was communicating that I was familiar with the terrain, not that I knew the number or shape of the grains of sand that comprised it.

Liberals face a similar difficulty. The political, domestic, international, social and monetary issues facing a country of several hundred million people don’t lend themselves well to sound bites. This is true even before you take into account that we live in a pluralistic society whose government is supposed to represent — if not actually all Americans — at least the vast majority, as opposed to a simple majority, of us.

Republicans get around this difficulty by only representing a fraction — the most vocal, over-the-top fraction — and convincing numbers of others that they represent them, too. And it clearly doesn’t matter to Republicans if they achieve the numbers by lying, deceiving, intimidating or otherwise strong-arming those Americans who don’t go along with them.

What liberals need to learn is not how to emulate Rush Limbaugh, or even Dick Cheney. Liberals — and Democrats in particular, since they’re currently the only realistic political alternative to Bush — need to learn how to communicate that they understand the issues and that people can trust them to handle them. The electorate doesn’t necessarily need to understand all the nuances and complexities. It would be nice if they did, but it’s not a requirement. That’s why we elect representatives. “A people having sovereign power should do for itself all it can do well, and what it cannot do well, it must do through its ministers.” Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws 11 (Anne Cohler et al, eds., 1989) (1748).

It’s not necessary to be mean to communicate your message. It’s not necessary to accuse others of inviting terrorist — or was it disgruntled Republicans Cheney meant; I forget — attacks to communicate your message. It’s not necessary to hide your daughter to communicate your message. It’s not necessary to ignore half the voters and hope you’ll sway just enough to win to communicate your message. Those things are only important when you have no message.

And that’s why Republicans go that route. Liberals — and particularly Democrats — do not need to emulate those without substance, who know only hate and the unbridled urge to tell everyone else how to live.

Categories: Politics-In-General


2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bob // Sep 9, 2004 at 12:39 pm

    This dovetails into my previous comments from a previous article.

    IF the Republicans are getting away with all this deceit and their followers are swallowing the party hook, line and sinker, then what are the Democrats to do?

    I reiterate that the Democrats have plans and ideas but no cause.

    Ironically, the Republicans use religion as a political weapon because they can inflame their followers with a religious purpose. Their purpose is to keep the athiest, immoral, unpatriotic people out of office at all costs because look what’s at stake! We’re building the (Republican) kingdom on earth!

    Democrats may be well served to point out to America that the (Republican) kingdom on earth is not the vision of every American. It’s not even the vision of every Christian ( a group that takes more than it’s fair share of BS on this blog and in the news because of it’s supposed high profile connection to everything Republican, but that’s a whole new article ).

    Democrats need to inflame people with the AMERICAN dream, which tolerates and celebrates difference, not damns it.

    The Democrats have to reach out to the majority of this country who feel disenfranchised by this Republican vision if for no other reason than this: if you’re not in the Republican vision of the kingdom now, there will certainly be no room for you later.

    Ask Cheney’s daughter how she must have felt watching her father on TV instead of being at his side. It’s pitiful that you have to hide your children to forward your vision. Disgusting.

    It’s a microcosm of Bush’s second term and the four years after that if the conservatives keep this flame lit.

  • 2 Nat // Sep 10, 2004 at 12:31 pm


    Liberal “timidity”?


    For the past year Liberals have done nothing but issue the most deameaing, false and ugly slanders about President Bush I have ever heard. They have ACTIVELY sought to besmirch everything about the President. And, now, they are into FORGERY!!!!

    [Editor’s Note: As we’ve come to expect from you, we hear these claims, but you show nothing to make us think you aren’t just pulling them out of your butt. In fact, you don’t even bother to name any “false and ugly slanders”; you apparently assume that just repeating the words “false and ugly slanders about President Bush” will be enough to convince people that Bush is actually a good guy. I’d help you out here, but since all I know about are facts, I’m afraid I can’t provide any examples of “false and ugly slanders about President Bush” for you. If you ever decide to build a real case, rather than re-mouth words you picked up from the radio, let us know.]

    Dan Rather has been exposed. He’s never been a news anchor. He is nothing more than a shill for the extreme left wing. You can see him practically trembling with rage as the LIES trip off his lips. Another FRAUD!

    [Editor’s Note: It seems safe to assume — although, again, you don’t really lay any foundation for your claims, so I have to make a jump here — that you’re referring to Bush’s military records? And the basis for your claim that Rather is exposed as a fraud is, I suppose, the comments circulating that a) typewriters in the 1970s couldn’t do superscript; oh, but some did, and, in fact, some of the records released by the Bush Administration show that same feature, b) some analysts say that the typeface used is New Times Roman and that New Times Roman didn’t exist in the 1970s; oh, but the company that makes that font says it has done so since 1931; c) or the numerous people, like yourself, who have no expertise of any kind, are simply making bald statements that the documents are forgeries; oh, but handwriting and other analysts have validated the documents. Did you happen to notice how people who actually report the news do the background work before making their claims? Did you notice how when I write on my blog, I check things before publishing them? Did you notice how you not only don’t check things, but that you frequently repeat false “facts” even after someone here points you to a place you can verify that you’re wrong? And the best part? No one here hides behind false identities and made-up families (and made-up blogs) while constantly pouring garbage onto other people’s blogs.]

    Liberal timidity?

    No – the Liberals problem is they have been TOO aggressive. Their hate-filled diatribes, movies, forgeries and all the filthy mud they have been slinging have all redounded into their nasty, hate-filled faces.

    [Editor’s Note: Comparing your comments here to my posts makes it difficult to figure out how even you fail to recognize that you’re projecting.]


    Hate never won an election. If it did Democrat George Wallace would have been president and Democrat Bull Connor would have been his Vice President.

    [Editor’s Note: That’s the best thing you ever said to me. I feel better now, knowing that the Constitution will be safe again after January 20, 2005.]

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