Why are the lefty elites increasingly nasty and vitriolic in their attacks on their political opponents? This question refers not to the loons on MSNBC as they emerged from the cradle with a boulder sized thorn stuck in their big toe. This question refers to the latest round of pundits referring to the political opposition first as racists, for opposing Obama (note the tactic of demonizing is straight out of the Alinsky playbook and always questioning the motives and never the substance of the opposition’s argument) and more recently as suicide bombers, terrorists and jihadists (see Friedman, Nocera, Harrop, Biden, and many others). The irony of these fulminations coming from the same people who accused the tea party, Sarah Palin, and others of inciting violence is completely lost on them. (The little secret is that they are hoping against hope that somebody on the right actually does commit violence so that they can scream about it from the rooftops. Never mind that lefty thugs have been savagely attacking people routinely over the past couple of years at tea party rallies).
The meanness of their attacks is not an accident because there are simply so many, in fact it is very much like a herd of lemmings that as soon as one pundit launches the first bomb, they are instantly replicated by many more nearly identical in metaphorical content. So the question is “Why are they doing this?” Do they believe that the opposition will suddenly realize how wrong they are? In other words are they attempting to persuade the opposition? Or are they attempting to persuade the hardcore faithful, the true believers in liberalism? Or are they trying to persuade those in the middle who are independent voters, the ones who generally decide elections.
One can only reasonably speculate about motives (unlike those who claim certainty), and there are several that might capture the essence of the incivility. First, this is the language that succeeds if you want to mobilize a mob. Mobs react with pure emotion to images, not to reasoned argument. These attacks are meant to overlay mental images onto their targets. The metaphorical accuracy is not really important, rather it is the implantation of the image that is important and this is what motivates mobs to rage. The apparent aim of this tactic is therefore to mobilize the base to rage against the machine. This tactic works well with liberals because they behave generally as a mob behaves. They don’t respond to logic and reason so much as they respond to images and emotion.
Since the election of 2010, there has been a pretty serious headwind opposing the President and his transformational agenda. Politics being what they are is a test of wills and who has best positioned themselves to impose their will on the opposition. The President quite naturally by virtue of his nationwide election and the power of the presidency has an overwhelming advantage over either of the legislative branches. But in the latest battle royale over the debt ceiling crisis, the most charitable thing that could be said for the outcome of that battle is that it was a standstill between the House Republicans, and the President and Democrats who control the Senate. If you’re scoring this at home this represents an upset victory in political terms for the House who appear to have punched above their weight class.
In fairness, it is far too early to pass final judgment on this deal as the can has been kicked down the road once again in the form of a super congressional panel of budget fixers. As it stands now though, Obama got none of the things he started out wanting including primarily tax hikes, or a clean debt increase bill.
Contributing to the president’s woes, the performance of the economy has undermined the liberal policies passed during the Democrats stranglehold on the levers of power for the first two years of this administration. Growth in the first half of 2011 at less than 1% represents a potential slide into double dip recession territory which would be devastating. This is 2 and 1/2 years after the stimulus was guaranteed to reduce unemployment. And let’s not forget that Obamacare was sold as an economic stimulant. Nancy Pelosi once remarked that the bill would immediately create 400,000 jobs. Instead it has failed spectacularly and indeed a case has been made that Obamacare is singularly responsible for an abrupt deterioration in private sector employment.
So it appears that the harsh rhetoric being employed by the left opinion leaders is an attempt to rally the base into mob like rage and alter the balance of intensity between the competing factions. Further, this tactic carries a whiff of desperation as it is unlikely to persuade the moderate independents. The economic misery shows no signs of abating and the failure of the liberal policies to produce a meaningful change in performance requires either blame shifting (Bush’s fault, stimulus too small, too many wars, whatever) or changing the subject, both unpersuasive tactics.
Changing the subject by demonizing the opposition appears to be the preferred approach. In order to mobilize the base, this demonization needs to trigger an emotional response to be effective. It remains to be seen if the terrorist labeling strategy meets that requirement. (A view from the left suggests that one man’s terrorist is simply another man’s freedom fighter.) Of course there could a simpler explanation to this recent escalation in incivility, and that is that they are fundamentally mean and nasty people. And while applying Occam’s Razor may favor that interpretation, it is not entirely charitable.
Update: Joe Nocera apologizes for his name calling. I’m impressed.
Update 2: With S&P downgrading US Debt from AAA to AA+, does that make them a) Racist? b) Terrorist, or c) Late to the Party