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The rabid temperament of the political blogosphere can be confusing to the uninitiated. To better understand it, think of a large group of intellectually ambitious pre-teens, squared off in an endless debate festival. Also imagine that this festival is unsupervised and unmoderated, with no adults around to coach or keep score. In such an environment you would expect most of the participants to quickly lose sight of any long-term strategy, and seek only an immediate frisson of victory — which, in this free-wheeling environment, would mean positive feedback from one’s peers.
This isn’t all bad. It unleashes creative energy and animal vitality, and sometimes promotes talents which might not have thrived in a more structured environment. But because the overwhelming motivation is to hit back fast and hard at anything that seems to contradict one’s position, without a pause for anything like thought, it also encourages responses that might play well among one’s comrades, but might also be incomprehensible or even ridiculous to anyone else.
Take the folks at RedState, a dedicated conservative activist site that was “established in May of 2004′ and claims to have “played an integral role in the right’s fight online against the left” — which, given conservatism’s fortunes since that time, is something we imagine they’d like to keep quiet.
As we’ve noted before, RedState devotes itself not only to promoting conservatism (as with its fanciful “RedState Strike Force“), but also policing it, its editor in chief Erick Erickson establishing after the last election “Operation Leper” to drum ideologically impure comrades out of the movement.
You can see the fruits of this approach in Erickson’s* reaction at RedState to Tom Ridge, who recently attempted to distance the Republican Party from the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh. The former Pennsylvania governor, part of a vanishing breed of Republicans able to succeed in the blue Northeast, said, “let’s not attack other individuals. Let’s attack their ideas.”
This is an open invitation for a sane person to distinguish the role of political entertainer from that of a politician. But Erickson is not taking that bait. “Since when,” he asks, “has Rush attacked individuals?”
Normal people may pause here. Limbaugh has played comedy tributes to Obama and Barney Frank called “Barack the Magic Negro” and “Banking Queen,” respectively. He’s referred to Obama as a “full-fledged man-child narcissist,” compared Chelsea Clinton to a dog, and said that a picture of Nancy Pelosi would promote contraception. It’s part of his schtick.
Erickson explains, “He certainly pokes fun at some of them, but he highlights absurdities of character, etc. in pointing out the fallacies of positions on the left.” Presumably Pelosi’s physical appearance is a direct result of the liberal policy on facelifts.
The post, by the way, is entitled, “Tom Ridge Lies.”
RedState’s Moe Lane later treats the unfortunate RNC ad comparing Pelosi to Octapussy from the Bond movie, or something — its point is not entirely clear. Even some rightbloggers and Republican politicians find the thing absurd, but Lane thinks it justified by the rough treatment liberals has dished out to Sarah Palin et alia — that is, “Personally, I’ll start taking said Left-outrage more seriously when they start reacting to attempted media rapes of conservative female public figures in any way besides helping to pin the victim’s shoulders to the table.” (He also says the Left “beat feminism to death with a tire iron as part of their winning Presidential election strategy,” though he does not elaborate — maybe defeating Hillary Clinton was Obama’s death-blow to feminism.)
To denounce the ad as offensive would be a waste of time, as its main offense is incoherence — at least to anyone not already devoted to the cause. Though it details via news clips the dispute between Pelosi and the CIA as to whether she was fully informed of the agency’s conduct of detainee interrogation, it offers no evidence one way or the other; it merely frames it with Bond movie music and images, with a random imputation at the end that the Democrats are pussies.
But that doesn’t matter to the debate squad: it’s part of the team’s effort, and must be defended. “No we don’t always have to be so crass,” admits Macsmind, “but we don’t have to walk around like we have our tails between our legs either. Why I don’t relish the idea of a Botox-Incrusted 69 year old hag as ‘Pussy-Galore’, the comparison in action is quite accurate.”
William A. Jacobson tries harder to have it both ways, agreeing that the ad is not useful to the cause but spending most of his post in defense of it against “hypocrisy from the left.” And he brings what he must imagine are killer points. For one thing, he says, the site Politico maintains that “the Republican National Committee wants you to think ‘Pussy Galore,'” when in fact “the opening camera-aperture shot and theme music are not from Goldfinger, but from the movie Dr. No.” Also, whereas Taylor Marsh says “a naked woman behind the tag line,” Jacobson says, “Look at it and it’s hard to tell what is behind the tag line, much less a ‘naked woman.'”
You can imagine him retucking his shirt in triumph. Even as he admits the presentation is flawed, he has done his bit for the team. Some of the brethren acknowledge his success. But the renowned semiotician Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom finds his effort insufficient. “Abandon all hope. Because these guys are our new spokespeople,” he says. “…you can criticize the video on its rhetorical / aesthetic merits, and that’s fine. But when you suggest that the GOP shouldn’t be running such ads because they force candidates down the line to have to answer the ‘arguments’ made by the cynically ‘outraged’ left, you are necessarily shaping conduct.”
In case you don’t get what the italicized passage means, Goldstein further italicizes: “It is well and good that the GOP be more careful about how it makes its point if the concern is that the point was not made effectively. It is NOT well and good to express ‘concern’ when the concern being expressed is that a completely predictable reaction by the left could negatively affect ‘not just the RNC, but candidates down the line.’”
If that doesn’t convince you, go read the whole thing and try your luck. To the extent that we could salvage a point from it, it would seem to be that conservatives should not worry about the liberals’ “intellectually dishonest” response to their work, because… well, because it’s intellectually dishonest, we guess.
As to whether someone who is a noncombatant in these blog debates would see the ad and think, “You’re right, Nancy Pelosi is like a Bond supervillainess,” none of these guys seems to have given it a moment’s thought. Which may be a clue as to why, despite their Strike Force and Operation Leper and strong defenses of their own superior logic, they haven’t managed to achieve much in recent years. Were they interested in convincing anyone outside their cadres, they might try a different approach. It is their tragedy, and our comedy, that they remain more interested in dishing out what they know will draw high-fives from their own bench.
* Update — Glenn Reynolds points out that this was Erickson, not Moe Lane as previously rendered. Thanks, Perfesser — but where’d you get “expert”?