Dances With Masks

12 comments February 17th, 2007at 02:42pm Posted by Eli

The Edwards fiasco, and Glenn Greenwald’s recent echoing of my observation that the Republicans do not appear to be very serious about what they claim to be serious about both highlight something that I’m very frustrated about. What’s bugging me is that, with a few exceptions, the Democrats always take everything the Republicans say at face value, rather than as cynical political manipulation.

Bill Donohue accuses John Edwards’ new blogger hires of anti-catholic bigotry, and Edwards basically says, “Yeah, that kinda bothers me too” instead of pointing out that Donohue’s own long history of anti-semitism and homophobia disqualifies him from accusing anyone else of bigotry, or calling attention to the obscene and un-Christian rape and death threats that Bill Donohue’s and Michelle Malkin’s minions directed at his employees until they resigned.

Republicans and their pundits/operatives regularly accuse Democrats of being weak on terror, and Democrats respond by defensively trying to look tough instead of pointing out that the Republicans are the ones opposing enhanced port security and chem/nuke plant security. Republicans accuse Democrats of not supporting the troops, and the Democrats soft-pedal their war criticisms and back away from defunding the war, instead of pointing out that it’s the Republicans who are dragging their feet on giving the troops more/better armor and equipment, who are shortchanging them on their rotations home, who are forcing them to return to combat long after their service obligations should have expired, and who are treating veterans benefits as an afterthought or an unsustainable burden.

The problem is, the Democrats seem to have an operating assumption that Republicans are honest, or that they need to at least pretend to believe that Republicans are honest, in the interests of “civility”, or else risk offending the All-Powerful Swing Voter. They need to get over this, and fast. Yes, there will be times when a Republican makes an honest and sincere critique of Democratic policies, and the Democrats should respond on the merits. But they need to learn to distinguish between honest criticism and smears, then respond accordingly. Some common-sense tips on how to do that:

1) Consider the source. Do they have a long history of attacking Democrats with accusations that turned out to be false? Do they have a long history of doing the exact same thing they’re accusing you of? If so, make that the centerpiece of your response: They are not credible, and this is just another smear from a professional liar. NOTE: Some oppo research capabilities would be very useful here. At a bare minimum, you should have some web-savvy staffers looking for blog entries about the accuser(s). Most slime leaves a lengthy and pungent trail.

2) Trust your gut. If your immediate reaction is that the accusation is completely ridiculous, bordering on fantasy, chances are the accuser doesn’t even believe it themselves. Let your incredulity shine through in your response.

3) Don’t trust the media. Do not allow the media to confer legitimacy on bullshit: They are in on it. If they’re propagating right-wing memes that you know to be untrue, call them on it and question their journalistic integrity for reporting lies as fact, or even as “one side of the story.” Lies do not deserve to be reported on as anything other than lies.

4) Fuck civility. No, you probably shouldn’t actually swear, but neither should you worry about being likable or nice. Attack. Hit hard. Be outraged. Don’t apologize unless you’ve made a factual error. Don’t worry about alienating voters; if anything, their respect for you will grow if you aggressively defend yourself. Be more like Paul Hackett or Jim Webb. Look at yourself in the mirror each morning and say, “I said it, I meant it, I stand behind it” five times.

5) You are not above the fray. Unless it’s Gary Busey accusing you of conspiring with the Venusians to steal Earth’s greenhouse gases, never assume that it’s obvious that an attack is bogus. Respond, and quickly.

6) (UPDATE) Put your process-talking skills to use. Instead of talking about what other Democrats are doing, and how they “need to do a better job of talking about” religion/terrorism/Iraq/Mars, bitches, talk about what the Republicans are doing, how their entire strategy is based on dishonest attacks, spreading fear, and suppressing dissent. Make it clear that their fake outrage is a cynical tactic that cheapens our discourse and perverts our democracy.

I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot more, but that should be a good start.

Entry Filed under: Democrats,Favorites,Politics,Racism,Religion,Republicans,Rove,Sexism


  • 1. Interrobang  |  February 17th, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    I’d add

    7) Never give your opponent the first premise. I see this one all the time with arguments over abortion. If you go into the debate going, “Yeah, abortion/what Amanda said/crime/whatever is terrible and” et cetera, you lose. Sorry, you’ve just forfeited your entire position. By refusing to fundamentally disagree with your opponent, you’ve marked yourself as not significantly different from them. As we all know, when given the choice between voting for a real Republican or a fake Republican, voters will chose the real Republican every time, if only because they can definitively say, “They stand for something.”

    8) (and relatedly) Praise in public, scold in private. If Edwards really was as “offended” as he claimed to be, the right thing for him to have done was in public a) get in Donohoe’s face, and b) say “I stand behind them.” He could then have given them a talking-to and said that discourse of that sort wouldn’t be tolerated on his campaign, but for him to say that about them to the press seemed more than a little bit like the fabled and famous Circular Firing Squad to me. Bonus stupidity points because the person who analogically fired the first shot is never, ever going to vote in the Democratic primary…

  • 2. Interrobang  |  February 17th, 2007 at 7:59 pm

    I tried to post a comment, but it got eaten, apparently.

    I would add these two further points:

    7) Don’t give your opponents the first premise. I see this happening all the time in various fora, most notably the abortion debate. People will say something like, “Of course, abortion is terrible and…” blah blah blah, which more or less hands the argument over to your opponent. By basically agreeing with the other side about the first premise, and disagreeing with them merely on the conclusion, you’ve more or less failed to distinguish yourself from them. To use George Lakoff’s words (and I was into Lakoff before Lakoff was cool), you can’t uncritically accept the other side’s framing, or you’re done. You lose.

    As we’ve learned over and over again, people would much rather vote for a real Republican than a fake Republican, if only because the real Republican demonstrably “stands for” something.

    8) Praise in public, scold in private. Democrats in general seem to be very bad about eating their own in public, the famous Circular Firing Squad. Maybe the solution is more effective party discipline. Certainly a lack of party discipline has gotten the Canadian right in trouble over and over again; thank goodness they’re not very good at it.

    This is where Edwards really fell down, to my mind. What I find so obnoxious about his public statement was that he actually fell into the rhetorical trap I mentioned above and agreed with Donohoe in public that Marcotte’s comments were personally offensive to him. (This leaves aside the issue of what Edwards was doing hiring someone who offended him; either he’s lying about being offended because he thinks it’s the politic thing to do, or else he didn’t vet his hires very well, neither of which is a tremendous asset in a candidate for high public office.) If it were that big an issue, he should have given her a talking-to in private, but he should have unequivocally (no waffling!) come out and said he stands behind his decision. That would at least have shown some integrity. He earns bonus stupid points for allowing someone who will never, ever vote in the Democratic primary to influence him. Who was he trying to mollify, anyway? You can’t mollify people like Donohoe; if you try, they just chalk another one in the “Win” column and move on to the next manufactured outrage. He’s an idiot if he hasn’t figured that out.

  • 3. Eli  |  February 17th, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    First comment got caught in the spam filter, and I have no idea why.

    I agree completely, and this is why I no longer have any faith in Edwards. He blew it on multiple levels, and proved that he has learned *nothing* from 2004.

  • 4. Glenn  |  February 17th, 2007 at 8:47 pm

    I’m waiting for someone with balls to reiterate what Joseph Welch said to Joe McCarthy on June 9, 1954: “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

    This is what we have sunk to, cowardice.

  • 5. Interrobang  |  February 17th, 2007 at 9:25 pm

    Crap. I’m sorry about the quasi-double-post, Eli. :(

    I think the first one is better-written, although the second one is more detailed.

    Damn straight, Glenn. The current bumper crop of Joe McCarthys need some serious sqWelching. Unfortunately, unlike McCarthy, I don’t think they have even a rudimentary sense of shame.

  • 6. Eli  |  February 17th, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    Yeah, I’ve had the “no sense of decency” line in my head for quite some time as kind of a guiding principle.

    The important thing is not whether or not the recipient of the line has any shame, but whether everyone else does. The importance of it is to snap *everyone else* back to their senses and force them to realize that something horrible is happening. “I have to disagree most strenuously with that characterization” just doesn’t cut it.

  • 7. watertiger  |  February 18th, 2007 at 9:13 am

    How ridiculously sane of you to think this way.

    You’ll never succeed in politics.


  • 8. Eli  |  February 18th, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    I think sanity is the least of my handicaps…

  • 9. Cornflake  |  February 18th, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    We all need to have buttons that say:
    I’m a Democrat and I talk back

    I’ve started thinking in daily, more than once a day

  • 10. PoliShifter  |  February 18th, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    I firmly believe we need to fight back. We’ve been long enough getting kicked around by Biff.

    Alan Colmes is the epitmoy of how Americans view Democrats.

  • 11. PoliShifter  |  February 18th, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    Sorry, I must have messed up the html. Here’s my old McFly Post

  • 12. Multi Medium » What&hellip  |  August 16th, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    […] Amen to that.  Amen. […]

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