Today, as a typical liberal, I went through the usual cycle of outrage, this time from Joan Walsh's article about the recent contraception hearings, a womans attempt to testify, and Rush Limbaugh's response. From the article:
Limbaugh called her a “slut” and a “prostitute,” and promised to buy Fluke and Georgetown women “as much aspirin to put between their knees as they want. We are paying her for having sex. We are getting screwed. So Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal: If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is: We want you to post the videos online, so we can all watch.”
I found it offensive. I went to "America's Wall," (ie, Facebook) and wrote that he oughta be slapped and punched. My offense was personal, because I felt like he was speaking to all women with that kind of language, and that includes mothers.
You don't talk that way about ANYBODY's mother, was my feeling.
Now we can argue whether my reaction to his words is illegitimate. But the ugliness with which he delivered those words, and the appalling filthy suggestion he makes is just plain shocking.
I know I'm playing a role. I know that a big part of the thrill of this kind of talk is that it creates outrage. The next step in the game is for an apology to come forth. From here on out the game is played in our living rooms, on our Facebook walls, our blogs, our Thanksgiving dinners and coffee machines at work. The apology is trotted out as evidence that it was all a big joke, and a wide-eyed innocence is proclaimed. At this point, whoever took umbrage with the words looks the fool. Blathering on as he or she did, plainly angry. Cool people are never angry. The endgame is that the national profile of Rush Limbaugh is increased, his fans feel an insider's sense of superiority in laughing at the appointed targets, and they share a smugness at the reaction provoked. The unfortunate individual who complained has been robbed of the basis of his or her anger, since it was all a joke. Doubly victimized, this person wanders away, having lost some faith in humanity. The worldview of the insiders is confirmed...they are the only ones above the fray, living among fools.
This is what is being sold. And it's tremendously successful. During the last 20 years, Rush Limbaugh has become the real power behind the Republican Party. When a politician on the right offends him by going against his ideas, there is a quick backtrack and public apology. Make no mistake, he is powerful. He uses humor as a sword. It's a nasty humor, and if you hear enough of it you can't help but think of his victims as insects that need to be stamped out. This way of talking about enemies is chilling, and was used in every genocidal regime we know of. I think that a reasonable person wouldn't want to go within 20 feet of talking that way. But he does it all the time...after all it's only to be funny, right?
What really upsets me though, is not so much that he's become a millionaire by talking this way in national media, but that his story and methods have gone viral, and as local as your friends and neighbors.
It's all about eyeballs in our world. Engage in certain controversial opinions and your profile is raised. Rock-n-roll happened 40 years ago, and was quickly co-opted by the corporate world. Now, our heros are "rebels," or cast that way, and we can't help but admire a maverick. So when we search to stand out, an easy way forward is to cast ourselves against the status quo.
Long ago, the status quo in our country was very conservative. The rebels were inclusive, anti-corporate, and questioned the basic whys of everything they were handed. At the same time, the political world had respectable positions and elements that would be a liberal fantasy-world today: strong unions, and an intact sense that we are in this together. Now, "greed is good" has mostly stamped that out, unless you are certified as a church member in good standing. See, citizens aren't supposed to care about each other, only church members. But that's another story.
It clicked home for me when a friend referred to Andrew Breitbart as a "punk rock Republican." You see, I thought of him as a corporate shill. His opinions may appear acerbic and surprising, but at the end of the day they always support corporate-friendly options. He had a way of arguing that elimination of the union your dad is a member of was a blow for freedom against a bunch of unimaginative beauracrats. He could blow up a politicians career with salacious and witty commentary. No one would notice that the politician listened more to the powerless than the powerful. Meanwhile, a miasma of cynicism would spread, and conspiracy theories grow. Guys like this don't do us any favors.
But if he's a "punk rock Republican," that explains some of the appeal. It implies a tough "take no prisoners" attitude, probably fierce honesty and authenticity as well. It creates a psychological distance from stuffy, fat old Republicans who are the kiss of death if you still want to get the girls.
All of this is off the top of my head, I'm just going on the feelings I get from the term punk rock. If your mental picture is wildly different just tell me. There must be considerable variation here.
These "punk rockers" wield their sound bites as weapons, pumping up their stock as their targets wilt. They rise from obscurity to national profile by combining considerable talent with this gimmick. Their fans can play the game on a local level. Got a local egghead or "feminazi" you want to see piss his or her pants? Just repeat one of those opinions and watch them explode. Yuks all 'round!
Now it's true that the eggheads need to learn this game, and quit being played for a fool. But what amazes me is that the people pulling these pranks manage to see themselves as "punk rockers," and not the voice of authority at play that they really are. Bullies are where they are because they are aligned with the powerful, and they pick on the powerless. I don't know much about punk rock, but their political opinions must have been about as far from frat boy politics as you can get. To co-opt their stance is just another typical stunt, like Glenn Beck co-opting Martin Luther King day. I think Adolf Hitler said somthing to the effect that the people won't believe a little lie, but they'll believe a big one. I'm seeing that dynamic at play here.
Back to teaching. What is politics? Is it power flowing from the end of a gun? Is it the struggle between good ideas and bad ones? Is it (even worse), who looks foolish and who looks strong? In our modern world, it seems to be the latter. Hateful ideas get a big boost in the market with this dynamic. Witness our "war on drugs." No politican wants to be accused of weakness. So drug policy that would actually help languishes, and lock-ups prevail. It appears that fear of foolishness is a strong currency.
As I came to political maturity, I identified as a liberal. At the same time, I learned that this had become a dirty word. It became that way through mockery, snide comments, subtle innuendo and dog whistle code words. Now the world is very different. Even as American's *are* generally liberal in their viewpoints, they must apologize for that. They are "naive fools."
Rush Limbaugh teaches his fans how to keep the libruls in a defensive posture, always fighting the last remark while they move on to new targets. "Well played," it might be said. But such an individual shouldn't be invited into your house. He cannot sit with honor among his targets, which are more than half of us by a wide margin.