Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What tristero said!

Tristero: A Real Dialogue
Catherine, in comments, to my previous post, which mocked Robert Stacy McCain's disgusting suggestion that American Jews be encouraged to move to the country to learn conservatism, wrote:
I read through the comments at the link. They weren't talking about forced relocation of course. The thing that stood out to me is that no one at that site really has much understanding of what liberalism is and why a person would be drawn to it. Their attempts to describe what liberals believe or what motivates us are stilted and very wide of the mark. I know I don't really get them, either. It would be nice to have a little real dialogue so we could stop viewing each other in such cartoonish ways.
Let me address this by first saying that I have the utmost respect for Catherine and her comments, here and on other posts, as I do for all our regular commenters. I hope my disagreements are respectful and if not, I hope she'll point out where so I can learn. The internets is a harsh place and I have no interest in adding to it when highlighting a comment; I very much value our regular visitors.

When I first started blogging, I too was taken in by folks like McCain. I thought they were serious people interested in a genuine meeting of the minds. I was dying to have useful conversations with intelligent conservatives, who knew how to write and also knew how to debate.

It has never happened. It will never happen with the Robert Stacy McCains of the world, for they are not what we think of as conservatives. They are probably best described as part of the group that flirts with what David Neiwert calls eliminationists and eliminationist ideas, but the standard term, when being polite to them, is "movement conservative." Whatever you call them, they hate liberalism with a passion. And by "liberalism" I mean liberalism as in the Englightenment and the American Founders such as the Jefferson of the Declaration and the letter to the Danbury Baptists. These are people who are still fighting the battles lost by the Federalists in the earliest days of the United States. These are very, very strange people and there is no common ground to be reached between liberals and them. They can only be defeated and their ideas relegated to the margins of modern American political discourse, where they belong. Fortunately, as powerful as they are, there are not too many of them. Unfortunately, they are extremely good at disguising their extremism; many decent Americans have been bamboozled. (One of the major reasons I started blogging was because, at the time, very few people other than Krugman seemed to be onto their game. Many more are now, but not enough.)

Among the most important ways to defeat movement conservatives is to refuse to take their bullshit seriously, even for a moment. In fact, when they are given undeserved influence and respect, as they were in the months before Bush/Iraq, innocent people die.

On the other hand, dialogue with conservatives, genuine conservatives, is not only possible, but something liberals are having right now, every day. A prime example is the intense argument many in the blogosphere are having with the current president of the United States. I'm not kidding or being a smarty-pants: Whatever his personal beliefs, Obama governs as a centrist and even, in some areas, like a conservative. Therefore, it is no surprise at all that it has been very, very difficult to introduce genuinely liberal ideas into this administration, and that Van Jones' resignation is a genuine loss to liberals.

That said, the Obama administration has not heaped the kind of eliminationist scorn on us that McCain and his fellow brown shirt wannabes have. It is with Obama and other Democrats that you will find the discussions you want to have. You may not like what they're doing, but they are not in the grip of a genuinely creepy ideology.

Indeed, most top Democrats adhere to what used to be called "conservatism," including the Clintons, Reid, and of course the even-more-conservative blue dogs. It has been noted, often with amazement, that today's Democrats are to the right of Nixon on many issues; needless to say, that is pretty damn far right.

With movement conservatives, however, there is not a chance of a real discussion. And yes, what that means is that to the (nearly complete) extent that Republicans have become synonymous with movement conservatism, they are, as Van Jones rightly said, simply assholes.

I'm sorry, Catherine, I understand your interest in listening and also in reaching out to other voices. It simply cannot be done with the extreme right. They do not hold "other views." They're simply irresponsible, malicious, and incompetent.

And that brings us to McCain's "encouragement" of Podhoretz to get Jews to move to rural areas so they can embrace real conservative values. For reasons I hope I don't have to explain to anyone on this blog, no one even remotely familiar with the ghastly result of worldwide anti-semitism would seriously suggest Jews move anywhere in order to change their politics. McCain claims this is a "perverse" reading of what he wrote but it is he who is being perverse. That he doesn't understand this, or claims not to, is exactly what is so troublesome; Jews have heard this kind of "encouragement" many times before, and it never ends well. What he wrote is, by any normal standard, an outrageous thing to say and places him far beyond the pale of serious engagement.

I'll leave it to others to come to their own conclusions about the motives behind McCain's "encouragement" for urban Jews to relocate to the country for political reasons. I'll simply conclude by repeating what so many of us have said: our political discourse is deeply askew. Norman Podhoretz's and Robert Stacy McCain's ideas would have only a marginal impact and distribution in a healthy discourse. Instead, NoPod, a truly troubled soul, is thought a serious intellectual, and the likes of McCain are heard everyday in the drooling rants of Beck and other clowns. They can't be ignored, but they also can't be engaged. Believe me, I tried. I learned.

Finally, don't be fooled if, like Huckabee or Gingrich, they seem personable. They have a long history of acting on their hate and rage. These are ugly, ugly people.

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