(Photo: Nugent with Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) at the 2013 State of the Union.)
Whenever extremists blurt out extreme things online or elsewhere, there's always a concurrent sub-debate about whether we should pay attention to these people. The most recent case, of course, is Ted Nugent's meltdown in which he reacted to criticism by CNN with an epic Twitter tirade that included word-salad tweets like this one:
Of course, the remarks that touched off this latest pandemic of Nugent gibberish began when he called President Obama a "subhuman mongrel" and, within the same rant, a "chimpanzee" (the chimpanzee part is often overlooked). Last week, CNN's Wolf Blitzer hosted a guest who, while admittedly violating Godwin's Law, noted that Nazis referred to Jews as subhumans. Following the CNN segment, even conservative leaders like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) condemned Nugent.
Reacting to all of this, Nugent went full berzerker on Twitter, and then only offered a half-assed, excessively whistly apology -- "not necessarily to the president" -- for his clearly racist statements about Obama.
My friend and colleague at The Daily Banter, Chez Pazienza wrote last week in a post titled "Who Gives a F*ck What Ted Nugent Thinks?" that "quite frankly you’re never going to get those people to shut the fuck up anyway."
Getting extremists on both radical wings of the political debate to shut the fuck up shouldn't really be the goal. Chez is absolutely right: Nugent will go to his grave (not swiftly enough) babbling in word-salad riddles about killing woodland critters just to watch them die, while trolling any liberals within earshot, accusing them of hating the Second Amendment and [insert self-satirical Nugent cliche here].
Instead of lapsing into outrage comas attempting to silence people like Nugent, the more effective goal should be to, quite simply, discredit and marginalize these crackpots. If someone -- anyone -- with a reasonably tall soapbox chooses to say something controversial, they should be prepared to be treated accordingly because, as we've discussed before, if you market in controversial statements, don't be surprised or indignant when you stir up, you know, controversy. Likewise, if you choose to associate yourself with a crank like Nugent, be prepared to catch the blood spatter when he gets clocked in the head by CNN or Media Matters or whoever for saying something utterly dumb and offensive.
But let's tackle exactly why we should, contra-Chez, care about what Nugent and other extremists say.
Primarily, and to repeat, anyone who goes around in public calling African-Americans "subhuman mongrels" deserves to be swiftly and publicly marginalized, delegitimized and exposed as hateful trash. The more effective the marginalization is, the less influence screechers like Nugent will have. As the number of people who take Nugent seriously goes down, the seriousness of the discourse goes up. Who knows whether this works in every case, but shaping public perception is certainly more effective as a tactic than somehow silencing an overzealous kook.
Getting down to specifics, even though Nugent's musical career is largely over and, let's face it, barely existed in the first place (Chez's take-down of Nugent's music is priceless), he enjoys a considerably high degree of political influence in spite of his reputation as a narcissistic fire-eater. He holds sway mostly over his far-right followers, but also as an NRA board member, a frequent guest on talk radio and cable news and, most importantly, via his close ties with various Republican politicians.
(Photo: Nugent with Texas Governor Rick Perry.)
The latter category is most recently highlighted by his stumping for Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. Should Abbott win, Nugent would ostensibly have a seat at the table within the government of the second largest state in the Union, and one that continues to lurch farther to the right, policy-wise.
Even after the latest round of remarks, Abbott defended his celebrity pal, saying, "I don’t know what he [Nugent] may have said or done in his background. What I do know is Ted Nugent stands for the Constitution. He stands against the federal government overreaching and doing what they are doing to harm Texas." Yeah, as long as you stand up for conservative principles, calling the first African-American president a "chimpanzee" is fine and dandy.
Meanwhile, Nugent will be on The Dennis Miller Show for an entire hour Monday. He continues to be the host of his own animal-death-porn telecast for the Outdoor Network. (Speaking of which, his fetishistic obsession with killing animals, especially for sport, along with his shilling for the gun lobby is almost as offensive as some of his remarks. Almost.) He was on The O'Reilly Factor earlier in the month. Like it or not, has-been or not, Nugent is a public figure with a respectably-sized fan base. He also has a not-too-shabby 223,000 followers on Twitter -- a format, by the way, that's tailor-made for Nugent's dollops of simplistic horseshit.
Ignoring him will not make him go away. It'll only allow him to more freely peddle his hateful crap-on-a-stick.
Indeed, ignoring the crazies is not unlike ignoring a suspicious mole. It might make you feel better to not worry about it, but it won't keep it from ballooning into something serious. And yes, I just compared Ted Nugent to skin cancer. With apologies to skin cancer.