By Bob Cesca: It’s only slightly less frustrating to watch Fox News Channel and to listen to right-wing talk radio as it often is to observe progressives choke on their own well-meaning, but ultimately self-defeating tongues.
Seriously, the act of observing fellow liberals every day on the blogs, on The Facebook and elsewhere too often makes me want to smash my computer using a team of monkeys brandishing explosive wiffle bats. Specifically, the act of watching progressives who don’t understand the realities of American government and politics, watching progressives desperately seeking “reasonable” conservatives in some sort of futile attempt at détente, and watching hipster cool-kid progressives undermining support for the most liberal president of our time might actually make me lose my shpadoinkle, even though I generally feel pretty centered.
To be honest, I didn’t intend to get into yet another column-length rant about this topic… until I read a piece on Salon by Alex Pareene who thinks, “Aaron Sorkin is why people hate liberals.”
He’s a smug, condescending know-it-all who isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. His feints toward open-mindedness are transparently phony, he mistakes his opinion for common sense, and he’s preachy. Sorkin has spent years fueling the delusional self-regard of well-educated liberals. He might be more responsible than anyone else for the anti-democratic “everyone would agree with us if they weren’t all so stupid” attitude of the contemporary progressive movement. And age is not improving him.
First of all, I’ve just about had it with this myth that people hate liberals. Okay, sure, I get it. A lot of people hate “liberals” — the stigmatized cartoon word and the absurd commie pinko caricature painted by the right-wing media for the last 40 years. But in single-issue poll after single-issue poll, a majority or plurality of Americans are liberal. Americans are pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-green energy, pro-taxing the rich, pro-same sex marriage, and on down the line. Contrary to cable news hacks like Chuck Todd, Harold Ford, Jr. and Mark Halperin, America is a center-left nation and, despite its self-consciousness about using the word, it’s liberal. Full stop.
However, conservatives have done a better job at combining the right-wing brand with what I consider to be the American brand. In other words, conservatives have co-opted patriotism, tenacity, independence and unwavering strength and made it their own. Of course none of that has anything to do with conservatism. Liberals could ostensibly be strong, tenacious, patriotic and independent. But we’ve given up and conceded those traits to conservatives because we’re too hip and ironic and smart to hang a flag next to our front doors or to to not back down in face of a political enemy during a debate. We’d be more successful if we could reclaim those things.
People who happen to hate liberals might hate them less if they/we were more like Sorkin and his characters: forceful, self-confident, lightning fast with a brutally salient point and occasionally gregarious (see President Bartlet). Instead of standing our ground and seizing the initiative by constructing killer frames and message discipline, we navel-gaze and wonder why people hate liberals. We worry that being Sorkin-ish might be too over-the-top or unfair or smug instead of just selling what we believe with laser precision and without letting up no matter how much the opposition screeches and pees their big-boy pants.
Even though they’re wrong on just about everything, conservatives know how to frame an issue and they know how to retain message discipline, and so they win debate after debate. They know how to connect with regular people who, if they were actually aware of Republican policies, would typically vote Democratic. Republicans/conservatives possess the courage of their convictions, even though their convictions are upside-down and contradictory across the board. Americans respond to strong, forceful arguments and concise expressions of core beliefs, but liberals don’t often provide that.
If we could just combine these traits with the truth that drives liberalism (yes, there’s a man-made climate crisis; yes, women deserve equal; yes corporations are strangling our economy, etc, etc) we might actually dominate American politics again.
Aaron Sorkin, whatever his personal flaws might be, has repeatedly illustrated how to do it, and yet I see too many liberals shying away from the forceful argument or the contentious debate because of some kind of limp, exhausted sense of futility. Ugh, Rush Limbaugh is too crazy, so let’s ignore him. Ugh, why can’t there be more David Brooks conservatives? Ugh, I might vote for Romney if he wasn’t such a liar. Ugh, Obama is a murderer because of drones. Yawn. Nap.
Like it or not, we’re engaged in an increasingly uphill battle against conservatives who might actually be regaining some ground with the help of the Citizens United decision, and we continue to respond like it’s nap time. We can’t afford to ease up on conservatives or to concede an inch of ground. And if more voters observed a progressive movement as unrelenting and as disciplined as the conservative movement, we might actually win more often.