John Cole, who back in the Bush days was an actual right-winger, talks about why he abandoned all that:
It was a lot of things, but part of it was finally just coming to terms with everything I believed in was bullsh*t. There are only so many times you can try to justify something, then watch the Bush administration cut you off at the knees, or see them get caught blatantly lying, or doing things like having their FEMA officials stage “press conferences” in which the reporters were… FEMA officials. Or all the talk about about deficit reduction while exploding the national debt. Or all the lies and lies and lies about Iraq. Torture and Schiavo were the beginning fissures for me. Every single one of you, if I were to say finish this phrase: “The sanctity of…” would be able to blurt out “marriage.” And yet, in an issue that is the business of no one but husband and wife, there was the GOP rushing to pass a national law INJECTING themselves into someone’s allegedly sanctified marriage. The fact that they were trashing the courts and ignoring medical science was just the icing on the cake. …
I identified with it. It was part of who I was for years. It was my deference to authoritarianism after years in the military. It was tribalism. A lot of it is because Democrats just seem like such spineless wimps who never f*cking fight for anything they believe in. I’m a Democrat now and more sensitive to language than I once was, so I’m hesitant to call Democratic officials p*ssies because I know it will result in 20 emails yelling at me for my sexism, but good Christ the Democrats were and still are p*ssies. It’s enough to make you want to smash your head through your computer monitor when you see them constantly capitulating. Republicans might be crazy, but at least they f*cking fight. Whether I am right or wrong, I stand up for what I believe. I’ll put my name, my ass, and my money on the line. So watching people repeatedly cave just makes me have no respect for them whatsoever. Sure there are political realities, but good grief, stand for something. I’m honestly shocked that other than a few jackasses, the Democrats fought the good fight on this latest contraceptives bullsh*t. It was all of these things and above. Having said all that, eventually I hit my breaking point with the GOP.
Emphasis added. This is the most frustrating thing about associating oneself with “the left,” and I really do think it’s a reason the right holds the “Democrat Party” in such contempt. When the Democrats constantly say – can’t we all just get along, here, take some preliminary concessions to just please consider our point of view – no, their adversaries don’t respect that. Neither do their adherents.
I think the meanness of the GOP was a big part of it. The outing people on the internet, the religious fanatics, the attempts to get people fired, the absolute unwillingness to ever admit error, the smearing of the Schiavo’s husband, the gay-bashing, etc. …
And while Republicans may very well have been crazy for decades, the outright ugliness, I think, has escalated beyond measure. The hideous treatment of Graeme Frost was the final straw, I guess. It was just the last, final, “WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?” moment. You see the same thing from the same folks as they viciously attack Trayvon Martin for his horrible sin of being gunned down in cold blood.
Frost was the 12-year-old kid from Baltimore who went on the radio to talk about how he’d been helped by the State Child Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP. He then got swift-boated, with the likes of Michelle Malkin peering in his family’s windows to determine what kind of swag they had, and whether that meant they were wealthy and milking the system.
The 12-year-old kid, see, had to be destroyed. Much like Sandra Fluke.
Except things have changed/are changing. The left/the Democratic Party has learned, a little bit, how to fight back. Would that the Commander in Chief knew that, but maybe someday…
In any event, I’m giving a talk Tuesday with the title, “Past Peak Polarization,” which on the surface might seem really odd. This being an election year, how could we possibly be past peak political polarization? But I do think we are.
I think what has happened in this country was, at the beginning of the aughts, the Republican dominance, and then the war in Iraq, really energized the left. I was very much caught up in that; that was about the time I began to write about politics exclusively. And I began to be so politically “mean,” as some term it.
But the reason for that was that I believed liberals needed to fight back, needed to fight as hard as the right had. This bubbled up, at first, in the blogosphere. The left took on a new, snarling, pugilistic, mocking tone that your oh-so-civil Democratic politicians would never ape. But it was a conscious attempt to “fight” as Limbaugh fought, as Hannity fought, as Coulter fought. And I cannot tell you how amusing it was, and is, to hear people who listen to Rush tell me that liberals are so mean.
The upshot of all this was: Both sides now had flamethrowers, both sides were happy to turn them on full blast. And that generated quite a bit of fatigue in the middle, even on the right and left fringes of the middle. The shouting and snarling began to get old, particularly in a nation where there were so many palpable, seemingly intractable problems. More and more people – even those who once might have counted themselves as partisan – seemed to be willing to engage politically, rather than shout slogans. That’s what I found, anyway, in the responses to my weekly newspaper blatherings. And I’m happy to oblige that, because that’s where I wish it would have been all along. But no, I wasn’t going to sit and let “my side” be bullied.
The bullying, I think, is now – if not over, then on the down slope. The Limbaugh/Fluke affair really was a turning point. Advertisers fled; more and more are saying they don’t want to be associated with incindiary, controversial content. Mike Huckabee is starting a new show in Limbaugh’s time slot, and while Huckabee is conservative and I’m sure I’ll disagree with much of what he has to say – it’s just not going to be the same thing, it’s not going to be the same approach. I’m sure Rush’s partisans will sniff and say, it will never beat Rush. Beat him? I don’t know about that. But carve out its own audience of people who want lively debate but are willing to treat their opponents with respect? Yeah, I think there’s an audience for that.
Last month a former Clear Channel exec told John Avlon:
“Rush has been around for 23 years. They’re not necessarily making new Ditto-heads. You have to fish where the fish are,” says Hobbs, who helped launch the radio career of Glenn Beck, among others. “We’re singing to this choir, that’s great, they’re worth a lot of money and they do a lot of wonderful things, but boy, there’s a lot over here we could do.”
“This civil and smart approach—like [John] Batchelor and Michael Smerconish and some other shows—to me is kind of a ‘duh,’ ” adds Hobbs, indicating that it should have been obvious long ago. “The numbers that NPR is drawing clearly portends to something. I’ve seen it myself in research. It’s the tone; it’s the approach. Some people don’t want to be engaged at that loud, angry level—that hard right or left ideological approach where it’s my way or the highway.”
It’s my belief that more and more people don’t want to be engaged at the loud, angry level. They want thoughtfulness rather than ideology, rational analysis rather than sneering. Not everyone, of course. And just because you think civil debate is better for the country doesn’t mean you’re not going to be passionate about your position.
But we can be passionate and still treat others with respect. We can say, political discourse needs to have boundaries. We can rein in the populist passion and resentments that make everything seem fair game.
Or not. It’s your call.