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Print view: Rich and Robinson used that offending term too. Where might our fury take us?
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BLOOD LIABLE (THERE MAY BE BLOOD)! Rich and Robinson used that offending term too. Where might our fury take us? // link // print // previous // next //

Guns and condescension: Nicholas Kristof offers high-minded thoughts about guns in today’s New York Times column. In a rather typical move, he never mentions the NRA, the organization which renders his lofty ideas almost totally moot.

On the same op-ed page, Gail Collins discusses guns too, as she did in an unscheduled column on Monday. In the column which appears in our hard-copy Times, she finally mentions the NRA in paragraphs 13 and 14, out of 15 in all—although her piece has largely been rewritten in its on-line version. (For the on-line column, click here.)

In our view, Collins has made some perfectly sensible suggestions in these two columns on guns. Might we share our instant reaction when we saw her column on Monday?

The NRA is very powerful in states whose “gun culture” differs from that of High Manhattan. In today’s hard-copy column, Collins briefly cites these regional differences:

COLLINS (1/13/11): Different parts of the country have very different attitudes about when it is appropriate for citizens to carry guns. There is nothing that would make me feel less safe while shopping than the knowledge that my fellow bargain-hunters were packing heat. But in the name of the short-lived quest for national civility, let’s hope that if Representative McCarthy’s proposal gets a hearing [in the Congress], everyone will show respect for these variations.

Collins, who really can’t help herself, is lightly tongue-in-cheek in that passage. That said, she wrote a perfectly sensible column on Monday—but here was our first thought when we read it:

Many people would never consider listening to Collins, because of the endless, simpering ways she has chosen to mock Bristol Palin.

Good grief. In the last six months of 2010, Collins referred to Bristol Palin in at least seven different columns, wasting her major national platform on repetitive, simpering nonsense. She then included a question about Bristol Palin in her January 1 “End-of-the-Year Quiz.” In all honesty, Collins isn’t an especially significant player, despite her major pedigree at the Times and despite her giant, twice-weekly platform. But if she were a serious player, the country is full of people who wouldn’t listen to a word she says because of those inane, mocking columns.

Can we talk? Collins provides simpering entertainment for us upper-class rubes. On Monday, she finally dropped her pose and tried to suggest some serious ideas. But why would anyone listen to someone like her? Her vast condescension is evident.

For good or for ill, we live in a vast, continental nation. Liberals really can’t succeed unless they know how to address (and listen to) the great unwashed—including people in parts of the country which have non-Manhattan regional cultures. You may not like or agree with those regional cultures—but those cultures, and the people who grew up in those cultures, won’t be going away.

Nor should they.

On Monday, Collins stopped her incessant simpering long enough to make some serious suggestions. But who would listen to someone like her—someone who speaks from a lofty perch with such condescension?

BLOOD LIABLE (THERE MAY BE BLOOD) (permalink): Will this country ever create a saner discourse? If so, the burden will largely fall to liberals and progressives.

This makes the troubled state of the emerging liberal world a point of real concern. For years, we liberals napped in the woods. We thus permitted other elements to direct whatever libels it pleased at major Democratic politicians (Bill Clinton is a serial murderer!) and to create the set of crackpot policy claims which largely define our political culture.

If we lower the tax rate, we get higher revenue! Everyone has heard this nonsensical claim, which originated during the decades when liberals napped in the woods.

Today, we liberals have risen from our long slumber. As we have, our intellectual and moral failings have really been things to behold. For one recent example, consider the post in Tuesday’s Salon by Adam Clark Estes, the latest barely coherent writer signed on by that floundering journal.

The post was short and incoherent. “Seattle weekly The Stranger historicizes Palin's crosshair image,” its headline said. This was the full text of the post, which featured the cover from this week’s Stranger:

ESTES (1/11/11): Created by Dan Savage and Aaron Huffman, this image of the cover of this week's The Stranger, a(n awesome) weekly newspaper in Seattle, says it all:

According to Estes, the Stranger’s cover image “says it all.” But to see that cover, just click here. You will see an American map featuring the location of 16 assassinations or attempted assassinations. The cover is patterned on the graphic Sarah Palin so unwisely used when she put twenty congressional representatives, including Gabrielle Giffords, in those now-famous crosshairs. Palin included the names of the targeted pols, just as the Stranger does.

This cover “says it all,” Estes says. If that’s true, sign us up as massively stupid; we couldn’t exactly tell you what the cover is “saying” at all. Clearly, though, the cover was an attempt to heighten the focus on Palin’s unfortunate conduct. And sure enough! Citing Salon, tristero posted the image at Digby’s site (click here). He offered no commentary or explanation beyond this headline: “Palin Reloaded, And Reloaded, And Reloaded, And...”

What is that image supposed to mean? What is that image supposed to “say?” Whatever! Neither Estes nor tristero even bothered explaining. But this is the mark of tribal loathing, in which no words are ever needed. And it marks the ugly, unintelligent culture which increasingly dooms the burgeoning “liberal” world to years of self-defeat.

Last night, President Obama said the following: “At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do, it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that—that heals, not in a way that wounds.”

No one is required to agree with that idea, of course. And surely, no one would want to say that misconduct and error can no longer be challenged. But we were very much struck last night by the gap between Obama’s tone and the tone of most of MSNBC—a channel where only Rachel Maddow seemed to have the emotional and intellectual range to deal with what has occurred.

(And by the way: Good for Maddow!)

Needless to say, everyone is entitled his or her own ideas about the best way to proceed. But we were especially struck to see how little has changed in the tone displayed by Ed Schultz and Keith Olbermann. These men are still all about manufacturing outrage, even where special efforts must be made to keep the outrage alive.

At one point in his speech last night, Obama made the statement which follows. Let’s consider the way his words align with the latest outrage being pimped through much of the liberal world:

OBAMA (1/12/11): The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better, to be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors and co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy—it did not—but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud.

As far as anyone knows at this time, Sarah Palin’s combative tone and miserable judgment really didn’t “cause this tragedy.” (Though such poor judgment, from whatever side, could “cause” or enable the next one.) But by the laws of Cable Fury, if our tribe can’t savage Palin for that, we must invent another outrage. And that was the role played by Palin’s “blood libel” comment in yesterday’s taped statement.

Olbermann was outraged. Even as he seemed to affirm Obama’s tone (“Again and again, the president called on Americans to have the conversation they must have without laying blame”), he powered ahead with his own tribal loathings, which he has faithfully served to liberal viewers over the past many years. He was of course furious that Palin said “blood libel.” Though uh-oh! He had to say this:

OLBERMANN (1/12/11): The term is used by others. Our friend Gene Robinson used it after the false charges of a woman in Pennsylvania before the 2008 election. He said it was the equivalent of—or towards that affect, of the blood libel. Usually, when somebody invokes it, it`s related to actual persecution of another group.

Olbermann forgot to say that Robinson had used the offending term right there on Countdown. But sure enough! Gene Robinson, a perfectly decent person (and a hero of pseudo-liberal labor) has used that same offending phrase while speaking with Olbermann himself, in October 2008! But then, several other major liberals have used that offending phrase in ways which don’t directly relate to the repulsive historical claims against Jews which brought the phrase into existence, many centuries ago. In short, the phrase has passed into somewhat general use—a point Alan Dershowitz made yesterday as he defended Palin. Here are a few other liberals, semi-liberals or repurposed liberals who have used the phrase in ways which are similar to the way Palin used it:

Dan Savage, MSNBC, 10/12/10. (A group of Hasidic Jews had directed a “blood libel” against gay and lesbian citizens.)

Gene Robinson, MSNBC, 10/24/08. (A bogus accusation had revived “the blood libel against black men concerning the defilement of the flower of Caucasian womanhood.”)

Mike Pesca, NPR, 1/19/08. (A Woody Allen film had directed a “blood libel” against Manhattan pigeon proponents. Pesca spoke whimsically, with Scott Simon.)

Frank Rich, New York Times, 10/15/06. (Bush administration allies had spread a “blood libel” against gays.)

Mike Barnicle, MSNBC, 10/31/06. (The Swift Boat people had directed a “blood libel” at John Kerry.)

Alex Beam, Boston Globe, 1/14/05. (The claim that two Globe executives had used and tolerated use of the N-word “amounted to ‘blood libel’ against” the execs.)

Andrew Sullivan, The Advocate, 2/2/02. (The claim that gays can’t be trusted around children is “the oldest blood-libel against us.”)

Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-FL, CNN, 11/20/00. (“The accusation that Vice President Gore tried to stop military ballots…literally rises to the level of blood libel.”)

Thomas Oliphant, Boston Globe, 11/18/97. (Seymour Hersh had directed a “blood libel” against Kenneth O’Donnell, the former Kennedy aide.)

On December 19, 2000, Jack Kemp told Chris Matthews on Hardball that the NAACP had run a “brutal, ad hominem, blood-libel ad against George W. Bush.” Last night, Matthews was troubled by Palin’s use of this term. In 2000, he quite predictably wasn’t.

Has this term “taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse,” as Dershowitz said, defending Palin? To some extent, yes; its “metaphorical” use doesn’t seem widespread, but it has plainly existed. Whether the term should be used that way is a different question, of course. But liberal screamers will be selective in choosing when to shout.

Tribal loathing looks like that—and helps doom the liberal movement. Last night, Olbermann seemed to suggest that Palin didn’t know the origins of the term in question; we have no idea if that’s true. Just a guess: If the use of this term did involve a political strategy, it would have been designed to create the fight which has now ensued—a fight which directs attention away from Palin’s original conduct, creating a highly tribalized wedge dispute which subjects liberals to the (semi-accurate) charge that they are behaving foolishly and hypocritically. (That they are being “politically correct.” Conservatives love that fight.) Was Olbermann really offended by the “remarkable inappropriateness [of Palin’s use of the term] given the religion of the congresswoman and given the millennium of pain it has represented for the Jewish people?” We have no idea; the gentleman seems to find himself outraged by all conduct on the part of The Other. But night after night, he and Schultz comb through the day’s detritus, looking for ways to stir liberal fury. In the process, they shove tons of money into their pants—and turn liberal viewers into semi-nitwits.

Alas! When they gin up their endless fake outrages, they keep liberals from forming serious arguments about the era’s actual issues. And they keep the general public locked in the war of the all against all. When regular people keep fighting over wedge insults, the top one percent have won. They have divided and conquered.

One last gruesome point:

In her taped self-defense, Palin said that blame-assigning of the type that has occurred “serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that [her critics] purport to condemn.” We hate to tell you, but in that claim she is semi-right. This conduct has certainly stirred up hatred; in time, it could even lead to violence on the part of some highly suggestible Palin-hater. Do we liberals really think that only The Others can be driven to violence? That no one on Our Side can be so foolish, so disturbed or so fallen as to succumb to this vice?

If an assault should ever come from our side, will we recall these pleasing Nights of Rage? These many nights of fake, self-defeating rage—the simple-minded nights of rage that are still being widely stirred in the wake of the killings in Tucson?