The Confluence has been accused of heresy by other bloggers in recent weeks. According to these purity trolls we “took up right wing talking points” which not only discredited our writers but also our commenters, our families, friends, former babysitters and the entire PUMA coalition. Our accusers felt free to question our liberal credentials and suggest that we were really racist Republicans.
I’m not going to name names or provide links because these accusations are bullshit. But these false allegations demonstrate a major problem in Left Blogistan. That problem is the partisanship trap. Left/right ideology has been subsumed into the competition between Democrats and Republicans and both sides have demonized the other to the point that rational discussion has become virtually impossible.
Once upon a time both parties had liberal and conservative wings. Then, beginning in the sixties and continuing through the Reagan years, the GOP became identified with conservative ideology and the Democrats became the party of liberals and progressives. Today, “liberal Republican” is a virtual oxymoron and although there are conservative Democrats they are a minority within the party.
As documented by John Dean in “Conservatives Without Conscience,” the demonization of liberals began in the years follwing World War II and became ascendant during the “Reagan Revolution” of the eighties. Republican conservatism suffered a setback with the election of Bill Clinton but came back strong in 1994 with Newt Gingrich and the “Contract on America.” Hubris and the ill-advised impeachment effort ended Gingrich’s reign, but the conservative movement came back once again to reach it’s peak under George W. Bush when it acheived political hegemony.
From Reagan’s rise through Bush’s fall the conservative movement repeatedly demonized liberals as unpatriotic, corrupt and stupid. They were so successful at defaming liberals that the term “liberal” became a dirty word in American politics and many left-of-center politicians and writers began calling themselves “progressives” instead. But among conservatives and their media lapdogs, “liberal” and “Democrat” became synonymous.
But during these dark years the “progressive” Democrats began to demonize their opponents as well. In progressive ideology the term “conservative” became synonymous with “Republican” and both terms referred to a stereotype of a person who is racist, sexist, greedy, jingoistic and pro-war. Conservative leaders are caricatured as evil while the GOP rank and file is seen as stupid and bigoted.
If you go to almost any site in Left Blogistan you will see posts on every conceivable issue that argue from the premise that there is no principled and informed rationale for supporting any Republican policy, proposal or candidate. If you agree with or support anything that originates from the right you must be stupid, immoral or both. Republican candidates are not only assumed to be lying they are also presumed to have nefarious motives for seeking office along with everything else they say and do.
I’m not here to justify Republicans or their ideology. I’m here to criticize the mutual demonization and the partisanship trap. Why is this a bad thing? First of all it’s intellectually lazy. One purpose of demonization is to rob your opponent of legitimacy. If you declare that your opponent is a racist you don’t have to debate the merits of his argument because everything he says is invalid ab initio.
Secondly, it makes rational discourse difficult if not impossible. PUMAs know that being accused of racism is not a persuasive argument and tends to inhibit further discussion. Increasing the frequency of the accusation or the volume of your voice doesn’t help either. Now this does not mean that we can’t condemn racism, sexism and other societal ills when we see them, but we should do so cogently and without presuming to know what is in the hearts and minds of our opponents.
The situation we have now allows any connection, however tenuous, to the Republican party or a conservative thinker to permit the declaration that the argument is a “right-wing trope” and therefore illegitimate. It also permits the demonization of total strangers, individually and in groups. It isn’t much of a step from arguing your opponent is a racist to arguing your opponent’s argument should be prohibited, and then a little further to using extra-legal means to stop him. It’s a slippery slope, but since you have the moral high ground if shouting him down doesn’t work, then try beating him down.
Into this morass of partisanship steps Teh Precious. Some of the brightest minds in Left Blogistan, fully aware of the sexism, misogyny and false accusations of racism, as well as the caucus fraud and other electoral misconduct, nonetheless argue that we must support Obama because he is a Democrat. Others, even though they refuse to support Obama, declare that we must not vote for John McCain because he is a Republican and is therefore worse than Teh Precious.
The mere fact that he is a Democrat has allowed Obama to break his pledge on public financing, reverse himself and vote for the FISA bill, appoint a Vice Presidential nominee that voted for the AUMF and speak approvingly of Ronald Reagan. The joy which greeted yesterday’s endorsement of Obama by a man who less than a year ago was persona non grata among Democrats demonstrates that partisanship trumps ideology among Obama supporters.
The demonization of political opponents also allows Obamanation to rationalize violent imagery and dehumanization. Even some alleged feminists who support Barack Obama have either participated in or turned a blind eye towards the misogynistic treatment of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. The PUMA motto is “principle before party.” That motto is the key to escaping the partisanship trap. Adherence to liberal principles must be a precondition to our support for Democratic candidates and the Democratic party. No longer is it good enough that they are “better than the Republicans.” Furthermore, let us use facts and cogent argument to win debates rather than allegation and innuendo.