Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Federalists for Jefferson

You can always tell when a minority political position is gaining ground. The scratchy voices crying out in the wilderness are supplemented and then drowned out by far more unctuous tones as the movement begins to attract supporters who smell new opportunities. Back in the 90s, those of us who publicly attacked the emerging right-wing machine may have suffered from loneliness but the company we did enjoy was very agreeable, at least by our lights. Since we had no political prospects and weren’t operators, we had little incentive to dissemble and mostly didn’t. Perhaps because nobody was offering to buy ‘em, we weren’t much tempted to sell our souls. Anyhow, since the facts were very much on our side, integrity offered a modest but more or less automatic rhetorical advantage at a time when the other rhetorical edges belonged to our enemies. Who knows if the scrupulousness of people such as Joe Conason or Duncan Black or Kos was an expression of character or the product of a situation? Maybe we shouldn’t complain about the journalistic sins of the op/ed writers until we’ve walked a mile in their wingtips. It was easy to be honest when there wasn’t a better option. Things are different now and the newly converted and perhaps some of the old hands, too, will have many new opportunities to lie, cheat, and steal in print.

I certainly don’t expect public debate to be conducted on a very high level under any circumstances and the object of the game in any case is not to preserve a prissy purity but to promote better policies. Scrupulousness is not an art form or an end in itself. Nevertheless, as I emerge from a silence enforced by the twin evils of seasonal affective disorder and full-time employment, I find myself distinctly uncomfortable with some of the new company I’m keeping, including, especially, people like Arianna Huffington, whose Huffington Post borrows so many of the propaganda techniques of the right-wing press. Her blog assembles many news items from the AP and various newspapers but presents them under headlines that drastically spin their contents, often in astonishingly misleading directions. Huffington herself engages in the kind of personal attacks based on pop psychology that the mainstream press used to sink Al Gore—as you’ll recall, that’s how they got all that blood on their hands—but her favorite target seems to be Hillary Clinton, who she portrays as a scheming harridan as if ambition were a sin in womankind. The point isn’t that Clinton shouldn’t be criticized or even that misogynists should shut up, but that Arianna uses her tactics with such obvious cynicism. She’s not an Neanderthal like Chris Matthews whose hatred of female politicians is an authentic expression of inherited prejudice and personal stupidity. She’s just an opportunist, for whom activating poisonous stereotypes is unobjectionable as long as it happens to be useful at the moment, just as not too long ago, she had no compunction about portraying the rather conservative Diana Feinstein as a raving radical leftist in order to promote the senatorial campaign of her then husband, who was running under false colors as a right-wing Republican. Arianna surely understands the bit about strange bedfellows in politics, and I do too; but I find it difficult to feel comfortable with this particular ally even though, for the time being, her very real talents are mostly being used in favor of causes dear to me.

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