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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Who's Angry?

I don't know if I'm the "angry left" or not.

After all, I do have a half-written post sitting on my desktop with the opening sentence, "Jessica McBride picked the wrong week to piss me off."

On the other hand, this just makes me laugh, not get angry--it's one of the funniest bits Owen's written in months.

I bring up my anger problem not simply because I've been having a bit of an existential crisis of late, but because one of my imaginary friends, Maryscott O'Connor, was profiled last weekend in the Washington post under the headline "The Angry Left."

Now, to be fair, the author of the article, according to Maryscott, admitted to her that he'd never read a blog before, and already had his title--"the angry left"--in mind when he interviewed her. So maybe that's why he didn't understand, for example, that the Rude Pundit is, you know, rude, using it as a part of his schtick, as opposed to somehow representative of "the left," or why he didn't see the problem with combing through large comment threads to find one shocking comment that he can then claim is representative of "the left." In fact, a brief Googling will turn up plenty of responses to the article from all over the left explaining both its bias and its narrow scope. Maryscott, for all her passion and profanity, is hardly the prototypical lefty blogger. In one of the better rsponses, Billmon, who can be angry himself sometimes, smells payback for the blogoshpere's takedown of Ben Domenech, the conservative blogger and noted plagiarist. Barbara O'Brien has a good response, too.

But why should I--one who rants, sure, but probably not fringily angry--bother to defend against the Post smear, if it's been done? Well, because I know that my conservative readers probably aren't reading the national liberal blogs for balance to that article, particularly those of you in the right Cheddarsphere, particularly, Patrick McIlheran, who blogged about it last night:
The Post article, worth reading, tries drawing a parallel between lefty blogger rage and Newt Gingrich. Opinion Journal’s James Taranto points out that the more accurate parallel, the real right-wing rage, was back in John Birch Society or Colonel McCormick days:

“But can anyone imagine an Angry Right figure being treated as respectfully in the mainstream media as (blogger Maryscott) O’Connor is in the Post? Don't get us wrong--we have no brief for right-wing moonbats. We’re just a bit troubled that the press treats someone like O’Connor so sympathetically.

“This double standard actually ought to trouble the left more. By treating crazy right-wingers as disreputable figures, the media give the Republican Party an incentive to distance itself from its fringes. The ‘mainstreaming’ of the Angry Left, by contrast, makes the Democratic Party angrier and crazier--and less likely to win elections.”
It's true that the Post piece does draw the parallel to the Gingrich era. McIlheran--well, Taranto, really, but P-Mac seems to dig it--tries to push the right-wing parallel even further into the shadows. This, like the Gingrich comparison in the first place, is utter spin.

Consider Maryscott's blog, My Left Wing (and you should be considering it daily, as it is a good read). It is relatively popular, probably moreso now that Maryscott's been on the front page of the Washington Post. It is, as of this writing, ranked at 952 in the TTLB Ecosystem. While the Ecosystem isn't perfect, it's not a bad judge of blog popularity. (For comparison, I am currently ranked at 2353.) Nothing against Maryscott, whom I consider a colleague and friend, but she is not the leader of the online left, and I think she would agree with me about that if asked. And it may well be a bad thing, as McIlheran/Tarant suggests, that she is being "mainstreamed" by the Post, but Taranto/McIlheran is dead wrong to say that the "angry right" somehow gets treated disreputably.

Consider, for example, the blog ranked number two in the ecosystem: Michelle Malkin. Remember, McIlheran/Taranto's claim here is that the equivalent of Maryscott's "angry left" is the John Birch Society, influential but obscure, not popular and celebrated media figures. Malkin is certainly influential, and popular, and celebrated. She is among the best-selling authors on the political right. Maryscott was on FOXNews excactly once; Malkin is on all the time. But is she angry? Consider that her most recent book is called Unhinged and is all about the mental illness of liberals. (See David Neiwert on that score.) Of course, one could argue, merely writing inflammatory best-sellers about half of the US population is not in and of itself a sign of anger.

Okay, fine--let's look at another of the Ecosystem's top-ten bloggers, Hugh Hewitt. He's also a nationally syndicated radio host and frequent TV guest. He has a recent book out called Painting the Map Red--innocuous enough a title, I suppose, but consider that one of the chapters is entitled "The Democratic Left Is Addicted to Venom, and That Venom Is Poisoning the Political Process." No mean-spiritedness there, eh?

Another conservative best-seller is Ann Coulter. Her forthcoming book, slated for a first printing of a half a million copies, adds godless to her previous charges against liberals of treason and being so stupid you have to beat them with a baseball bat to get through to them. She's on "Hannity and Colmes" as often as Colmes is. She pulls down tens of thousands of dollars per speaking gig, topped by loud, lauditory cheers every time she suggests killing Supreme Court justices.

So what, you might ask. Okay, so there are a few lunatics who are not, as McIlheran/Taranto said, treated as being disreputable. After all, don't lefties write books? In fact we do. Take, for example, the new book by the internet's biggest liberal blogger, from Daily Kos. You would expect, like Malkin or Coulter or Hewitt, that Markos Moulitsas Zúniga would take all kinds of potshots at the right, calling them venomous or traitorous or mentally ill. After all, big-time book contract, the ear of, well, everybody--it's his big chance to unload all of our collective "angry left" spew at everyone who has made us so mad, from Bush on down to the insignificant microbes of the Ecosystem. Did he?

No. The target for Kos's book is the Democratic Party. Way to lay into those rotten conservatives, Kos!

Fine. What about all those other lefties with the big-time book contracts? What about (gasp!) Al Franken? Franken's recent books have been very specific in naming names of specific people on the right who lie and damage the public discourse, instead of smearing the right as a whole. (And his books are intentionally funny.) Newly popular lefty blogger Glenn Greenwald has a book contract, too. Is he calling the right unhinged? No, he's laying out a legal case for why warrantless domestic spying by the NSA is wrong. No anger there.

Are there any books from the "angry left"? Not according to the "people also bought" pages for Franken's and Kos's and Glenn's books. Does the "angry left" get the kind of TV face time that Malkin and Coulter do? Of course not.

Today the blogosphere has been abuzz over the behavior of that paragon of conservative non-angriness, Michelle Malkin. After a students protested non-violently against military recruiters on the campus of UC-Santa Cruz, Malkin took the contact information from the students' press release--information that the press could have used to contact them if they wanted--and published it on her second-most-popular-in-the-Ecosphere blog. To predictable results--if you can stomach the results. That's vitriol for you. Peter DiGaudio, who can breathe fire with the best of them, has re-published that contact information after Malkin posted some of the pretty nasty emails that filled up her public inbox after word got out about what she did. Seriously, I don't think Malkin needs the Texas Hold 'em blogger to defend her honor here. Plus, as I noted on Peter's site, the UCSC students were not those responsible for what Malkin got, and to keep publishing their contact information is out of line.

And posting that information in the first place was almost criminal. If she knows "unhinged" when she sees it (as her book apparently suggests), then she should be seeing it in the mirror today.

Even as bad as those emails to her were (and the emails to the UCSC students inspired by her postings in the first place), none of them came from the kind of leading public figure that the right is trying to caricature as the "angry left." Someone who can type four letters--just long enough for the "c" word--is not representative of the left anymore than someone describing, in detail, how he plans to shoot UCSC students is representative of the right. What is telling is how those who are representative--the well-read bloggers and media figures from either side--are responding. The right is encouraging the piling-on; the left is deploring it (Chris Bowers at MyDD, for example, is instituting a no death threats policy, which seems like it shouldn't even be necessary.)

Glenn Greenwald really makes the contrast stark in the post I linked earlier:
There is no question that there is anger and even some extremist rhetoric on the Left. But no sane person could deny that one finds the same type of mindset on the Right, but to a magnitude that is incalculable. The real difference is that, to find rank hatemongering on the Right, one need not go digging into the 300th comment on a blog or the most extreme postings of a relatively obscure blogger, because this type of limitless rhetorical attack has been a staple of the mainstream Right for more or less two decades now.

The Right's best-selling author calls liberals traitors and urges that they be beaten with baseball bats and attacked with bombs. Its most popular radio talk show host --with his 20 million daily followers--has spent the last 20 years urging that liberals be deported and praising the kidnappings of his political opponents, while other favorites on Right-wing radio routinely call for the imprisonment of leading Democrats. Similarly, some of the Right's favorite commentators have urged that those who espouse liberalism be tried for sedition, or worse.

One favorite right-wing commentator has written two books--one devoted to showing that liberals are mentally ill, and the other defending the internment of innocent American citizens in prison camps. The Right's leading elected officials and pundits just in the last couple of years have repeatedly taken to threatening federal judges who issue opinions they dislike.

And how fondly I recall these sentiments from Sen. Jesse Helms during the Clinton years:
In an effort to dampen the furor over his Commander-in-Chief remarks, on November 22 Helms told a newspaper reporter from his home state of North Carolina that the President should be careful about visiting military bases in that state. "Mr. Clinton better watch out of he comes down here," Helms said. "He better have a bodyguard."
Can one even contemplate the reaction if a Democratic Senator today warned George Bush to avoid military bases becasue he would likely be physically attacked by a military that hated him? Granted, those threats against the President were merely from a leading Republican Senator, not from an anonymous commenter on a blog, but they do nonetheless demonstrate that the Right, including its most powerful figures, long ago relinquished any limits when it comes to rhetorical attacks. The only difficult part of compiling this list is deciding what the worst offenders are and which examples should be left out. And that is to say nothing of the daily doses of hatred and bile that spew forth from the Right blogosphere, which I have no doubt someone else will be compiling shortly--again.

It is just astonishing to have to read an endless article from the Post about the supposed rage and anger on the "Left"--all based on the sought-out, most extreme sentiments of people with little or no real influence--while the eliminationist and traitor rhetoric that has been a central rhetorical tool of the Right's primary power centers for decades is mentioned only in passing, only by way of explaining how the Right used to engage in this sort of rage-driven politics until the Left took over. But anyone who listens on any given day to Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly, or who reads the hate-mongering and treason-accusing screeds of Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin and Powerline, know how fundamentally false that picture is.
Is there anger on the left? Sure. I feel it, everyone I drink liberally with feels it, I know my liberal readers feel it. But I do not--and will never--send my minion(s?) after anyone. I do not--and will never--recommend talking to conservatives with blunt objects instead of reasoned arguments. I do not--and will never--call conservatives treasonous or, as one prominent right Cheddarsphere denizen often describes liberals, a cancer on society. Maybe Patrick McIlheran is content to pretend that it doesn't happen, but it does, and on blogs more widely read than his own every day.

When I do speak with anger, it is about a specific person, a specific policy, a specific societal fault, not about the right as a whole. When I speak with anger, I speak to inspire or call for change, not to smear others of a different ideology.

When I speak with anger, I do it with a heavy heart, knowing, as Maryscott O'Connor does, that this anger is borne from powerlessness, from watching the country that I love turn into something that I fear. I do not do it because it sells books, packs the lecture halls, or gets me ratings.

Sometimes I think I'm more cynical than angry, but if that were true I would see beneath Unhinged or behind the overt racism of "Little Green Footballs" or beyond the brutal bigotry of Michael Savage a straight man playing for laughs--the schtick of the Rude Pundit. But there's no facade; it's all real.

And that, too, makes me angry.

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