Oy, what a glutton for punishment I am. I’m about to do something that’s painful but necessary: deconstruct an article published in the Magazine of this past weekend’s NY Times. Its author Steve Almond is given this valuable real estate to recycle the oft-argued claim that Fox News and the conservative talk radio are poisoning the political debate in this country. He then takes the argument one step further by saying he and his poor fellow liberals have been getting suckered into empowering and legitimizing them, and urges them should stop.
As we go through this article, you will surely find it, as I did, to be a nauseating combination of self-pity and self-congratulation, as well as a case study in liberal Projection, hypocrisy, arrogance, sophistry, and disconnect all rolled into one. All throughout the piece, Almond constantly does what he accuses his ideological opponents of doing. It is for all these reasons why I felt compelled to take the time to break it down.
Well, here goes …
In the spring of 2006, I quit my job as an adjunct professor at Boston College to protest the school’s selection of Condoleezza Rice as commencement speaker. My resignation letter, published online by The Boston Globe, went viral. Over the next few days, I received hundreds of e-mails, evenly divided between praise and condemnation, along with numerous invitations to appear on cable television.
The most tempting offer came from “Hannity & Colmes.” As I viewed it then, Sean Hannity represented the bane of American civic life: a blow-dried blowhard paid to vilify his enemies and incite his imbecilic fans. I leapt at the chance to confront him on live TV.
A producer promised me 10 minutes of airtime, during which I would be free to voice my objections to Rice, the former secretary of state. As it turned out, my interview ran just over three minutes, much of which I spent trying to fend off Hannity’s insistence that I voted for John Kerry. Not what I’d envisioned, but I managed to outlast his bullying and even launch a few zingers before my mike was cut. I was immensely pleased with myself, and I happily accepted kudos from fellow lefties.
Over the past few years, I’ve come to view my appearance as somewhat less heroic. I hadn’t spoken truth to power or caused anyone to reassess Secretary Rice’s record. I merely provided a few minutes of gladiatorial stimulation for Fox News. In seeking to assert my moral superiority, I enabled Hannity.
OK, first of all, to paraphrase one of many commenters to this article, how would one describe a professor who quits his job because he disagrees with the politics of the commencement speaker? A extreme partisan, that’s how. A left-wing fanatic. This guy was so anti-Bush and so anti-Iraq war that he actually quit his job in protest of a single guest from the administration.
Secondly, when I read Almonds hateful depiction of Hannity as a “a blow-dried blowhard paid to vilify his enemies and incite his imbecilic fans” and the herioc depiction of himself during the interview, my Bravo Sierra alarm went off. I assumed that as a liberal Almond has paltry analytical and critical thinking skills and knows only to argue by emoting, and that Sean, to be sure a blunt straight-shooter, kicked his ass and left Almond embarrassingly shocked and awed.
Sure enough, based on the written transcript (a video wasn’t available), I was right: The reason Sean kept asking Almond to admit he was a John Kerry supporter—a question Almond dodged and never answered—was because Kerry made the exact same case for the Iraq War that Condi Rice did, and if he and his liberal ilk were to call Rice a liar then he should consider Kerry a liar too.
This, to be blunt, is the tragic flaw of the modern liberal. We choose to see ourselves as innocent victims of an escalating right-wing fanaticism. But too often we serve as willing accomplices to this escalation and to the resulting degradation of our civic discourse. We do this, without even meaning to, by consuming conservative folly as mass entertainment.
No, Mr. Almond, your tragic flaw and that of most of your brethren is that you are so deprived of facts and logic you are unable to make compelling arguments with your conservative interlocutors. And so you do what, again, many liberals do: resort to name-calling.
And that is, sadly, a recurring theme and tactic in this piece: Calling Sean Hannity and others he disagrees with (i.e., the Fox News Channel in general and Rush Limbaugh) “right-wing fanatics”. But the problem is—and some of you will disagree with me—Hannity, Fox News, and Rush Limbaugh are not right-wing fanatics. They have been falsely and deliberately branded that way by left-wing fanatics like Almond and most NY Times writers in order to delegitimize and marginalize them.
Disagree with me if you want, but there’s a reason Fox News gets quite a lot of Democrat and independent viewers. There’s a reason Rush Limbaugh’s audience is constantly growing larger and ever more diverse. Yes, Sean and Rush hold staunch conservative views, but that doesn’t make someone a “fanatic.” So, every time Almond uses this term to describe his ideological opponents, he exposes either a lack of self-awareness at best and blatant hypocrisy at worst. It is he, I’ve already argued, who’s the fanatic. (Again, only a left-wing fanatic would have such a problem with a very moderate Republican like Condi Rice that he would quit his job in protest of her visit.)
So let’s posit the following definition: Almond uses “fanatic” (fanaticism) and “extremist” (extremism) as pejoritives to describe a staunch conservative unashamed by his conservativism and can cogently argue his position based on the facts.
If this sounds like a harsh assessment, trust me, I’m among the worst offenders. Yes, I’m one of those enlightened masochists who tune in to conservative talk radio when driving alone. I recognize this as pathological behavior, and I always make sure to switch the station back to NPR before returning the car to my wife. But I can’t help myself. I take a perverse and complicated pleasure in listening to all the mean, manipulative things those people say.
Wow, what a freakin’ martyr you are, Mr. Almond. I can relate, because right now I am going through the mean, manipulative things you are saying.
Of course, not all right-wing pundits spew hate. But the ones who do are the ones we liberals dependably aggrandize. Consider the recent debate over whether employers must cover contraception in their health plans. The underlying question — should American women receive help in protecting themselves from unwanted pregnancies? — is part of a serious and necessary national conversation.
That’s another tired meme permeating this article: That the conservative pundits are “spewing hate.”
So we’re to believe that Almond detests hate-spewing, yet writes for a newspaper that ...
- for eight straight years verbally destroyed George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condi Rice,
- smeared the troops with either endless stories about Abu Ghraib, Haditha massacre, and every other perceived setback in the “War on Terror,”
- pilloried Bush officials with particularly vicious bloodlust by pushing the non-story of the non-leaking of non-secret operative Valerie Plame,
- give the likes of Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd, not to mention special guests like Michael Moore and Alec Baldwin, free reign to spew hate daily on their editorial pages,
- gave MoveOn.org a special deal to print their full-page “General Betray Us” ad,
- hurl invective at Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan, Michelle Bachmann, John Boehner, and any other prominent Republican who get in the way of their hero Obama’s ultraleftist agenda,
- smear Americans with legitimate concerns about the radical ultraleftism of President Obama and his policies as irratiaonal racists who simply “don’t like it that there’s a black man in the White House,”
- smear Americans with legitimate concerns about Islamic terrorism as haters who are creating an epidemic of Islamophobia against poow poow Muswims wiving in ouw countwy, when no such epidemic exists,
- smear Americans with legitimate concerns about illegal immigration and its destructive consequences as Nazi-esque xenophobes who hate people who look different than them,
- has depicted the Tea Party as a bunch of racist, extremist, violent, selfish rednecks
- perpetuated the Democrat lie that Republicans are waging a “war on women” and other victims groups?
Let me make this clear: When a liberal says a conservative is “spewing hate,” what they’re saying is that the conservative is winning the argument. Period.
Second, give that complete mischaracterization of the contraception issue, it is no wonder Almond and his leftist ilk end up spewing hate at the conservative opposition. The underlying question is and always was not whether American women should receive help (read: stuff for free). The underlying question is whether an employer whose religious faith forbids them to provide such items should be forced by the federal government to do so.
Any hope of that conversation happening was dashed the moment Rush Limbaugh began his attacks on Sandra Fluke, the young contraceptive advocate.
No, it didn’t! There was never any hope of that conversation because the Obama-worshiping left like the NY Times never wanted one! All Limbaugh did with his ill-advised “slut” remark was distract everyone from the main issue. And since the left was losing the argument on ideas, they grabbed the opportunity to use Limbaugh as a convenient scapegoat to gain favor from independents and other people not paying much attention to the issue.
Oh, by the way, Sandra Fluke was not a “young contraceptive advocate.” She was an 30-year-old well-seasoned left-wing activist used by the Obama team as a sympathetic pawn in their war against religious freedom. She was not “advocating for contraception”; she was appearing before Congress to demand that they unethically and unconstitutionally force someone else to pay for what she and she alone should be responsible for buying!
The left took enormous pleasure in seeing Limbaugh pilloried. To what end, though? Industry experts noted that his ratings actually went up during the flap. In effect, the firestorm helped Limbaugh do his job, at least in the short term.
Oh, trust me, Mr. Almond: it will be in the long term too. I’ve watched Rush’s popularity soar since following the whole Fluke kerfuffle (in the form of Facebook likes). Popular opinion seems to be still very much on his side. And, by the way, when it was made clear by Rush’s supporters that Bill Maher spews more hate at women and others in one show than Rush has in his 25+ years, what did Almond’s employer the NY Times do? Give Maher his own spot to editorialize on the issue!
But the real problem isn’t Limbaugh. He’s just a businessman who is paid to reduce complex cultural issues to ad hominem assaults. The real problem is that liberals, both on an institutional and a personal level, have chosen to treat for-profit propaganda as news. In so doing, we have helped redefine liberalism as an essentially reactionary movement. Rather than initiating discussion, or advocating for more humane policy, we react to the most vile and nihilistic voices on the right.
Well, folks, you don’t get a much better example of leftist Projection, hypocrisy, and disconnect than that!
I seriously doubt Mr. Almond has ever listened to more than three seconds of Rush Limbaugh (aside from what Media Matters clips out of context), because what Rush does—and this is why he is so damn successful at what he does!—is not reduce complex issues to ad homimen assaults. That’s what you on the left do, including the very NY Times for which you write.
It is not Limbaugh and Hannity that are “for-profit propaganda as news”—and incidently, Limbaugh and Hannity are commentators so their shows are not news to begin with!—That’s what you on the left do, including the very NY Times for which you write.
It is not the conservative shows that fails to initiate discussion, advocate more humane policy(???), or react to the most vile and nihilistic voices on their side! That’s what you on the left do, including the very NY Times for which you write. How exactly is depicting Paul Ryan as some unfeeling monster throwing grandma over the cliff in her wheelchair initiating discussion, advocating for more humane policy, or not reacting to the most vile and nihilistic voices on the left? Or painting Sarah Palin as a geographically illiterate dimwit who wants her local library to burn books??? Or the Tea Party as a bunch of racist rednecks who spit at black Congresspeole coming out of the Capitol building initiating discussion??? You are so full of s**t, Almond, it’s oozing out of every pore and orifice!
Media outlets like MSNBC and The Huffington Post often justify their coverage of these voices by claiming to serve as watchdogs. It would be more accurate to think of them as de facto loudspeakers for conservative agitprop. The demagogues of the world, after all, derive power solely from their ability to provoke reaction. Those liberals (like me) who take the bait, are to blame for their outsize influence.
Even programs that seek to inject some levity into our rancorous political theater run on the same noxious fuel. What would “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” be without the fulminations of Fox News and the rest of the right-wing hysterics?
Well, isn’t this (Frank) rich. Almond is actually citing hysterical left-wing hate-spewing media outlets like MSWTF, HuffPo, “The Daily Show,” and “The Colbert Report” as objective, non-partisan watchdogs of right-wing news outlets, and whose existence is thanks to “right-wing hysterics”? Yet again, it’s just the other way around! It is shows like Limbaugh and Hannity that exist because of the left-wing hysterics of the very mainstream media in which Almond is entrenched. Talk about a lack of self-awareness!
All right, deconstructing the first half of this insufferable article has been …, well, insufferable. Part 2 to come soon.
Related reading: Moe Lane at Red State: The Startlingly Unconscious Bigotry of NYT's Steve Almond