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November 10, 2004
It's been a week of memorable rhetoric on the hard left. While many people within its ranks were repeatedly described as bewildered and depressed by the election's outcome, they were hardly at a loss for words. It will be worth keeping these outpourings of rage in mind over the next few years. They will deepen our perspective, should it become necessary to figure out who polarized the country with a simplistic dogma that appeals to hatred and fear.
The wave of excess may have crested yesterday, when Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart vented his spleen to the San Francisco Chronicle. Dr. Hart, who has an honorary doctorate of letters from the Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, and who is a director of the Library of Congress, reportedly "told his daughter not to fear Republican death squads ('They won't kill you in your sleep -- that's the good side of America'). "
Outrage over Bush's reelection has been interpreted as license to say anything, regardless of whether it's true, and without the slightest shred of evidence to support the wildest of claims.
The result is pure demagoguery. Novelist Jane Smiley, writing in Slate, begins her essay, "The unteachable ignorance of the red states," on a high intellectual plane. "I say forget introspection," Smiley declares. The essay rolls down hill from there, equating the red states of today with the "slave power" of old, as if history has stood still since the Civil War. The analysis that follows--as simple as a two-year-old's block puzzle--is even worse. She concocts a category of "big capitalists" who have "no morals." None at all? Really? The piece reaches a remarkable crescendo of self-parody by declaring in the broadest of strokes that "red state types love to cheat and intimidate, so we have to assume the worst." She probably thinks that Bush is a simpleton.
Smiley isn't the only deep thinker on the left who reads racism into every disagreement. While Smiley has no time for introspection, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman sagely tells Democrats that "it's okay to think things over." But he quickly raises the now-discredited argument that the election was essentially a referendum on gay rights and abortion. And he uses this shaky foundation to suggest that the outcome reflected other prejudices, too:
"... Democrats are not going to get the support of people whose votes are motivated, above all, by their opposition to abortion and gay rights (and, in the background, opposition to minority rights)."
None of this rises to the level of political discourse. It has more in common with trash-talk on the scrimmage line. Smiley admits that the point of her diatribe isn't persuasion or debate. Abusing her talent and influence, she strives to bully and intimidate people who disagree with her into silence. She isn't interested in having a discussion about taxes, or national security, or health care, or education. She just wants to flatten the opposition with a flood-the-zone offense. "We have to give them more to think about than they can handle," she declares.
It's propaganda in its purest form. I suspect that more than a few people are susceptible to it, and that such hateful intolerance has a chilling effect on political discussion. We ought to be listening to one another, not beating each other senseless with a rhetorical pile driver. It? no better coming from the left than it is from the right.
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