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January 15, 2005

It's the Etiquette, Stupid

Ever heard "You get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar?"

Of course you have, that's why it's a cliche. But, like all cliches, it's one thing to realize that there's wisdom contained within a particular phrase or aphorism. It's quite another to let it guide you, and I think it's one reason--perhaps the reason--why the Left has been so politically inept recently.

Take the comments inspired by Zephyr Teachout and her post on the hiring of bloggers by the Dean campaign that I mentioned below. I can't recall the last time an internal disagreement on the part of the Republicans was so in-your-face vicious.

"You're a useful idiot whether you like it or believe it."
"your an absolute Moron."
"You will forgive me for paraphrasing a commercial, but you can take your blog-blamming, self-exalting, left-loathing, right-wing conspiracy freak show back to granolaland where it belongs."
"Either your judgment is so bad as to be a liability, or you are engaging in an insidious form of character assassination for undisclosed motives."
"You are a disgusting evil demon from Hell. I hope you return to hell soon."
"Fucking Benedict Arnold!"
"Congrats you are the QUISLING of the Blogosphere."
"I would not walk across the street to piss in your mouth if you were dying of thirst."

And it's not just the almost-certainly-anonymous commentators. Many of the bright lights of the Left-leaning sphere are equally ready to spew vitriol in Zephyr's general direction.

Like Steve Gilliard;

"Because you didn't get a job, people didn't jump on your bandwagon? You absolute fucking idiot. You goddamn halfwit, you stirred up shit for no fucking reason.
Are you fucking kidding me? Your ethics suck. You would buy coverage for a candidate. So exactly why should I listen to you?

Here's the deal: just shut the fuck up. Your carelessness has caused an amazing amount of harm for a non-issue. And Kos will have to explain, in interview after interview, that he was not paid to say nice things about Howard Dean. Why? Because you unfairly implied that he did so. In a just world, no Democratic candidate would work with you again."

This isn't just a one-off. Here's his response to Peter Beinhart's essay in the nation on the Democrat's Iraq problem

"...Beinart is full of shit. Because he's a lap dog who works for lapdogs.

Of course, we can help him succeed by supporting the Greens, Nader and other fantasists and ignoring the fact that ther Dems supported Vietnam until 1970. I say if you leave now, Vichyites like Beinart will win the day."

When he wants to be, Gilliard is a reasonable, well informed and indepth essayist, but when it comes to intra-party politics he's fighting to be first to show up for the firing squad volunteers line.

Even those who realize what they're doing can't help taking a potshot.

"She opened her big mouth and gave the ethically challenged douchebag Robert Novak a talking point. They don't need to beat us. We beat ourselves. But we'll remember the dumb ones."

One of the commentators at Teachout's post on the reaction to her "outing" had this to say.

I think a real Republican strength is party unity. They stick to the talking points and never, ever, ever bring up anthing that could be considered harmful to someone in their party.

What the commenter saw as party unity I see as simple politeness. There's no reason to stoop to name-calling when it comes to political disagreements--though that does seem to be a feature of American politics. It not only alienates a person who could be a potential ally in the future on a different issue, it reduces one's stature in the eyes of any disinterested third parties, making it that much more likely that they'll treat one's opinions and arguments with disdain.

And yes, opprobrium can be found on the right-side blogs as well as the left, but the difference is that for the most part those commentators on the right aren't members of the first rank, whereas on the left they are.

Here's an exercise for you. On any give day, compare the commentators at The Corner with those from The Daily Kos. Based purely on tone, which authors would you rather dine with, or have a beer in the company of?

The Corner's John Derbyshire is about as far to the right of me as Markos Moulitsas is to the left, but based on his tone, I'd be much more inclined to listen to his pitch for a candidate, and I would choose a drink with him over Markos for the simple reason that, when dining with Derbyshire, it seems less likely that spittle will end up in my ale.

In the election of 2004 the American voter was the disinterested third party, and they chose the polite Republicans over the potty-mouth Democrats. Given the tone of the defeated party, there's no reason to think they won't do so again in 2006 and 2008.

What that means for the future is, while Oliver Willis and the other pundits of the Left can hate George Bush and curse at each other all they like, the simple act of doing so in public increases the chance that they'll have to live with the President's--or a Republican successor's--policies in the future.

I wonder if they'll think it was worth it?

Update: Other takes on the subject.

Daily Whim - Is it better to construct a takedown that diminishes your opponent with facts, high intellect, and scathing wit, or simply call them “dumb-f*cks”? Do they realize how juvenile such rhetoric sounds to adults seeking answers, yet do it anyway?

Sandvick - I'm not sure it would have been enough to change my vote but certainly it was my impression that voting for Kerry would have made me a fellow traveler with complete jerks represented by the quotes cited.

Jeff Jarvis - "...there seems to be little awareness that this is in public, that people are watching how they -- we, as a culture -- behave when faced with tough questions, an awareness that everything they say could be quoted tomorrow in the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post. This is, after all, the transparent medium, isn't it?"

And Kathianne of Teacher's Ramblings reminds me of another example; the various racist emails sent to Michell Malkin. Contrast those responses with that of fellow UNC Blogger Eric Muller, who, though he strongly disagrees with Michelle, manages to keep a civil tongue in his head.

Posted by Bigwig at January 15, 2005 03:03 PM | TrackBack
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I dunno about Derbyshire. I agree on the 'less likely that spittle will end up in my ale' (in my case, Guinness) but I'm not at all sure which one would be more likely to provoke me to depositing spittle in whatever they happen to be drinking.

Or worse. Both of them have said things that, were I to hear them spoken in person, would severely tempt me to throw said Guinness, or maybe even a fist, into their faces.

Posted by: Kathy K at January 15, 2005 07:59 PM

Disclaimer: I'm far too polite to do anything but turn around and walk away. But I would be tempted. Severely.

Posted by: Kathy K at January 15, 2005 08:01 PM

No idea why the trackback didn't go through, Kathy. Mine fail as well sometimes.

As far as content goes, both D and K have said things I've strongly disagreed with as well.

But, based specifically on how they conduct themselves at their respective websites, I'd have to award the "Affable and Pleasant Demeanor Award" to Derbyshire.

Posted by: bigwig at January 15, 2005 08:43 PM

"Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks" The attitude and demeanor with which a person speaks says a lot about their character.

It has also been said that when logic is lacking, one resorts to volume and profanity. Perhaps this also tells us something about their intellect.

Posted by: pajamahadin at January 15, 2005 09:57 PM

You're right on the money. On my tiny insignificant little blog, I've managed to draw just a couple of "hate comments". My first inclination was to respond with *&)!!#! you !!@#%$@(?!!. But I don't curse strangers on the street, I don't flip people off in traffic, so why respond to dirt with dirt, just cuz it's on a blog?

Posted by: barbara at January 15, 2005 10:14 PM

There is an especially concentrated venom reserved for the apostate of leftism, Islamism and other such mindf**ks. If you dogmatically clung to a single, simple lense with which you viewed the human world, and if you of course deep down knew it was a bullsh** lense, wouldn't you fling this special venom against the fellow adherent to your dogma who decided to think for himself and discard the dogma? As long as no one discovers that the dogma is a mindf**k, you can pretend to yourself that it isn't. Whenever anyone discovers and announces that is is indeed a mindf**k, you cannot pretend to yourself so easily anymore but must acknowledge that a huge part of yourself is bogus. Now, which would you rather do, acknowledge that a huge part of yourself is bogus or release concentrated venom at an apostate?

Posted by: Jim at January 15, 2005 10:41 PM

Excellent post and reflects what I have observed since I started following blogs in September.

I have wondered what the Democrats meant when they said they lost the election because they didn't get nasty enough (or words to that effect). After viewing some of the language on left wing sites and reading your post, I now think I know what they meant. If they think they are winning converts, or even getting ther message across, they are sadly mistaken.

If this is to be their tactic in 2008, then I say, bring it on!

Corky Boyd
Sanibel FL

Posted by: Corky Boyd at January 15, 2005 10:45 PM

John Derbyshire is the apotheosis of the fact that writing the most bigoted tripe imaginable without dropping an f-bomb doesn't turn writing into something other than bigoted tripe.

Anyways, what about South Park Republicans. Or is that so 2003?

America and wing-wangs, fudge yeah!

Posted by: SamAm at January 15, 2005 10:51 PM

Except that the commenters on Free Republic have more in common with the GOP rank and file than NRO. Now if you compare Tapped with NRO, you'll see which side has less smearing and gaybashing (cue the odious John Derbyshire). Not to mention talk radio.

Posted by: Oliver at January 15, 2005 11:08 PM

Thanks for the helpful illustration, Sam. It's always best to have a preponderance of evidence when it comes to illustrating one's point.

As for the South Park Republicans, I think you'll find that the term refers to those who associate themselves with the political ideas illustrated in the program rather than the way in which those ideas are conveyed, even as hilarious and effective as that happens to be. Last I heard, Jonah Goldberg wasn't channeling Cartman or Kenny in his essays--though admittedly I would love to seen an entire NRO article consisting of Kenny speak.

Besides, politeness need have nothing to do with swear words. Politeness at its base rests on a decision to treat other humans humanely, even when one disagrees with them. Stan and Kyle swear all the time, yet embody this ideal, or at least strive to. Cartman, as you may have gathered, does not.

Posted by: Bigwig at January 15, 2005 11:12 PM

Which national politican was most identified with obscenity in 2004? Yeah, big time.

But that's maybe a bit unfair, an oversimplification. If the metric on politeness has moved to "treating humans humanely" then we're really talking about very little, becuase that is a huge definition.

I assume you don't believe the efforts of the whole of the left blogosphere to be the equivalent of Cartman's moronic, hilarious, moronic 4th grade nhilism. When people do really stupid things, they inspire pretty strong reactions. These reactions aren't terrible informative about the case for or against the person, or the actor. "Fuck Saddam, we're taking him out" gives us some insight into President Bush's mindset pre-war, but it's neither an exoneration nor a damnation of Mr. Hussein. Same with "Hitlery." It's just noise, and the most we can say about it is it has a reason. I'd suggest that in the Teachout matter the underlying issue is much more instructive than the reaction, especially when one compares the real story slowly coming out to the way it was reported the MSM and further distorted by the likes of Hewitt.

Posted by: SamAm at January 15, 2005 11:38 PM

Couldn't agree with you more. I was thinking the same things over the last while, having visited numerous blogs such as daily kos and instapundit. The difference is astounding.

Posted by: sf at January 16, 2005 12:01 AM

You can indeed catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but why would I want a whole bunch of honey-coated flies?

Posted by: Pixy Misa at January 16, 2005 01:01 AM

I don't know Pixy, maybe it's because the flies vote.

Posted by: Greg at January 16, 2005 03:20 AM

Actually, SamAm, your question should read:

"Which national politican was most identified BY THE MSM with obscenity in 2004?" As we both know, there's what the media chooses to over cover, and then there's reality.

And I seem to remember a performance by Whoopi et al which was applauded by a certain candidate as "representing the heart of America" which contained more porn per minute than your example uttered in his entire life....

Posted by: SDN at January 16, 2005 09:00 AM

Oliver and Sam:

Here's a question. If the content of Hewitt's and Derbyshire's arguments is so odious, why is it that the side they're on keeps winning?

Note: I don't feel that the correct answer is "Because the American people are stupid," or "uninformed," or any other answer that deals with the madness of crowds.

I think it's because the American electorate is historically turned off by stridency. The Clinton impeachment cost the Republicans votes because at that time they were the strident ones, but no longer. Goldwater was more strident than Johnson in 64, and lost. Carter was more strident than Reagan in 80, and lost. Same for Mondale in 84. I could argue the the "Cross of Gold" speech lost William Jennings Bryan the Presidency at the same time it won him mhis party's nomination, but I really don't feel like taking the time, so use it as an example or not, as you feel.

But at this point in time, the Right as a whole is significantly less strident (i.e., more polite) than the Left, and until this imbalance is addressed I'm betting that electoral success will follow.

And I'm not suggesting that everyone encase themselves in some straitjacket of bland and restrained prose. I just think that the joy of throwing rhetorical bombs needs to be tempered by the knowledge that such bombs are more likely to backfire on the thrower in the long run, and just because it's possible to find someone on the other side doing so is no excuse for doing so oneself.

Posted by: bigwig at January 16, 2005 09:05 AM

Profanity is a feeble mind trying to sound forceful. Trying to sound forceful is a mind more concerned with appearance than substance.

Posted by: Mike N at January 16, 2005 09:34 AM

Like BigWig said, profane fulminating is the last resort of those who dont have a valid argument to make want to to try to change someone's mind by intimidating them. Doesnt work, guys, havent you lefties learnt yet? And making Hillary Clinton the Dem nominee in 2008 and accusing all red staters of being misogynists wont help either.

Posted by: wolverine at January 16, 2005 09:45 AM

My father and his family are all Cuban. Cubans are an easily insensed peoples; he described asking for directions at a family gathering once, and it was like killing Archduke Ferdinand all over again--all hell broke loose.

The main thing is not just to disagree with someone, but to say that they're wrong because they're an idiot and have no idea what they're talking about.

This past election season, my father said that he was witnessing the Cubanizing of America.

It is truly a scary thing.

Posted by: Adam at January 16, 2005 11:14 AM

I think you've struck a nerve Bigwig.

Do you think that Michael Moore sitting alongside President Carter at the convention illustrates a lack of etiquette?

That was a vivid memory, and of course, "Where are the f****ng balloons!!"

Class dismissed ;>

Posted by: Sully at January 17, 2005 09:16 AM

Come on, now. Let's not be so partisan about this. To say that liberals have exclusive rights to obscene political musings has to ignore an awful lot of reality.

Exhibit A:

And Exhibit B:

"Anyone who grew up in the South is bound to have heard the phrase "poor white trash." Teresa Heinz Kerry has given us a new category -- rich white trash."

Thomas Sowell, a conservative *columnist*, not some comment-leaving amateur.

This is reason?

And, as an added point, comparing a magazine's blog to an informal one is a bit unfair. How about a level playing field?

Posted by: Geof Castle at January 17, 2005 11:15 AM

Has anyone on this site ever listened to talk radio; Rush, Hannity, Savage or their more angry imitators? Do you remember when many conservatives called Clinton a sociopath, rapist, murderer, drug runner or the most corrupt person in history (ditto for his wife)? His mom and daughter weren't even spared ridicule from some of you.

Do you remember when Sen. Daschele commented that Bush should make his case to the people and get the approval of congress before going to war in Iraq and Trent Lott and Tom Delay said his comments bordered on treason? Do you remember when anyone who voiced concerns or objections about going to war in Iraq was accused by members of the right of being anti-american, terrorist loving, Saddam coddling traitors?

Forgive me if I feel the need to point out from time to time that the Bush administration is incompetant and dishonest in many policy matters but especially in the way it has conducted this war. If this makes me a hatemonger than so be it. So far I have never heard anyone call him a sociopath.

Has anybody here ever heard of Ann Coulter? She thinks I am evil and frequently says so in the MSM. If you think the left is hate-filled and you have any respect for her, you are nothing but a hypocrite. With all due respect to the wretched "lady", I will call her what she is: A Cunt. you would do the same if you were in my shoes.

Sincerely and with only one expletive,

Posted by: Juan Gewanfri at January 17, 2005 10:00 PM
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