[I don't remember whether this was a guest post, or an email someone sent me...]
By John Dolan, AlterNet
I'd like to suggest a very simple strategy for American liberals: Get mean. Stop policing the language and start using it to hurt our enemies. American liberals are so busy purging their speech of any words that might offend anyone that they have no notion of using language to cause some salutary pain.
Why, for example, not popularize slogans that mock the Bush loyalists as "suckers"? Something like, "There are two kinds of Republicans: millionaires and suckers." Put that on a few bumper stickers and I guarantee a lot of "South Park Republicans" will quit the GOP. They just smirk when you tsk-tsk at them for being disrespectful. They want to be disrespectful; every normal young male wants to be.
And this, of course, brings up a big issue: At some point liberal writers are going to have to decide if it's OK to be young and male at all. For better or for worse, millions of American men hold on to playground ethics long after they leave elementary school. For most of them, the 2004 election came down to a classic playground scene: Would John Kerry defend himself when attacked by bullies? Liberals, still stunned by the way a legitimate combat vet like Kerry was beaten by a combat-dodging spoiled brat like Bush, never understood that for millions of voters, the question wasn't how well Kerry fought in Vietnam but whether he would fight in 2004.
Would he defend himself when called out by the gang of disgusting bullies Bush had gathered around himself? It would have been so simple, so glorious, if he'd just turned on his accusers and reacted like a human being: "You're questioning my record on behalf of a skunk like Bush who spent the war with the Alabama National Guard, and then went AWOL from the Guard?"
Millions of American voters were waiting, hoping Kerry would react like any sane person would have. He never did. I don't know why not; I assume he was in the hands of some Clinton gurus who babbled about "rising above the fray." Well, that sure worked well.
And please, don't tell me you're above such gross playground considerations. The American people are the beneficiaries of centuries of serious Leftist violence, starting with the American Revolution and climaxing in the Civil War. Without brave Leftist warriors slaughtering British and Confederate soldiers in large numbers, the whole tradition of American liberalism would not exist.
And we are the sufferers from the most disastrous wimp-out in recent American history: Carter's debacle in response to the taking of American hostages in Iran in 1979. That refusal to use punitive force to free his country's diplomats may have made pacifists feel nice, but it was an expensive treat; it got Reagan elected, showed a host of evil right-wing PR staffers that all they had to do was talk tough to win, and convinced a huge number of disgusted American male voters that the liberals would not fight back.
Kerry could have turned that around in 2004; it was almost as if a Hollywood scriptwriter had arranged the perfect confrontation, in which the liberal champion could flatten his orc-like tormentors and show the voters that one can be a progressive without being a wimp. Instead, he confirmed a prevalent myth that liberals are "soft" on terrorism and the military -- in other words, like illustrator Gary Larson's Wimpodites: "Though skilled with their pillow arsenal, the Wimpodites were frequent targets of Viking attacks."
And so far, the liberal response, the liberal attempt to reach out to the guys in the big trucks is embarrassing "populist" essays using bad imitations of American slang. Let's be blunt here: "populism" is condescension. If you want male voters' respect, stop patronizing them. (It just creeps them out.) Far better to insult them -- to their face, in their face, telling them bluntly that the talk radio nonsense they parrot is pure crap. They know that themselves. Half of what they say is designed simply to reassure themselves and their friends that they're not the same sort of wimps their social studies teachers tried to make them into. So they're not afraid of being called cruel or insensitive; they're afraid of being suckers.
The minute we start calling them on their suckerdom, they'll change sides -- and we'll finally have some decent troops on our side. But as long as liberals speak in the language of Beavis and Butthead's Mister van Driessen, they'll despise you, even when they know you're right (which they do). We may not be the most systematically intellectual tribe on earth, but Americans are very verbally sensitive. They will not heed Mister van Driessen, even if he's telling them to evacuate a burning classroom. They'd sooner die. You may find this irrational, but when I think back to the progressive mindset I became familiar with UC Berkeley, I understand this reaction very well. I don't condone it, but damn! I sure do understand it.
Liberals aren't generally perceived as fighting the robber barons -- they appear as a secular clergy far more obsessed with cleaning up our gloriously obscene language than fighting back.
Note that I've used the word "fighting." Americans are a violent people -- and I mean that as a compliment. We are a magnificently violent people who value courage above all else. In this, the ordinary American is in total agreement with George Patton, John Paul Jones and John Brown. They were all violent leaders, who sent a lot of Redcoats, Nazis and secessionist slaveholders to an early grave. I consider that glorious; so do most Americans.
John Paul Jones said, "I intend to go in harm's way" and coined a boast that generations of Americans, and even Bugs Bunny himself, repeated with pride: "I have not yet begun to fight." John Brown killed and died to provoke a final conflict over slavery. When American liberals can appreciate, encourage and manipulate the violence of such people, maybe you can talk to your fellow Americans again.
A good first step would be accepting the fact that language is a weapon -- and using it effectively. Most liberals affect scorn for mere words, in the way that I affected scorn for mathematics after flunking algebra twice in high schools. And most of the hardcore academic progressives I've known have tin ears. Their sheer awfulness is adaptive within the academic ghetto, in the way that a lack of any olfactory ability is adaptive for carrion eaters; but it's disastrous when they try to talk to people outside their guild.
It's not really that hard, after all. Just stop trying to be "populists," because frankly you sound like North Korean infiltrators trying to pose as surfer dudes. Try smacking your South Park countrymen in their deluded heads with some bumper stickers of our own, just as down and dirty as theirs. Wanna get them out of their gas-guzzling Dodge extended-cab semis? Stop whining at them and try putting these four little words on the back bumper of your hybrid: "Big truck, small dick." Yeah, you might get yelled at at a stoplight; you might even get hit. You might even consider hitting back.
Liberals have always been good fighters, once they get going.
John Dolan is an editor of the Moscow-based English-language alternative paper, "The eXile." He is the author of, most recently, "Pleasant Hell" (Capricorn, 2005).