Tuesday, March 25, 2008

(Guest Post?) Fighting Words: How to Humiliate -- and Convert -- a Right-Winger

[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).


Heather Annastasia said...


This post is for you.

I know you're only mean because you care so deeply.

May all us liberals strive to be more like Damion (and john Dolan) in our everyday interactions.

Matt P said...

God, you're just so right. I wrestle with that. I'm a 31 yr old male and I just get this mentality. I offend people often, and I think to myself - I just really don't care. I know I should care how people feel, and that we have to respect each other (I always try to remain respectful) but I get emotional. I get really pissed when people are slamming McCain for the bomb iran song, because I feel like "Jesus, it was a joke, maybe a bad one, but get over it" But when I think logically rather than emotionally, I know what he did was pretty stupid. I just can't shake that "playground ethics" mentality.

You might be on to something here =)

tb said...

Interesting post. Don't really need to humiliate me to covert me. Just need to bring up idea's that make some sense. Truthfully though there aren't many idea's on either side that make much sense anymore IMO.

BTW Heather, one of the reasons I started reading here and then posting was seeing that you are in San Diego as I just moved to this area last year as well. Then I read some of your old stories and see you used to live in Ohio also... Small world as that is were I moved from too. I guess I just found that interesting so I'll have to stop by from time to time.

Also, loved the story about when you lived in Ohio with your dad, pretty funny read.

Can't wait to start seeing all the Prius on the side of the road with tire marks on them smashed with the bumper sticker from the article.

When moving to CA thought all I would see would be Prius's. Certainly are a lot of SUV's and big monster trucks around though too!!

Heather Annastasia said...


Truthfully though there aren't many idea's on either side that make much sense

Let me list a few of the ideas on my side:

War is bad; peace is good.

War + Tax cuts for rich people = Budget deficits

Fewer regulations on financial institutions = Financial institutions acting irresponsibly = Recession

Take the money from the war and from the tax cuts and put it into things that promote the common good like universal health care, and universal access to higher education.

OK, busy day. I have to go. Be back later.

Interesting to have someone here who's read my old citybeat stuff.

Some of the cars here in Ca. are monstrous and the parking spots are smaller! Sometimes I can't get through a parking lot because some lady in a tank is trying to wiggle her way into a spot and blocking off the whole lane.

tb said...

Well one of those women in a tank might just be my wife so take it easy on them. With 6 kids we need a bigger vehicle to carry them around in so we're kind of stuck there. And yeah parking that thing can be a nightmare around here with the smaller parking spaces.

I will give you that war is bad and peace is good. Can you tell me the last time there ever was peace in the whole world and no war? I can't think of a time, it seems to be human nature I guess to want to fight? Peace is good is a wonderful thought but how realistic is it?

I can't say I agree with the whole war in Iraq thing either but it sure seemed no one seemed to mind back right after 9/11 happened. People tend to forget that we were the ones attacked(unless of course you believe it was a big Bush conspiracy to start a war).

I do know that Islam is the only religion I know of that has a convert em of kill em philosophy. Christianity has it's problems too but never been told to kill em if they won't convert, just pray for their souls. I just think it would be a mistake right now to surrender Iraq too the terrorists but I guess we'll see how that all plays out.

The main problem with this war and all wars since WWII is we don't fight them too win and be done with it. Way too many rules of engagement and one little mistake and court martial. Well war is hell and mistakes get made, the people who started them need to live with a few mistakes. We would be done in Iraq now had it not been for all the stupid politics that goes on with modern wars. If the people who started the wars had too fight in them themselves that might help too.

These last tax cuts helped me so I guess I am one of the rich. Like I said 6 kids and my wife who stays home and we barely get by but I should pay more taxes I guess because I am rich. What is really needed is no war, tax cuts, and start cutting government back too as it has grown into this huge beast.

I would say:

Governement spending way out of control == budget deficits.

Universal health care would be good if health care providers really cared about your common good. See, I don't think they really do anymore. All they know how to do is give you a pill which leads too more problems which leads too more pills which lead to a never ending cycle.

I've always had a weight issue and I'm about too try a diet that has basically been surpressed by these so called health care providers since the 1960's after it worked well in the 50's. Everything I read about it from people doing it now is that it works wonders so we'll see how that goes. And of course the one guy who wrote a book describing it lately is getting prosecuted by the FCC for his infomercials about it. Yeah those government agencies really care about we the people. Most of them just side with the corporations whom they hope to get a lucrative job from when they are done defending the people I guess.

Universal health care and higher education IMO just make people more dependant on the federal government which too me is not a good thing.

Heather Annastasia said...

but I should pay more taxes I guess because I am rich. tb

Really, TB? Are you really a member of the 10% of people in this country who own 90% of the wealth? Wouldn't you have a nanny to drive your kids around instead of your wife? I believe this article suggested a humorous bumper sticker: "There are two kinds of Republicans; millionaires and suckers." Which are you? Really.

Peace is good is a wonderful thought but how realistic is it? tb

Wow. This coming from a Christian? Why do you bother with religion? You admit it's brainwash, and you don't pay any attention to what the book says anyway.

People tend to forget that we were the ones attacked tb

No one has forgotten that we were attacked, but most people have finally come to terms with the fact that Saddam had nothing to do with that attack, and while we're busy destroying Iraq and sending our young people to die for the greed of that top 10% I mentioned earlier, the guy who did plan and carry out that attack is free to do it again. Does the name Osama Bin Laden ring a bell?

We would be done in Iraq now had it not been for all the stupid politics that goes on with modern wars. tb

Yeah... Because this administration is all about the rules of engagement... Are you serious? We are mired down in this war because this Republican administration is interested more in war profiteering than in finishing anything. What exactly were the objectives of this war again? Payback for 9-11? Oh, right, Iraq had nothing to do with that! OK then, weapons of mass destruction?? Oh, no. None over here. No weapons of mass destruction? What then? Why are we fighting? To bring Democracy to Iraq? I don't remember anyone agreeing to go to war for that. There are plenty of countries who aren't democracies. Shall we fight the rest of the world? Will we ever fill the coffers of Haliburton?

You mentioned WWII, but forgot to mention a few important points. First, we had clear objectives to complete. Second, corporations were not as free to promote their own self-interest; there were no companies in charge of building military installations or cooking the soldiers' food. It was even the Army Corps of Engineers, not a profiteering company like Haliburton, that rebuilt Germany and Japan after the war. And lastly, but probably most importantly, we had a strong Democratic president, FDR.

Christianity has it's problems too but never been told to kill em if they won't convert, just pray for their souls. tb

Wow. I am just dumbfounded. Once again, are you serious? You've never heard of the Crusades? The Inquisition? How can someone who professes to be a christian know so little about christianity? Let me put it in a nutshell for you: Jesus said to be nice and treat others how you'd like to be treated, and the church leaders (who were war profiteers like W and his cronies) said to kill the bastards and let god sort them out.

But if your pressed for time and you have to choose between reading a Bible or a History book, I would advise the History book.

All they (health care professionals)know how to do is give you a pill which leads too more problems which leads too more pills which lead to a never ending cycle. tb

Yes, what your describing is what happens when corporations rule health care. It's not about making you well, it's about turning a profit. This is what happens in the absence of proper government regulations on corporations.

Do you remember the ads that scared everyone away from a national health care plan in the 90's. Two old people talking about the Big Bad Government in our medicine cabinets? I believe it was the woman who exclaimed, "We won't even get to choose our own doctor!" Like we get to choose our own doctor with corporations in our medicine cabinet. Maybe you get to choose your doctor since you're a millionaire, but I certainly don't. My family and I can't see the doctor we've been seeing since we moved to San Diego because when my husband changed jobs, his insurance changed and our previous doctor is no longer in our network.

Universal health care and higher education IMO just make people more dependant on the federal government which too me is not a good thing. tb

OK, let me get this straight: having a population that is healthier and better educated is a bad thing? Do you honestly believe that if every intelligent person in this country had the opportunity to get a Bachelor's degree our country would be weaker and not stronger?

Just out of curiosity, do you have the faintest idea what our country spends on corporate welfare? On bailing out bankrupt airlines and financial institutions? Billions! More than enough to cover universal health care and higher education. These are the entities you need to be worrying about depending on the government, not the average citizen looking for medical care and a college degree.

Perhaps if we had a more educated population, someone would be able to come up with a way to wean the parasitic corporations from our nation's nursing breast. Perhaps a more educated population would be less susceptible to the fear-mongering that got us into this mindless war. Ah-- but therein lies the real reason that they want you to believe that universal health care and higher education are such terrible things! The top 10% doesn't want the sheep to be educated. They don't want you to pick up a History book! They want you to be afraid of terrorists and eternal damnation. They want you to shut up and get in line.

There are two types of Republicans; Millionaires and Suckers!

tb said...

Heather why do you believe I am a Republican? I lean more the Libertarian way than Republican. I look for politicians that want smaller government but there aren't many any more.

We are talking too many points at once I think so it's hard to be stay on track. You talk about the need for more governement regulations, problem is most of those goverment regulations are in the back pocket of big business and so they don't work. That needs too be fixed before anything will work.

Lets talk about free education then too. How awesome is our public school system? It's pretty much in disarray imo. If the government can't run that right how are they going to run colleges if you add them in too? Your a teacher I believe or training too be one. Do you think the public school system is doing just fine?

The Bible is a history book as well but I'm no Bible scholar either. Not sure how far back you can trust history books anymore anyway, things get twisted and turned etc. If you think the civil war was only about slavery then you are a product of current history books as well. Not saying you believe that but that is pretty much what is taught now as "history".

Again I am going on about too many points. We should really just pick one and talk about it. Best would too be too pick one we can agree on and go from them but there is only so much you can do in a blog.

We do seem to agree that a more educated population would be a good thing. But then again we both have college degrees and we can't seem to agree on a single thing either. :)

Actually there are two types of Democrats too, Millionaires and Suckers. I think it fits both ways as most politicians are part of the millionaires that lead us suckers along...

Heather Annastasia said...


Libertarians vote almost exclusively Republican. I wouldn't have figured you for a Libertarian because I've never met a religious Libertarian.

What does "IMO" mean? These acronyms get me sometimes.

I don't think the government should run colleges, I think they should pay for intelligent and hard-working people to go to college (those that can't already afford it, of course).

I must say that the Bible is not a History book, and even if it was, it's old enough to be twisted and turned more than any other, and therefor is an even less reliable source of information.

But then again we both have college degrees and we can't seem to agree on a single thing either. tb

Agreeing is boring, and a waste of time since you can't learn anything from someone with whom you're agreeing.

Actually there are two types of Democrats too, Millionaires and Suckers. I think it fits both ways as most politicians are part of the millionaires that lead us suckers along... tb

I see what you're saying, but the statement fits Republicans, and especially Libertarians, because if you're not in the top 10%, you're voting against your own self interest. Even the politicians don't belong in that top 10%; they just work for them.

Take the "death tax" as an example. Remember that? How everyone who owned a house or a farm was bemoaning the injustice of a tax that took money from the inheritance of grieving families? That smoke and mirrors trick actually worked! They actually got that tax repealed! That tax only applied to the wealthiest TWO PERCENT of people in this country! People who A) Have plenty of money to go on for generations and B) Found loopholes to avoid paying taxes on this money that was being inherited. The average Republican bought that one hook, line, and sinker!

tb said...

Just one last thing heather. I just don't agree with double taxation. Why should that money get taxed again just because someone dies? I also don't think there should be a sales tax on used goods either because sales tax has already been collected on it once. Why should a used car get taxed again when it was taxed once when it was new.

Seems too me their should be a much easier way to tax people and make it fair than this whole convoluted, loop hole filled IRS system that our wonderful government has come up with. But then those with the most money can afford the accountants to find the most loop holes.

Heather Annastasia said...


In referring to the "death tax" that only effects the top 2% income bracket, you ask why these people should be double taxed, and then you took the answer right out of my mouth when you observed that people with money can afford accountants to find tax loopholes.

The whole point of the "death tax" was to tax the money that these enormously wealthy people had hidden all their lives. They find various tax shelters and off-shore bank accounts and what not. The passing around of that money once they die is an opportunity to tax it for the first time.

I'd also like to point out that when the income tax system first began in this country, it only applied to incredibly wealthy people. The average citizen's income was never supposed to be taxed. These days, rich people get out of taxes, corporations flat out evade their taxes, and free trade has eliminated taxes on imports and property taxes from factories that used to operate in the US.

And who has to make up the losses?

You and I!

Heather Annastasia said...

As for taxing used goods, you have a point there. I guess it's not the item itself being taxed, but the financial exchange.