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Nice Guys Finish Last

Beth raised a point in her reply to my potty-mouthed extended metaphor that I feel like merits a post of its own:

I know this is kind of oldskool, but I still think liberals should be nice. The clips I’ve seen of Rachel Maddow seem like she’s not rude, and she certainly makes her point. Lefties are finally back in control of the stump, to the degree that that can happen in the media environment we live in. Maybe if liberals will keep setting a good example, like our president Obama seems to be doing, nice will come back in style. You think?

It would be nice to think so, yes. But let’s review just the past 20 years of history with these clowns. In 1992, we elected a Democrat as president for the first time in 12 years. He wasn’t much of a Democrat in terms of being “liberal”; what he was – is – was a corporate centrist, one of the business-friendly DLC Democrats who were just then coming into vogue. Fortunately, he was also a smart and capable man. So while he didn’t do a lot of things, for a variety of reasons, that really needed to be done, and did some things (policy-wise) that he should have known better than to do, he left the country in a much better position when he left office than when he entered it. And he did it while having to deal with a bunch of petulant children every step of the way.

Look at the 1993 budget package, which featured a nominal tax increase on the wealthiest of the wealthy. It signalled to the financial sector that someone finally was getting serious about dealing with our debt; interest rates fell, borrowing and business expansion took off, and the economy posted its best performance in the post-WWII era. And ordinary people’s incomes rose as well.

That budget package – the one that accomplished the exact opposite of what Republicans said it would do – passed with 0 Republican votes.

The following year they hit the campaign trail full of vitriol for “tax and spend Democrats”, using Newt Gingrich’s freshly-minted “Lexicon of Destruction” which counseled Republican hopefuls to use words such as “sick”, “depraved”, and “un-American” to describe their Democratic opponents. And it worked. The Republicans then used the power of the majority in the following years to accomplish the following: shut down the government because Newt didn’t get the seat he wanted on AF1; pass a lot of really bad legislation (including financial sector deregulation) that Clinton, to his eternal shame, signed; and drag the country through a series of witch hunts intended to do nothing but cripple the president from doing the job he had been duly elected to do.

So when 2000 rolled around, how did the party position its nominee, and itself, against the bad taste they’d left in the mouth of the American public with their antics?  By claiming that they would “restore civility” to our politics. 

In light of what had just transpired over the previous 8 years, I could only interpret that to mean “if you want us to behave, give us what we want.”  Remember “compassionate conservative” George W. Bush, who was going to “restore honor and integrity to the White House”?  They really couldn’t run against the previous administration’s job performance, so they switched gears and said, “oh dear, this whole thing has become so divisive and uncivil, and we’ll fix that.”  Basically they argued that they should be rewarded for their own bad behavior with the veiled threat that they wouldn’t stop with that behavior unless they got their way.  And it worked.

So for the next 8 years, they proceeded to demonize Democrats and liberals even after being given what they said would stop the behavior; the rhetoric went from being “give us control and we’ll fix everything” to “if you’d just shut up we could fix everything” and featured some very ugly eliminationist rhetoric; and they used their untrammeled power to abuse the rules and drive the country into the ditch, and they got punished for it.

Their response?  Revert back to the 90’s strategy of obstruction and demonizing the opposition.

These guys don’t care about anything but power.  We know from the past 8 years that they don’t really care about policy or governing – they just want to be able to rule the playground to lord it over the other kids. 

Being nice to them doesn’t work, because they’re a bunch of petulant pricks.  They don’t really believe in democratic (small-d) government, so they have no qualms about obstructing the will of the majority, or doing whatever it takes to get the one and only thing they do care about – power.  And they will continue to run this play for as long as it works for them.

Now, does that mean I think it would be a good idea for the president to go out and say, “stop being a bunch of dicks and assholes”?  No.  I, too, find Chris Matthews repulsive – not just because of his poor manners.  I, too, much prefer Rachel Maddow. 

But there needs to be someone out there who calls the thing for what it is.  Lord knows the “liberal” media can’t be counted on to step up to the plate and call them out when they pull this stuff.  Chris Matthews is irritating not just because his manners are an atrocity, but even more so because he’s ill-mannered in the pursuit of making pointless points and wrong-headed analysis.  His pushback against the teabagger douchebag was “you really want to say this when it’s electoral suicide?” when it should have been “do you think it’s really fair to ask the average person to live in poverty in their old age because you don’t want to ask obscenely wealthy people to pay off the debts we accumulated in service of giving them big tax cuts?”  The most offensive part of Matthews’ performance, IMHO, is the fact that he reduced the impact of the proposal to a matter of only personal electoral consequences.

“Nice” is fine for the president, and in fact for this one, due to what someone referred to as his “first-rate temperament”, it’s the setting at which he’s most devastating.  He never breaks a sweat as he eviscerates Republican talking points one by one.

That works as good public theater, but it doesn’t accomplish putting petulant pricks in their places.  (Oooooh, alliteration!)  There has to be muscle either behind-the-scenes or out in the open at sufficient remove from the president to back it up.  Matthews would not be my choice for the reasons above, and also because it would be better coming from within the Democratic party.  But it would be nice if the people who populate our media weren’t incompetent at their jobs – which used to be keeping the public informed with factual information.  These days, it most often seems to be used for fabricating and supporting false narratives.  Those gain substance every time a thing is not called out for what it is, and I think it’s the job of all thinking persons to do the calling out.  Just as evil men flourish when good men do nothing, so do bad ideas triumph when smart people don’t point out what’s wrong with them.

Some of us, of course, will use more bad words when we do it.

P.S.   Lyta, where the hell are you?  Write something, dammit, or give us a funny link.

  1. Lyta
    February 6, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    My computer had a virus and I had to get it fixed. I don’t know if blogging is going to be my thing – but I’ll see what I can come up with.

  2. BDay
    February 7, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    I know this, of course, and was baiting you with it.

    What you say may be true. But that still doesn’t make it right.

    • jennofark
      February 7, 2010 at 8:09 pm

      You know, at this point, I’d rather be wrong in the way we approach these cretins than I would to see the country go down in flames, which is where it’s headed if someone doesn’t step in and put a stop to their prickishness. Because Joe Sixpack apparently loves it when people act like asses, and he’s gonna reward them – again – for doing it.

      We don’t have any more chances left to fix things. We won’t survive another period of insanity like we lived through from 2001 – 2008. We’ll emerge on the other side as serfs fully owned by the corporations and whatever foreign governments finance our next disastrous adventures overseas.

      I’m just at the point where I feel like if they’re going to act like 3 year olds, then we need to treat them as such – while the adults get busy cleaning up the mess they made. It won’t make things more pleasant in our discourse, but “pleasant and ruined” probably isn’t going to be a satisfactory outcome. Considering what’s at stake, I’d rather go with “churlish and successful”.

  3. February 8, 2010 at 11:32 am

    You’re absolutely right, Jennifer. ‘Nice’ does not work with these people. The reason is that the right understands ‘authority’ to be synonymous with dominance. The left, with its lateral small-d concept of democracy (which we are ostensibly supposed to be basing our government on) relies on consensus via compromise and giving each side a voice in the debate, and having each side give a little in order to get some of what they want. That’s where we end up with Charlie Brown, Lucy and the football. We foolishly think that if we give respect and consideration, we’ll get respect and consideration. The right, however, has a completely opposite concept that is zero-sum and hierarchical at its core – vertical rather than lateral. In order for there to be winners, there have to be losers. Both sides can’t be right. Remember Cheney telling the Dems to STFU because they ‘had their say’ during the elections, and that was the only voice they were entitled to?

    The point is that they see compromise as weakness. When the left ‘acts nice’ or attempts to be ‘bipartisan’, it just inspires contempt in the right, and they become even more belligerent, aggressive, and obstructionist. Lord knows they are the same way in or out of power.

    I say, kick their asses. It is the only language they understand – or respect.

    And, yes – we need to do it quick or serfdom and debt slavery will be the only outcome.

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