Arguments that the liberal community is less prone to reckless speech, or has far less tolerance for those within it who use violent imagery and language than does the Right, are unconvincing. I don’t remember a Krugman column or a Sen. Patrick Leahy speech on the toxic Nicholson Baker novel, the Gabriel Range Bush assassination docudrama, the Chris Matthews CO2-pellet-in-the-face/blowing-up-of-the-“blimp” comments about Rush Limbaugh, the “I hate George Bush” embarrassment at The New Republic, Michael Moore’s preference for a red-state target on 9/11, or the Hitlerian/brownshirt accusations voiced by the likes of Al Gore, John Glenn, Robert Byrd, George Soros, and so on. So why the disconnect? Politics for sure, but I think also the double standard has something to do with style, venue, and perceived class.
If a progressive imagines killing George Bush in a tony Knopf novel or a Toronto film festival documentary, or rambles on about why he finds his president an object of hatred in a New Republic essay, or muses in the Guardian (cf. Charles Brooker: “John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. — where are you now that we need you?”), then we must certainly contextualize that hatred in a way that we do not in the crasser genres of commercial-laden talk radio, or an open-air demonstration placard. The novelist, the film-maker, the high-brow columnist, the professor can all dabble in haute couture calumny (cf. Garrison Keeler’s “brownshirts in pinstripes”); the degree-less, up-from-the-bootstraps Beck, Hannity, or Limbaugh behind a mike cannot. What is at the most atypical, out of character, or in slightly bad taste for the former must be a window into the dark soul of the latter.
There is something to this – many of the people VDH name-checks have uttered indefensible remarks, and maybe the veneer of respectability has helped some of them to obscure how flawed their words were. But I wonder if he would wager with me in the interest of testing his larger claim about who is more prone to rhetorical excess, the mainstream right or the mainstream left.
Rush Limbaugh began broadcasting to a large national audience in the early 1990s. So let’s go back 20 years to 1991 for the sake of simplicity. In the bet, Victor Davis Hanson can draw on every word spoken or written by all the people above that he mentions unfavorably: Paul Krugman, Nicholas Baker, Chris Matthews, Michael Moore, Al Gore, John Glenn, Garrison Keeler, Robert Byrd, Jonathan Chait and George Soros. In return, I will draw only on the words of Rush Limbaugh, the most popular conservative entertainer in America for much of the last two decades, recent national phenom Glenn Beck, and Mark Levin, the bestselling author, popular radio host, and sometimes colleague of VDH at National Review. (Even I can’t bear listening to Sean Hannity. Sorry.)
That’s ten people for him and three people for me – and mine are all very popular among the rank-and-file of movement conservatism. We’ll try to match one another, example of rhetorical excess for example of rhetorical excess. And the loser – the one who runs out of examples first – can donate $500 to the charity of the winner’s choice.
(Does anyone think I would lose?)
I’ll explain to you why this bet appeals to me, and why VDH will never agree to it. In truth, I don’t care whether the right or the left is more culpable on this issue: the point is that the guilty parties on both sides of the ideological divide should stop it, unilaterally if need be, even if the other side is worse. And as I explained in my last post, I wish everyone would start focusing on substance more than tone. But I can’t possibly lose this bet, even if VDH improbably finds more examples, because I have no problem acknowledging indefensible rhetoric on the left when I see it, or asserting that Paul Krugman (or his wife?) is sometimes a blowhard who makes claims un-befitting a person of intelligence, or affirming that Michael Moore’s documentary work is riddled with mean-spirited errors, etc.
Whereas Victor Davis Hanson has never forthrightly acknowledged the rhetorical excesses and inaccuracies of Limbaugh, Beck, or Levin. And if by some miracle he fully confronted what they’ve said over the years –– or even affirmed the disgusting words they’ve uttered by publishing a blog post at The Corner filled with nothing but direct quotations of their words! –– it would be a powerful moment on the right, because no one of his stature has ever so much as acknowledged the full extent of what is said on the conservative movement’s most popular talk radio programs.
So do we have a bet, VDH? I’m game. And if you’re not –– if you’re pressed for time, or if you’ve an objection to dealing with me for some reason –– here’s an alternative idea. Folks on the right think leftists don’t confront the indefensible speech uttered by their side. And vice-versa.
So why don’t the folks at The Corner enter into a bargain with a prominent blogger on the left. What do you say, Matt Yglesias or Kevin Drum or Jonathan Chait? Here’s how it would work. Every day for a week, Monday through Friday, The Corner’s designated blogger could draft one post for publication on the left-leaning blog. The catch? They’d be limited to offering five direct quotations per day of lefties engaged in indefensible rhetoric, however they define it (in context, of course).
In return, the liberal interlocutor could publish the equivalent post at The Corner. And every day for a week, the participants would have to read one another’s five examples for that day, and decide whether to acknowledge that they’re indefensible and assert that the source should apologize if he or she hasn’t done so… or else defend the remark(s).
Maybe I’m wrong. But I suspect that Yglesias, Drum, and Chait would all be game for this sort of exchange. And that it wouldn’t be approved at The Corner in a million years.
Why do you think that is?
(Or am I wrong?)