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Why this holiday season will be stressful

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, November 24, 2008 16:53 EDT
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Nate Silver analyzes his hilarious and disturbing interview with John Ziegler, and concludes that the problem with conservative pundits and other persuasion professionals is they don’t even know how to persuade anymore. Their every waking moment is dedicated to rousing the base with Pavlovian catch-phrases, and as such, the ability to reason and discuss has withered completely.

Hence what Wallace refers to as the importance of “stimulating” the listener, an art that Ziegler has mastered. Invariably, the times when Ziegler became really, really angry with me during the interview was when I was not permitting him to be stimulating, but instead asking him specific, banal questions that required specific, banal answers. Those questions would have made for terrible radio! And Ziegler had no idea how to answer them.

Stimulation, however, is somewhat the opposite of persuasion. You’re not going to persuade someone of something when you’re (literally, in Ziegler’s case) yelling in their ear.

The McCain campaign was all about stimulation. The Britney Spears ads weren’t persuasive, but they sure were stimulating! “Drill, baby, drill” wasn’t persuasive, but it sure was stimulating! Sarah Palin wasn’t persuasive, but she sure was (literally, in Rich Lowry’s case) stimulating!

Rick Perlstein adds to this with some observations culled from his research. This passage is specifically about the “Drill, baby, drill!” catchphrase that took off with wingnuts even as it made pretty much everyone else in the country turn green and threaten to vomit.

As a certified wingnutology, I was able to figure it out, with the benefit of a bit of brow-furrowing. It hearkened back to the 1960s far-left insurrectionist slogan, coined during Watts in 1965, of “Burn baby burn!” Rioters would chant it while, for instance, torching an ROTC building on campus. Remember?

Maybe not. But righties remember. To be a righty more and more means precisely to remember things like this—a body of the folklore of resentment dating back always to the 1960s, to Nixonland. Chanting something similar—”Drill baby drill!”—in the service of an intellectually indefensible right-wing policy panacea (magically solving America’s dependency on foreign oil through a program that will only yield tiny amounts of oil, and that only at least a decade in the future) is a nifty “f— you” to all those late ’60s insurrections, in the form of a claim that conseratives now are the real insurrectionists, the real rebels. You chant it, and feel the thrill of treason—in service to an actual policy of rank capitulation the narrowest of elite interests, the drillers of oil wells.

Rick’s right, of course, but I want to add another layer. I think that it went from being a “fuck you” to a tiny minority of 60s violent radicals (many, if not most, of whom have mellowed anyway, making this group almost imaginary) to becoming a way to say “fuck you” to the rest of America, now deemed not-real. You know, the majority of Americans. The phrase was deliberately sexual, and not just that, but in the family of smutty phrases that invokes violence, perhaps even coercion. If you give the wingnutteria a chance to romanticize a cheap, violent masculinity, they’re all over it. “Drill, baby, drill” was about way more than oil. It was about telling the rest of the country, “We’re going to make you our bitches.” In fact, the image was not just about conquering the not-real American majority, but about violating our very spacious skies and purple mountains majesty. The resentment runs that deep.

The right wing resentments and self-proclaimed underdog status tends to tee liberals off, seeing as how the right has spent the past 40 years nurturing these resentments while controlling the government. Even in the flush of our recent victories, we have to admit it probably won’t be long before the wingnuts are able to chip off 50+1% with their race-baiting, gender-baiting, and other strategies to distract people and turn them against each other. But if you take the long approach, you can sort of see why they’re resentful. On this week’s podcast, I address an interview Stephen Colbert did with Dan Savage (and the way that Dan allowed himself to be color-aroused in the days after Prop 8, and why he needs to just suck it up and apologize). On the show, Dan was able to deflect the race issue by pointing out that the “old vote” was the major issue in Prop 8, and joked that they’re dying off. There’s more than a grain of truth to this. Republicans have cultivated a base by appealing to their worst instincts in the culture wars, but there’s limits to how much government power can really accomplish what the Republican base wants, which is a return to some fantasy 50s where women and black people knew their place, and gay people felt their choices were suicide or permanent closet status. But the culture is leaving them behind. You can ban gay marriage now, but that’s not going to put gay people back in the closet. Even if anti-choicers got abstinence-only permanently installed in schools and got abortion banned, they would find that wouldn’t actually convince women to stay virgins until marriage and then marry young. The cultural mores have changed. So, even when they’re winning, they’re losing.

What Nate and Rick are onto explains why a lot of us are going to have to strap on our dance shoes and tip-toe through the holiday season. Because anyone who has a “mixed” family (Democrats and Republican base voters) knows, conservatives in families usually have license to rant and carry on and even pick on liberals, but it’s considered impolite if not scandalous for liberals to push back. Antigone wrote about this frustrating double standard at Punkassblog.

I don’t want to go to ANY of the family for Christmas; because by some sort of unspoken contract that I was not a party to, we are only allowed to talk about: the weather, sports, new births, new relationships (on a very shallow level, and no talking about heartbreak), new jobs and food. Oh, and I’m no longer allowed to talk about the weather because I keep using meteorological terms and I brought up global warming once. I’m also forbidden from talking about, in no particular order: politics, books, movies, social movements, college, and the biggest one: religion.

Of course, a lot of the double standard depends on other patriarchal double standards—family conservatives tend to be older and more male than family liberals, and thus they are permitted to have the floor and even harangue other family members without being resisted. But as I stated in comments, one thing I’ve noticed cropping up in different situations is the implication that it’s impolite for liberals to argue their point after being subject to conservatives arguing their point. Because you’re not playing fair. You see this in Nate’s interview with John Ziegler—Ziegler starts to feel aggrieved, because it feels unfair of Nate to place the interview in the world of facts and logic when those are weak spots for Ziegler. The way I put it in comments at Punkassblog:

Being right and/or logical is considered the equivalent of flashing money around. Just ugly, like you’re showing off to the less fortunate.

I always get this searing guilt when I’m provoked to defend liberal positions at family gatherings. Health care broke my back in the past, and it wasn’t that I was wrong; it was that I was right. The right wing objections to health care reform aren’t actual reasons, they are, at this point, catechisms. I had an answer to each one, and every time I could answer an objection, I had that same wrenching feeling when you cause someone to question a deeply-held faith. Socialism? Well, first of all, it’s going to incorporate private health insurance, but even if it were public, then so what? If every public institution is socialism, that means that public education is “socialism”. You won’t get to pick your doctor? Gosh, isn’t that a problem under current HMOs, a problem that could be solved if the federal government exerted control and didn’t allow that anymore? And so on. It puts the conservative you’re arguing with in a bad situation. They can’t get around the fact that you’re right, but they can’t change their mind, either, so they’re stuck. It’s really evocative of being provoked to argue religion with a believer who wants to know why you’re an atheist. I far prefer to drag that battle into a forum that’s public, instead of in a personal, face-to-face conversation where your advantages make you feel like a show-off asshole.

Anyway, in sum: I recommend that those of you in a similar boat prepare topics of conversation beforehand to get the subject off politics, even if provoked. Board games are a useful strategy.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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