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Stop rewarding the faux outrages

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, May 20, 2009 14:38 EDT
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This post by Digby chronicling the psychology of the Republican faux outrage machine is a must-read, and I try not to say that lightly. It’s a tactic they use routinely at this point—maybe not quite daily, but at this point, more than weekly. At any point in time, your average wingnut has to juggle a shocking number of pretend offenses, from being pretend shocked that Pelosi criticized the CIA to fake outraged that Notre Dame routinely invited a President to speak at its graduation without checking with Alan Keyes first. In fact, I’d say that on top of what Digby is saying, another function of the hissy fit is base control. By pumping conservative followers with one pretend scandal after another, and occupying all of their minimal brain space with it, you effectively prevent them from actually thinking about real issues that matter. Which is critical, because actual thought is fatal to conservatism, especially the way that it’s practiced now.

Of course, the whole Digby post really got to me, because (not to pick at old scabs) I was the center of exactly such a faux outrage. The way wingnuts were carrying on when Melissa McEwan and I got jobs with the Edwards campaign, you would have thought no one had ever even thought to suggest that there’s something immoral about the way the Catholic Church oppresses women and gay men, and how they are promoting the spread of AIDS, particularly in developing countries, because they’re so scared that someone might prevent a pregnancy while also preventing HIV. But what I witnessed at the time was this: The whole faux scandal became a real lightening bolt for how the netroots would like to deal with this routine outrage machine the Republicans have built up. Which is that we think that you should throw them the finger and get on with your lives. And I tend to agree with the rest of the netroots on this, but sympathize with the fact that Democrats fear doing this. Digby:

In a political context this translates to a fear by liberal politicians that they will be rejected by the American people — and a subconscious dulling of passion and inspiration in the mistaken belief that they can spare themselves further humiliation if only they control their rhetoric.

Of course, the concern in the case of the faux scandal involving myself and Melissa was that Edwards would get tagged as tolerant of Catholic bigots, which is a ridiculous suggestion, because it starts with the idea that there is such a thing as someone who is “bigoted” against Catholics like you would be against a non-mainstream group, as opposed to merely critical of church dogma. But no matter, one can see how that fear is hardly imagined, especially when Catholics are a traditional Democratic voting constituency. And of course, it’s well-understood that wingnuts have nothing better to do than wail and moan, because what else are they going to do with their time? Think? Give a shit? Get a hobby? Leave the house? No, of course not. That’s scary and, it’s been reported, causes you testicles to fall off. So all that’s left is wailing and moaning. Soon, you feel the urge just to give them a scalp so they’ll shut up.

At best, though, what you buy when you hand them a scalp is that they quiet down some about the current faux outrage and just move on to the next one. But they never, ever forget, and no matter how much you offer a phony apology, they never, ever forgive. They weren’t mad in the first place, so acts like apology and forgiveness are meaningless in real world terms. So the value of capitulation has never been proven to me. All you do by capitulating is encourage them to diversify their targets.

But what can you do? The media happily picks up the latest faux outrage and runs with it. Maybe not every one, but the right wing noise machine’s tactic is to employ an infinite number of monkeys typing out an infinite number of faux scandals until one takes off in the mainstream media. It’s a perfect system for the media types, because they get an endless supply, from which they can pick and choose, and they don’t actually have to do any work to find content to fill the airwaves, since the monkeys with blogs and think tanks and front organizations provide an endless stream. This means that everyone is against us, unfortunately. Or was, though now there’s a few left-leaning talking heads on cable now to break up the monotony.

But what I think Democrats should seriously start doing is to take on the motto, “Never apologize, never capitulate.” At least not as long as it’s a faux outrage. Why? For one thing, out of basic respect for decency. Apologies are precious things that shouldn’t be watered down by giving them out when you don’t mean it to people who don’t mean it. On top of that, every capitulation is registered as a victory for wingnuts. With this Pelosi thing, for instance, they’re angling for a way to shut down discussion about torture altogether. They can’t win for a number of reasons, mainly because shutting down this discussion will create a cancer in our society that may be terminal. But even when it comes to less important issues, capitulation just registers as a victory. Which insures they’ll do it again. It’s basic behavioral psychology—if a monkey starts slamming on a keyboard and you feed him grapes for his trouble, he’ll keep doing it. With human monkeys, you just feed them phony apologies and scalps. We need to quit rewarding the behavior, at bare minimum.

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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