By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, August 25, 2010 22:14 EDT
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Via Digby, I see Michael Tomasky has a theory as to why the Democrats let the Republicans set the media agenda, lie like motherfuckers, and basically act like they do without Democrats fighting back sufficiently.

But the bottom line is this: the Democrats are afraid of the Republicans. They – all of them, from Obama on down – are afraid of Rush Limbaugh and Michele Bachmann and you name it. You hear Democratic operatives talk strategy, and there’s always a “logical” reason why this or that aggressive attack might not work. But it’s nothing to do with logic. They’re just afraid. Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman who wants the government out of everything, is a good case in point. It’s been revealed that her family farm has received $250,000 in federal subsidies. If she were a Democrat, the Republicans would make sure the entire country knew it.

It’s tempting to believe this, but it does make you ask, “Why?” Really, what is the basis of the fear? Michael chalks up to irrationality, but I don’t think that’s sufficient. After all, some Democrats are less afraid, and it’s usually because they’re in such safe seats that a media that panders to the right wing can’t touch them. I think the fear is that they don’t have sufficient whatever it takes to get the media to treat them fairly whenever these right wing attacks come out. I think, at the end of the day, they’re afraid they don’t have what it takes to fight back because of an inherent personality difference between typical liberals and typical conservatives.

Conservatives basically have no compunction about the use of force, dishonesty, or lies. This is incredibly hard to fight back against when your toolbox won’t allow you to access any of these. And liberals can’t really just devolve into mean-spirited lying bullies, because it’s illiberal. In fact, it’s so illiberal that it creates a double standard, where those who do cross the line are held accountable in a way that conservatives just aren’t. No one gets upset when conservatives are villains—they’re supposed to be! That’s their main appeal to their bully-loving base. They like to think they’re showing those stupid liberals what for. Like Sarah Palin likes to imagine, they want always to be reloading.

Meanwhile, for liberals, even if you play by all the rules, you’re still in for a world of hurt if you dare speak the truth too forcefully or call an asshole an asshole. Why so mean? Shouldn’t you always be giving them a chance? Sure, Andrew Breitbart is a proven liar, but is that really a reason not to take his next shit storm seriously? Isn’t it less than nice and liberal to believe that some people in this world are simply full of shit?

The problem is that liberals often conflate softness and endless forgiveness with justice. The problem, of course, is in the endless attempts to be generous and giving to conservatives, we allow the truly vulnerable, the people who really need generosity, to go wanting. For instance, to draw from the wellspring that is the abortion example, the harder we try to be accommodating towards conservatives’ “moral” qualms about abortions, the more women who actually need some real help go without it. But those who need justice tend to be invisible, whereas loud-mouthed angry conservatives tend to be up in everyone’s face.

I don’t know what to do about it. The blogs have helped some, since bloggers often come to this because we’re sick of it all and want to fight back. But we’re often the example of “bad” liberals who get all noisy and act like our agenda actually matters. Until Democrats start learning to tell the difference between being soft and being good, we’re going to have this problem.

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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