Kerning and snowmobiles
If you haven’t yet read the report on Troopergate, well, it’s entertaining stuff, in a disturbing sort of way. (PDF here, summary here.) One thing that jumps out me is that all the wingnuts out there who looked into Sarah Palin’s eyes and saw that she was one of them aren’t fooling themselves. She’s pure wingnut: vindictive, obsessed with gaining the power to control others through any means necessary, and enraptured by the own ability to cause suffering that exhibits itself in the glee to which they defend “enhanced interrogation techniques” to their crowing about how a woman saddled with an unwanted pregnancy should have shut her legs. Sarah Palin’s family went after Mike Wooten and then Walt Monegan in a way that reminded me, strongly, of the way that the wingnutsphere exerts its power, which is a process that Lindsay described as scalp-collecting, with a firing being the preferred form of scalp collected. Or collecting heads on stakes or foreskins. I’m honestly surprised more wingnuts don’t have a head count in their sidebars, they love this process so much. Here’s the steps:
1) Select a victim. Usually the victim has done something offensive to wingnuts, but not to normal people and/or their offense has nothing to do with their form of employment, which is what the wingnuts would like to separate them from.
2) Start digging around in hopes of finding something that’s probably not at all related to why they offend you that you can use to get them fired. It’s rarely going to the be the first dozen things you try, and part of the “fun” is throwing so much shit around that the target’s employers grow weary of having to deal with it and get into the mentality of thinking, “Any excuse we can use to let them go.” The irrelevance of the excuse to the actual wingnut offense is a key detail here.
3) Get them fired or force them to resign because they can’t take it anymore. If that’s not possible, then punish them some other way.
4) Crow and add a notch to your belt. Yeah! You’ve acted like a child and made someone’s life miserable for reasons that you yourself think are bullshit. Time to crack open a bag of Cheetos and celebrate.
Having been a target myself, I think I know the pattern well. I like to flatter myself that I’m in illustrious company, as you’ll see, but in reality, the wingnut vendetta against me when I joined the Edwards campaign was a sign that right wingers were beginning their downhill slide and had to pick increasingly small and vulnerable targets. After all, this process was applied to Bill Clinton, whose offense was daring to be a Democrat in the White House, which wingnuts consider illegitimate, even though they can’t come up with a socially acceptable reason that the White House should be eligible only for one party. But the reason he was impeached was a blow job and a trumped-up perjury charge. Dan Rather’s offense was telling the true story of Bush’s draft-dodging and just general unwillingness to be cowed by an angry right wing mob, and they got him with kerning. By the time Michelle Malkin was stalking the Frost family in hopes of digging up shit against them for daring to testify in Congress on behalf of an SCHIP expansion, scalping had begun to really lose its potency. The recent attempts to get PZ Myers fired for being an outspoken atheist who used a bit of humor in making his point about communion wafers was half-hearted, and mostly the nuts console themselves by slamming his email box.
Liberals Do It Too, the wingnuts are sure to cry, and they did when Lindsay wrote about it. And it’s true that targets are selected and targets are taken out. But with liberals, there’s not often a gap between why they dislike the person and why the person got taken down. Joe Lierberman’s offense was being so far to the right he didn’t deserve to be called a Democrat any longer. His punishment was getting stripped of his party affiliation by the voters. Don Imus’s offense was saying racist things, and he got suspended for saying racist things. Which is different than this Troopergate situation, where Wooten’s offense was a messy divorce and the attempted reasons to get him fired were snowmobiling and drinking beer in a squad car. And Monegan’s actual offense was not firing Wooten, but the excuse for firing him was a vague insubordination erected after the fact. Really, the closest thing to a wingnut-style scalping were the attempts to break up Clarence Thomas’s confirmation proceedings with the sexual harassment allegations, and even then, I can’t say it’s the same. And that’s because the support system behind Anita Hill coming out and telling the truth were concerned about Thomas’s hostility to women’s rights, and his willingness to harass female underlings was evidence of that.
The report is way too cautious, and it’s enough to cause one to wonder if people in the Alaskan government have been cowed by Palin’s intimidation tactics. What the Palins did is mind-blowing, even by wingnut standards, because you would think that they’d have realized that their behavior was inappropriate considering the level of power that Sarah Palin had in Alaska. Todd Palin seems to have hired a private investigator (or stalked Wooten himself), for fuck’s sake, and had him following Wooten around trying to come up with dozen reasons to fire him and just be done with it. I had flashbacks to having to take down pictures of my family off my Flickr page because people were combing over it, looking for something to “get” me with during the Edwards debacle, but this of course is a hundred times worse. Sarah Palin really cannot be granted more power, because god only knows what kind of vindictive campaigns she’ll go on as Vice President. She and her husband lack the basic propriety and dignity required to hold high office. (I know her husband won’t technically hold the office, but it’s clear that she gives him free rein to treat her power like his.)
The whole situation, and the wingnut tendencies it illustrates, bespeaks a larger obsession with control and power that I personally can’t quite understand. It’s ironic, considering how right wingers like to stroke themselves about their libertarian tendencies. But the main appeal of “libertarianism” for many is that it makes it easier to use intimidation campaigns to control your neighbors’ behavior. Government and other institutions like it, such as universities, are a pain in the ass because they have all these rules about leaving people alone, and having to have a legitimate reason to fire someone. The wingnut definition of “freedom” is stripping people of government protection for basic rights. The libertarian ideal world is one where people can be fired for voting for Democrats straight up, for instance.
By the way, Lindsay is right that liberals shouldn’t grow hungry to use similar tactics. As the Malkin example shows, there’s diminishing returns in that. Every time you publish people’s phone number or encourage readers to contact their employers and get them fired for their political opinions, you disgust truly freedom-loving people. It’s a road to irrelevance and it’s wrong for us to step on it.