The Mythbusters’ Adam Savage has a great shirt that reads “I reject your reality and substitute my own!” This is amusing when you’re in the business of blowing stuff up and tossing crash-test dummies off of buildings. It’s not quite as amusing as a principle for running your country.
American populist conservatives have spent the last 15 years constructing an information bubble to support and insulate their agenda. Part of the strategy is making false assertions in such a rapid-fire manner that by the time the truth catches up, popular attention has already turned to the next outrage. But the information bubble also works to insulate conservatives from information that they find uncomfortable or that is at odds with their agenda. This is toxic for the political dialog, because if you’re unwilling to accept facts, it means you’ll believe virtually anything and you’re highly unlikely to change your mind.
Supporting this is a strong combination of beliefs at the root of contemporary American populist conservative thinking:
- Corporate media (derided as the “lamestream media”) obviously can’t be trusted, particularly when its conclusions are at odds with the populist conservative agenda. This probably isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s heard Sarah Palin rant, but the mistrust against traditional information channels seems wide and deep. That most corporate of the corporate news organizations, Fox News, is exempt from this, since most of its programming is in alignment with the populist conservative agenda.
- You can find a justification for virtually any aspect of the populist conservative agenda in the words of the constitution, if you just look hard enough. (This is the “do your homework!” argument.) Conversely, people who suggest policies that populist conservatives object to are either in willful violation of the constitution or are ignorant of what the constitution really means.
- “Supporting the troops” can similarly be used as a justification for virtually any conservative political agenda, even though the conservative political agenda more often than not involves getting more of the troops killed. “God,” and “The Constitution,” and “fiscal responsibility” can also stand in for “the troops” in this context, as needed.
- Liberals are a subclass of generally stupid or deluded people who mainly aim to get their greedy mitts on the nesteggs of the conservative middle class and the wealthy, and to restrict their rights in various ways.
- A failure to completely obliterate the budget deficit right this very minute will cause the imminent collapse of American civilization. (For the record: wrong.)
- Whatever is good for the wealthy is automatically good for the middle class. (This is the argument that’s masterfully deconstructed in the Thomas Frank’s book What’s The Matter with Kansas?)
I’ve been knee-deep in this after finally getting the goat of former game show host Chuck Woolery on Twitter. Chuck is a populist conservative who apparently thinks that freedom is the freedom to get married four times. I’m guessing that his aim is to replace Rush Limbaugh if Rush ever has an Oxycontin relapse. To bolster his conservative cred he’s been ranting on Twitter and flogging a web site that features his own political rants on video. At this point, he’s managed to turn himself into a poor man’s Victoria Jackson sans spell checker.
In recent months, Chuck and I have been engaging in an amusing and mostly-respectful back-and-forth on politics. Here’s a representative exchange:
It happens that Chuck is not such a great rhetorician. As a result, poking holes in his contradictions and half-baked platitudes is highly amusing; it’s not unlike midget wrestling in this regard.
I should point out here that I consider this to be comedy, not politics, and I don’t have the illusion that I’m convincing anybody of anything here. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t seem like conservatives on Twitter really want to engage in principled political debate. They’re more about bullying, belittling others, and ultimately shutting out facts they disagree with. This is kind of a shame. On Twitter, the pattern of engagement was consistent: 1) Unearth one of my incendiary responses to Woolery; 2) Post a response to me that contains some kind of personal insult; 3) Block me if I make a political point that is impossible to rebut; 4) Rise and remove your caps as we all sing God Bless America.
The bullshit avalanche really cranked up after this exchange:
“This event” was the killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi, something that conservatives and Fox News are desperately trying to gin up as an 11th-hour “game change” for the election. The premise, I guess, is that if we can somehow pin responsibility for the Benghazi killing on Obama (not just his administration, but Obama as an individual), the American people will finally wake up and agree that we should repeal health care reform, enable some old white dudes to regulate reproductive health, and reduce taxes until most of our highways and schools collapse into rubble.
Unsurprisingly, Woolery really didn’t like what I said. He called me a moron and blocked me on Twitter:
Aw, Chuck, we hardly knew you. I’m really going to miss our gentlemanly tête-à-têtes.
Anyway, the really interesting part happened after Woolery blocked me on Twitter. It felt like what Jon Stewart calls “Chaos on Bullshit Mountain“: dozens of conservatives on Twitter discovered my feed and piled invective on me in hopes of impugning or discouraging me. Because it’s basically impossible for strangers to hurt my feelings on the internet and I had some time to kill between World Series at-bats, the parrying continued throughout the weekend.
Among the lowlights: More than one commenter took the opportunity to call my daughter (who is 11) a whore:
Fortunately my daughter has a really good sense of humor about this (she’s taken to calling people on Twitter “ants in a jar”). But it’s still a little distressing — not because it says anything about my daughter’s virtue, but because of what it says about the state of our political discourse. You don’t like my politics so you call my daughter a whore? Really?
What are these people hoping to accomplish (besides, maybe, poisoning the well of American political discourse)? Where are the principled conservative debaters? They surely have some great points to make; why aren’t they making them? Maybe Twitter is located in the wrong aisle of the marketplace of ideas, but you’d think that someone could do better than this (or, if not better, at least funnier).
Finally, I should give credit for the germ of the “keys to my daughter’s uterus” tweet to the brilliant and deeply weird @robdelaney.