Andrew Breitbart is in the news! The Atlantic offered him space to discuss his media diet, the Village Voice called him a “pussy,” and Slate ran an enormous profile of the man, which will be of interest to you if your taste runs toward lengthy features about self-regarding comic monsters. What’s most fascinating to me about Breitbart is how he exemplifies the most powerful trend of conservative argument. Let’s call it the “look at this fucking retard liberal” school of thought.
This mode of discourse can probably be traced back much further than the moment to which its ascendancy became impossible to ignore, but let’s say it achieved dominance during the run-up to the war in Iraq. It wasn’t enough to cast doubt upon the motives of those who questioned the wisdom of engaging in an endless conflict based on dubious evidence; opponents needed to be ridiculed with such over-the-top mockery that the actual arguments were obscured by a level of comical vituperation that made “facts” seem like side issues which did not merit rejoinder. The method seems to be, “Hit hard, hit fast, and move on to the next.” And always, always make sure that your riposte questions the sobriety, intelligence, and even sanity of your target.
Were this kind of contentiousness limited to the Breitbarts and their blogging ilk it would be one thing, but what we’ve seen in the last few years is the cheerful piling on by the Republican establishment. Worried about global warming? “What about all the snow, you stupid liberals?” a Republican Senator sneers. Do you believe that two consenting adults should be allowed the same rights to a legally acknowledged commitment as their heterosexual fellow citizens? “They just want to fuck dogs and marry horses!” yell prominent conservative office-holders. Think all Americans deserve access to basic health care? “Everyone can always go to the emergency room, you COMMUNIST!”
What’s most troubling about this trend-and that’s a long list to try and prioritize-is the seeming cynicism-nihilism, even-behind it. It is not hard to feel that these people don’t really care about whether the arguments they’re contesting are correct, so long as they make the other side look like clueless parodies. Deep down they may even suspect that we’re on an unsustainable path in terms of the way we treat the planet or rig our financial system. But whatever! We need to make the left look like imbeciles! It’s so much fun! And, besides, by the time it’s really a problem we’ll be dead, so what difference does it make?
Perhaps I’m being unfair. I’m sure there are several Republicans whose beliefs are based on serious research, personal philosophy, and a process of argument that is full of integrity in which an attempt to see the point of the other side has been made and found wanting. It’s just too bad that those people are in no way the voice of their party. Of course, I’m a guy who believes that we are the result of the process of evolution, that climate change is real, that the massive deregulation of the last thirty years has created a false prosperity the only result of which has been a massive transfer of wealth to a small group of extremely rich people at the expense of the rest of us, who will now be paying the bills for that criminal largesse. So, you know, a typical stupid liberal. What do I know?