Monday, August 10, 2009

Running on fuming: Desperate tactics at work

If the heated health care town hall protests prove anything, it’s that the conservative ideology is at the end of its rope. The twin frustrations of policy failure and losing has put their side, and the country as a whole, into a weaker position to improve our lot through bipartisan discussion.

I understand how it goes. I am one of the biggest sore losers who ever lived. I have a competitive streak that rivals that of any NFL Hall-of-Famer. I hate to lose anything I feel I can and should win, be it a football game, a video game or a trivia competition. My first grade teacher wrote on my report card that I was a poor sport who “cannot stand any sort of competition.” Which isn’t true; I love competition. But I suck at most sports and, of the sports and games at which I do excel, I always feel much worse when I get beat. So it isn’t even a double whammy; it’s like a triple whammy. Press your luck, players.

On the other hand, I’ve also won plenty of games, sometimes upsetting competitors who I have no business beating. Then, it isn’t a case of laughing off something for being completely out of my league; winning becomes possible.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a pretty laid-back person when it comes to most things (cue everyone who knows me laughing at that). It takes a hit to any of my sore points to get me steamed and/or frustrated. There’s just a lot of them. I like to think they’re rational, and that I’ve reached them through reasonable means, but that isn’t always the case.

In any case, after a relatively short period of time, my rational mind kicks in and I get over it. That often doesn’t come in time to avert some very loud shows of frustration, but it comes. And in the end, how I feel depends on how well I conducted myself. It’s a constant learning process, and perhaps too slow at times, but I understand in the end that no amount of self-criticism or heated shows of desperation is ever productive.

Conservatives could use the same lesson. Lacking any high ground on that or most other issues, they’ve resorted to their latest choreographed outrage: packing health care town halls hosted by Democrats and attempting to drown out all discussion through screaming and intimidation. It almost makes one pine for the comparatively intelligent tea parties.

The rapid devolution of the right’s discourse suggests that being right has been surpassed by the need to win. The entire George W. Bush presidency was an exercise in the obsession with being right, to the point of making facts fit any desired outcome. This in itself is hard-headed and counterproductive, but at least it led Republicans to offer actual answers to the question, “What would you do?”

No longer. What little plans the Republican Party offered as alternatives to Barack Obama’s policies in the first few months of his presidency (remember those figure-free budget pamphlets?) have gone the way of the Bridge to Nowhere. Now, the right’s playbook has one strategy: stall, berate and intimidate. They don’t even care of they’re right; they just don’t want the opposition to have a chance to be right. Because if, say, health care reform worked and saved thousands of lives and millions of pocketbooks, conservatives wouldn’t win. And winning is what it’s all about.

But conservatives are not winning. And they know it. They’ve lost the hearts and minds of a sweeping majority of Americans, even former hard-core Republicans who feel the party has abandoned its principles for political expediency. Political cycles come and go, but recent history and trends suggest that the pendulum is likely to defy conventional physics for some time. The GOP’s rigid stance on the issues is almost comical, but changing them would require reflection (not the right’s strong suit) and/or lobbyist compromise (not happening either).

So what does a political ideology rapidly fading in influence and bereft of fresh ideas do? Stoke the raging fires, of course! It starts at the top, with Republican leaders such as Dick Cheney repeatedly going on television and declaring that President Obama is weakening our national security. Meanwhile, top conservative pundits such as Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter frame the Democrats as anti-American and their agenda “socialist.” Rush Limbaugh says he hopes the president fails. Fox News sponsors and promotes tea parties. Groups like FreedomWorks - run by top GOP operative Dick Armey - urge an organized effort not to offer dissent, but to disrupt health care discussions. Many protesters lie about their political affiliation and/or are bused in from other districts. Even blog comments, such as recent ones here, suggest frustration and desperation more than coherent discussion.

Over the next few days, I’m going to explore the tactics and fallacies that many conservatives are using to stifle substantial political discussion. Whether it’s through the town hall shout-fests, appeals to party, the equivalency argument, etc., Republican discussion is becoming increasingly predictable. I think these methods are worth knowing and understanding, both for the sake of arguing and for the bigger picture of what such topics indicate about a desperate opposition.

Stay tuned.

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