The Language We Use

Jeff Goldstein is a paste-eating ‘tard. Ann Coulter is an anorexic cunt with an Adam’s apple. Hey Michelle Malkin, me love you long time!

Is this ok on left-wing blogs?

I don’t think so, and neither does Scott. First, I’ll give it to the feminist blogs — I think that most of us (or at least the ones that I read) have been pretty good about avoiding racist, sexist, able-ist, homophobic language when we go after ideas we don’t like, and the people who generate them. When we do slip up, people call us out, and most of the time we apologize and are more careful next time.

But as much as I wish we were, feminist blogs are not representative of the mainstream American left. And there’s some ugly stuff going on out there.

Part of hesitates to write this at all, because I think that it’ll just be more fuel for a racist, sexist, homophobic right to say, “See? It’s really the left that’s racist, sexist and homophobic!” But the point is that it’s not a gotcha game of who the real bigots are — there are apparently enough individual bigots to go around. The main difference, as far as I can tell, is that the right wants their personal bigotry to be national policy, and they feed off of prejudice and fear in order to maintain power. The GOP has essentially established itself as a party of hate, and they routinely scapegoat various disempowered groups to give their followers someone to blame for their problems. People of color, women, gays — they’re all easy targets. It’s easier to vilify the black welfare queen in a society that already has serious race issues than it is to have a more complex conversation about the division of wealth in a society which clings so strongly to the idea of the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps American Dream.

Securing human rights and equality demands that some people give up their privilege, or at least be prepared to share it. It demands that people who previously never had to think twice about their positions in the world now have to. It means that we must recognize the fact that inequality cannot be justified by saying, “Well that’s the way that it’s always been.” For a lot of people, this is scary — and it’s certainly threatening. Neither political party has been very good at saying any of this, but the Republicans have surely been better at playing off of these fears.

But that doesn’t mean that the Democratic party doesn’t have its racists, able-ists, sexists and homophobes. Are left-wing blogs usually the toilets that, say, Freeperland is? Not even close (I’m not linking to them because they’re so incredibly vile — I’ll leave it to Pam to bravely wade into that mess). But left-blogs have been known to have their racist, sexist, able-ist and homophobic moments. Case in point: The DKos drama of last year. A recap for those who weren’t around: Kos, the biggest left-wing blog, had a ridiculously sexist ad up on his site. I don’t remember the exact content of it, but it was something like hot young girls in bikinis fighting in whipped cream and then making out. He received some criticism for it, and instead of having a lightbulb moment and saying, “I’m sorry, I honestly hadn’t realized that the ad was sexist, because as a guy I don’t usually have to think about these things. But now that so many of my fellow liberals have pointed it out and taken issue with it, I’ll take it down,” Kos responded with a defensive rant in which he called feminist bloggers “the sanctimonious women’s studies set.” Which reminds me a little of what Scott notes here:

The problem with the political blogosphere parallels one I see everywhere in academia. Those who speak have done so to the choir for so long that they are unable to acclimate themselves to criticism. They equate it with hostility and respond with hypocritical stupidity. Why else would someone who fights for gay rights call someone else a “faggot”? (I’m not interested in subterranean homophobia here. That’s too obvious. I’m more interested in the clueless things self-identified progressives say.)

He’s right. But he goes on to say something that I have to take issue with:

My fellow leftists who read political blogs have never actually had to befriend someone with whom they “shared” damn near tangible differences. They have never had to interact daily with people whose politics they found repulsive. They have never been close to someone they would have given a kidney to and spent whisky-soaked nights debating the fundaments. They live in an echo-chamber which demands ideological conformity at the gate. And you know what? The “intellectual” environment in which they live breeds the stupidity they so regularly evince.

I don’t think that’s true at all. I’m about as insulated as American lefists come: I was raised in one of the most liberal cities in the country (Seattle) by liberal parents, and then moved across the country to another one of the most liberal cities in the country (New York) to study at one of the most liberal universities in the country (NYU), where I stayed for law school. I’ve been told by many of my liberal classmates at a liberal university that I’m the most liberal person they know (although I don’t think this can possibly be true, given that NYU has an active Socialist club). I’ve spent semesters and summers traveling and living in various places around Europe, which is generally more liberal than most of the United States. After finishing law school, I plan on insulating myself further in my liberalism by either staying in New York or moving to Paris or San Francisco.

But you know what? I still manage to interact daily with people whose political and personal views I cannot reconcile with my own. I have managed to still love people who referred to my then-boyfriend as a “red dot” and an “A-rab,” who use the word “black” like they’re spitting it, who sincerely argue that women are intellectually inferior to men, and for whom homosexuality is so foreign and strange and it can hardly even be discussed. Us coast-dwelling, New-York-Times-read, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving liberals are, if election results are any indication, not the majority in this country. Those of us who are sincerely and deeply dedicated to fighting injustice and oppression every day are an even smaller minority — if there’s one thing that’s clear from reading all the racist, sexist bullshit on left-leaning blogs, it’s that the right doesn’t have a monopoly on hate. And so every day we encounter these things. That’s what happens when you study feminism or critical race theory or simply take the time to check the little oppressions of daily life — you stop being able to ignore it. You stop being able to caricature racists, sexists and homophobes as snaggle-toothed red-state yokels, since you see that racists, sexists and homophobes are all around you. You realize that you’ve internalized a lot of that racism, sexism and homophobia. Some days you feel like it’s so overwhelming that you wish you could have kept your eyes shut.

Echo chamber? I don’t think so.

Now, I’m approaching this from a leftist-feminist perspective, and to be fair, the mainstream American left isn’t exactly feminist. Perhaps the mainstream left is an echo chamber that demands conformity at the gate. I wouldn’t know, as I’ve been told to “wait my turn” by the mainstream left (that would be the Democratic party) for so long that I’ve essentially given up on them, even if I still turn out at the polls and vote for their candidates, and even if I’m still willing to travel hours during election years to go door to door and to phonebank on their behalf. But I am not the mainstream left.

The problem, I think, isn’t a left-wing echo chamber. It’s an entire society that privileges certain groups of people over others by deeming their experiences normative, and separating out everyone else as “others.” The right might play on it more than the left, but these ideas are as American as apple pie. And they’re deeply entrenched in American politics. Sometimes the racism, misogyny and homophobia are obvious (examples: the Freepers, anti-same-sex-marriage advocates, Minute Men, etc) and sometimes they’re slightly more veiled (welfare policy, public school funding, reproductive rights). But they’re all based on the same premise: That some people in society are simply entitled to the power that they have, that such power must be maintained, and that any challenge to that entitlement is a serious threat. And so when people of color, women, the LGBT community, or any other disenfranchised group begins to demand access to the power structure so firmly set in place, we get two responses. The right demonizes us and manages to blame all of society’s problems on our simple attempts to even the playing field. And the left tells us, “We hear you, and we’re behind you. Just wait.” As The White Bear writes,

Yes, many liberals are misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, and homophobic. They are grossed out by the poor and by those who lack education. They try to cover up these feelings in themselves by theoretically supporting a party that claims to be interested in human rights, just as many right-wingers try to cover up those feelings by theoretically embracing a religion that claims to be interested in human rights. But at any opportunity, they are as eager as the Right to smother “minority” issues in the name of gaining power. And they will attack their enemies with the most powerful language they know: hate speech.

Liberals are occassionally racist, sexist, xenophobic and homophobic because people in this society are generally racist, sexist, xenophobic and homophobic. This should not be surprising. But we should, as Scott does, push each other to be better.

However, I wonder what the answer is, and I’m a little confused as to where Scott ends up. In a follow-up post he writes:

My critique of identitarian politics has never involved critiquing the identities of those who espouse them. Nor has it ever involved critiquing their goals, the desired ends of their impassioned activism. All I’ve critiqued is the effectiveness of their tactics, the insistence that, contra to the vocal declamations, that their attitude and actions have helped further the cause to which they are committed. I would argue that, given recent developments, they have not. More to the point, I believe they have actually had the opposite effect, that the mobilization of these racially and sexually essentialist accounts of identity has alienated them from the kind of majoritarian political action which would allow them to achieve their stated goals.

I know this a terrible thing to say. I know that, in important respects, I’m asking people to table their concerns, and that my insistence that they’d be doing so for their own good sounds terribly paternalistic. You know what? I’m as unhappy I came to this conclusion as you. I’m as upset that I live in a country in which the “quality” of political discourse and the realities of the political environs compel me to say something I find intellectually dissatisfying and outright condescending.

But I don’t see the alternative working. I look around me and see the dismantling of affirmative action by an increasingly conservative judicial system; I see a President who would deny homosexuals the legal recognition of a fundamental human institution on the basis of it being a fundamental human institution and be completely oblivious to the irony such a statement entails. I deny the validity of no one’s experience, I only question the effectiveness of its mobolization as a political tactic. As my previous post makes clear, I wish I could distance myself from the hypocrites whose misogyny and homophobia disgust me and still somehow remain a viable political force. But I don’t see that happening. Does this make me a conservative? Certainly not. A proceduralist, maybe, and certainly complicit in a system which is far from perfect. But to my mind, it is better to be complicit in a system which is flawed but improving, if only incrementally.

Now I might be seriously misinterpreting this, and someone tell me if I am. But this idea has been put forth by political “pragmatists” for forever and a day. And usually it works, if your primary goal is to smooth over problems, get your people in power and win elections. At the Constitutional convention for this country, slavery was a major issue. Had compromises not been made — compromises which kept human beings further enslaved — the Constitution probably would not have been ratified. The progressive pragmatists assured themselves that slavery would eventually be a non-issue, as society would progress and eventually find it reprehensible, and as slavery wasn’t an economically sustainable institution. What they didn’t count on were technological advances that did make slavery economically sustainable, and the fact that we would eventually fight a civil war over this issue. Regardless, without this pragmatism, the Constitution may not have been ratified, and our country’s history would have been entirely different. And thousands of people were enslaved and treated worse than animals, leaving a legacy that continues to effect people today. Was it worth it?

I’m not asking that question facetiously. There are very compelling arguments on both sides. But I think that as progressives, we have to decide where we draw our pragmatic lines. And it’s a lot easier for people whose rights aren’t at stake to tell other people to just wait.

We haven’t alienated ourselves from majoritarian political action. We’ve always been alienated. And saying, “Hey, what about us?” is, to me, always preferable than sitting back and waiting for a paternalistic hand that is unlikely to ever come.

Of course progressive ideas about race, gender, sexuality, physical ability, etc make for terrible politics in practice. It would have been a hell of a lot easier and caused far fewer social divides in the established power system if we had just left injustice alone: Let slavery work itself out, have school desegregate themselves, allow universities to let in Jews, people of color and women whenever they were darn well ready, let states make their own laws about women’s reproductive systems, be something other than heterosexual as long as you do it silently and don’t ask for any of the things that the heteros ask for.

I think that progressive politics have to work on a variety of levels. There have to be people working inside of the system to change it slowly and incrementally, as Scott suggests. But at the same time, there have to be people outside of that system demanding that we all take injustice seriously and that we do what we can do end it, now. They have to push those inside the system to go further and to never fall into complacency.

I don’t like the current incarnation of the Democratic party, but I have a much stronger dislike for the Republican party. While the Democrats do harm through a lot of their policies, and while they ignore the needs and demands of many progressives, they do far less harm than the Republicans do. And I see a potential for the Democratic party to be much better. Does that mean, though, that I’m going to put aside my own interests for the greater good of a party that does almost nothing to represent me? Not a chance.

And that’s what the pragmatists are missing: They assume that the Democrats can ignore or backpedal on certain issues that have to do with “identity politics” — abortion, affirmative action, welfare, marriage equality, etc — and that they’ll still have other things to offer people whose very identities they just sold down the river. But when you tell me that my right to my own body is a political issue up for exchange, you haven’t just insulted me. You’ve denied me the right to exist as you do. You’ve treated me as less than human. These aren’t the same kinds of political issues as, say, opposing the death tax.

And how effective is identity-based mobilization? Well, I’d point to the civil rights movement, interracial marriage, school desegregation, access to birth control, legalized abortion, civil unions and marriage equality in some states as evidence that it is effective. It’s also highly polarizing, and unfortunately relatively few major victories for social justice have happened because society came together and said “enough.” They’ve happened because of so-called “activist judges,” and because people raised up their voices so loudly that they could no longer be ignored. Does that cause all kinds of problems? Sure. Are we still fighting about whether Roe was a good decision or not? You bet. Would allowing states to decide, or people to vote, have yielded a less contentious result? Maybe. But how many women would have had their lives caught in the crossfire? How many women would have been treated as less than human, less than fully deserving of human rights, in order to save the political establishment some contentious discussion? How many is too many? And one of the results of Roe is that the American public is now accostumed to legalized abortion. They may express dislike of the practice, and they may want to limit it, but far fewer people today would like to see it completely illegalized than in 1973. Same with desegregation and interracial marriage: A lot of people weren’t thrilled with Brown and Loving, and indeed if you read Brown you’ll see that it’s more of a sociological evaluation than a Constitutional one. But people adjusted. They certainly retained many vestiges of racism, and racism continues to thrive in this country — but those cases made things better for the people on the front lines. To me, that matters.

To be clear, Scott doesn’t seem to be arguing that we should sell everyone’s rights down the river in order to win a few votes for the Democratic party. His argument is more nuanced than that, but it got me thinking about the more general “Wait your turn” reasoning proferred by progressives all the time, and what that means for the political discourse. Aren’t we, in fact, simply justifying hatred and bigotry when we tell disenfranchised groups to wait, in a way that we wouldn’t justify such bigotry if it was in our faces — say, when it shows up on progressive blogs?

Read both his posts, and White Bear’s. Thoughts?


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39 comments for “The Language We Use

  1. zuzu
    June 14, 2006 at 9:42 am

    My fellow leftists who read political blogs have never actually had to befriend someone with whom they “shared” damn near tangible differences. They have never had to interact daily with people whose politics they found repulsive. They have never been close to someone they would have given a kidney to and spent whisky-soaked nights debating the fundaments. They live in an echo-chamber which demands ideological conformity at the gate. And you know what? The “intellectual” environment in which they live breeds the stupidity they so regularly evince.

    Does Scott imagine that liberals sprout fully-formed from some liberal cabbage patch somewhere? I, for one, was raised by Republicans (Rockefeller Republicans, but Republicans nonetheless) and exposed to some pretty hateful attitudes about blacks, gays, Jews, women, what have you (interestingly, I can’t remember abortion ever being discussed in my Catholic family). I rejected all those attitudes, yet I know damn well that I’ve internalized some of them. I know I unthinkingly give voice to them occasionally, and get smacked for it. Once smacked, I usually am aware of what I’m saying.

    I think there is some merit to the idea that “identity politics” are a bit of a distraction in that competing claims for recognition and attention are a bit fragmenting, but the solution isn’t to suppress them — it’s to recognize that civil rights, civil liberties, basic human dignity and equality of opportunity are fundamental core values of the Democratic Party, and as such, all of the groups that are asserting their rights to be heard and accepted and represented fall under that basic, fundamental concept.

  2. zuzu
    June 14, 2006 at 9:45 am

    I should also note: A couple of my brothers are still the most racist, homophobic, sexist and anti-Semitic people I know. But that’s not why I stopped speaking to them (that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax having to do with one brother’s management of my mother’s estate).

  3. June 14, 2006 at 10:14 am

    phew. i saw the preview and I thought someone at THIS blog was calling someone a ‘tard! i’m so relieved!

  4. Marian
    June 14, 2006 at 10:34 am

    But you know what? I still manage to interact daily with people whose political and personal views I cannot reconcile with my own. I have managed to still love people who referred to my then-boyfriend as a “red dot” and an “A-rab,” who use the word “black” like they’re spitting it,

    As I recall, your ex-b/f is Indian. I have heard many a justification on leftwing blogs (not usually the feminist ones) for making anti-Asian and anti-Indian remarks because they are a “privileged minority” who have “so much going for them already” that they don’t deserve the same protection from racism as other groups. I’m really not being facetious here–it did come up on Steve Gilliard’s comment field and a few others in the past.

    People were very polite in discussing Black and Hispanic needs, but the second an Indian person commented in disagreement with a liberal opinion, they were told “go back to your smelly curry country” or “go back to your Bombay trust fund daddy”. When someone anonymously pointed out the racism of those remarks, and asked why we are allowed to be rude to Asians despite claiming to be “anti-racist,” the general consensus was, “What are you so angry about? We didn’t say anything wrong” or “The Indian guy just needs to chill. He’s rich enough and privileged enough as he is, and we resent him for it.”

    Could you imagine calling a Black commentor a “n-word” or saying “go back to Africa” if you disagreed? No, but apparently in some leftwing and rightwing circles alike, it’s still fine to make parallel remarks to Asians because they don’t “go through the same ordeal” (or whatever).

    My opinion? No racism is OK, regardless of what group it’s directed to. And the “model minority” card has problems of its own as is.

  5. June 14, 2006 at 10:47 am

    I agree with you. As a left-wing blogger, I found it bothersome when John Aravosis of AmericaBlog used “little girl” as a put down (why couldn’t he just have said “wimp”, “weenie” or the ever popular “assclown”?).

    But “stupid fucking idiot” is still ok, right? How else could one describe Ann Coulter…

  6. June 14, 2006 at 11:03 am

    How else could one describe Ann Coulter…

    Hate-filled, sadistic, hurtful, bigoted, contemptuous, narrow-minded, illogical, unreasoning, right-wing drone.

    Assuming, of course, that there’s nothing wrong with “drone.” I’m thinking of the Borg here.

  7. June 14, 2006 at 11:05 am

    Hey, Jill? Ever consider having a contest to see who could come up with the most creative and insulting insult for Ann Coulter without insulting a race, gender, or other group along the way?

  8. Thomas
    June 14, 2006 at 11:08 am

    I know I unthinkingly give voice to them occasionally, and get smacked for it. Once smacked, I usually am aware of what I’m saying.

    Ahem. Amen, Zuzu. (Who among us has not been there?)

  9. JeffL
    June 14, 2006 at 11:09 am

    Awesome, awesome essay, Jill.

    As for the language, no argument. There are a zillion other insulting things we can call Coulter et al without resorting to hate speech.

    Your points on pragmatism are hard for me to hear. I’m a Privilidged Male, standing at the “front of the line,” so asking you to wait your turn is easy for me. But as the partner of a woman, and the father of two young daugthers, I’m brought up short at the idea that my approach to politics is taking something away from them.

    But what’s the alternative? Taking my support away from the Dems and giving it to (say) the Greens is pretty much the same as supporting the GOP, isn’t it? I want to work as hard as I can to get the GOP out of power right now, and I don’t see anyway to do that other than supporting the other side of the current power system.

  10. June 14, 2006 at 11:12 am

    Echo chamber my ass. I live in Wisconsin, where apparently a former SS soldier has opened up a Hitler memorial museum somewhere up north (I was half asleep when my local news covered it and haven’t been able to find info about it online yet–but the guy was interviewed for the story and everything).

  11. Thomas
    June 14, 2006 at 11:14 am

    Kyra, I simply am not responsive to the claimed needs of the Borg community. Nor the bee community, neither. Beekeepers, OTOH, are alright by me.

    Here’s my entry in the Coulter contest:

    soulless, self-promoting waxwork media rep for the hate-speech wing of movement conservatism.

  12. June 14, 2006 at 11:17 am

    I grew up in an extremely Republican household in a very insulated, very rural and rather racist town. I’m often pretty ashamed when I remember some of the dumb Freeper-ish things I said to professors and classmates as a freshman in one of the most liberal colleges in one of the most liberal states in the country. I don’t know what brought me around to progressive politics–it was just sort of the inevitable outcome of being broke and female with no healthcare, getting date-raped, trying to pay for tuition, and getting gradually disenfranchised with the Republican party.

    I can’t say that I’m friends with many die-hard Republicans these days, but I work with them, and my family is comprised of them, so I learn to be tactful and diplomatic. The other day I was listening to Air America and one of the talk-show hosts called Ann Coulter an “equine hermaphrodite.” I was like, there is NO place for that in an intelligent debate. It’s juvenile and bigoted and, possibly worse, it serves NO purpose.

    It’s important to argue with facts and with compassion–that’s how I’ve slowly turned my parents against the war and convinced them to not vote Republican in the next election. It’s all about “I used to feel the same way,” “I’ve heard that concern before. It sounds like what you’re saying is…” You can’t just call them an idiot and move on. Well you CAN, but, we’re trying to educate people here.

  13. June 14, 2006 at 11:23 am

    Hey Michelle Malkin, me love you long time!

    *Visualizes*
    Uh oh. Are you trying to distract (het) men from this article?

    Ahem.

    It’s good to see leftists calling each other on stuff that violates their principles, which in this case are good ones. Besides, some consideration on language one uses to insult is a decent, and not very difficult thing to do for everyone, as I’ve blogged about already(blogwhoring…).

  14. Thomas
    June 14, 2006 at 11:53 am

    getting date-raped

    I’m really sorry. Patriarchy is everyone’s problem, and it’s my fault, and you’ve suffered from it, and I’m sorry.

  15. June 14, 2006 at 12:13 pm

    Jill,

    Thanks for the measured response. You seem to have nailed from the start what it took me a couple days hard thought to figure out. To wit:

    The main difference, as far as I can tell, is that the right wants their personal bigotry to be national policy, and they feed off of prejudice and fear in order to maintain power.

    I think this is dead on: it’s not the parties themselves which are important so much as the prejudices of those they pander to.

    Regardless, without this pragmatism, the Constitution may not have been ratified, and our country’s history would have been entirely different. And thousands of people were enslaved and treated worse than animals, leaving a legacy that continues to effect people today. Was it worth it?

    This is the difficult question I’ve been trying to answer. I think I come down, reluctantly, on the affirmative. But as I note, I’m not happy about this at all, because it puts me in the uncomfortable positions listed above and which you, rightly, criticize. I know I’m opening myself up to these criticisms even if I say, as I have, that my decisions are tactical, not ideological. Then there’s this:

    They’ve happened because of so-called “activist judges,” and because people raised up their voices so loudly that they could no longer be ignored.

    Agreed 100%. This point occupies my mind more than any of late. Since the courts have been the historical agent for progressive change more often than not, control of judicial appointments seems to me the paramount concern facing liberals today. We need, if not progressive, at the very least an influx of more-than-nominally (i.e. non-Bush approved) liberal judges, and the likelihood of that happening if we withdraw support from the Democratic party is nill.

    zuzu,

    Does Scott imagine that liberals sprout fully-formed from some liberal cabbage patch somewhere?

    Scott’s been living in California for a couple of years but was raised in the South. So yes, I do think there are liberal cabbage patches. Many of the Californians I’ve befriended, not to mention taught, are parochial the same way Americans are: they’ve never been outside California and can hardly imagine what it’s like out there. I’ve seen looks of utter disbelief when I tell them, for example, that I don’t feel like I possess “white privilege” because growing up, people went out of their way to let me know that I’m not white. Their response is to slip into the affirmative racism of “But Jews are so powerful, there’s no way what you’re saying is true.”

    I think there is some merit to the idea that “identity politics” are a bit of a distraction in that competing claims for recognition and attention are a bit fragmenting, but the solution isn’t to suppress them — it’s to recognize that civil rights, civil liberties, basic human dignity and equality of opportunity are fundamental core values of the Democratic Party, and as such, all of the groups that are asserting their rights to be heard and accepted and represented fall under that basic, fundamental concept.

    That’s a long sentence, but I agree with every single word of it. My question is, if that recognition of obstructs the passage of legislation which would codify it legally, would you still seek the former? (As I mentioned earlier, I think legislationn is on the side of the devils on this one: opposition to gay marriage will be legislated bigotry, its eventual takedown a judicial triumph.) I don’t think this is an easy question to answer, and as someone who’s never felt comfortable speaking for others—much less appearing to silence them—it’s one I’m struggling with.

  16. JeffL
    June 14, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    Blitzgal, info on the Hitler Memorial at .

    At least, I hope that’s the memorial in Wisconsin. Hate for there to be more than one!

  17. zuzu
    June 14, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    Scott’s been living in California for a couple of years but was raised in the South. So yes, I do think there are liberal cabbage patches. Many of the Californians I’ve befriended, not to mention taught, are parochial the same way Americans are: they’ve never been outside California and can hardly imagine what it’s like out there. I’ve seen looks of utter disbelief when I tell them, for example, that I don’t feel like I possess “white privilege” because growing up, people went out of their way to let me know that I’m not white. Their response is to slip into the affirmative racism of “But Jews are so powerful, there’s no way what you’re saying is true.”

    So why the blanket statement about your fellow leftists who read political blogs? Some, sure. But your statement implicated all, as if you can credit only yourself with not being part of the echo chamber.

    My question is, if that recognition of obstructs the passage of legislation which would codify it legally, would you still seek the former?

    I’m a little confused. Are you missing a noun in there?

  18. Dennis
    June 14, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    I actually commented on the weirdness of the phenomenon of calling Ann Coulter an anorexic tranny last night (noticing that George Carlin and Coulter are both slated to be on Leno Wednesday night, and we were arguing which would wind up eating the other. We settled that Coulter ought to eat Carlin, because she could use a meal.)

    Anyway, my partner and I wound up agreeing that the anorexic part is both fair and relevant, because maybe if her brain weren’t running on fumes as far as the ol’ glucose tank goes, she’d be a little more sensible. I know that when my blood sugar gets low, I start lashing out at anything and everything.

  19. jiggavegas
    June 14, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    I am getting frustrated with the inability of the Democrats to solidify the message that “identity politics” is not a bunch of disparate voices squabbling amongst themselves, but instead represents different facets of the same underlying political belief. Republicans manage to make things as wildly apposite as gay marriage, gun control, the estate tax, and warmongering seem like they fit naturally under one umbrella. Why can’t we do the same thing?

    And PS: awesome post.

  20. ilyka
    June 14, 2006 at 1:15 pm

    I’ll probably have more to say about this, perhaps on my own blog, after I scope all the links and think about it some more–but for now, Jill, just damn. Greece agrees with you.

  21. June 14, 2006 at 1:23 pm

    zuzu,

    So why the blanket statement about your fellow leftists who read political blogs?

    In the context of the original post, “my fellow leftists” refers, sarcastically, to the people who sent me the barrage of offensive email, not the entire political blogosphere. That’s not entirely clear in the part Jill excerpted, or in the original post for that matter.

    Are you missing a noun in there?

    A noun there, a brain here, who can tell anymore? That should’ve read:

    if that recognition obstructs the passage of legislation which would codify it legally, would you still seek the former?

    Sorry for the confusion. (Although, looking at it, that’s still incredibly awkward. Meh.)

  22. June 14, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    I can’t think of a time I’ve sat with a group of lefties when Ann Coulter has come up and someone hasn’t made a derogatory remark about her appearance — Kyra’s suggestion (and your willingness to embrace it, Jill) is a good one.

    I’ve learned the hard way that as a white man,preaching civility is very, very likely to be construed as defusing righteous anger. The trick is finding a way to encourage expressions of anger that are untainted with bigotry. It’s easier in theory than practice.

  23. suezboo
    June 14, 2006 at 1:40 pm

    While agreeing on the whole with what Scott wrote, there are some things that are bothering me. Like,rights for women and gays are minority interests. To whom? Aren’t most Democratic voters women? Don’t women and gays vote disproportionately Democrat? Why should their issues become tactically disposable when they are the Party and its base?Why are rich white men the ones whose interests must be played to when they are not the voters the Party has? Are you aware that most voters in the whole population are not rich white men?

  24. June 14, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    Sorry, it was Piny’s idea to promote Kyra’s suggestion.

  25. zuzu
    June 14, 2006 at 2:25 pm

    IMO, Coulter’s appearance, to some extent, is fair game because attacking the appearance of liberal women is part of her schtick.

  26. June 14, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    I can understand the temptation to attack Coulter’s appearance, but I just can’t let her set the tone for debate. That’s JUST what she wants.

  27. June 14, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    Fantastic, thoughtful post Jill. I agree with the overwhelming majority of what you said, but want to raise one issue.

    Jeff Goldstein is a paste-eating ‘tard. Ann Coulter is an anorexic cunt with an Adam’s apple. Hey Michelle Malkin, me love you long time!

    I think you need to be really careful about conflating racism, sexism, bigotry and homophobia in Leftblogistan with any ad hominem attacks left wing bloggers might levy against our opponents on the right. To run through your three example slurs:

    Malkin: good bad old fashioned racism. I don’t see a place for it and I don’t think it can be defended.

    Coulter: Well this one’s pretty fecund. Asserting that she may be transgendered is certainly a bigoted tact to take when she provides so many outlets for criticism. Likewise, calling her anorexic is a lowbrowed line of attack. I don’t see any harm in calling someone ugly; civility is overrated and this is probably the earliest known ad hominem available in human development. Sometimes it’s nice to regress to the diction of a four year old when dealing with right wing regressives.

    Goldstein: Now, this one I really take issue with. First, I can’t recall if either of the main “Goldstein eats paste” critics (Atrios & Sadly, No) have ever paired that to saying he’s retarded, so I think you might be erecting a bit of a strawman here (correct me if I’m wrong). But criticizing someone for making idiotic, unintelligent, and largely incoherent arguments might entail calling them stupid. Hence, Ralph Wiggum and paste eating.

    Resorting to ad hominems as a form of argument is both unproductive and immature as a stand-alone argumentative method. But I don’t see harm in calling Goldstein a paste-eater if it’s accompanied and/or prefaced by a rigorous argument against him. His writing has been broken down so many times that I think it’s fine to resort to the short hand from the start.

    There’s nothing that says because someone has chosen to enter into an intellectual debate with us that they are actually smart enough to hold it. Civility doesn’t mean letting someone be wrong time and again to the point of proving their shear unintelligence and not call them out for it. I don’t see a problem with how lefty bloggers make cracks at the intelligence of rightwing bloggers. Call me stupid, but I just don’t think it’s a big deal.

  28. June 14, 2006 at 2:57 pm

    It’s also fair game because leftists aren’t the only ones who make an issue of Coulter’s appearance.

  29. June 14, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    Wrong button! I meant to say, “it may seem like it’s also fair game because leftists aren’t the only ones who make an issue of her appearance, but I don’t think we ought to legitimize a mode of debate we otherwise disdain.” Because some people may not be as careful or contextual in their targets.

  30. W. Kiernan
    June 14, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    Hey Michelle Malkin, me love you long time!

    Just to get details right, the guys would not say that to Ms. Malkin, the idea is that Ms. Malkin says that herself, “me love you long time” being, allegedly, a phrase non-English speaking prostitutes in Asia used to say when soliciting American G.I.s. This crap pissed me off every time I’ve seen it. I know this rap about Michelle Malkin’s c*nt is supposed to be funny but it’s not. What it achieves when so-called progressives issue these imbecile slurs against Malkin (besides, of course, getting a laugh out of Beavis) is it gives right-wingers something to howl about in order to distract opponents from the ridiculous flimsiness of Malkin’s logic.

    Certainly it cannot be denied that Malkin writes like a snotty ninth-grader. I think one can even legitimately criticize her as an immigrant’s daughter of foreign, non-Aryan extraction, when she parrots the Stormfront line regarding immigrants. In real life, she actually does this; but in real life she doesn’t accost G.I.s down at the seaport bars. And even if she did have a scandalous personal life, she hasn’t built her career as pundit on excoriating others over their sexual transgressions. Whereas, for example, to have attacked Laura Schlesigner or Henry Hyde, even in indecent language, over their personal behavior was legitimate, as they both made their reputations for attacking others over precisely the same offenses against conventional morality of which they themselves actually were guilty.

  31. June 14, 2006 at 4:25 pm

    Also in the mix is classism and economics — remember, not too long ago, all the people dumping on the woman who couldn’t gert access to Plan B and instead had the abortion?

    I could scarce believe the vitriol some of the supposed “progressives” were using.

    Choosing to dump on her because she had some money , and ignoring that the *real* illumination in the article was the hoops she had to jump through even though she *did* have money — and how much worse it demonstrably is for those *without* access to money and opportunity.

  32. June 14, 2006 at 5:20 pm

    suezboo:

    there are some things that are bothering me. Like,rights for women and gays are minority interests. To whom? Aren’t most Democratic voters women? Don’t women and gays vote disproportionately Democrat? Why should their issues become tactically disposable when they are the Party and its base? Why are rich white men the ones whose interests must be played to when they are not the voters the Party has? Are you aware that most voters in the whole population are not rich white men?

    Those things bother me too. As I said, “I’m upset that I live in a country in which the ‘quality’ of political discourse and the realities of the political environs compel me to say something I find intellectually dissatisfying and outright condescending.” I don’t know why this is a political reality, but it certainly seems to be. I would be overjoyed to be proven wrong, ecstatic if someone could demonstrate that a Democratic Party which hied to something resembling the philosophical consistency zuzu mentions above could win — but I haven’t seen that happen and, sadly, I don’t see it happening soon. I’m not happy about this, and I wish someone could tell me how to change it; but right now, I think the best way to support a feminist/queer/minority agenda is to vote Bland Democrat and pressure them to install progressive thinkers on the bench.

    This may all come down to me slowly concluding that large social trends are more in the hands of the judicial than executive or legislative branches. Yes, those two prosecute wars, create fiscal disasters, &c., but I think domestic social change isn’t legislated so much as adjudicated. I could be wrong, however, and I’m open to all counterarguments.

    Matt Bronwer-Hamlin:

    Sometimes it’s nice to regress to the diction of a four year old when dealing with right wing regressives.

    But if you “deal with” them by “regressing to the diction of a four year old,” are you actually “dealing with” them? Aren’t you just venting? I understand how satisfying it can be to release some steam, but in terms of the quality of the discourse, what does it contribute? I also think you’re missing one point of my original post: a discursive space is something that everyone creates through interaction. If you behave like a four year old, you’re creating an environment in which such behavior is acceptable; your opponents will respond in kind, but whereas you’ll think to yourself “I was just responding to them,” you’ll think “that’s how they actually are.” While that may be true, it may also be the case that they’re behaving the way they are simply because you earlier behaved they way they are — in other words, I guarantee that they think you as puerile as you think them, when the case may be that neither of you is as puerile as you think each other are. You may simply being playing out a script written before you arrived but performed daily.

    Civility doesn’t mean letting someone be wrong time and again to the point of proving their shear unintelligence and not call them out for it. I don’t see a problem with how lefty bloggers make cracks at the intelligence of rightwing bloggers. Call me stupid, but I just don’t think it’s a big deal.

    See above, but also check out the discussion on my blog. Sure, it’s getting a little rough, but for the most part it’s a group of people with diverse political opinions telling each other they’re wrong, dead wrong, unbelievably wrong, but in a fashion which allows the conversation to continue, positions to be nuanced, informed detentes to be drawn, &c. (Look, for example, at how I’ve convinced a conservative that the “gay marriage sits atop a slippery slope” meme doesn’t work. What would have happened had I shouted him down?)

  33. Imani
    June 14, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    While agreeing on the whole with what Scott wrote, there are some things that are bothering me. Like,rights for women and gays are minority interests. To whom? Aren’t most Democratic voters women? Don’t women and gays vote disproportionately Democrat? Why should their issues become tactically disposable when they are the Party and its base?Why are rich white men the ones whose interests must be played to when they are not the voters the Party has? Are you aware that most voters in the whole population are not rich white men?

    You hit the nail on the head. There’s a fine line between “pragmatism” and being ashamed of one’s base. There’s something defensive about calls for “universalism” as issued by many on the left. It’s as if they’re hell-bent on proving to the right that they’re not held hostage by those noisy “interest groups” (although why the right’s constituency of religious fundies and corporate plutocrats aren’t likewise considered “interest groups” is a mystery no one feels troubled to explain).

    Call me postmodern, but I really don’t think history provides much evidence of an ironclad law such that “majoritarian” politics are always and in every case superior to identity politics. My hunch is that the actual record is far more mixed, and that the efficacy of majoritarian vs. identity politics can only be determined on a case-by-case basis, not by an a priori argument. The Republicans have practically handed the Democrats a number of huge, majoritarian issues (the environment, health care, working people’s issues, even national security) that the Dems have thus far utterly failed to capitalize on. I’m skeptical that a doctrinaire insistence on majoritarianism is a solution for the across-the-board ineptitude shown by the Democrats.

    In fact, recent history provides at least one example of a moment in which the Democrats’ refusal to respond to the demands of one of its “interest groups” actually cost them the reigns of power: the 2000 presidential elections. African-Americans wanted nothing more than to be good majoritarians and vote Al Gore into office, but the Democrats effectively denied us this opportunity by refusing to fight for our interests, screwing themselves in the process. It sent a subliminal message that if the White House had to be delivered to them by mere black folks, they’d rather not have it. Instead of the pabulum about “healing the country,” a little more divisiveness might have led to a better outcome for everyone. If it were a Republican constituency that had been disenfranchised (bible-thumpers, anyone?), we could expect them to remorselessly paralyze the national business for as long as it took them to get what they wanted (and to bear a mighty long grudge afterwards that they would no doubt try to parlay into future political gains). They wouldn’t have been suckered by any “healing the nation” rhetoric, because only Democrats fall for shit like that.

  34. June 14, 2006 at 5:45 pm

    NYU is a pretty interesting place to localize the discussion about language, its direction, and the general subject of tiptoeing around issues that make us uncomfortable. The liberal community here is also not smart enough for me — that is, I wish there was more and more productive activism emerging from the leaders of this university’s progressive and left-leaning student organizations — so I’ll try to provide some entertaining vitriol in the bargain.

    As a current undergrad, I suppose I’m pretty well situated to clue you in on the current “Liberalness” situation here. However, I’m new to the blogosphere, so please be gentle – I’m tender:

    Yes, NYU is a bastion of liberal thought. But it is fist-pumping, stupid-t-shirt-wearing, bawling-at-passersby-in-Washington-Square liberalism. It is ambitious but ultimately harmless uber-idealistic baby-fat flailing-armed liberalism, prosecuted faithfully by shivering hipster dudes in women’s jeans with thick-rimmed glasses and bellicose young ponytailed women in brightly-colored, slogan-bearing shirts, clipboards in hand, berating people with their ideology and crying at the generally uniform unresponsiveness they receive in return.

    It is the kind of liberalism that gets all self-satisfied at kicking Coke off campus and marches gleefully through Union Square after Hurricane Katrina, toting tubas and coffins in a mock New Orleans funeral procession, but refuses to be quoted on its beliefs (cowards) and quietly chews its lip when you start talking about Palestine.

    It is the kind of liberalism that gets in a big huff when the university administration busts our graduate student union, but only for a few weeks — then the inconvenience of hoofing it to Chelsea to attend class in a professor’s apartment becomes too great, and even the liberals with the BIG, SHINY GSOC buttons quietly cross the picket line on a daily basis. It is hypocritical, hip liberalism.

    It is, in short, weak liberalism. A feminist blog may not be the best place to say this, but I’ve seen Cubist paintings with more balls.

    Couch this shaky-kneed young progressive scene in the surrounding argument of a Democratic party picking its battles and bloggers hurling digital epithets at deserving but relatively unimportant targets like Ann Coulter. She is, let’s face it, Leftblogistan’s (stealing Matt Browner-Hamlin’s word — thanks dude) guilty pleasure. New as I am, I don’t need to go more than twice around this block to know how easy it is to take shots at her and how often people do.

    So let’s start there. Aside from a much-needed angst escape valve, what is bashing on pundits like Coulter? Well, fun, but useless.

    In the liberal community that surrounds me, I see activism, but it’s easy activism – it’s those marches around Union Square and occasional bus trips to DC. It’s stickers on the mailboxes most New Yorkers have tuned out already (see “saturation” in the media sense) with the rest of the graffitti here. It’s not just preaching at the choir, it’s getting out the goddamn pulpit and beating them bloody with the Bible.

    This liberal community picks its battles too. They’re worthy battles.

    I think it’s the battlegrounds that need more attention.

  35. June 15, 2006 at 1:59 am

    Re: Matt and the Jeff Goldstein paste-eating thing-

    To be clear, I wasn’t trying to call out Atrios or whoever else who calls Jeff a paste-eater. I personally don’t think Jeff is dumb — I think he’s wrong, but I don’t think he’s stupid. However, I have seen him referred to as “retarded” on other blogs (not Atrios, not Sadly, No!, not Pandagon and not here, but elsewhere), and I’m fairly certain that he was called a “paste-eating ‘tard” on Scott’s blog. I think we’ve all heard the word “retard” used against people who we think are stupid. So I was just using Jeff as an example of how people toss around the word “retarded” as an insult. I take no issue with the term “paste-eater” as an insult.

  36. June 15, 2006 at 2:29 am

    I identify with what Jenny said earlier. I grew up fairly conservative in rural Michigan, and didn’t really start to embrace liberal ideas until the end of high school. When I got to college, I met a man who would later become my best friend, a liberal Jew from Chicago, and during our first conversation about politics, I distinctly remember saying:

    “Yeah, but you can’t trust the Democrats, ‘cuz they wanna take away all the guns.”

    Now, I’d NEVER, EVER say that today. I’ve never owned a gun, and never wanted to. So why I said this continues to be a source of shame and embarrassment to me, in retrospect. But now, I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on it. We respond with the cultural values with which we have been indoctrinated, no matter how wrong or fucked-up those values may be. Sure, we have the power to recognize those flaws for what they are, but dismantling those old programs is hard. Back in basic, during an argument, I once called a guy I disliked by a racist remark referring to his Filipino heritage. It was completely wrong, and I immediately regretted it, of course, but it goes to show old programs die hard.

    Republicans don’t own bigotry any more than we leftists. The difference here is that Repubs actively campaign to make that bigotry socially acceptable. As liberals, we are obligated to recognize and stamp out bigotry wherever we find it, even if it’s within ourselves. And when we fail, we should be glad when others call us out on it.

  37. Catty
    June 15, 2006 at 3:14 pm

    “People were very polite in discussing Black and Hispanic needs, but the second an Indian person commented in disagreement with a liberal opinion, they were told “go back to your smelly curry country” or “go back to your Bombay trust fund daddy”. When someone anonymously pointed out the racism of those remarks, and asked why we are allowed to be rude to Asians despite claiming to be “anti-racist,” the general consensus was, “What are you so angry about? We didn’t say anything wrong” or “The Indian guy just needs to chill. He’s rich enough and privileged enough as he is, and we resent him for it.””

    Thanks for writing that, Marian. I’ve met plenty of people in my life where racism = hate against blacks. Hate against any other race is fair game.

    Jill, this is an excellent post and over the last few years, I’ve been more careful when criticizing people, but it’s not enough, and posts like this remind me to keep vigilant over word choices and proper criticism.

  38. June 15, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    Kudos to you, Jill. Though to quibble, for my money, I’d have used the attacks on Jeff’s sanity/prescription use as an example of wacky anger, only because he’s admitted to me privately that he loves, and I mean LOVES, paste. Something about the “consistency” more than the taste.

    Seriously though, there is a big realization that I’ve come to in the past year or so (or at least one that’s been brought home): the difference in honorable and/or pragmatic conduct is indeed largely binary, but it’s NOT “liberal” vs. “conservative.”

    There’s an old saying that “most rational people can meet in the middle;” well I’d expand and modify that a bit to say that most rational people can debate different means to ends without screaming at each other or taking the animus too seriously.

    Anyway, good post.

  39. June 19, 2006 at 10:57 am

    Personally, I rationalize my own bigotry by saying “well, at least I don’t feel it should be policy; it’s my own problem to deal with, and what bothers or offends me isn’t anyone else’s issue.” This proves that owning one’s own shit isn’t a panacea.

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