Monday, August 23, 2004

Then the LORD spoke to Moses saying, 'Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give you.'

A friend explained to me that she checks out right-wing websites to learn about their next terror tactic against John Kerry. (Terrorists blow up people and buildings; Republicans blow up truth and decency, which generally speaking does not keep terrorists from blowing up people and buildings.)

She thinks that if you go into the kingdoms of the right you can spot certain lies and distortions in the bud, and in that way you are not surprised when the untruth or distortion is deployed as a tactical weapon and comes rolling into the mainstream. You are ready to drop your shoulder, slip the punch and pound your hard fist into the soft Republican gut.

I admire her. I cannot emulate her. As e.e. cummings' Big Olaf said, "There is some shit I will not eat," even if learning its taste might help produce an antidote to its poison.

It's weak, I know.

I remember the first time I heard Rush Limbaugh back in August 1990. My wife and I were convoying -- I in the rental truck, she in the minivan behind -- cross country, heading from Beautiful Oakland to Lawrence, Kansas, where I was going to spend nine months as Gannett Professional in Residence at the University of Kansas journalism school. We were somewhere in the middle of Wyoming when I stumbled on Limbaugh, and he was very entertaining for about a minute and a half. He was criticizing Jesse Jackson, and the initial comment was fair. We liberal-to-moderates have never lacked humor. But then he started using all the code words and intonations and verbal winks and nudges that say, "I do not like black people or respect black people or want any black people anywhere near me unless they are ironing my shirts or shining my shoes or fronting my Department of State." I extrapolated. I concluded that so suave a bigot was unlikely to be better on other issues of culture and politics. It was creepy that he was as smooth and self-satisfied as he was, and it was creepy that he must, I assumed, have listeners, and that was a fan base I did not like the idea of traveling among. I switched stations, punched the gas and left Wyoming and Limbaugh's fading signal far behind.


In the last 15 years, I've listened to Rush Limbaugh for another 90 seconds, that many only because fingers cannot move faster than the speed of sound when you are scanning the radio dial. Many sources, online and otherwise, keep me apprised of what he is talking about and how he is talking about it. If you would say to me, "Well, you really don't know what's going on with Limbaugh," I would say, "I'll bet I can guess." And if you would say, "How can you criticize without listening to him regularly?" I would say, "Well, you are a listener. Share with me some of his recent wisdom, and we will have a discussion right here."

Or I might cheat and say, "I tuned in last week. Phaugh! Can't he come up with something new to say about Hillary?" I bet I would be right.

Same thing is true of the Fox talk shows, the Bill O'Reillys and their ilk. (Wonderful word. Some people are truly ilky.) I watched a little bit of O'Reilly during the Clinton impeachment, picked up enough of his philosophy and his method to understand that his was not a thoughtful or useful critique -- which was a relief! Nothing drops your gut into its own basement like being confronted by someone who brings new information you did not know about, who draws logical conclusions from that information that destroy your certainty and then who sits back and invites you to provide better information and better reasoning if you can. That is terrifying and exhilarating, but it's never happened to me with any of the famous right-wing talkers, and until I hear they have improved their game, I will leave their monitoring, and the monitoring of their equivalents in the Web's dark recesses, to others.

You are my hero, Brenda.

It is not that I am entirely superior to the animus of the Limbaughs and O'Reillys. Occasionally, I like to go to a really angry left-wing website where the whole point is the anger, the rhetorical excess, the scream scream scream of RAGE AGAINST THE BUSH. These are like a tuning fork. You like to walk around with that vibration of absolute contempt and loathing singing with perfect pitch in your heart. It's a bonus, isn't it, to discover that someone whose ideas and whose conduct are objectionable is personally so flawed at the depths, so irritating on the surface. Life seldoms descends to caricature, but at the center of George Bush absurdity hath pitched its tent.

It's mid-afternoon, and my blood sugar is low. Here's a little pick-me-up.

Still, I only drop into the most vitriolic sites now and then, preferring Atrios, DailyKos, TPM and even the mild and moderate Kevin Drum for my anti-Bush nourishment. They can dish the dis, but they are strong on the facts, often quite subtle in the analysis and, oh, occasionally they get a little ... testy ... when it comes to our President. And they keep their eye on the ball. One of these guys (I forget which) said that when you are enraged by something the wingnuts do, something so transparently bogus but so insidiously effective, look inside not outside. Don't fume about how susceptible the masses are. Don't conclude Karl Rove and his millions are going to win because they are able to combine the maximum of media opportunity with the maximum of unscrupulous duplicity. No, simply do a little more of what you are already doing, whether it's making get-out-the-vote phone calls for your local state representative or sending $25 checks to ten Congressional candidates in competitive districts. Keep working. In my case that means putting anti-Bush comments in this blog, no matter what the topic.

Don't thank me. From those with great gifts, much is expected.

By the way, I was in Texas during the first half of 1980. I heard that Ralph Nader was the guy who introduced George Bush to freebasing cocaine as a prelude to dragging out a big trunk filled with old clothes and doing the first act of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," playing both the male and female parts. Now, I was only in Texas for the 12 hours it took me to drive across it, and I heard about the Nader-Bush thing about two minutes ago when I said it aloud after making it up. Put that on one side of the scale, sure. But also consider the evidence of your own eyes, the eyes that read the beginning of this paragraph. All I'm asking you to do is connect the dots.

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