Liberals Just Too Darn Nice to Play Politics

Glenn Greenwald chides The Politico for continually featuring a “vapid, petty, and inane” stories like John Edwards’ expensive haircut and Mitt Romney’s makeup consulting on its front page. He’s right, I think, as far as it goes. These stories are amusing and make sense from a business standpoint, but they’re hardly cutting edge journalism or worthy of front page treatment.

Greenwald then makes a less defensible point:

One of the reasons why vapid petty-personality “journalism” of this sort has so disadvantaged liberals and so advantaged right-wing fanatics is because the latter are not only willing, but droolingly eager, to exploit these sorts of themes, while liberals in general are highly reluctant, almost embarrassed, to do so.

Now, c’mon. It’s true that many right-of-center blogs, including this one, have had some fun at John Edwards’ expense. Then again, many of us have put his haircut spending in proper context and a large number of us rallied to condemn Ann Coulter for questioning Edwards’ manhood. The Romney makeup story probably won’t have legs. But that’s only because there’s no video.

Surely, it’s not because there’s some higher code of intellectual honesty on the left. I give you Michael Moore, ladies and gentlemen. How about the totally unfounded insinuations that Rush Limbaugh was having sex with underage prostitutes? Or the ridiculous claims that Mark Foley represented “the real face of the ruling Republican party”?

The fact of the matter is that partisans on both sides take a less critical look at stories that embarrass the opposition. Personal scandals that happen across the aisle show the hypocrisy and moral degeneracy of the other side whereas those amongst ones confederates are the personal faults of a single man and talking about them at all is the shameful politics of personal destruction.

Several of us, Greenwald included, make an honest effort to be fair minded about these mini-scandals and break from the herd on occasion. Sometimes, though, it’s just too tempting to fall for the really juicy or funny ones. Especially if the object of derision is someone you don’t like that much to begin with. That’s human nature, though, and not an especial tendency of either side.

UPDATE: Greenwald has updated his post in response. I answer in a follow-up: “Democrats and the Wimp Factor.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. With the campaigns starting so soon it’s brought the “Silly Season” in early. I need fluffy stories like this to make it through this cycle.

    These stories are fun. They do say something about the candidates sometimes. It’s not like Edwards only had one hair story, and let’s face it, he does have nice hair. With Romney, who is also an attractive man, I’m waiting to see more “investigations” about the Romney campaign’s love affair with PowerPoint.

  2. Andy says:

    Greenwald overreaches, but there is a nugget of truth in his spiel:
    Democrats are usually portrayed in these soft hit pieces are wussy or soft. Similarly, Republicans are often portrayed as tough and manly. Usually, both caricatures are wrong.

    Obviously, Democrats will find more to complain about with such journamalism, and so it seems that they are more critical of soft hit pieces. Republicans, presumably fairly happy about being portrayed as rugged, pickup truck drivin’ cowboys, complain a lot less. It really has nothing to do with Dems being reluctant to engage; if the stereotypes swung the other way, I’m sure The Left(tm) would happily call Romney a Ken Doll with a bigger makeup budget than Versace.

    But the reason that we have this in the first place is that the press does this to fit a lazy narrative, because the press is LAZY. These stories are easy to write, get one side or another jazzed up, leading to free publicity. There is no journalism going on here.

  3. Bithead says:

    And were Greenwald to look at the situation honestly, he’d see the reason that stuff is being exploited as such, because they illustrate even larger character flaws than the direct case shows.

    The Edwards “I feel pretty” bit is case in point. The wider impression left by that vid, and of course, the $400 haircuts, is that here is someone who ain’t goin’ ‘coon huntin’ any time soon. He is among the richest of the pampered rich. It puts lie to his whole “poor commiseration tour”, for example.

    It also fairly raises the question if this the guts to do what needs to be done with Islamo-Facism. (of course, the democrats favor to twenty “cut and run” doesn’t help perception, that, either.) Rail on Ann Coulter if it makes you feel better, but the fact is that Edwards’ own actions… some of which were caught on tape and set to music called his manhood into question long before she gave voice to it. In that case, she was merely a reflector of sentiment that was already there.

    And need I really point out that Greenwald am self is no stranger exploiting the hell out of stories that are embarrassing to those who oppose liberal democrats?

    As an example, the David Vitter thing.

    Fairness and honesty from Greenwald? Who ya kidding? I think he lacks the ability. Unlike yourself, all respect to you, James, I see no evidence whatever that he’s made the attempt to be fair about such things.

    A quick and dirty search on Google reveals 174,000 hits. Granted, he didn’t write most of these, most some came from others in the far left-O-sphere. However, that would seem to exemplify the point that when given a chance, to capitalize on embarrassing stories, he’s one of the idiots at the head of the Lynch mob. He therefore, in my view, doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

    Of course, I’m willing to be convinced. Let’s see Greenwald denounce the opportunistic attacks on Vitter. Let’s see him call for an investigation into who used pat Moynihan’s office phone to call the service Vitter’s name got attached to, for example. It’s on the list, you know. Let Greenwald call for an investigation as to why the server which contained that list mysteriously went down.. and STAYED down… after Vitter’s name hit the paper as being on that list. If he were nearly as skeptical about democrats as he were about republicans (their names, and all that) he’d suggest that the server went down to protect Democrats.

    Let him admit, that the largest amount of heat that was being generated on the Vitter thing, are the same ones that defended Bill Clinton for a far more grievous wrong.

    Somehow, I don’t think his concern for fairness extends quite so far. And I doubt he ever will. As such I find it difficult to give him any credibility whatever. He hasn’t earned it.

  4. G.A.Phillips says:

    One of the reasons why vapid petty-personality “journalism” of this sort has so disadvantaged liberals and so advantaged right-wing fanatics is because the latter are not only willing, but droolingly eager, to exploit these sorts of themes, while liberals in general are highly reluctant, almost embarrassed, to do so.

    I try to embarrass Liberals every day, It can not be done, they have no such emotion!!!

  5. Hal says:

    Again, you obviously don’t know how to create a convincing case. One example does not a case make. Something that should truly be obvious to someone who likes to comment on polls and such and has an economist like Herr Verdon to ask about such matters. What you have to do to make your case is provide evidence of a trend with multiple examples which form a class. What you’re doing instead is picking someone out of the hat and saying “See! The Goodyear Blimp” (funny, ’cause he’s fat!). For every Michael Moore you pull out of your hat, I’ll pull out 2 Ann Coulters, 3 Larry “Laffer” Kudlows, 3 David Dukes and a handful of blithering idiots called Jonah Goldberg.

    Really, James, this is simply lazy reasoning and simple rhetoric almost at the level of “oh yea! well, your momma wears army boots, too!”

    Your thesis might well be correct, but no one who isn’t already convinced of your correctness would ever be convinced by such a flimsy and transparent argument.

  6. Andy says:

    Let’s see Greenwald denounce the opportunistic attacks on Vitter.

    There is nothing opportunistic about attacking Vitter that is not entirely the fault of Vitter himself. Vitter is a hypocritical, immoral, cheating scumbag. He deserves to be attacked for being such a huge douchebag and still trying to legislate morality for the rest of us.

  7. Bithead says:

    Thank you Mr. Andy.
    No more questions, your honor… the defense rests.

  8. Billy says:

    No more questions, your honor… the defense rests.

    Plaintiff moves for directed verdict.

  9. […] Blogging: OTB Last 10 posts by BitheadVets for freedomOnly one of five NorK Nukes shut downWilson endorses […]

  10. Andy says:

    I’m glad that Republicans don’t seem to worry about the fact that Vitter is an admitted criminal. And that they can’t tell the difference between getting a haircut and illegal sex with a prostitute.

    Because their failure to differentiate between silliness and criminal behavior would explain a lot about the remaining support for the current administration.

  11. James Joyner says:

    What you have to do to make your case is provide evidence of a trend with multiple examples which form a class.

    Well, sure, if this were a response to a careful social science research project. Fortunately, it’s a response to a casual assertion made on a blog post. Surely, I’m not expected to conduct an extensive quantitative study refuting assertions that are based on nothing more than top of the head analysis?

    Glenn says contrasts how two liberal bloggers, neither of whom are generally known for hysteria, react to an innocuous story about Mitt Romney to how some unnamed conservative bloggers reacted to the John Edwards haircut story.

    I briefly explained, while many conservatives had fun with the Edwards story, most of the serious ones understood that it didn’t say much of anything about his manhood, let alone his fitness for office. Further, I point out several examples where liberal bloggers jumped on the bandwagon of similarly silly stories about conservative targets.

  12. Wouldn’t it be better to just call nonsense nonsense whenever and wherever it is offered, rather than offering examples of bad behavior by others as though that indemnifies you — a favorite tactic of teenagers — or rather than trying to say my side’s hearts are purer that your sides — as Mr. Greenwald is trying to do?

  13. Billy says:

    Wouldn’t it be better to just call nonsense nonsense whenever and wherever it is offered, rather than offering examples of bad behavior by others as though that indemnifies you — a favorite tactic of teenagers — or rather than trying to say my side’s hearts are purer that your sides — as Mr. Greenwald is trying to do?

    Seconded.

  14. Crust says:

    See Greenwald’s post for an update replying to this. His intended argument was not that Dems are too nice to play hardball as a general matter, but rather a more narrow point about gender based attacks. In the standard script, Democratic men (e.g. Edwards) are routinely attacked as effeminate and Republican men (e.g. Romney) are not.

  15. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    OK Andy. Which is worse? Admitting having sex with a prositute or lying about having sex with an intern? Please answer.