Why We Can’t Ignore the Kooks
David Adesnik wonders,
To what extent does criticism, no matter how harsh or how justified, only build [Michael] Moore up into a bigger celebrity? If one wanted to completely marginalize a public figure, how would one go about it? The answer is not that if you ignore him, he’ll go away. Rather, I think the challenge is to ensure that liberals are the ones who are bashing Moore.
To marginalize Moore, he must become someone who mainstream liberals are embarrassed to identify as one of their own. But that’s no small task. The extremes often generate a devoted audience. And then the rest of the party either pays lip service or avoids unnecessary conflicts with the base. (It’s the same with conservatives, of course.)
Invariably, when I write about the latest outrages of Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, Pat Robertson or other figures on the right who say outrageous things, I get several comments either telling me that our kooks aren’t as bad as their kooks or that I am just playing into their hands by giving them attention.
The problem, though, is that these people have huge followings. They are not, therefore, strictly speaking a lunatic fringe. As I observed when I live-blogged Ann Coulter’s “faggot” incident at CPAC,
I would note that, an hour after the speech, people are still lined up around the block for autographed copies of her book. Granted, most of them are young kids of college age. Some of them are older than I am.
Somehow, I can’t imagine Ronald Reagan being pleased.
It’s true that these people thrive on controversy. At the same time, though, they appeal to the baser instincts of large numbers of people. Elizabeth Edwards is right: “It debases political dialogue. It drives people away from the process. We can’t have a debate about the issues.”
And, as Adesnik notes, the only way for that to end is for these people to lose their legitimacy as spokesmen for the cause. People on my side of the aisle can criticize Michael Moore and those on the other side can declaim Ann Coulter until the cows come home and it’ll simply be dismissed as people not being able to stand their ox being effectively gored. When respectable people on their own side continually denounce them, though, a line gets drawn.
I don’t know that it’ll matter in the end. The appetite for venom against the so-called traitors in our midst is strong. But decent people can at least make it known where they stand.