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.)

Quite right.

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.

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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. pudge says:

    Mr. Joyner,
    Leaving aside the whole kook thing for a moment, can you give an example(to either side of course, your fairness), of what you would like to see happen, that has actually happened. And please, no Huey P. Long, “Tail Gunner Joe”, David Duke et al ad hominems. Or do you deny the presence of ANY substance in Miss Coulters (mostly ignored, DUE to its substance) “venom”.

    I take it back, screw the fairness. Give me an otherwise substantive person on the RIGHT, who chose to be a provocateur, who was effectively shamed into oblivion by the country club set.
    (See,I can create an assumed premise about you too.But please, let it go as I did the kook label -well,just between you and me,I did not- I’ll allow that you’re a possible exception to the rule.)

    Your thoughts:

  2. jpe says:

    Coulter uses slurs and suggests the world would be better if they were killed; Moore, per Adesnik, is insufficiently critical of the Cuban health care system.

    Sorry, I’m just not seeing the equivalence.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Coulter uses slurs and suggests the world would be better if they were killed; Moore, per Adesnik, is insufficiently critical of the Cuban health care system.

    Well, not quite. At least with respect to the Edwards flaps, at least, Coulter was making very poor use of ironic commentary. She was making allusions to the flap over Isaiah Washington’s calling a Grey’s Anatomy castmate “faggot” and Bill Maher’s ironic quip about Dick Cheney being killed (which, in fairness, I presume Maher didn’t mean literally, either).

    Moore is a propagandist on the order of Leni Riefenstahl, using lies and half truths to paint his opponents as something they demonstrably aren’t.

    I’m more offended by Coulter than Moore simply because she’s taken as speaking for conservatives and I’m, within the broad American context at least, a conservative. But they’re both pretty vile.

  4. floyd says:

    It has been my experience that “fair” is more often a synonym to “carnival” in human discourse, than an appeal to balanced treatment of information.

    Of course the “fairness” of the powerful is always different from the “fairness” of the downtrodden. Both being objective of course![lol]

  5. jpe says:

    At least with respect to the Edwards flaps, at least, Coulter was making very poor use of ironic commentary.

    I’d argue that her use of language is performative – it’s the fact of her utterances that’s the point, not the semantic content per se. So we can get into very fine discussions over the use of inflammatory speech within various legitimate avenues of discussion, but that wouldn’t have much to do with Coulter.

    Moore is a propagandist on the order of Leni Riefenstahl, using lies and half truths to paint his opponents as something they demonstrably aren’t.

    First: were the techniques of Riefenstahl so terrible? Or was she bad only because of the ends she served? Beyond that, I find this comparison terribly inapt. What was distinctive about Riefenstahl was that her films used a powerful visual syntax; contra Moore, she didn’t really make arguments or truth-claims so much as buttress ideology through her distinct visual & mythological language.

    Moore is much more like your average Townhall columnist: he’s advancing an argument, there are falsifiable truth claims, and a lot of falsifying to do.

  6. G.A.Phillips says:

    Man, Ive heard endless liberal whining in my 40+ years upon this cursed earth, but nothing to equal the sheer screeching volume of donkey braying going on since we started using their own weapon of mass humiliation against them with great effect.

    And ill grant that we can take it to far, but as opposed to the the Liberal attack units who always seek extra collateral damage.

    When respectable people on their own side continually denounce them, though, a line gets drawn.

    I thought respectable was a matter of opinion.

    and I can see this happening on the conservative side but who on the liberal side would even come tot grips with such things as the ones you speak of James?

    I have yet to here a truthful, heartfelt, non side stepped, and or blame someone else apology and or condemnation from any type of liberal to or from a liberal and or to another liberal or to anyone else, I don’t believe its in their learned nature.

  7. Bithead says:

    She says things the way she says them, because it attracts attention. You and I, James, are somewhat more stayed in our comments. And therefore we attract the attention that we do. If attracting attention’s the goal, clearly, her plan is working better.

    The only remaining argument, in my mind, is whether or not there is a substantial if grain of truth at the center of what she says. I submit to you that humor simply isn’t funny, unless it has that quality; a grain of truth at the center of it.

  8. king sweeney says:

    @ james:
    “Well, not quite. At least with respect to the Edwards flaps, at least, …”
    Yes, what about the NYT-“flap”? Or was that too long ago (and is thus forgiven now)?

    @ G.A.Phillips:
    The country is on an outlier right now, and (thankfully) the pendulum is about to swing back. I’m not generally a nasty person, but it gives me great pleasure to imagine you squirming in a future that you cannot understand or like. As for your request: there is this thing called “The Internet” and a great tool called “Google”. Use it if you want to find apologies from “liberals” for objective mistakes or misstatements they have made. It’s all there — if you want to see it.