Monday, January 23, 2012
- The Folk Of The Far Fringe
On the political left all the consequences are unintended. To say that they don’t think things through very well implies more cognitive effort than they usually put into things. It’s not about cold calculation to the left, it’s about their feelings. So when that turns out to be a poor way to plan policy, they are the only ones who are surprised. But that isn’t to say that the political right doesn’t have its own brand of foolishness as well.
I wrote this piece over the weekend. It seemed an interesting idea to me – Newt Gingrich as Vice president. The job seems custom made for both his skills and his weaknesses. People tune out the VP in many cases so only the things that really strike a tone are given attention. And while it would let him make a big contribution, it will insulate everyone else from any … idiosyncrasies he brings to the game.
I hadn’t seen anyone raise that issue so I popped it off in an email to a few journalist friends, and posted it on Freerepublic – the well known right wing forum. Freerepublic was never a particularly thoughtful forum, but the last time I checked it was still getting a fair amount of traffic. And I figured I could tune out the most ridiculous and hostile of the comments in the interest of getting the idea out there to the base.
The reaction I got in the 2 or 3 hours before the piece was pulled by administrators was pretty extraordinary. To me it made what’s left of the Freerepublic membership look profoundly paranoid and much more a part of the fringe than it’s ever been. Like I said – the forum always had an element of “shoot first – think later” about it. But this was more like “shoot first, shoot second, shoot some more, and then quick pull the thread before anyone else sees it and is unduly influenced”.
What I hadn’t realized was that at some point in the past, the FR founder had written an essay on why neither he nor his forum would ever support Mitt Romney. OK… fair enough. The truth is, since Freerepublic declared war on modern finance (and the people like me who work in that trade) back in 2008, I haven’t been paying much attention to them. I had already been thoroughly alienated and hadn’t been a regular reader there, so I didn’t realize that they now have very strict rules about the kind of ideas you can offer.
I have no beef with that. It’s their forum so they can do with it what they like. Like I said – it was never the most thoughtful place on the web. But I don’t think they realize that by setting themselves up as being the guardian’s of electoral purity so early in the process, all they’ve done is marginalize themselves. They are demanding that their remaining membership only be a part of a far fringe. And I personally don’t think that’s a way to convince anyone of anything.
I think anyone who looks at me and my ideas and the first thing out of their mouth is “typical liberal Yankee A-hole” is either not paying attention, or not thinking at all. That’s just one of the many … interesting, criticisms I got for that piece, but none of the others were any more substantive. One person even seemed to feel that all this stuff I've written - over 1000 essays and other bits of commentary over a period of several years, was all just a smokescreen set up to mask this moment when I would unleash my real goal of persuading a few military retirees and Evangelical Christians to switch over to the liberal side.
This of course, is OK. I have no deep need to impress any of those people. They don’t seem particularly persuadable to me anymore and they made it clear that someone like me (an accused liberal, Yankee, paper pushing, financial parasite) was no longer welcome there ages ago, so I’m perfectly content to let them go their way while I go mine.
But I think it’s a shame that in trying to differentiate themselves from the left, they ended up so much like them, and in the process have lived up to what the left thinks about everyone on the right. They now have the same thin skin, the same intolerance of dissent, and the same kind of thoughtlessness. They are under the impression that because they feel differently than the left, they are by nature ‘different’ from them. They’ll tell you that they are thinking while the left is feeling. But my moderate essay brought an awful lot of extremely angry ‘thinking’ from a great many of them in the short time before they pulled it…so I’m unconvinced.
It seems pretty clear to me that the Freerepublic membership has decided that they will be the guardians of electoral purity, even if it means they do it one electoral defeat at a time. That’s OK with me if they choose that role for themselves. I just hope it really is as marginalizing as it seems. I think it would be tragic if it really were a broader movement, because it may very well help Obama and the left. And it wouldn’t be the first time the fringe stood nose-less on the sidelines, telling everyone else they’re wrong about everything.
I don’t think this is a broader movement. I don’t think FR represents the Republican base anymore. And I don’t think the actual base will flee for the hills if Romney is the candidate, only to potentially give another victory to Obama. But really, what do I know. I’m no political handicapper and I’m wrong about these things at least as often as I’m right. I can only hang my hat on the idea that if those people are so far out there that someone like me is simply tuning them out, they can’t be very convincing to anyone else either.