More About the Politics of Cyber-Bullying.

In my previous entry I described the tactic of whining over perceived offenses as a means of suppressing political dissent — really a form of cyber-bullying.  I’d like to continue along that vein, citing more examples.  This is necessary because until and unless we fully understand how and why this tactic is so effective, we cannot adequately neutralize it.

Terry Michael of The Politico wrote in June that “[a]s Democrats prepare to do battle with John McCain this fall, we need to dispel two comforting but self-defeating myths about recent failed White House campaigns.”  I couldn’t agree more.  What are these myths?  Mr. Michael explains:

The 1980s saw a bigger than usual glut of aggressive young males. Motivated by profits from the black market created by a brainless drug war, urban gangbangers were scaring aging children of the Depression known as Reagan Democrats.

So Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes, aided by minions in the basement of the Republican National Committee, dredged up a resonant metaphor for everything Reagan Democrats loved to hate about crime-coddling liberals: Willie Horton, the murderer sentenced to life in prison, who pillaged his way through Maryland on a weekend prison pass.

Yet that’s not what really happened.

The Massachusetts program, a rehabilitation effort signed into law in 1972, was applied to convicted murderers by the commonwealth’s Supreme Court, and Dukakis, in his first term as Massachusetts governor, vetoed an attempt to overturn the court. After scores of Pulitzer Prize-winning stories by the Lawrence (Mass.) Eagle-Tribune, the law that allowed Horton his pass was overturned in a bill signed by Dukakis himself on April 28, 1988, after the issue was raised in presidential politics at a Democratic debate April 12 in New York by … Al Gore! Yes, the same Nobel laureate Hollywood liberals adore, not some fire-breathing, right-wing nut.

Mr. Michael thinks, apparently, that it was a mistake to ascribe evil motivations to what Atwater and Ailes did, but I respectfully disagree with him on that point; Atwater and Ailes, along with the Republican spinmeisters, had nothing but the basest, filthiest, most despicable motivations for using Horton as a political bludgeon against Democrat Mike Dukakis.  Racism was exploited in order to portray the Massachusetts governor as soft on crime.  Nevertheless, Mr. Michael does catch on to something, as he writes:

The Beltway Democratic geniuses who gave us Kerry were convinced they needed a military hero to carry an anti-war banner against a war-making weekend warrior.

The best and the brightest among the party elders did their best to push Howard Dean off the stage and nominate Lt. Kerry, who reported for duty in Boston with a speech performance that told the nation everything it needed to know: He was for the war in Vietnam. He was against the war in Vietnam. Just as he voted for the war in Iraq but now he was against the war in Iraq.

Or was he? Because, just weeks later, Kerry said he would have voted for authorizing the war, even if he’d known there were no weapons of mass destruction.

Snarky attitude aside, Mr. Michael does make a valid point: Kerry allowed himself to be defined by the opposition; that is, he was afraid to take a definitive stand on vital issues, and so the GOP was able to portray him as someone who is weak and indecisive, someone whose positions change with the political wind.  It didn’t matter that Kerry didn’t actually flip-flop; he allowed the public perception of himself to be portrayed that way.  When the Republicans rose their maniacal voices in fury, he backed down and tried to “clarify” his remarks.  That simply opened him up to further attack.

Let’s go back a little further in examining the politics of bullying.  In 2004 Paul Rogat Loeb wrote on

A former Air Force Colonel I know described the Bush administration’s attitude toward dissent as “shut up and color,” as if we were unruly eight-year-olds. Whatever citizens may think of Bush’s particular policies, what may make him the most dangerous president ever is how much he’s promoted a culture that equates questioning with treason. This threatens the very dialogue that’s at the core of our republic.

Think of Dick Cheney saying a Kerry victory would invite a terrorist attack. Think of the eve of the Iraq war, and the contempt heaped on those generals who dared to suggest that the war might take far more troops and money than the administration was suggesting. Think of the attacks on the reputations and motives of long-time Republicans who’ve recently dared to question, like national security advisor Richard Clarke, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, weapons inspector Scott Ritter, and Bush’s own former Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill. Think of the Republican TV ads, the 2002 Georgia Senate race, which paired Democratic Senator Max Cleland with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein-asserting that because Cleland opposed President Bush’s Homeland Security bill, he lacked “the courage to lead.”

In this last case, it didn’t matter that Cleland had lost two legs and an arm in Vietnam, while the Republican who eventually defeated him had never worn a uniform. Nor that Republican strategists nearly defeated South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson in the same election, with similar ads, although Johnson was the only person in Congress whose child was actually serving with the U.S. military-and would see active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It’s hard to talk about such intimidation without sounding partisan or shrill, but we need to make it a central issue, because if it succeeds, it becomes impossible to discuss any other issues [emphasis mine].

Pay close attention to the bold type.  As long as we on the left allow ourselves to be defined and bullied by the opposition and members of our own ideology, we cannot stand against it.  George Lakoff, a professor from the University of Berkley, has spent the past few years trying to explain how far right-wingers frame the debate so that we on the left are forced to accept their terms for discussion.  In a 2003 Berkley interview the author, Bonnie A. Powell, writes, “by dictating the terms of national debate, conservatives have put progressives firmly on the defensive.”  Lakoff himself points out:

Language always comes with what is called “framing.” Every word is defined relative to a conceptual framework. If you have something like “revolt,” that implies a population that is being ruled unfairly, or assumes it is being ruled unfairly, and that they are throwing off their rulers, which would be considered a good thing. That’s a frame.

Remember that blog entry by Randy Cassingham I pointed out yesterday?  This is a perfect example of how an amateur conservative tried and failed to frame an argument.

Since you have decided to lead with this article and condone and perpetrate this agenda of destroying this woman, I will NEVER EVER read or subscribe to this trash ever. I am not a conservative, I am a husband, father and brother of many women.

Do you see where the framing is?  It lies in the words “condone,” “perpetuate,” “agenda,” and “destroying.”  These are all inflammatory words designed not only to frame the debate, but also to create an offense out of thin air and use it to try to bully Cassingham into submission.  Other words used to frame the argument are “husband,” “father,” “brother,” and “women.”  Using these words in the manner “Bill” does is a clear attempt to portray Mr. Cassingham as someone who isn’t a husband, or a father and brother of many women, and therefore has no empathy with Sarah Palin.

Where “Bill” went wrong in his diatribe against what he falsely calls the “liberal media” is that he leaped from one subject frame to another, hoping his adversary was too stupid to notice.  Cassingham, however, doesn’t strike me as the type of guy who lets himself be bullied.  (In that regard, he’s like me.)  A smart conservative attack dog would have left well enough alone, but conservatives are not known for having sense enough to do that.

Let’s take a closer look, though, at the motivation behind the initial attack.  Cassingham posted a blog agreeing with a video-recorded remark by Sarah Palin saying she doesn’t know what a vice president actually does.  It didn’t matter that he agreed, however; the video stands as proof that there exists footage that might somehow be used by the left (as if) to discredit her decision to run as John McCain’s vice dictatorial candidate.  Why would she run for an office she doesn’t even comprehend?  That’s the potential of this video, so any potential use of it as a propaganda tool against Palin must be neutralized — and quickly.  (Here’s the video itself.)

This is where the bullying comes in.  Although this particular attempt failed, largely because the attacker was stupid and chose an opponent disinclined to cower, such attacks nevertheless work when used by seasoned professionals against timid lefties.  Any number of good examples of cyber-bullying may be found on web sites ranging from Free Republic to the Mediocre Orange Hype.  One member at the Great Orange Satan lamented yesterday about how Democrats nervous about Obama blowing the election are automatically labeled trolls, regardless of how valid their concerns might be.

There’s been a lot of back and forth lately about allegedly nay-saying trolls posting diaries, which makes me wonder: Is anyone out there in blogville who is feeling more than a little antsy, whose sense of deja vu has their spider sense tingling, who can see Dukakis, Gore and Kerry clanking their chains like Marley’s ghost, and who has the temerity to take their Cassandra-like angst public going to be automatically branded as a troll?

Regrettably the answer to that appears to be yes, and as a Democrat who’s been voting since ’68, frankly I resent it. It’s one thing to have an honest difference of opinion with a fellow blogger, even to the point of a snarky reply, but to suggest that anyone who would deviate from the, dare I say it, party line is somehow in bed with the enemy makes us look and sound like, well, them.

So yes I’m worried. I’ve been through too many post-coital convention swoons only to wake up and find my wallet gone. Mike and Al and John were great dates, until we took ’em home to meet the folks. And now, God help us, we’re bringing a really exotic specimen to the front door. All that’s left is to have “Society’s Child” as background music.

So yes, people, I worry that our fractious nation still believes in the quick fix. Like it or not, impulsive as McCain may have been, Palin is an inspired choice. It has enabled the bad guys to frame the agenda, once again sending the old and slow straight talk freight to a siding so the flashy streamliner can pass on through. That’s not troll-ish, that’s a fact.

And, of course, no sooner than the blogger posted his intelligent, well thought out entry than the cyber-bullies started in on him and proved his point.

The first comment in the read stated:

Obama is NOT KERRY, GORE OR DUKAKIS. I am fed up with having to say this.


Although most of the comments tended to be civil, scroll down and you’ll find this gem:

Look (1+ / 0-)

Recommended by:


on the day after the election, whether we win or not (and I have to place myself in the column of glass half full here), everyone is free to go at the second guessing, complaints, whining, concerns, outrage, whatever the fuck it is that makes you feel like you’re participating.

However, we have less than two months left until people hit the polls and none of your recommendations on this site are going to do anything for the Obama campaign except to possibly demoralize the rest of us that are working our asses off to get the guy elected.  It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong.  Say that over and over to yourself.  If that urge to participate as campaign staffers is too damned strong that you have to spout, for God’s sake send emails to the Obama campaign site. I’m sure they have a giant pile of them they could sift through in a few years.

However, if you can get the outrage and panic out of your system in some constructive manner then get your asses out in your community and register people to vote, canvas neighborhoods, encourage donations, etc.  

There simply isn’t time right now for this crap and that’s all it is.  It’s mental masturbation at its finest and will leave you with nothing more than a sticky mess.  

“I still say a church steeple with a lightning rod on top shows a lack of confidence” Doug McLeod

by artmartin on Tue Sep 09, 2008 at 03:37:50 PM PDT

“It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong,” writes “artmartin.”  The message hurts the candidate, or is perceived to, so the author must be shouted down, pummeled into craven submission or driven off.  This is not atypical of the garbage at the Daily Kocksucker; expect the next two entries to be blasted, and if their authors dare post comments within their own threads, they’ll be troll-rated off the site.  This is how cyber-bullying works at you-know-where.

There are numerous other examples, but this entry has become much longer than I expected it to.  My next entry shall be Part 2.

1 comment

  1. at big Orange or the other Dem sites (I don’t visit Repug sites) due to the ‘be united or die’ attitude.  I would say that what passes for the mainstream of the Democratic party is only interested in the power that comes from being in the presidential party.  I think it’ll get worse should Obama become President.

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