Thursday, September 2, 2010

Yglesias: "There’s no real upside in lying to the choir..."

Andrew Sullivan has a couple of awards he gives out every week named for various pundits and the annoying habits they perpetrate in the media.

But one of the awards isn't a put down to the person its named after. It's named after Liberal Blogger Matthew Yglesias, and it's for writers, politicians, columnists or pundits who actually criticize their own side, make enemies among political allies, and generally risk something for the sake of saying what they believe.

So the following is an example from Yglesias himself showing just why the award is named after him. It's a piece on Markos Moulitsas’ new book: American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right.

All I can say is wow, and well done, Matthew:

I previously expressed hope that Markos Moulitsas’ American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right would be better than the publicity material suggested. Jamelle Bouie read it for The American Prospect and reports back that it isn’t. Kevin Drum, meanwhile, notes the contrast between this kind of scathing review on a very mainstream liberal magazine and the reception of Liberal Fascism on the right.

I tend to think that this is one of the areas where progressives aren’t just doing the right thing, but have a smarter tactical approach to politics. There are scenarios in which tagging your political opponents with smears can be effective, but I don’t see any evidence that the particular apocalyptic “my enemies are totalitarian madmen” strain of Birch/Beck/Goldberg conservatism has helped anyone win any elections. This should be differentiated from the occasional lapse into rhetorical excess that everyone does now and again. I’m talking specifically about the kind of sustained effort to seriously persuade people that Elana Kagan favors sharia or Dwight Eisenhower is a Communist that you see among loons of all stripes but that seems to be granted more respectability on the right.

This stuff doesn’t win votes anyone because, after all, it’s a form of preaching to the choir. Which is fine—the choir needs some sermons. But there’s no real upside in lying to the choir. Political movements need to adapt to the actual situation, and that means having an accurate understanding of your foes. You need to see them as they actually are so that you know the right way to respond. Either underestimating or overestimating their level of viciousness and evil can lead to serious miscalculations. Which is just to say that getting this stuff right is more important than coming up with funny put-downs.

I almost want to call this the Fort McHenry Manifesto. Thank you again, sir.