Liberals: Bullies or Whipping Boys?
By Sam Parry
April 11, 2005
Conservatives routinely make the case that liberals show disrespect for Americans who hold conservative religious or political views, that conservatives are the victims of liberal bias in a host of arenas, from media to culture to academia.
But this notion of liberal bullies picking on conservative victims doesnt appear to have much basis in reality. Indeed, the opposite dynamic far more often seems to hold sway.
Not only do liberal organizations tend to tiptoe around the personal beliefs of conservatives, for fear of being accused of insensitivity, but conservative leaders often show no comparable restraint when heaping disdain and ridicule on liberals for their spiritual, moral and political beliefs.
In the 1980s, for instance, phrases like secular humanist or the word liberal itself were turned into epithets. As novelist Gore Vidal wryly noted in a recent interview, liberal was redefined to mean a commie whos also a pedophile.
Many conservatives wont even use the word Democratic as an adjective. Its often replaced by the insulting substitute Democrat, as in Bob Doles famous formulation about Democrat wars.
More recently, Richard Cizik, a leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, explained why he disdains the word environmentalism in favor of what he calls creation care.
Environmentalists have a bad reputation among evangelical Christians, Cizik said. They [environmentalists] keep kooky religious company. Some environmentalists are pantheists who believe creation itself is holy, not the Creator. [New York Times Magazine, April 3, 2005]
If a leader of a major environmental organization had used similar language about kooky evangelicals, there would be, metaphorically speaking, hell to pay.
But in todays political context, it isnt even eyebrow-raising when a conservative leader belittles environmentalists for keeping kooky religious company or mocking liberal Americans who hold non-traditional religious views. Its as if the liberals are expected to serve as the nations political whipping boys without complaint.
Another example of anti-environmentalist disdain came from Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who last January lashed out at environmentalists for seeking U.S. government action on global warming.
In a Senate floor speech, Inhofe called global warming the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people and denounced environmentalists as extremists, elitists and radical far-left alarmists.
Other conservative grassroots activists and online bloggers throw around the phrase eco-terrorists against mainstream environmentalists, broadly associating members of large national environmental advocacy groups like the Sierra Club with small, fringe environmental groups with histories of property destruction and civil disobedience.
Though these attacks about eco-terrorists are inflammatory and could be construed as intimidating in todays tense political climate, they pass virtually unnoticed. By contrast, its hard to imagine a leader of any national environmental organization feeling free to label polluting industries as murderers, even though health experts estimate that air pollution in America kills between 50,000 and 100,000 people every year.
One of the reasons for this is that many environmental groups have strict messaging rules about how to present their arguments, restrictions that anyone who has worked for one of these groups knows by heart. Dont be shrill. Discuss the policy, not the person. Dont attack motives.
Many Democratic candidates seem to operate under these same messaging guidelines. For instance, in preparation for the third presidential debate last fall, political adviser Bob Shrum nixed a response that John Kerry planned to deliver to an expected attack from George W. Bush. Shrum felt that the comeback, which referred to the president by his first name, wasnt respectful enough, according to another Kerry adviser.
While Kerry mostly took the high road in Campaign 2004, the Bush team, led by political adviser Karl Rove, chose the low road as a far more direct route to victory.
For instance, Bushs political allies spread the silly but effective notion that Kerry looked French. Meanwhile, the pro-Bush attack group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, made false and misleading accusations about Kerrys Vietnam War record. Bush delegates at the Republican convention even distributed Purple Heart band-aids to mock Kerry's war wounds. [For details, see Consortiumnews.coms Bushes Play the Traitor Card and Reality on the Ballot.]
So, while Democrats, environmentalists and many other groups on the political Left discipline themselves to stick politely to the issues, Republicans and conservatives score political victory after political victory with sharp personal attacks.
Judges are another group that has been demonized by the Right. Dating back to the days of court-ordered desegregation in the 1950s, conservatives have complained about liberal activist judges reinterpreting the Constitution.
This tarring of the judiciary has escalated in the past several weeks after both federal and state courts refused to force a Florida hospice to reinsert a feeding tube for Terri Shiavo, a brain-damaged woman who had survived 15 years in what doctors termed a persistent vegetative state.
Right-wing political leaders including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Senator John Cornyn both Texas Republicans have suggested that judges are inviting retribution from people who resent rulings, such as the ones that let Schiavo die. The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, DeLay said.
In a Senate speech on April 4, Cornyn went even further, linking what he called raw political or ideological decisions to recent violent attacks on judges.
I dont know if there is a cause-and-effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country, Cornyn said. I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in, engage in violence.
By contrast to these incendiary comments, Al Gore and leading Democrats urged restraint by Gore voters in December 2000 after Bush got five conservative Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court to take the unprecedented action of stopping the vote count in Florida, thus ensuring Bushs victory.
Democrats accepted that Supreme Court ruling although it would be difficult to identify any court decision in U.S. history that was more raw political than the Bush v. Gore case. [See Consortiumnews.coms Ws Coup dEtat and So Bush Did Steal the White House.]
To find comments comparable to Cornyns on the political Left, one would have to wander to the ideological fringes, to the likes of University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, who wrote an essay suggesting the Sept. 11 victims were not innocent victims.
Or the search could lead to the world of fiction and to novelist Nicholas Baker, whose book Checkpoint presents a two-person dialogue in which one character wants to assassinate Bush and the other objects.
Though Bakers novel was certainly no mega-bestseller (ranking 198,366 in Amazon book sales), Washington Post writer Richard Cohen seized on the anti-Bush anger of the fictional would-be assassin as the lead argument for a column condemning Bush haters. Cohen asserted that Bush haters must have egged the novelist on.
Lots of people must have told Baker he had a capital idea, Cohen wrote, without citing any evidence that this speculation which effectively accused liberals of advocating the assassination of a president had any basis in fact. [Washington Post, Sept. 16, 2004] Cohen seemed to understand that when it comes to hanging heinous charges around the necks of liberals, no evidence is needed.
Conservatives have complained that some anti-war protesters have uttered harsh anti-Bush slogans, such as no blood for oil or Bush lied, who died?
But the far more striking fact about the anti-war protests, dating back to fall 2002, is how generally peaceful they have been, especially in the face of Bushs decision to invade Iraq without a genuine threat against U.S. national security and without authorization from the United Nations Security Council.
Plus, if harsh rhetoric were measured on a one-to-ten scale, Republican leaders and conservative pundits would have topped even the anti-war slogans with their denunciations of Americans who opposed Bushs policies.
For instance, when Al Gore questioned Bushs preemptive-war strategy, Republican spokesman Jim Dyke called Gore a political hack. The former vice president also was raked over the coals on the TV chat shows and in newspaper columns. When former arms inspector Scott Ritter questioned the group think about Iraqs weapons of mass destruction, he was portrayed as a traitor. [See Consortiumnews.coms Politics of Preemption and Bush & Democracy Hypocrisy.]
Bush himself got into the act. On the campaign trail in 2002, Bush slammed the Democratic-led Senate as not interested in the security of the American people because the Democrats favored a slightly different version of the Homeland Security bill.
Even after the U.S.-led invasion failed to turn up Iraqs alleged WMD stockpiles, Bush supporters continued to attack war critics. After former Ambassador Joseph Wilson penned a New York Times Op-Ed challenging a nuclear-weapons-related claim in Bushs State of the Union speech, the White House leaked the fact that Wilsons wife was an undercover agent for the CIA.
Attack messaging against liberals also extends beyond government.
Conservatives have conducted a half-century-long campaign also dating back to the civil rights struggles to discredit professional journalists as liberal and unfair to conservative causes. [For details, see Robert Parrys Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]
The liberal media epithet continues to be hurled at reporters even as media outlets have veered so far to the right that its hard to distinguish between Fox News and its supposedly less conservative rivals, CNN and MSNBC.
Hollywood is another target of right-wing complaints about liberal bias.
While many actors, directors and producers are self-avowed liberals who support progressive causes, the overriding truth about their industry is that most big-studio movies dont have a political slant. Their goal is to make money.
If anything, the major movie studios shy away from political controversy. Remember, for instance, that Disney refused to distribute Michael Moores Fahrenheit 9/11 out of fear that pro-Bush customers would boycott other Disney products.
Mostly, the movie industry produces fast-paced action thrillers with car chases and explosions. Theres also a smattering of movies that celebrate war or glorify the American soldier. Others tell warm-hearted spiritual stories about average people overcoming adversity.
But this reality about the apolitical nature of most movies never tamps down the fire of conservative attacks on liberal Hollywood.
Before this years Academy Awards, conservative pundits vied over how much they hated the show. Neoconservative commentator Charles Krauthammer predicted on the day of the awards that the most liberal movie would win because the most liberal movie always wins.
But Krauthammers observation was largely mythical. Over the last quarter century, only a handful of Best Picture winners could reasonably be deemed liberal movies: Ghandi in 1982, Platoon in 1986, and Dances with Wolves in 1990. Yet even those movies, while touching on liberal themes, told stories that transcended a right-left political dichotomy.
The other Best Picture winners since 1980 either lacked a political bent or might even have been considered conservative for putting aristocratic lifestyles in a favorable light, such as The Last Emperor in 1987 and Shakespeare in Love in 1998.
In this years Oscar competition, the nominating committee even snubbed Moores bid to have Fahrenheit 9/11 considered in the Best Picture category.
Of the five movies that were nominated, none was particularly liberal or even that political. The winner, Clint Eastwood's Million-Dollar Baby, had a euthanasia scene that offended some social conservatives, but the movie also presented harsh portrayals of welfare recipients.
Perhaps the most political of the five was The Aviator, a movie about the life of eccentric conservative billionaire Howard Hughes which included a sympathetic account of his battles against Washington corruption.
Attacks Go On
But the conservative attacks on liberal Hollywood continue, as do the attacks on liberal activist judges, the liberal news media, socialist academics, and kooky environmentalists.
Despite the conservative dominance of all three branches of the U.S. government not to mention the Rights own powerful and influential news media the complaints also continue about how conservatives are the victims of some diffused but all-powerful liberal conspiracy.
That conspiracy now seems to have spread to include even judicial appointees of Ronald Reagan, such as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. On April 8, right-wing leaders sponsored a conference on Remedies to Judicial Tyranny, which included calls for impeaching judges who dont comply with conservative demands.
One of these supposedly tyrannical judges deserving impeachment in part for his ruling against execution of juveniles was Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion that installed George W. Bush as president.
Though some observers might conclude that seeking Justice Kennedys impeachment indicates how radical the conservative movement has become, the endless repetition of the conservative victimization theme still feeds the fury of the Rights rank-and-file.
Some Americans may yearn for a more civil time in U.S. politics, but that wont happen as long as the Right finds political profit in these strategies of victimization and revenge. Until then, civility will remain a well-intentioned objective found only in dusty old high school civics books.
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