Digby points out that the experience of being proved wrong at best has only slowed down the right wing momentum, but certainly hasn't stopped it. She argues, and I think rightly, that clearly reasoned and articulated ideas have precious little to do with the far right, that they really don't have any new ideas, or any ideas at all. I tend to agree. The power of the right wing movement has nothing to do with ideas. It's about deeply irrational passionate atavistic feelings. It appeals not to reason but to tribal passions, "I want my America back!" As writers from Thucydides to Machiavelli to Hannah Arendt have all pointed out, those are what really drive history and politics. The challenge to Enlightenment liberalism is how to harness those passions and direct them to constructive and benevolent ends. The French Revolution failed in that task. The American Revolution succeeded, but only partially.
I make a point of distinguishing between right wing and conservative. Conservatives, like liberals, are a product of the Enlightenment, though they may be reluctant to admit it. They are the spiritual descendants of Edmund Burke, Samuel Johnson, and of the Classical Economists of the early 19th century. Remember that advocating for free and unfettered market capitalism was considered a "liberal" position not too long ago. Those who do so today sometimes call themselves "Neo-Liberals." Julian Sanchez, and the recently exiled David Frum, are conservatives in this sense. We can argue, and argue productively, with conservatives because we both share the Enlightenment heritage of reason and fact.
Right-wingers are passionate extremists driven by the power of myth and emotion. Like Digby, I think engaging them in rational argument is a waste of time. They only use those engagements as an opportunity to mock and bully. Engaging their notions in debate gives those notions a dignity that they don't deserve. It's like trying to argue with someone who is convinced that space aliens built Rockefeller Center (I'm sure there are a few out there). I think the best tactic for dealing with the right is mockery, and Jon Stewart is a brilliant master of calling their notions out and exposing them as foolish, hypocritical, and selfish. As another famous liberal-progressive who refused to dignify bullshit with argument once said, "against the assaults of laughter no wall can stand" (Mark Twain).
I think the big ongoing weakness of left-liberals is our reluctance, or inability, to recognize the power of myth and emotion in politics, especially in Anglo-American politics. Aside from beating back the right with mockery, liberals are most effective when we claim national symbols (and rightly so since we created a lot of them from the Pledge of Allegiance to "America the Beautiful"). We are always so shocked and surprised when confronted by frothing angry mobs in the grip of passion when we really shouldn't be. What we really should be doing is what George Washington said we should be doing, raising a standard, a flag, around which people may rally. The idea that all people have a share in their town, their state, and their nation, and that their community is not the private estate of any monarch, oligarchy, sect, or tribe, and that they are citizens and not subjects or chattel, is something to feel very passionate about.
Here is Digby's conclusion:
So what do you think?
I'm quite certain about the high intellectual quality of liberalism and the notion of a democratic republic. I am extremely uncertain, to paraphrase Franklin, about whether or not we can keep it.
As long as we continue to engage modern conservatives and take their ideas seriously, we continue to provide them intellectual and political status they neither deserve nor should have. Again: you don't argue theology with a Bible thumper who tells you the world was literally created in 6 days. Not even William Jennings Bryan was so ignorant and stupid. You laugh at him. And you most certainly make sure he gets nowhere close to obtaining a seat on a local school board, let alone hold national power. And, as Howard Dean so intelligently understood, you challenge the rightwing and Republicans everywhere.
UPDATE: Don't ever get in a pissing contest with Jon Stewart:
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|Bernie Goldberg Fires Back|