This article about liberal “enabling” of crazy conservatives from the New York Times Magazine has a lot of truth to it, at least in the first half. Speaking about his guilty habit of listening to Rush Limbaugh, he says:
But the real problem isn’t Limbaugh. He’s just a businessman who is paid to reduce complex cultural issues to ad hominem assaults. The real problem is that liberals, both on an institutional and a personal level, have chosen to treat for-profit propaganda as news. In so doing, we have helped redefine liberalism as an essentially reactionary movement. Rather than initiating discussion, or advocating for more humane policy, we react to the most vile and nihilistic voices on the right.
Media outlets like MSNBC and The Huffington Post often justify their coverage of these voices by claiming to serve as watchdogs. It would be more accurate to think of them as de facto loudspeakers for conservative agitprop. The demagogues of the world, after all, derive power solely from their ability to provoke reaction. Those liberals (like me) who take the bait, are to blame for their outsize influence.
He goes on to describe a tendency among liberals to be satisfied that they’re not like conservatives — that they’re “reasonable” and “nuanced” in some content-free way (viz. the John Kerry campaign). I’ve seen this many times, particularly among educated professionals. They declare themselves to be liberal Democrats and love to make fun of the crazy conservatives and catch them in contradictions — yet it turns out that they’re anti-union, that they’re not totally comfortable with abortion, etc., etc.
Yet the direction the article takes in the end is all too typical. Instead of saying, for example, that he’s going to focus more on defending his liberal principles than on making fun of crazy conservatives, he says that he’s going to ignore the crazy conservatives and focus on finding reasonable conservatives who are really worth debating with. Yet again, his liberalism has no real content aside from reasonableness, willingness to debate, etc., etc. — and yet again, conservatives are setting the agenda (as apparently it’s more important to find conservatives to bounce ideas off of than to build up coalitions to support one’s own ideas).
In short, he’s calling for liberals to shift from Rush Limbaugh to David Brooks — to stop letting themselves be trolled and to focus instead on being concern trolled. Either way, it seems to me, we’re still doomed.