Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is Stanley Fish Right?
Today's column argues that the liberal instinct to make light of Tea Party candidates is bad politics. That has the ring of truth, which has me worried since, as you know, I'm big into ridicule.

Commentators who explain smugly that O’Donnell’s position on masturbation (that it is a selfish, solitary act) is contradicted by her Ayn Rand-like attack on collectivism, or who wax self-righteous about Paladino’s comparing Sheldon Silver to Hitler and promising to wield a baseball bat in Albany, or who laugh at Sharron Angle for being in favor of Scientology (she denies it) and against fluoridation and the Department of Education, are doing these candidates a huge favor. They are saying, in effect, these people are stupid, they’re jokes; and the implication (sometimes explicitly stated) is that anyone who takes them the least bit seriously doesn’t get the joke and is stupid, too.
Once made fun of, Stanley concludes, marginal Tea Party sympathizers are lost forever to the Democratic point of view. Instead of backing down, they just dig in.

This time, he has it 60% right. We do need to be careful. Just because I have a hard time believing that these idiots nice Republicans with which I happen to disagree are winning doesn't mean they're going away. They are, in fact, winning, after all. Our arguments against should take them seriously in that regard.

Still, what else am I supposed to do in the face of a major party candidate for US Senate who views the world as Christine O'Donnell does? I mean, when you admit to dabbling in witchcraft and set as your agenda to get all of America to stop having sex, those are the sorts of things that really are supposed to end a political career in its tracks, aren't they?

Fish's argument here is mostly a practical one: ridicule is a counter-productive political strategy. Aimed at the voters, I agree. But wasn't it a pretty big factor though in driving down Palin's numbers, ultimately defeating McCain? In general, I don't think voters want to get behind a laughing stock, and if a campaign of ridicule can brand a candidate as one (see Sue Lowden in Nevada), isn't that a decent idea? What's the right balance? If we engage O'Donnell as a serious candidate, don't we validate and make legitimate her bizarre views?

Shouldn't a protest vote this November have to feel the complete embarassing weight of the fools they would send to Washington?

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