Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Silencing the Netroots

by Sara

OK, that does it. I am pissed. This is going to be a full-fury Scots-Irish redheaded snit. You may want to put on your sunglasses now so your eyeballs don't get singed. Got 'em on? Good. 'Cause here I go...

As I write this, it's still in the realm of rumor -- maybe the Edwards campaign fired Amanda Marcotte (Pandagon) and Melissa McEwan (Shakespeare's Sister), and maybe they didn't, and maybe they still haven't even figured it out themselves. Maybe we'll know by morning. And maybe this whole thing is a fetid testimony to the sorry state of relations between bloggers and the politicians we support.

The poo-flinger at this particular party was Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, a Father Coughlin-like moralizer whose commitment to civic harmony was perhaps best captured by a memorable public rant in which he asserted that Hollywood is full of secular Jews who hate Catholics and enjoy anal sex. (I was also charmed by his assertion that "the gay community has yet to apologize to straight people for all the damage that they have done," and that a 15-year-old Mark Foley was at fault for being molested by a priest because he failed to "smack the clergyman in the face." Conservatives do like to blame the victim; but this man's single-handedly raised it to an art form.)

This paragon of tolerance has accused Ms. Marcotte and Ms. McEwan of being anti-Catholic, an accusation based on stuff they wrote on their own blogs long before John Edwards asked them to come aboard to help him connect with the blog-reading public. Specifically, Amanda wrote, long ago since, that Vatican opposition to birth control was driven by their desire to produce more Catholics (like this was news?); and Melissa (who, rumor has it, actually graduated from Loyola, that well-known hotbed of rabid anti-Catholic fanaticism)...well, nobody seems quite sure at this moment just what it was that she wrote, except perhaps that it was something the MSM was reluctant to reprint.

But, y'no, strong opinion is what bloggers do. Edwards had sense enough to hire himself two of the best, brightest, most respected feminist bloggers in the business, giving them an important showcase as well as giving another degree of legitimacy to the power of the netroots. It was a sharp, forward-thinking choice, and it reflected well on his understanding of the current progressive political landscape -- including his understanding that he's getting vital support from a frontier community that lives by its own rules.

And one of those rules, right and left, is that a certain amount of shit-stirring and rabble-rousing comes with the job. So does cussing and vulgar trash talk, on occasion, even among the ladies. (Yes, it's true: even I have been known to indulge in the occasional indelicacy myself now and again.) Given all that, we were not wrong to expect that he'd do the gallant thing and fling Mr. Donohue's poo right back at him -- and rub it in his face for good measure.

Instead, the gutless weasel took this bigot's criticisms to heart. And now it seems likely that our friends may be out of a well-deserved job.

If bloggers are going to be disqualified from working on campaigns because somebody -- in fact, somebody who's not ever going to vote for a Democrat, no matter what they do -- is offended by something we wrote back in the day, then we all might as well just hang it up now.

And that, of course, is exactly what Mr. Donohue hopes will happen.

(I wonder if Mr. Donohue ever read Wonkette. He seems to share her fascination with anal sex. If Time's editors were induced to review her archives with the Catholic League's delicate pearl-clutching sensibilities in mind, she'd be out on her notorious backside by sundown.)

Edwards seems like a smart guy -- smart enough to realize that if he fires these two, he's telling us everything we need to know about his ability to lead. The message is stark and simple: Anybody whose first instinct is to cave in to the likes of a racist right-wing wacko like Bill Donohue doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to run this country.

And any Democrat who'd privilege the opinion of a single right-wing activist over the interests of a large, well-organized, generous faction like the netroots is, quite frankly, too stupid to be allowed to govern. Can you imagine W cutting off his ardent supporters in the Catholic League because Cindy Sheehan stood up and (accurately) called their leader a racist nutcase? No, not even Shrub's that dumb -- but, apparently, our boy Edwards just might be.

But, at its core, this battle is about who gets access to the public soapbox. If Edwards cans Amanda and Shakes, he'll be setting a precedent that cuts all liberal bloggers off at the knees, perpetuating the Uncouth Blogger image that renders us permanent second-class media citizens. In fact, it's just a short hop and a jump from here to a place where any liberal, anywhere, who's ever been cranky or a potty-mouth on Usenet or Yahoogroups or some blog's comments thread will be effectively eliminated from participating in our public conversations. If the likes of Donohue can dig up a decade-old shit, hell, or fuck with your name attached -- or a comment that was insufficiently reverent toward your right-wing betters -- then you and your lowlife netroot opinions will not be welcome in our new, oh-so-civil public discourse. That fastidious snobbery, if allowed to stand, is going to effectively shut up a whole lot of the progressive movement's best and brightest.

Edwards has a golden moment here to make a major point that will change the whole tenor of the 2008 campaign. And he's blowing it, big time. Here's the speech he should be making, the one that would not only shut up Donohue, but make the rest of the GOP think twice before trying this shit again:

"The GOP complains about the lack of civility in our public conversations. But I don't hear them repudiating Michelle Malkin when she calls for the elimination of liberals from public life. I don't hear them criticizing Dinesh D'Souza for blaming Democrats for 9/11. I don't hear them shushing Ann Coulter for calling for progressives to be executed as traitors. I don't even hear them condemning Bob Donohue for making anti-Semitic and anti-gay remarks. These celebrities say outrageous, incendiary things about their fellow Americans every day -- and, far from getting them out of the public eye, the conservatives in this country have rewarded them handsomely for their hatred.

"When the GOP issues an apology and puts an end to its long campaign of blatant, bigoted hate speech against progressive Americans, I might entertain a discussion about my hiring decisions. But until that moment comes, they have absolutely no standing to comment on this issue. And until then, I stand by my staffers."

But don't hold your breath on that one: what we've learned today is that, after all we've done to pave the way for them, our Democratic candidates still listen to the right wing more than they listen to us. If John Edwards is the best they have to offer, then we can count on them to stand close by our sides, all right -- waiting there, ready and eager to supply the knives to do us in with.

All I can say is: Fuck that.


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