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Friday, November 12, 2010

Why the liars are winning

Couple of days ago, Rick Perlstein published an essay on The Daily Beast that sets out, in succinct and convincing terms, one of the most important reasons that our friends to the south are in such trouble.

I'm not alone in lamenting the debasement and vulgarization of civil discourse and the attendant coarsening of political culture, but Perlstein's got one of the most influential and worrisome dynamics down pat: the far-right crazies, teabaggers and Palinbots lie their asses off, and no one – not the Obama administration, the Democratic establishment, the Villagers nor the "lamestream media" – will call them on it.

The money quote:

When one side breaks the social contract, and the other side makes a virtue of never calling them out on it, the liar always wins. When it becomes "uncivil" to call out liars, lying becomes free.

But that's just the start. Major tip of the chapeau to DownWithTyranny's KeninNY, who uses this little vignette as part of a larger argument which puts the whole putrid process in context. The lies aren't the half of it, according to his viewpoint; the purpose of this campaign of mendacity is the destruction of civil discourse itself. The DWT post references an earlier post from Jeffrey Feldman which exposes and names this sordid m.o., in particular the "books" "written" by people like Jerome Corsi and the role of the Swift Boaters. A sample from there:

These books destroy civic debate on purpose--and are fundamentally at odds with democracy.  The goal of Corsi's project is not to discuss facts--it is to destroy the very possibility of discussion by implying that a Presidential candidate is a sleeper-cell terrorist--and doing so in the context of a huge broadcast media effort to convince the country of the same thing. 
That is not just factually wrong. It is wildly immoral. Whether or not Corsi published lies is not even half the discussion we should be having.

That's right: the goal of this non-stop shrieking of untruths is to Destroy Civic Debate. On purpose.

Someone recently suggested that we have to draw a distinction between an avowed enemy and a disappointing friend. While this has an intuitive appeal – after all, it's normal to want to believe in a tangible difference between good people and bad people – I'm not so sure I can sign on. When Republicans / Harper Conservatives / Harrisites take a chainsaw to the social fabric and attack the institutions of civil society and participatory democracy with sledgehammers, that's bad enough. But when Democrats / Liberals do nothing to stop them, are they really any better?

A difference which makes no difference is no difference. A feckless, pusillanimous and ineffectual opposition is worse than no opposition at all. It provides the appearance of democracy and accountability while actually functioning as the enabler.

(H/t DownWithTyranny)

Update: As pogge points out, it's Perlstein, not Pearlstein. What's Yiddish for mea culpa?

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