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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Conservatives and the Politics of the Tattletale Child

It's all so terribly unjust. It turns out that, if you unfairly characterize people as "thugs" and "goons," those people will have a poor opinion of you. They might even want to beat the people you're supporting in elections. It's shocking, I know. Who would expect the rhetoric of demonization to come with consequences? Surely not the Tea Party and surely not Fox News. And, since consequences are only for non-'bagger non-supermen, Fox was there to make sure those consequences didn't exist.

OK, OK, OK... Let me get it together here. I'm still in stitches over the claim that the Tea Party doesn't say things like that. Right. And Dean Martin never drank. And, of course, calling Hoffa a "thug" and comparing him to mafioso Tony Soprano is totally justified, given the context.

Context is key here. Because the context presented by Fox News was not the context presented to reality. Using what Media Matters describes as a "dishonestly cropped video," Megyn Kelly and Fox offered a version of Hoffa's speech that was easy to completely misunderstand. "Everybody here's got to vote," Hoffa said in the fuller context. "If we go back and keep the eye on the prize, let's take these son of a bitches out and give America back to America where we belong! Thank you very much!"


Go out and vote. Wow, what a terrible person. Yes, he did refer to Tea Partiers as "son of a bitches," but I'm of the opinion that when you say terrible things about someone -- like, say, 'baggers and Republicans do about union members -- then you really shouldn't expect them to be very complimentary in return. That'd be those "consequence" I spoke of earlier. Be a jerk long enough and someone will have the gall to call you a jerk.

The most obvious moral to this story is that Fox lies. Not all the time -- it's not pathological -- but just when those lies serve the right. It's tactical lying and that makes it propaganda, not just bad or sensationalist journalism.

But that point is being made all over the place today and there's no reason for me to join in. It's pretty well covered. The other point is the ear-splitting, incessant whining from the right. There is never a day when they don't have some grievance, some deep personal insult to complain about, and it's most often an insult they've cut and pasted together themselves. And there's a reason for that.

Toronto Star, via Majikthise:

Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.

At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals. The study from the Journal of Research Into Personality isn't going to make the UC Berkeley professor who published it any friends on the right. Similar conclusions a few years ago from another academic saw him excoriated on right-wing blogs, and even led to a Congressional investigation into his research funding.

But the new results are worth a look. In the 1960s Jack Block and his wife and fellow professor Jeanne Block (now deceased) began tracking more than 100 nursery school kids as part of a general study of personality. The kids' personalities were rated at the time by teachers and assistants who had known them for months. There's no reason to think political bias skewed the ratings — the investigators were not looking at political orientation back then. Even if they had been, it's unlikely that 3- and 4-year-olds would have had much idea about their political leanings.A few decades later, Block followed up with more surveys, looking again at personality, and this time at politics, too. The whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity.

The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests. The girls were still outgoing, but the young men tended to turn a little introspective.

So conservatives are basically tattletales. Anyone who's ever dealt with a tattletale child knows why they do it -- kids are transparent as glass -- they want to present another child as the bad kid, so they can gain the advantages that come with being the good kid. Seeing a political parallel there?

Conservatives, as much as they like to put themselves across as people with ideas, practice almost exclusively tattletale politics. It's never about ideas when election day comes, it's always about who's more deserving of the honor of being elected. Do you want to elect the bad kid or do you want to elect the angelic Goody Two-Shoes? I've used the example before, but Sarah Palin's constant use of the victim card is too good not to recycle; she doesn't present ideas, she presents grievances. And you're supposed to listen to her and respect her -- maybe even elect her -- not because she has anything particularly useful to say, but because she's so put upon and victimized that she deserves it.

So what happens when there's 24 hours of news cycle without something to complain about? Well, you just go ahead and make up something to complain about. When you stop being the center of teacher's attention, then you say Tommy just kicked you under the desk -- whether Tommy really kicked you or not.

Of course, if you're an adult and you work at a cable news outfit, no one's going to believe that Teamster President James Hoffa came over to the studio and kicked you. So a threat of violent Marxist revolution it is.


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