Politics is a dirty business. Its history contains some of the most unsavory and slanderous conduct imaginable. In recent years there seems to have been an escalation by conservative activists who were never able to accept the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States.
[This is a re-post of an article I wrote for Alternet]
From Inauguration Day, when Fox News immediately began speculating that Obama was illegitimate because Supreme Court Justice John Roberts flubbed the oath of office, to the present where we see the president still shirking off allegations of treasonous sympathies for Muslim terrorists, America’s right-wingers have orchestrated an aggressive assault on those they consider to be their enemies. Well, we don’t have to lie down and take it. Here are some of the ways we can fight back:
1. Trust, No. Verify, Yes: The easiest way to smack down a conservative is to do some cursory research. In all likelihood whatever they are using against you is filled with errors or is entirely made up. It shouldn’t be too difficult to expose their attacks as vacant smear tactics. Mike Huckabee’s recent assertion that President Obama holds views that are different than the average American due to his “upbringing in Kenya” is a perfect example of right-wing disinformation. It was quickly debunked, which led Huckabee to offer even more ludicrous falsehoods to cover his original deceit. We are fortunate to be blessed with opponents who are, more often than not, idiots. Let’s exploit that good fortune.
2. Mock Treatment: When you’re dealing with the sort of people who vote for former witches for the senate there is sometimes little you can do other than laugh. And while the antics of right-wingers are often indistinguishable from satire, it is still an effective response to their attacks. The latest inanity from Sarah Palin can be addressed at length in a point-by-point rebuttal or a brief skit by Tiny Fey. Which do you think has a more enduring impact?
3. Talk Back: The purpose of most attacks from the right is to influence public opinion, and eventually, social behavior and legislation. They must not be left alone on that field of battle. A concerted effort should be made to inform the media that the attacks are baseless. That means letters to the editor, op-eds, call-ins to radio shows, and speaking out at public forums. The PR response is critical. The latest, loudest assertion is often the one most remembered. Don’t let it be a Tea Partier.
4. Consider the Source: Attacks from the right often emanate from notoriously disreputable characters whose grousing is better ignored. Their hypocrisy is legendary. Why should we care when the corpulent Rush Limbaugh calls Michael Moore fat? And the next time Ann Coulter proposes that the way to deal with violent extremism (or in her view, with anyone of the Muslim faith) is to “invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity,” we ought not to pay attention to the violent extremism she espouses. This isn’t giving up. It’s tactical disregard, but it should only be employed against irrelevant figures whose opinions are widely ignored anyway. I know, that’s a pretty big chunk of the rightosphere.
5. Hit the Streets: Nothing has been more illustrative of the power ordinary people have to effect change than the determined and courageous example set by the people of Wisconsin. They have been relentless in asserting their rights to speak, assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. Sadly, their governor and his GOP minions have resisted the will of the people — so far. But this battle is far from over. And the example set by Wisconsin Democrats, unions and citizens, has inspired a national movement in support of working families and the notion that tough economic times require sacrifices from everyone, including wealthy individuals and corporations. This movement has flourished despite scant attention from the conventional media. That’s the power of numbers and a public presence.
6. Sue the Bastards: This action can only be undertaken by actual victims of right-wing attacks, but it is effective and underutilized. Recently lawsuits have been been filed by Shirley Sherrod (against Andrew Breitbart) and Juan Carlos Vera (against James O’Keefe). These suits can serve as notice that people will not tolerate being slandered or otherwise harmed by spurious attacks. They can also preoccupy conservative evildoers who will have to spend both time and money on their defense. The publicity from these suits can help to advance progressive activism, particularly if they are successful. But just keeping their dastardly exploits in the news has a beneficial effect all its own. It would be great to see more of this from aggrieved parties like Van Jones and George Soros.
7. Get Up, Stand Up! Last, but not least, it is imperative that we coalesce into a culture of pride and conviction for the ideals we cherish. We must cease to buckle under pressure from rightist factions who will oppose us even after we make every concession they demand. Has the criticism of the White House declined since the departure of Van Jones? Did the opposition relent after we removed language from the health care bill that was falsely lambasted as “death panels?” Has there been any let-up on charges of over-taxation and socialism from Tea Partiers despite the extension of Bush-era tax relief for the rich? Of course not. So why on earth would we continue to try to appease an opponent who is insatiable and resistant to compromise?
Our side has to stop firing people just because they were subjects of criticism from the right. That just empowers the other side and highlights our weaknesses. It’s long past time for us to stand up for ourselves and our own. And when we get hit, as we will, we need to hit back. We have a moral obligation to stand up for the principles that we share with the majority of the American people. And now we must augment that with the will to advance those principles even in the face of dishonest, dirty dealing by our opponents.
One more thing: Have fun! There is no reason we can’t pursue our goals with a positive demeanor that reflects our hopes and aspirations for a country that cares about its people and the people of the world.