James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Be Nice (If You're a Democrat)

The most-published pundits, the op-ed writers and broadcast folks are calling for Democrats to be polite, to make nice with the opposition, to be “moderate” in all things. The volume and rhythm of the chorus has risen to such a crescendo over the past two or three weeks that it has taken on the unmistakable aspects of a campaign. In fact, it’s become so loud it’s downright discourteous.

Much of the make-nice advice is aimed at Howard Dean, of course. He got mad in Iowa, and the polite types in expensive suits, who had been poised for such an event, jumped in so quickly they almost mussed themselves. But it’s not entirely aimed at Dean, even when he’s the cited target of the remarks. The spokesmen for polite politics also are reminding other Democrats in what they consider to be a subtle way to be cool, to be ladies and gentlemen.

(No, of course the dainty folk of the media are not aiming similar remarks at Bush or any of his crowd, no matter how vicious. We have an awesome double standard here, and there’s no escaping that fact.)

I’m sorry Dean felt compelled to apologize for his Iowa outburst, but it’s understandable given the volume of the attacks.

As far as I can make out, there are two main reasons for the surge of deportment advice.

One is the agenda of the right (in both parties), which was freaked when Dean jumped into prominence on the basis of genuine grass roots support – a move that was in itself seen as intolerably discourteous to long-time political insiders. From the right’s viewpoint, one must wait one’s turn, gradually climb the ladder, take one’s share of the big-money campaign donations and hope for more later if the leaders are pleased with you.

The right wants to eat Dean’s liver, and if they can get him by selling the public the belief that he is too intemperate to be president, they’ll dance with glee.

And how is it working? A couple of days ago, a locally produced public affairs show on Twin Cities public television – a show hosted by smug political hangers on and peopled by even more unbearably smug party hacks from both major parties – dwelt briefly on the apparent shift of Democrats from Dean to John Kerry, the old-line pol. One of the Republicans on the show maintained that Kerry will make a more difficult electoral foe for Bush, but he simply couldn’t keep a straight face. He had to laugh as he said it, and there was no mistaking what he was laughing about..

The other motivation for telling Dems to be nice lies in the identities of media folks. As I’ve said before, they deeply identify with the power establishment. They demand a kind of obeisance that they haven’t received from Dean to this point – and they want to remind the other Democratic candidates that they can’t get away with anything short of kowtowing. And these days reporters mostly are solidly upper middle class suburbanites who are....discomfitted....in the presence of genuine anger, no matter how justified. It’s just not on, doncha know.

My own take on the political front today is: If you’re not angry, you don’t understand what’s being done to you. If you don’t express the anger plainly and effectively, the right will go on walking all over you.