When the fast-talking, deal-closing Mitt Romney steamrolled President Obama in Debate # 1 liberals may have grumbled about the somnambulant moderator, Jim Lehrer, and marveled at the shameless metamorphosis into "Moderate Mitt" which their right wing rival was attempting to pull off. But by and large, Democrats took their beating like men, saluted Romney for a job well done and vowed to fight another day.
When conservatives fell short in Debates #2 and 3, by contrast, their reaction to the dismemberment of their guys was decidedly different.
How dare Vice President Joe Biden exhibit such undisguised contempt for Republican Congressman Paul Ryan? Who does Biden think he is to laugh in the face of such a perfect exemplar of Ayn Rand right-thinking?
This has been the nonstop refrain on Fox News and across the right wing radio dial ever since their Golden Boy got a graduate-level schooling from Joe Biden during their VP debate earlier this month.
Fox News anchor Chris Wallace called Biden's smiling and laughing "unprecedented" and said he'd never seen anyone in a national debate be "as openly contemptuous and disrespectful of the other side as Biden was to Paul Ryan tonight."
Mike Huckabee thought Biden "came across like a guy you meet at a cocktail party or some political event, an obnoxious drunk who's loud and boisterous and interrupts every conversation."
Huckabee then engaged in some offensive regional stereotyping of his own when he suggested Biden's energetic performance may have played well on Broadway and elsewhere throughout New York City where people are both loutish and "in a hurry," but predicted it wouldn't go down so well in the genteel South and Midwest where "people expect you to wait your turn...say, 'Oh, you go ahead...say, 'please, 'thank you,' 'you're welcome,' 'yes ma'am,' 'no ma'am,' 'please, sir.'
The following week, when President Obama cleaned the clock of the strutting martinet Mitt Romney, conservatives couldn't talk enough about how moderator Candy Crowley had unfairly taken sides by fact-checking their guy in real time.
Romney was counting on leveling a knock-out punch against the President by getting him to admit it had taken two whole weeks to say the attacks against our consulate in Libya, resulting in the deaths of a US ambassador and three other Americans, was an "act of terror."
Instead, Romney walked right into a left cross when, after Obama suggested Romney check the transcripts, Crowley confirmed the President was right when he said he had identified these as terrorist attacks the very next day during a press conference in the White House Rose Garden. So, naturally, the Right blames Romney's blundering, badly-researched humiliation on a biased left wing media that had no business correcting the blunder Romney had made which sealed his defeat on Tuesday.
Can I just say for the record that Candy Crowley did exactly the right thing. She had no choice but to set the record straight. She did not fact-check Romney willy-nilly but only stepped in after Romney repeatedly badgered the President by refusing to take him at his word that he had, in fact, spoken out against terrorism the day after the attacks.
Besides, the rules of engagement clearly stated that the candidates were not supposed to ask questions of one another or engage in direct debate. But what are rules to someone like Mitt Romney who's accustomed to playing by his own? Rules are for suckers, like Presidents of the United States, who should sit down and shut up until the big shot corporate CEO is done speaking. Rules are for moderators who are not supposed to contradict right wing conservatives when they are on a roll, even when the facts are against them.
Nevertheless, former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, who is fast approaching Glenn Beck-levels of offensiveness, said Romney "got blindsided a little bit by a moderator who incorrectly tried to affirm what the President said."
A Fox News headline asserted "CNN's Crowley first plays umpire, then joins Team Obama."
Rush Limbaugh said Crowley "committed an act of journalistic terror or malpractice last night."
The Twitter reaction on the Right was equally ticked off, with Laura Ingraham's Tweet being representative of the whining: "Romney fought hard ag President of the US and Candy Crowley...and had to deal with "undecideds" who were obviously disgruntled liberals."
All told, the protests validated something Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne once said, which is that when you give conservatives bad news "they want to kill you" while liberals want to kill themselves when the roles are reversed.
Or, as professor P.M. Carpenter writes on his blog: "When the going gets tough conservatives get feral and liberals go fetal."
I like former George W. Bush speechwriter and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, I really do, and when he speaks out on behalf of a "compassionate conservatism" and a more civil politics, I believe he is being sincere.
Yet, when he describes Joe Biden's ridiculing decimation of Paul Ryan as a "collection of disturbing, disorderly appetites," or one of "scene-chewing antics and preening exhibitionism and smirking rudeness and egotistical exuberance and bullying condescension," Gerson displays the moldy antiquarianism of a secluded hermit who still thinks wars are fought by generals who meet in the middle of the battlefield to shake hands.
Carl von Clausweitz once called war "politics by other means." Gerson clearly did not get the memo that his own Republican Party thinks politics is war by other means if, after all we have been through since the rise of the Tea Party after Barack Obama's election, Gerson can still say with a straight face that "civility is the essential democratic virtue" and that without a "modicum of mutual respect" there can be no cooperation, and so the mocking tone Joe Biden directed at Paul Ryan the other night has "complicated the work of democracy" by mainstreaming boorish behavior that, if universalized, would turn American politics into a "squalid carnival sideshow."
As irrelevant as those comments are to current political realities, they are actually sentiments I subscribe to in the abstract. But context is everything.
Much closer to my own views about Biden's confrontation with Paul Ryan were those of Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi when he said Biden was "absolutely right" to wallop the "sniveling little Paul Ryan on the facts."
After Debate #1, Karl Rove said that because Romney gave such a "convincing performance," most voters would not care that Romney had his fingers crossed behind his back when he said he had no plan to cut taxes for the rich. Nor would they object that Romney was attempting to reinvent himself in real time from right wing extremist to sensible centrist. As Rove seems to believe, to reach those low-information, undecided swing voters, one must speak confidently and loudly and carry a big stick -- preferably a two-by-four - even if that means lying.
And so, to illustrate the sheer mendacity of the Republican campaign throughout this election year, Taibbi said Biden was wholly within his rights to "roll his eyes, snort, laugh derisively and throw his hands up in the air whenever Ryan trotted out his little beady-eyed BS-isms."
I'm with Taibbi. "The load of balls that both Romney and Ryan have been pushing out there for this whole election season is simply not intellectually serious," says Taibbi. "Most of their platform isn't even a real platform, it's a fourth-rate parlor trick designed to paper over the real agenda - cutting taxes even more for super-rich dickheads like Mitt Romney, and getting everyone else to pay the bill."
It's a house of cards, a Potemkin Village, that crumbles after its first encounter with reality, says Dionne. It's a set of numbers that don't add up because they were never meant to, agrees Paul Krugman.
And when Ryan "trotted out this preposterous line about bi-partisanism," Taibbi wonders what planet Ryan thinks we've all been living on these last four years if he actually believes we have so easily forgotten the closed-door meetings Republican leaders held on Inauguration Day to map out their strategy for defeating President Obama in 2012 by opposing everything he proposed, beginning in 2009.
Does Ryan really think we did not listen to the laments of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe when she announced she was quitting Congress -- thus putting a safe Republican seat back in play -- because she'd had it up to here with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his demands for lock-step Republican obstructionism?
Ryan must have thought he was still within the rebuttal-free confines of Fox News or behind the protective cover of the No Fairness Doctrine spin zone of the conservative media if he really thought he could pull his nonsense "on some crowd of unsuspecting voters that hasn't followed politics that much and doesn't know the history," said Taibbi.
Either that, or Ryan was "banking on the moderator not getting in the way and just letting him dump his trash on audiences" like Sean Hannity would. Instead, said Taibbi, moderator Martha Raddaz "aggressively grabbed Ryan by his puppy-scruff and pushed him back into the mess of his own proposal."
And speaking of that proposal, Romney and Ryan decided, "with incredible cynicism" that they could promise a massive tax break and not explain how to pay for it -- then just hang on until election day, "knowing that most of the political press would let it skate, or at least not take a dump all over it when explaining it to the public," said Taibbi.
The right way to report on such a tactic "is to bring to your coverage exactly the feeling that Biden brought to the debate: contempt and amazement," said Taibbi, where the press takes professional offense "that any politician would try to whisk such a gigantic lie past us to our audiences, and we should take patriotic offense that anyone is trying to seize the White House using such transparently childish and dishonest tactics."
But in a larger sense, the very different reactions of liberals and conservatives to the outcome of the last three debates tells us a lot more than simply Republicans are sissies who can dish it out but can't take it.
When Republicans attack the wise-cracking Joe Biden or the fact-checking Candy Crowley they do more than seek a temporary tactical advantage in a hard fought campaign. They are also exposing the central chromosome of the right wing's political DNA, which is its deep-seeded hostility to any challenge or contradiction to its beliefs.
This was something we saw on vivid display in Mitt Romney's unsettling behavior toward the President of the United States on Tuesday, which tells us all we need to know about how little plutocrats like Romney respect the institutions and conventions of a democracy that represents the 47% as well as the 1%.
"You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking." Wow, said Esquire's Charles Pierce. To Pierce, that comment by Romney to the President "was a revelatory, epochal moment." To me too.
That moment provided a window into the political soul of Willard Mitt Romney, said Pierce, and it wasn't pretty. Here was "the Bain cutthroat who could get rich ruining lives and not lose a moment's sleep."
But those victims of Bain's profit-seeking were just the little people, the anonymous Help. On Tuesday, the guy Romney was trying to boss around was "a man of considerable international influence."
Outside of street protestors and the Iraqi who threw a shoe at George W. Bush, Pierce said he had never seen "a more lucid example of manifest public disrespect" for a sitting president than the "hair-curling contempt" Romney displayed toward President Obama in their second debate.
Romney is lucky Barack Obama "prizes cool over everything else," says Pierce, because if it had been LBJ who Romney had told to wait his turn, Lucky Lyndon "would have taken out his heart with a pair of salad tongs." And had it been Harry Truman who Romney had tried to put in his place, Give 'em Hell Harry "would have bitten off his nose."
Maybe the President should have throttled Romney -- or slugged his eldest son, Taggart, so as to make an example of him. After, of course, delivering a lecture, the gist of which would be: It is one thing to disrespect Barack Obama the man, or to wait until Obama is done being President - four years from now - to treat him like the hired help. But by God, you will show a little more respect for the Office of the President, and to the Republic for which it stands, while you are sharing the same stage with him.
Fat chance. Politics is conflict, its debate. But conservative don't see it that way because they don't do conformation because they don't believe in politics. That's because democratic politic is an arena in which there are actually people who do not bow their head and genuflect to the right wing worldview, unquestionably and without reservation, the way all remaining Republicans now must do. It is filled with heretics who often do question it -- and sometimes even laugh at it - just the way Joe Biden did two weeks ago.
Liberals accept the give-and-take of politics as normal and so are more bemused than irritated when conservatives call them names like socialists, or condescending elitist snobs or godless secular communists.
But to conservatives there are no higher virtues than order, hierarchy, authority and obedience and so the ideas upon which that social order stands can never be challenged.
Republicans only care that Joe Biden laughed at them, not that what he laughed at was funny. Republicans only care that Candy Crowley contradicted a conservative authority figure, not that Mitt Romney was wrong.
Conservatives demand tolerance and deference but have no tolerance for anyone who refuses to accept their core beliefs as Holy Writ. They are horrified by performances like Biden's that treat their superstitions as just so much bunk.
When Ann Coulter was disinvited from speaking at a college after she insisted the editors of the New York Times be put to death for exposing the Bush Administration's secret and illegal torture regime, Coulter likened the snub she received to censorship and a denial of her rights to free speech -- as if shooting reporters for doing their job was just another legitimate alternative conservative point-of-view.
Coulter's obscene ideas about destroying free speech in order to save free speech, is a symptom of a narrow-minded "ethnocentrism" that is indigenous to a right wing worldview which divides the world between in-groups and out-groups and then maintains its beliefs against threats from opposing ones by corralling people who share the same beliefs together, writes professor Robert Altemeyer, who has studied right wing authoritarianism for nearly half a century.
For any group to succeed, its members must give it their complete loyalty. If you belong to a group you should always be faithful to it. Working for a group and sticking together come what may are among the best things in life. There is nothing lower than a person who betrays his group or stirs up disagreement within it. If we become truly united, acting with one mind on all issues, there is no difficulty we could not overcome. A person should stick with those who think the way he does, and work together for their common beliefs.
These are familiar rightest ideas authoritarian followers agree with more than most people do, says Altemeyer, along with the conformist idea that loyalty to the group ranks among the highest virtues and those who question leaders or beliefs are traitors.
"The common metaphor for authoritarian followers is a herd of sheep, but it may be more accurate to think of them as a column of army ants on the march," says Altemeyer.
This ethnocentrism also makes right wing followers very vulnerable to unscrupulous manipulators. "It doesn't matter whether the candidate really believes it, or might just be saying it to get elected, right wing authoritarian followers tend to ignore the many devious reasons why someone might lie and say something they find agreeable," says Altemeyer.
And so, if you are "a completely unethical, dishonest, power-hungry, dirt-bag, scum-bucket politician who will say whatever he has to say to get elected, whom are you going to try to lead?" asks Altemeyer. "Isn't it obvious? The easy-sell right wing authoritarians will open up their arms and wallets to you if you just sing their song."
Republicans simply do not care that it is mathematically impossible for Mitt Romney to cut taxes by $5 trillion without either adding to the deficit or raising taxes on the middle class.
Republicans simply do not care that Paul Ryan behaves as if President Obama's stimulus bill cannot create a single job or promote economic growth except in the Republican vice presidential candidate's own hometown.
Republicans simply do not care that Romney and Ryan's claims to be the saviors of Medicare is based on the nonsensical idea that the way to save Medicare is to make sure it can never pay out benefits adequate to meet needs. Oh, and that $719 billion Romney says Obama is stealing from Medicare? Paul Ryan is banking those very same Medicare savings in his budget, too. The only difference is that instead of using those savings to provide additional health care benefits, as the President does, Ryan and Romney would use the money on tax cuts for the rich.
Conservatives are beside themselves that over the last two weeks they've been ridiculed by the opposition and corrected by members of the "liberal mainstream media" they are convinced are agents for the other side - antagonistic behavior conservatives are not accustomed to getting within the safe confines of right wing media.
But as much as conservatives like to tell themselves they are the victims of boorish or biased behavior, the truth is that sometimes the only way to respond to the ridiculousness of a campaign that refuses to come clean on how it would pay for the centerpiece of its "jobs creating" economic program is to ridicule it. Sometimes the only sensible reaction to a laughable proposition - such as that Republicans intend to save Medicare while Democrats mean to destroy it, or that President Obama has eliminated welfare work requirements when he has actually tightened them - is to laugh at it.
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