Amanda Marcotte, John Edward’s former blogger, has a piece that defends vulgarity as a form of populism. In it, she demonstrates exactly why the left wing of the blogosphere’s only real impact will be in raising funds and embarrassing political candidates. She writes:
The word “vulgar” was by far the favorite word of critics, and make no mistake, it was used in a way that was consistent with its classist roots as a term denoting the lowly language, taste, behavior, and entertainments of the common people. John Broder of the NY Times made the classist connotations of the term explicit by suggesting that Edwards would teach us to use a more “civil tone”. Bloggers are the vulgar common people and in order to get into the hallowed halls of politics, we need to become civilized. Joan Walsh, in her companion article to mine in Salon, also drew on class-based metaphors to describe what was distressing about the blogger invasion, when she called our style “street-fighing”. Bill Donohue provided as religion hook to excite the masses, but I think the mainstream media was willing to entertain his baseless accusations because it provided them another opportunity to rail against the vulgar bloggers.
Now, it’s hardly surprising that a radical feminist would find evidence that anything somehow intersects with the Holy Trinity of the Secular Left (race, gender, or class — and usually some combination of the above). However, in its own mode of analysis, she does have a point. Blogging is seen as being a lesser form of media by the establishment.
Marcotte does go on to say something that is quite interesting:
This is where blogs step in, at least on the left. Blogging is a real counterpoint to the thoughtless, elitist, soundbite-driven mainstream media, where we’re supposed to absorb an endless stream of soundbites and photo ops and our participation is limited mostly to a vote every couple of years. Blogs are bringing back the 19th century debate culture, where people would attend real debates and political rallies and listen to speeches for hours at a time. The irony about the vulgar people is that the vulgar people crave analysis, debate and participation, because these things validate our intelligence and our right to be citizens. The blogs are still appealing only to a small segment of society right now, but they’re still relatively new and have the potential to reach a much larger audience over time.
Now, I’ll say that Marcotte’s writing is cheap invective, not real debate. She’s the Ann Coulter of the left, and while both have moments of clarity, they thrive on the sort of high-school rhetoric that has much more in common with Beavis and Butthead than with Lincoln and Douglas.
However, her populist argument isn’t without some merit. However, we have to ask ourselves if that form of populist expression is really good for our democracy. Democratic debate can’t be more than a bunch of people calling their political opposition “Christofascists” and “wankers.” I’m not sure how that sort of thing validates anyone’s intelligence, except in the negative. Yes, blogging can be incredibly edifying, which is why so many people do it. Yes, it does in many ways harken back to the pamphleteer culture of the 19th Century.
Marcotte then demonstrates why the blogosphere will never be the asset to the left that it could be otherwise:
Right now, the American left has ceded the populist ground that should be ours for the taking. In part, it’s because we respect the moral obligation not to pander on sexist, racist, or religious grounds.
For one, when has the American left ever declined to pander? Secondly, if Marcotte’s idea of retaking the populist high ground is trying to push the envelope more and more and be as vulgar (in the truest sense of the word) as they can, then blogging not only won’t have much mainstream appeal, but it shouldn’t. Do we really want a political culture that’s descended to such depths? Where the ad hominem, not the rational discussion of policy, is the predominant type of discourse?
There’s something totalitarian about that comment as well — that while the left trumpets the values of “tolerance” and “diversity” and engages in actions such as enforcing mandatory speech codes on college campuses, there’s a desire to ensure that ethical bounds don’t apply to those on the “right” side of the issues. Amanda Marcotte can make whatever disgusting slurs she wants in the name of her ideology, but the same people would accuse anyone making a similar comment about Islam as a racist, bigot, and a danger.
In the end, it’s the same constant self-rationalization leading to intellectual incoherency. Marcotte and her ilk won’t have much impact over the long-term because being vulgar is hardly new or exciting. There’s plenty of people who can lash out at the “wingnuts” and the “Christofascists” just as well. It’s the people who can actually think that make a difference, and those are the people who will influence politics.
Being vulgar is nothing to be proud of. Playing to the passions of the mob is not great rhetoric. Slinging filth is not a sign of a great mind. It’s all been tried before, and better to boot.