Richard Cohen panned Colbert and got 3,499 nasty emails. In comparison, the emails he got after a column on Al Gore and global warming were much more even-tempered. His conclusion is that we lefties are brimming with foaming-at-the-mouth rage while righties are cool and rational.
This spells trouble — not for Bush or, in 2008, the next GOP presidential candidate, but for Democrats. The anger festering on the Democratic left will be taken out on the Democratic middle. (Watch out, Hillary!) I have seen this anger before — back in the Vietnam War era. That’s when the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party helped elect Richard Nixon. In this way, they managed to prolong the very war they so hated.
How soon they forget. Back in December 2004, Cohen was complaining that the righties were being mean to him.
When, for instance, I wrote a column suggesting that Bernard Kerik was a bad choice for secretary of homeland security, I got a bucket full of obscene e-mails right in my face. I was denounced over and over again as a liberal who, moreover, never would have written something similar about anyone Bill Clinton had named. This would be news to Clinton.
What struck me about the e-mails was how none of these writers paid any attention to what I had to say. Instead, they preferred to deal with a caricature — someone who belonged to a movement, a conspiracy, and was taking orders in the service of some vast, nefarious cause. E-mails are the drive-by shootings of the common man. The face of the victim is never seen.
Atrios suggests it’s time for Richard to retire. That’s a thought. Political commentary is not for the faint of heart these days.
Reaction to today’s column from leftie blogs so far has been dismissive. Digby points out that “There’s no political downside to hating Richard Cohen,” and he calls the column a waste of WaPo real estate. See also A Tiny Revolution.
It’s easy to be dismissive. One, Cohen is a wanker. He has fleeting moments of clarity — I link to him from time to time — but in the next column, or paragraph, he’ll be settled back into the foggy, clueless comfort of beltway insider conventional wisdom. He’s no Krugman. But then again, he’s no Krauthammer. He tends to bob about in the squishy center of the political spectrum, just to the left of the cognitively impenetrable David Broder.
We might, however, want to take Cohen’s charge a little more seriously. Beltway insider conventional wisdom already says that we netroots lefties are nothing but radical malcontents, and that close association with us is a political liability. Not exactly the effect we want to go for, I think. The VRWC could take charges like Cohen’s and turn them into a full-bore discrediting of us. In effect, we could be collectively swift-boated. Just as we’re trying to crash the gates, Democrats might put up bigger barricades. And a moat.
We know that rightie blogswarms can be vicious. Most of us have been targets of one from time to time. It ain’t fun, but it comes with the territory. However, I suspect — this is just a hunch — that righties are feeling less empowered than they were during the glory days of the Dan Rather smackdown, and are not swarming as strongly as they used to. But we lefties may be getting friskier.
On the other hand, the Al Gore column drew much less attention on the blogosphere than the Colbert column, which was a collossally stupid column. Among Cohen’s dumbest efforts, certainly. Technorati says the Colbert column was linked by 217 bloggers, whereas the Al Gore column had only 105 links.
I haven’t broken down these numbers by leftie v. rightie, but you can see at a glance that prominent bloggers who linked to the Al Gore column were mostly from the Left. The only prominent rightie bloggers (i.e., blogs with names I recognize) who linked to the Al Gore column were Gateway Pundit, Oxblog, Blue Crab Boulevard, and Carol Platt Liebau. No little green footballs; no nice doggie; no power tools; no instahack. The big guns of the Right, in other words, were silent.
The Colbert column, on the other hand — did I mention it was among Cohen’s dumbest efforts? — took fire from nearly all the big guns of the Left. Kos, Huffington Post, Crooks and Liars, Wonkette, AMERICAblog, Eschaton, Pharyngula, Pandagon, Steve Gilliard’s News Blog, The Poor Man, The Carpetbagger Report, Booman Tribune, Seeing the Forest, Ezra Klein — definitely the A Team. Plus Democratic Underground, Daou Report, and Alternet. And me. (Links are on the search list.)
Cohen’s comparison of reactions to the two columns, in other words, was hardly a fair trial. Let him piss off Wizbang or RedState, and then see what happens.
Still, the anger thing does worry me. I am not saying we don’t have a right to be angry. And I have argued many times that the righties have us beat in the hate and fear departments. I get angry, too. But I think it’s possible that this angry left meme, as unfair as it is, could hurt us. (Since when is swift-boating fair?) And, as I argued here, displays of anger are counterproductive to persuasion. Cohen is right about the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party helping to elect Richard Nixon. I remember it well.
So, I’m asking Mahablog readers to stop picking on Richard Cohen and to not indulge in sending hate emails to pundits or politicians who piss you off. Put your energy into something positive, like supporting Ned Lamont. Thank you.
Update: Avedon demonstrates how to challenge a bleephead like Cohen. Read and learn.