You can read the entire thing here. I gave the best summary I could below.
This, to be blunt, is the tragic flaw of the modern liberal. We choose to see ourselves as innocent victims of an escalating right-wing fanaticism. But too often we serve as willing accomplices to this escalation and to the resulting degradation of our civic discourse. We do this, without even meaning to, by consuming conservative folly as mass entertainment.
If this sounds like a harsh assessment, trust me, I’m among the worst offenders. Yes, I’m one of those enlightened masochists who tune in to conservative talk radio when driving alone. I recognize this as pathological behavior, and I always make sure to switch the station back to NPR before returning the car to my wife. But I can’t help myself. I take a perverse and complicated pleasure in listening to all the mean, manipulative things those people say.
Of course, not all right-wing pundits spew hate. But the ones who do are the ones we liberals dependably aggrandize. Consider the recent debate over whether employers must cover contraception in their health plans. The underlying question — should American women receive help in protecting themselves from unwanted pregnancies? — is part of a serious and necessary national conversation.
Any hope of that conversation happening was dashed the moment Rush Limbaugh began his attacks on Sandra Fluke, the young contraceptive advocate. The left took enormous pleasure in seeing Limbaugh pilloried. To what end, though? Industry experts noted that his ratings actually went up during the flap. In effect, the firestorm helped Limbaugh do his job, at least in the short term.
But the real problem isn’t Limbaugh. He’s just a businessman who is paid to reduce complex cultural issues to ad hominem assaults. The real problem is that liberals, both on an institutional and a personal level, have chosen to treat for-profit propaganda as news. In so doing, we have helped redefine liberalism as an essentially reactionary movement. Rather than initiating discussion, or advocating for more humane policy, we react to the most vile and nihilistic voices on the right.
Media outlets like MSNBC and The Huffington Post often justify their coverage of these voices by claiming to serve as watchdogs. It would be more accurate to think of them as de facto loudspeakers for conservative agitprop. The demagogues of the world, after all, derive power solely from their ability to provoke reaction. Those liberals (like me) who take the bait, are to blame for their outsize influence.
The most insidious effect of our addiction to right-wing misanthropy has been the erosion of our more generous instincts. At least for me. I’ve come to regard all conservatives as extremists, a mob of useful idiots plied by profiteers, rather than a diverse spectrum of citizens, many of whom share my values, anxieties and goals. When I hear the crowd at a Republican presidential debate cheer for capital punishment, I write them off as sadists, rather than accepting them as citizens seeking a means of keeping themselves safe. Slagging conservatism has become my one acceptable form of bigotry.
Imagine, if you will, the domino effect that would ensue if liberals and moderates simply tuned out the demagogues. Yes, they would still be able to manipulate their legions into endorsing cruel and self-defeating policies. But their voices would be sealed within the echo chamber of extremism and sealed off from the majority of Americans who honestly just want our common problems solved. They would be marginalized in the same way as activists who rant about racial purity or anarchy.
Rush Limbaugh would be a radio host catering to a few million angry commuters, not the alpha male of conservatism. Fox News would be a popular fringe network, not the reliable conduit by which paranoid hogwash infects our mainstream media.
In this world, it would be much harder to mislead people because media outlets would shift their resources to covering the content of proposed legislation, the exploding role of corporate influence in our affairs of state and the scientifically confirmed predicaments we face as a species.
Liberals and moderates would no longer be able to mollify themselves by watching Jon Stewart mock conservative wack jobs. They would be forced to consider their own values and the sort of actions necessary to reify those values in the world. They might even consider breaching our artificially inflated partisan divide.
This last measure, I realize, hasn’t worked for President Obama. But he’s up against a cohort of politicians underwritten by special interests. We citizens can’t use that excuse. We all have the same basic interests: to provide for our families, to worship as we see fit, to pursue happiness. We live in a country of unimaginable abundance. It shouldn’t be so hard to find common ground.
I’m as heartbroken as the next liberal at the cynicism of the Republican Party and the inability of Democrats to confront them in blunt moral terms. But as Americans, we are endowed with the freedom to vote for the sort of democracy we want — not just at the ballot booth, but with our attention and energy. The more we devote to amplifying conflict, the less we listen to each other. Which is precisely what those special interests want: a nation too distracted by wrath to follow the money.
My personal goal is simple: to go cold turkey on conservative wing nuts and instead take up the hard work of genuine political action. It’s time for all of us — liberal, conservative and otherwise — to define ourselves as Americans not by who we hate but by what we can do to strengthen our communities and country.