Friday, August 20, 2004

Tucker Carlson, chicks in bars, and the dreaded "L" word

OK, guys, we've all been there. You're out with your lady, maybe a few other close friends as well, down at the local pub. Yukking it up, everyone having a good time when, suddenly, she walks by. A total goddess. Painted-on jeans. Skin-tight halter top. Not a tan line in sight. And you know, yes you do, you know you shouldn't, but you stare. You can't help yourself -- it's a chromosomal thing. And you let that stare linger for just that millisecond too long. And you're busted.

"Well," your lady says, "seems like someone sure knows how to get your attention."

"No, I ... I mean ... I wasn't ... it's just that ... um ... I thought she looked familiar. Maybe someone I met once," you babble, totally unconvincingly.

"Oh, honey," she says, playfully punching you in the arm, "that's OK, don't worry if you were staring. I know guys do it all the time, it's fine, honest. I mean, she sure is stacked, isn't she?"

"Well," you say, thinking that somehow you escaped that one but now about to commit suicide, "since you mention it, yeah, she's pretty built."

"Why, you creep!" your lady yells at you. "So you were staring at her! I don't believe this, you're out with me, and you spend your time checking out the other women in the bar!"

"But ... ," you splutter, "you just said it was no big deal, that it didn't matter, that ..."

"You are such a jerk," she says coldly. "Take me home. I'm really pissed."

OK, now what just happened here?

I'll tell you what just happened. You were suckered. You were persuaded that something you did was no big deal, and because you bought that, you 'fessed up to it. And got clobbered for it. Which brings us to right-wing hatchet man and all-around sleazeball Tucker Carlson.

For years now, if someone on the political right wanted to discredit a Democrat or a progressive, it wasn't necessary to criticize their policies or their legislative proposals. Heck, no, why go to all that trouble when all you had to do was accuse them of just being "liberal". That's it. No analysis, no rationale -- just launch the dreaded "L" word and it was pretty much over. Apparently, just being branded a liberal was enough to wipe out someone's political career, and conservatives practised saying the word with the same sneering contempt they might use for "welfare cheat" or "child pornographer".

A perfect recent example of this, documented by Bob Somerby over at The Daily Howler, is the current Republican spin point of how John Kerry is the most liberal member of the Senate, and his running mate John Edwards is the fourth most liberal member. Be sure to read Somerby's evisceration of all of this here, but keep in mind the critical point -- Kerry is currently being slammed, not because of any specific agenda or proposal, but just for being that dreaded "L" word -- liberal, nothing more.

Now, Somerby explains in detail how this charge is completely bogus, since it depends on a contrived analysis of both Kerry's and Edwards' voting records. But as much as I worship at the feet of Somerby, in this case, I think he and everyone else has missed the boat completely. In defending Kerry, and trying to show that he's not the epitome of liberal thought in the Senate, Somerby and friends are playing right into the Republicans' hands -- by making it seem that Kerry has to somehow apologize for his liberalism, or distance himself from it. "No, no," the Dems say, "Kerry's not really that liberal," making it clear that his very liberalism is something he should be ashamed of and should downplay.

(As a side note, even the so-called liberal media -- the SCLM -- buys into this idiocy about tarring someone just for their liberalism. Exhibit A would be this debate excerpt from March of 2004, when the NY Times' reprehensible Elisabeth Bumiller kept hounding Kerry with the question, "Are you a liberal?", as if this was somehow a meaningful question. Sadly, Kerry wasn't prepared for a snappy comback along the lines of, "Are you an irresponsible hack?" And let's not even get into the absolute firestorm that would erupt if the Dems were to try the same tactic -- to dismiss someone's fitness to hold public office just because they were conservative. The same right-wing hacks who denigrate liberalism would be absolutely beside themselves with sputtering fury if they were on the receiving end. But I digress. Onward.)

So, in the midst of all this liberal-bashing, it's surprising to see Bob Somerby himself quote an astonishing admission by Tucker Carlson, and not even realize the gem he's stumbled across. From this column by Somerby, we have an excerpt from an episode of Crossfire, where Carlson is hosting Steve McMahon and Donna Brazile:

CARLSON (8/4/04): Why is it that the left see them ashamed of what they essentially fundamentally are? They're liberal. They have a different world view. There's nothing wrong with that objectively. Why do they run away from a description, a fair description, of who they really are?

MCMAHON: Who's afraid of it?

CARLSON: John Kerry is. He gets up there,
the most liberal member of the Senate by any measure of his votes, and he calls himself anything but a liberal. Why doesn't he just say it?

Take a minute and read that highlighted part again by Carlson regarding liberalism: "There's nothing wrong with that objectively."

Say WHAT?? After having savaged the very ideals of liberalism for years, when exactly did Carlson suddenly realize that there's nothing actually wrong with it? Oh, wait ... is this starting to sound familiar? "Don't worry, sweetie, it's all right, I know all guys do it, so if you were staring, that's OK, you can admit it to me. I won't hold it against you."

And that's the story here. With all due respect to Bob Somerby, the headline shouldn't be "Republicans distort Kerry's voting record to brand him as a liberal." Rather, the headline should be, "Right wing hack and attack poodle Tucker Carlson admits there's nothing actually wrong with liberalism."

But I'm not going to bother holding my breath to read that one.

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