Nation-Building >> defuse the demonization cycle | return to front page

"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

Add to Google Reader or Homepage Subscribe in Bloglines Subscribe in NewsGator Online Add to netvibes

website stats

Previous Posts
Netflix, Inc.
ThinkGeek T-Shirts will make you cool!
illy coffee - 2 cans, 2 mugs for just $26.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


defuse the demonization cycle

posted by Aziz P. at Tuesday, November 16, 2004 permalink View blog reactions
I took some heat in comments for arguing that Dean's rhetoric about Bush and Milosovic hurts rather than helps the Purple cause. David Neiwert, whom I admire tremendously for his yeoman's work in chronicling the illiberal extremism on the right, has a solid post that relates to the issue. He writes:

Unfortunately, the response of many blue-staters has not exactly been helpful. Somewhat unsurprisingly, they have in some cases returned the contempt with contempt. These have ranged from suggestions of blue-state secession and flights to Canada to rebuking the South in no uncertain terms. Some of this reaction is silly, and most of it is understandable catharsis, but liberals have to understand that it only fuels the dynamic at work here.

One of the keys to this dynamic is that both sides have been portraying the conflict in terms of broad stereotypes of urban, suburban and rural dwellers. When the red-state ideologues view the political landscape, they see pockets of godless, atheistic crypto-socialists populating the blue urban centers. For blue-state ideologues, the results of the 2004 election are proof that rural America is populated largely with gun-toting, Bible-thumping moralists who condone bigotry.

It's clear that conservatives have neither the incentive nor the intention of breaking this cycle; after all, they have benefited from it. It is indeed entirely by their design. If liberals are interested in breaking the cycle, they're going to have to discard their stereotype

The key is that the cycle of demonization serves to benefit extremist conservatives. For liberal moderates (and conservative moderates, who are clearly not wanted under the GOP's supposed "big tent") to prevail means fighting on fair turf. The voices here that argue we should meet venom with venom are, quote simply, playing directly into the extremists' hands. I reject the false dichotomy. So should you.

Highly recommend reading the rest of David's post, as it is far more eloquent and clear in its purpose than I am being.


As one who gave you heat, I just want to say I have no problem with this... I agree here. I just don't think what Dean said fits under "demonization".


To clarify, I don't think what I said in the other thread was that Dems should copy what the Republicans do. Calling a spade a spade is truthful and direct, not demonization.


FWIW, that is exactly what the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth would say they were doing: calling a spade, a spade. Truthful, honest, direct. I never liked their ads (although the ones on Kerry's 1971 testimony were more honorable) and I don't like Dean's comments. Neither are honorable or respectful without even commenting on their truthfulness.


Good analogy, Adam. I was profoundly offended by the Swiftboat ads, not because they attacked my guy, but because they were an attempt to distort an honorable service record to serve a political end. Howard distorted history to serve his political end, which s an end I agree with, but the manner in which he did it only serves to give ammo to those who are masters of the field.

Comparing Bush to Milosovic DOES qualify as demonization. Ask a muslim about whether Milosoveic was a demon or not!

One is an elected leader, another a genocidal murderer and tyrant. Sorry, Todd, you're on the wrong side of history here.


I think the difference that you are papering over is that Dean said Bush used the "same device" that Milosovic used in Bosnia. That is not "comparing" him to Milosovic which I think is a serious distinction. If we cannot talk about how the behavior of someone is comparable to some other behavior that is undesirable without that being demonization I can't see how we can really have a discourse at all. Dean actually was very careful to explain how the behavior had a detrimental effect to make the point that we didn't want the same effect to happen here. I just think that is a world of difference then saying Bush was "like Milosovic" or was the same type of person which would indeed be demonization as well as being untrue.



Not to get into parsing semantics here, but Jim is right that Dean was certainly not comparing Bush to Milosovic.

I also see no comparison to the Swift Boat ads, which were proven false (and those veterans knew it was false, or were deluded). Bush/Republican tactics are certainly not false.


This seems entirely unrelated to what Dean said about Bush. Should we "demonize" Republican voters? Dean wasn't doing anything of the sort--his critique was about Bush's tactics, not the voters themselves. To say that Bush appealed to our worst instincts is not to condemn those who fell victim to the tactics.

Anyway, does anyone disagree with Dean? Or is this just another case of him saying something judged to be "impolitic?"


Anybody here read the George Lakoff book "Don't Think of an Elephant"? It comes to mind because obviously the words "Slobodan Milosovic" set up a frame for many (but not me) which negates what Dean was trying to say.


Also, I think the general "We should be nice and moderate" sentiment that appears to be behind this idea is going to kill the Democratic party if it takes hold. If the Lieberman/Bayh/Kristof line of needing to build bridges, etc. with the Republicans ends up being the dominant Democrat line, we're complete toast. Norquist's prediction will come true: the party will die a slow death. Only perhaps many decades in the future will a new force rise from the ashes.

Reading Neiwert's full post though, he says he's not arguing for a Mr. Nice Guy approach. I really can't tell what he's saying at all. His main line seems to be that Democrats should give up their claim to "moral superiority" which rural voters find offensive. This seems like a doubly odd claim. Isn't it Bush and co. that are making the claim to moral superiority? When did Democrats on the national front last stake a claim to moral superiority? Maybe when LBJ pushed through the civil rights bill in 1965? I'm sure Neiwert would say, no, I don't understand, it's more the impression Democrats give, blah blah blah. It all sounds like hot air to me. And thanks a lot, Dave, for your insights into what rural state voters think from your perch there in Seattle.


No, it is not a good analogy at all, between what Dean said and the swift boat ads. It is a horrendous analogy. Dean’s statement, to paraphrase was that Bush, like Milosevic, exploited people’s differences and appealed to their worst instincts and deliberately divided them for political gain. It is perfectly true, as far as both Bush and Milosevic doing that.* Now, if Dean was arguing that Milosevic and Bush did that to the same DEGREE, it is quite untrue. I am quite sure he would say that he was not. But juxtaposing them like that may imply equivalence, and since they’re nowhere near equivalent it is inaccurate and counterproductive.

But it was a one time, careless, unfortunate remark, and it was to some degree accurate. The Swift Boat ads were a sustained, coordinated concerted effort to make the country believe vicious lies about what John Kerry did in Vietnam. Kerry was wounded three times, risked his life, saved lives, had nightmares about Vietnam for year—and they lied about it, and much of the public believed them, and it may well have been the difference in the election. The two things are not comparable, and to pretend that they are does no favors to Purple America. You don’t create a purple country by politely pretending not to notice those making every effort to divide it. And when those on your side commit lesser sins, you shouldn’t let them off the hook or make excuses, but you also shouldn’t pretend their sins are equivalent when they aren’t.

That said, I agree with your overall point. There is an alarming tendency on the left to say “Republicans won by demonizing their opponents, lying, and appealing to people’s worst instincts. If we want to win we have to start lying, demonizing, and appealing to people’s worst instincts.” But this isn’t so. It serves their interest for the country to be divided. It does not serve our interests. It serves their interests for voters to be misinformed. It does not serve our interests. Anyway, the Democrats don’t really have the stomach for this stuff, and we end up being a little dishonest, a little too inclined to demonize our opponents. We get Chris Lehane instead of Karl Rove. It’s immoral, it’s counterproductive, and it’s depressing as hell. Dean knows better than to compare Bush to Milosevic, even if the terms of the comparison are technically accurate. He is totally capable of being honest without being divisive, about being courageous and calling for unity at the same time. He did this when he signed the civil unions bill; he did it on the first day of the Iraq war. I wish we could see more of this side of him.

(*Spare me the standard stuff about liberal activist judges, Adam. You could say the same about Loving v. Virginia, and people did say the same. The Massachusetts court ruling only applied within the borders of a state, and it is closer to reflecting popular opinion in this state than the legislature that refused to allow a vote on domestic partnership benefits for a decade because a power-hungry, incredibly unpopular, conservative democrat bully controlled the House. Pro-gay marriage candidates gained seats in the legislature. There is absolutely no need for a federal marriage amendment. The Supreme Court is incredibly unlikely to require other states to recognize gay marriages—I believe, as a matter of law, that they should, but this Court won’t, and it certainly won’t after Bush appoints two more justices. At most they will make the federal government grant some benefits to Massachusetts couples, but that has no real effect on Oklahoma.

Karl Rove had weekly conference calls with James Dobson, answered Paul Weyrich’s emails within hours, was close to the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America. The RNC put out fliers that said liberals would ban the bible, and refused to apologize for them. Bush repeatedly said that the marriage amendment was necessary to save marriage. That implies inescapably that gay people are out to destroy marriage, and that is false and homophobic.

And frankly, I cannot BELIEVE I am expected to take seriously a Tom Coburn booster’s views on how to foster national unity. I know you oppose his anti-gay views, and that’s to your credit, but that fact is you supported the most homophobic campaign I have ever seen in politics. Please go back and reread his various statements, substituting the word “Jews” for “lesbians” and “homosexual activists”, and tell me if you would have supported a candidate who said those things. Tell me also how you would have felt about someone who said, “well I don’t agree, but hey, he really wants to cut unnecessary government programs and that’s good enough for me!”)


Iagree with the person that said that, "We cannot expect to get a purple nation, by politely pretending that there are not people who are out there trying to devide the nation.

Howard Dean was not saying that George Bush was the exact same as Milosovich's. He was saying that Bush was using some of the same tactics as Milosovich. (Trying to divide people for partisan political purposes.) Are you saying that Bush has not been doing that? I think that maybe he has.


Post a Comment


View blog top tags
The Assault on Reason

Obama 2008 - I want my country back

I want my country back - Obama 2008

About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.