Necessary Savagery.

Kerry Lauerman has an excellent interview with Dan Savage, sex columnist and activist extraordinaire, at Salon.  I adore Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller for their activism generally, and the “It Gets Better” campaign in particular, but my absolute, all-time favorite Savagery is “Santorum.”

For the uninitiated:  because ex-Senator Rick Santorum is such a colossal flaming @$$hole of ginormous proportions, in 2003 Savage enlisted readers of his sex advice column to create a definition for the word “santorum,” saying, “There’s no better way to memorialize the Santorum scandal than by attaching his name to a sex act that would make his big, white teeth fall out of his big, empty head.”  His readers enthusiastically obliged, he held a vote, and the ultimate winner for the definition of santorum was “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.”  He created a website called “Spreading Santorum” to promote this definition, and it became (and still is) a prominent result on search engines when entering the ex-Senator’s name.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a masterpiece of Mockery as High Art.  And my loyal readers well know the Palace’s position on the subject of mockery.

Cue the whining about poor Rick Santorum’s children.  No, not from the wingnuts with big, white teeth and big, empty heads, but from liberals:

When asked whether he was concerned about the effect on Santorum’s children, Savage responded that gays and lesbians have children too, yet their children are required to listen to gay relationships being compared to incest and bestiality [by Rick Santorum].  He said the people worried about Santorum’s children were “left-leaning trolls”: “The only people who come at me wringing their hands about Santorum’s children are idiot lefties who don’t get how serious the right is about destroying us.”

As I have argued many times in this space, liberals need to knock it off with the tone trolling, and lose the delusion that the Rick Santorums* of the world can be politely reasoned with.  They cannot be reasoned with, politely or otherwise.  It’s everyone else who needs to be reached.  Whether you like it or not, if you’re a liberal, the far right has declared war against you personally, and is intent on the complete and utter destruction of everything that you stand for:  Social Security. Single-payer healthcare.  Reproductive rights.  Secular government.  And on and on.  Like their jihadi counterparts, they are perfectly willing to destroy themselves, the country, and the planet in the name of their pet dogmas, “free markets” and “biblical worldview.”  And in many key respects, they are winning that war in terms of conservative economic policy and Christianist social legislation.  But while womens rights are continually eroded, and crazed Tea-Partiers bring us a hair’s breadth away from a catastrophic debt default, there is one battlefield where conservatives are not winning —  gay rights — and it is well worth examining why this is the case.  (More on that in a minute.)

Conservative policies have been horrendous failures by any reasonable metric (enriching the oligarchs and entrenching the kleptocracy are not reasonable metrics).  Yet the country has for decades drifted ever rightward to the point where the once-great and thriving middle class is dangerously close to falling off a cliff.  Why is that?  Because the right’s tactics are effective.  Limbaugh and Coulter and dozens of others have made full-time careers viciously mocking liberals and liberalism, polluting the radio waves and cable news all day, every day, with falsehoods and dog-whistles.  The left has, what?   Stewart and Colbert?  Olbermann and Maddow?  As profoundly grateful as I am for the existence of those platforms, it isn’t remotely enough to break through the wall of Faux Noise.  Yet rather than deploy mockery and ridicule in defense of their ostensible values, many liberals would rather wring their hands about Rick Santorum’s poor children.  Frankly, those kids are exactly the people who need to visit spreadingsantorum.com.  The alternative is a brood of little Santorums who grow up to be as destructive as daddy to the next generation.  As much as we might wish it were not so, just consider what happens in a war when one side refuses to fight back with effective weapons.  Liberals must adopt the right’s tactics for one simple reason:  they work.

As Savage points out in the Salon interview:

There’s a reason they used to lock up editorial cartoonists in the 19th century. Because someone who is powerful, or lusts for power, you can really harm him by making him ridiculous.

Indeed.

And while we’re on the subject of liberal hand-wringing, I’d like to point out that it is simply absurd to suggest an equivalency between what Savage does and the actions of those he attacks.  He says:

There’s a difference between taking a piss out of a powerful politician and mocking him, and bullying a 14-year-old kid to death in a rural area. And, Rick Santorum, who wants to reinstate “don’t ask, don’t tell”; have a federal anti-gay marriage amendment; prevent me from going to my partner’s bedside in a medical emergency, which is what that boils down to, when you get down to actual marriage; impoverish my husband and child, should I die, because I’m the sole income in our family; destroy my family. He would prevent me from adopting, if he could, and take our kid out of our home, if he could. He would literally destroy my family.  I made a dirty joke at his expense, and I’m the monster.

No, Mr. Savage.  You are a fucking hero.

Now let’s take a look at the battlefield where conservative corpses lie:  gay rights.  The factors that led to meaningful victories at the federal level are many and complex, but it would be foolish in the extreme to ignore the tactics that ultimately proved successful in pressuring Democrats, including Obama, to deliver for that constituency.  Here’s Savage:

Well, I think my feelings began to evolve after the midterms in 2010. I think the Democrats saw the writing on the wall, with the percentage of the gay vote going to Republicans [doubling] to 30 percent; donations from gays — gay groups, gay orgs, gay people — to Democrats plummeting; that they realized they could no longer just fob us off with speeches and the occasional appearance with the Human Rights Campaign — that they had to deliver. It wasn’t until after that, that we got “don’t ask, don’t tell” [effectively ended], that they stopped the DOMA appeal. Anyone that argues that this was the plan all along, to pass the DADT repeal at the 11th hour in a lame duck session, a hail-mary pass thrown by Joe fucking Lieberman, is an apologist and an idiot. But we got those things because we began to push back and play hardball.  

Let us ponder this for a moment:  in the 2010 midterms, the percentage of the gay vote going to Republicans doubled, to 30%, and donations to Democrats, who talked a good game but did not deliver, dried up.  In case you have been in a coma for a few years, let me take this opportunity to remind you that the national Republican platform (pdf) is explicitly anti-gay marriage:

Because our childrenís future is best preserved within the traditional understanding of marriage, we call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage as a union of a man and a woman, so that judges cannot make other arrangements equivalent to it. In the absence of a national amendment, we support the right of the people of the various states to affirm traditional marriage through state initiatives.

The national Republican platform (pdf) also states, flat-out, that gays and lesbians should not serve in the military:

To protect our servicemen and women and ensure that Americaís Armed Forces remain the best in the world, we affirm the timelessness of those values, the benefits of traditional military culture, and the incompatibility of homosexuality with military service.

And yet, after the Democrats lost the House in the 2010 midterms, DADT (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which precludes gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military) was repealed, and the Obama administration stopped pressing the federal appeal in support of DOMA (“Defense Of Marriage Act,” which bars same-sex marriage recognition at the federal level).  Let’s see:  Democrats lose funding and elections, as a result of a backlash from their gay and lesbian constituents whose votes they have long taken for granted without representing their interests in any meaningful way.  That gay and lesbian constituency voted for Republicans, who certainly would do nothing to advance their interests and would in fact work against them.  The Democrats got the message loud and clear:  represent our interests, or lose, motherfuckers.

Again, here’s Savage:

And the gay vote is bigger than the Jewish vote. It’s bigger than the Miami-Cuban vote. And Jews and Miami Cubans get everything they want. Tremendously powerful blocs. And it was after the November 2010 midterms that we suddenly, in the eyes of the Democrats, overnight morphed into Jewish Miami-Cuban cocksuckers who couldn’t be taken for granted anymore.

I don’t doubt we wouldn’t have seen these things, that these things would not have been delivered, if we didn’t make it clear there would be a price to pay if they weren’t.

Ladies and gentlemen, what we see perfectly illustrated here is the left adopting a successful conservative tactic:  this is Tea Party 101.  Remember that nutcase Christine O’Donnell?  The one who makes Sarah Palin look like a genius by comparison?  Conservatives in Delaware were willing to let Republicans lose a winnable Senate seat to Democrats, rather than support the Republicans party’s anointed assclown.  And what happened?  In response, the Republican party moved even further to the right, and actually took the fringe positions of the fucking Tea Party seriously.

But never mind all that.  No matter how far rightward the Democratic Party lurches, year after year, liberals must support them anyway.  Because “OMFG look how scary that Michele Bachmann is!”  And don’t forget, if you abhor what Democrats are doing and don’t support them anyway, you are all “ungrateful,” “fucking retarded” “drug addicts”  Our votes are taken for granted, because they can be: there is typically no price to pay for dismissing and ignoring and diminishing the left.

Until the American left grows a spine, takes off the kid gloves, and plays hardball, the conservatives in both parties will continue to push the country right — off a cliff.  Dan Savage spelled out the battleplan.

Leftward, march!

__________
*In June, Santorum actually said that the situation “comes with the territory.”  Srsly?  This d00d is as clueless as Bachmann.  LMAO.

4 thoughts on “Necessary Savagery.

  1. I agree that more mockery directed against the bastion of idiocy and wickedness that is the current Republican party would be a good thing. I also agree that Dan Savage is exceedingly good at delivering it, and that Rick Santorum is every bit as repulsive as Savage’s neologism suggests–but despite this, I still think that the latter did not constitute effective political ridicule, for several reasons. First (because it’s less important), having been bullied a lot for my own name, I can tell you that it was extremely cruel of Savage to risk leaving Santorum’s kids with a lifetime of name-related misery. [As I’m typing this, I have no idea how old these “kids” are, so it’s possible this objection falls flat anyway.] Savage’s actions are in no way comparable in magnitude to Santorum’s transgressions against humanity, but I refuse to believe that Savage was incapable of thinking up some other, equally nasty way to insult Santorum that didn’t involve smearing innocent people (or at least people not known to be evil, demented fuckwits). To claim otherwise is, I think, to insult the man’s extraordinary wit, and to merely continue to point out that the Right has itself deployed stunningly cruel smear campaigns with great success is not an effective way to defend Savage’s specific choice of an insult that seems guaranteed to cause harm to people who do not (or may not) deserve it. Before I move on from this, your comment to the effect that Santorum’s kids would most likely benefit from Savage’s prank is ridiculous–if I were one of those children, I’m pretty sure Savage’s actions would leave me feeling coldly towards him and what he stands for for a very long time. To paraphrase your own comment, ridicule of Savage’s sort is best deployed against people with whom reasoning is known to be impossible–and it seems logical by extension that such tactics are best reserved for them as well, whenever possible.

    The second reason is that I’m not convinced Rick Santorum was a worthwhile target. There is, unfortunately, no dearth of high-profile Republicans who fully deserve Dan’s Savagery, but Santorum is a relative nobody who happens to be a senator, so to speak. [To be clear: I’m not saying it’s unethical of Savage to insult Santorum, just that it’s more likely to result in confusion over the identity of the poor bastard who stumbled across Savage’s crosshairs than animus against the Republican party or its principles generally. Of course, it might just be that my perspective on this is a bit warped–I’m currently a student, and the collegiate atmosphere isolates most students from news and current events to a surprising extent; and of course I was too young to appreciate Savage’s colorful prank when it actually happened.] To reiterate, I agree with your assessment that the Republicans are so successful largely because of the scattershot smear tactics they employ against the left, and that leftists could and should learn from their example. However, in addition to knowing how to insult someone in a way that resonates with the constituency, the right is very, very good at determining when and against whom such attacks are likely to produce the greatest net political gain. (Just look at Karl Rove…or don’t. *Shudder*) I would argue that the ability to pick battles and marshal resources effectively is a far more valuable asset politically than wit alone. But the thing that really makes the Republican party as successful as it is is, I think, much more obvious than you suggest: Money, and the influence of those who have it. As Savage himself pointed out, DADT was [effectively] repealed because the gay voting bloc withheld money and votes, not because of its use of ridicule. Put simply, the Republicans are doing so well because they have most of the power brokers on their side. As I see it, the greatest weakness inherent in this position is that the billionaires, corporations, etc. in question tend to be fairly publicity-shy due to the unsavory nature of their political associations. Thus, what the left really needs to do above all is target and expose the rich asshats who fund the Republican machine–mercilessly, incessantly, and contemptuously. There’s a reason the Progressive Era was so named (hint: it starts with an “m” and ends with “-uckrakers”). So yeah, I’m all for “hardball”–but if you want to learn how it’s done, look to Mark Twain and Upton Sinclair, not Dan Savage. The former achieved widespread and lasting reform through their devastating exposes [um…how do you make the little accent thingy?]…while Dan Savage has essentially created a gigantic leftist in-joke. The left does not need to be told as often as it is that ridicule is acceptable, but it does need a serious lesson in ruthlessness.

  2. hactale:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, and no worries about the length. I want to address some of your points.

    having been bullied a lot for my own name, I can tell you that it was extremely cruel of Savage to risk leaving Santorum’s kids with a lifetime of name-related misery.

    Santorum’s kids potentially being bullied is tragic, but they would be the casualties of Rick Santorum, not Dan Savage. Kids are vicious and cruel because their parents and communities allow or even encourage it. It’s not the name association that causes the bullying, it’s bullies: if your name is Smith, bullies will simply find something else to lock onto (usually homophobic, xenophobic or sexist — you know, Christian). Let’s be clear about this: Rick Santorum is a quintessential bully, known for his “confrontational, partisan, ‘in your face’ style of politics and government” in service of an evil, destructive, authoritarian socio-political agenda. Bullying happens because our culture tolerates it, and many specific sub-cultures go so far as to condone and promote it — particularly conservative Christian ones. Dan Savage is not the cause of Santorum’s children being bullied. The culture promoted by Rick Santorum is. (Also, no one is saddled with a “lifetime of name-related misery.” At 18 anyone can change their name.)

    Would Savage’s tactic be okay with you if Santorum did not have children? Because it’s worth looking again at Santorum’s explicit agenda vis-a-vis children of gays and lesbians:

    gays and lesbians have children too, yet their children are required to listen to gay relationships being compared to incest and bestiality [by Rick Santorum].

    [Rick Santorum would] prevent me from going to my partner’s bedside in a medical emergency, which is what that boils down to, when you get down to actual marriage; impoverish my husband and child, should I die, because I’m the sole income in our family; destroy my family. He would prevent me from adopting, if he could, and take our kid out of our home, if he could. He would literally destroy my family.

    Rick Santorum declared this war, and continues to wage it ruthlessly and unapologetically. He’s currently running for president. If Savage’s campaign of mockery has even a slight effect on tipping the votes in favor of someone else, that is all for the good. I will say it again: Rick Santorum’s kids potentially being bullied is tragic, but they would be casualties of Rick Santorum, not Dan Savage (or anyone else with the skill and courage to fire back with effective ridicule and merciless mockery). Dan Savage’s It Gets Better campaign is, among other things, an anti-bullying project.

    Before I move on from this, your comment to the effect that Santorum’s kids would most likely benefit from Savage’s prank is ridiculous–if I were one of those children, I’m pretty sure Savage’s actions would leave me feeling coldly towards him and what he stands for for a very long time.

    Maybe so, but so what? Santorum’s kids are indoctrinated in conservative Catholicism (and are presently being home-schooled due to his fraud and tax evasion scheme in Pennsylvania). Perhaps I was not clear, but what I mean when I said that those kids would benefit from exposure to that website is that they would benefit from cumulative exposure to any other point of view on homosexuality. We know that anti-gay sentiment decreases with one’s personal exposure to gay individuals and the gay community, which is precisely why the Santorums of the world shelter their children from its very existence (and healthy sexuality in general) and demonize gays when they cannot. Incidentally, with seven children there is a decent chance that at least one of Santorum’s kids is gay. If so, all the better for that child (and his/her siblings) to know that other views on homosexuality exist, that there is a vibrant community of wonderful families and brilliant activists, that “It Gets Better” — no thanks to daddy.

    The second reason is that I’m not convinced Rick Santorum was a worthwhile target. There is, unfortunately, no dearth of high-profile Republicans who fully deserve Dan’s Savagery, but Santorum is a relative nobody who happens to be a senator, so to speak.

    Santorum was a rising star and a darling of conservative politics when targeted by Savage, with a much higher profile at that time than he has had for the last several years. Now he is running for president and taking every opportunity to spew his bile to like-minded @$$holes. Not to say we shouldn’t target others as well — we most certainly should — but targeting him at the time was not a tactical error, especially if it helps keep him out of the oval office now.

    I am largely in agreement with the rest of your second paragraph, with only minor quibbles:

    I would argue that the ability to pick battles and marshal resources effectively is a far more valuable asset politically than wit alone.

    It’s not either-or; all of the above are necessary, and then some.

    But the thing that really makes the Republican party as successful as it is is, I think, much more obvious than you suggest: Money, and the influence of those who have it.

    Yes. Unfortunately, this is the one successful conservative tactic the Democratic Party has eagerly adopted. The party leadership is sucking at the teat of America’s Owners with great gusto and predictably terrible results. If we want a liberal Democratic Party, the reality is that such a party will not be able to compete for that kind of money from those interests. As a start, however, liberals can marshal effective support (from unions, women, other core constituencies) to run truly liberal candidates in primaries against conservative Democratic incumbents. Win or lose, it moves the party leftward, because there is a price to pay for conservatism and corruption.

    Hey, I never said it was going to be easy. ; )

    As Savage himself pointed out, DADT was [effectively] repealed because the gay voting bloc withheld money and votes, not because of its use of ridicule.

    Again, it is not an either-or strategy I am advocating: the point of my piece, and I am sorry if this did not come across clearly, was that the left needs to adopt conservatives’ tactics that work. This includes playing political hardball as outlined in the Savage interview, running primary candidates against those who do not represent liberal values even if it means losing the seat to a Republican, and, yes, the well-targeted application of scathing ridicule to the ridiculous.

    Thus, what the left really needs to do above all is target and expose the rich asshats who fund the Republican machine–mercilessly, incessantly, and contemptuously.

    I could not agree more.

    So yeah, I’m all for “hardball”–but if you want to learn how it’s done, look to Mark Twain and Upton Sinclair, not Dan Savage.

    Not either-or. All of the above, and then some.

    The former achieved widespread and lasting reform through their devastating exposes [um…how do you make the little accent thingy?]

    I have no idea!

    …while Dan Savage has essentially created a gigantic leftist in-joke.

    I disagree: if it can help in some small way in a general election to keep Santorum out of power.

    The left does not need to be told as often as it is that ridicule is acceptable, but it does need a serious lesson in ruthlessness.

    Not either-or. Both of the above, and then some.

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