Daily Show producer Michael Rubens has a piece up at Salon entitled The Daily Show guide to my enemies, wherein he exhorts liberals to cut conservatives some slack because in person, some of them are downright likeable, amiable, and even kind. He says he feels kind of bad about mocking them in some of the segments he filmed for the show. Rubens attributes his surprise at feeling this way to living his life in a Manhattan bubble with like minded (i.e. liberal) compatriots. Having been safely shielded from actual wingnuts on a daily basis, he had conjured up an image of them as instantly identifiable fire-breathing @$$holes. And yet when he met them, they just seemed sweet as pie.
Now, I like to loathe people. It just feels so good. I particularly like to loathe the sorts of people described above, and when I see them on TV or read their blogs I sigh contentedly and say, ahhh, it is now morally permissible for me to loathe this person. So imagine how irksome it was to have to deal with persons like that on a constant basis and discover that those persons, in person, generally weren’t loathsome persons after all. In fact, to my great consternation and disappointment, I often liked them.
Maybe you already grasp that concept, because you have good friends or loving relatives with beliefs that are wildly divergent from your own. But I tend to think my experience is more typical: I lived in a little bubble surrounded by people who think more or less like me. And when I considered people with opposing viewpoints I would turn into a fabulist, concocting an entire narrative of who they were and what they were like — and what they were like was yucko. Because I was not really interacting with them. I just thought I was, because, hey, look, there they are on the TV, or there’s that guy’s post in the comments section. But that stuff doesn’t count. Meeting people counts. Talking counts.
Really. That “stuff” doesn’t count. Why on Earth not?
A problem I have long observed among liberals is mistaking the civility, manners, and/or earnestness of hardcore conservatives for actual human decency. If one is prone to making this error, I can see how it might be a real head-scratcher to discover that conservatives do not always behave like the nasty primates they are. But make no mistake: these are vicious apes indeed. And it is not exactly helpful when that fact gets minimized by the Michael Rubens of the world:
We can disagree over the best way to provide healthcare, or what optimal tax rates are, without assuming that the person on the other side of the argument emerged steaming from Satan’s fundament.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is quite a remarkable specimen of concentrated bullshit. Liberals do not disagree with conservatives over the best way to provide healthcare. Conservatives are not interested in providing healthcare at all: they are interested in denying healthcare—especially to women and the poor. At a Republican primary debate this fall, conservatives applauded for the death of someone who would die young without healthcare. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal slashes Medicaid to smithereens, and would almost certainly eviscerate Medicare if the votes of the elderly who depend on it were not desperately needed to keep conservatives in office. Republicans, including Mitt Romney, openly campaign on defunding, shutting down, and “getting rid of” Planned Parenthood clinics where millions of women receive low-cost healthcare, including life-saving pap smears and breast cancer screenings. Just yesterday, the Republican House passed a bill that would keep student loan costs from doubling—and pay for it with cuts to basic healthcare. Author Jonathan Cohn put it this way: “GOP position, boiled down: No help for student loans unless Dems agree w/cuts to immunization, cancer screenings, HIV prevention/treatment.” In short: the conservative position on healthcare is unspeakably cruel, if not downright evil. The liberal position on healthcare is “Medicare for all.” To characterize the difference between them as a disagreement over how best to “provide health care” is to reveal oneself as either stunningly ignorant, downright delusional, or a conservative apologist who is not very good at it.
The same goes for this nonsense about “optimal tax rates.” Our differences do not lie in the boring technical details as to how best to ensure that the American public is the benefactor of U.S. tax policy. No, our fundamental, irreconcilable difference lies in the answer to the question “optimal for whom?” Conservatives posit that taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations should be as close as possible to zero. Worse, whenever they get the chance they go so far as to provide enormous tax subsidies to insanely profitable industries like Big Oil (while shrieking about the evils of government meddling in the sacred free market). That is apparently “optimal.” One in four American children now live in poverty. One in four American jobs now pay poverty level wages. One in seven U.S. residents received food stamps last year, a historic record that is expected to increase. And yet Paul Ryan’s budget slashes precisely those programs already struggling to alleviate this wide scale suffering in order to pay for more tax breaks for wealthy individuals and corporations.
The only reason I can think of for conceding that proponents of conservative healthcare and tax policies did not, in fact, emerge steaming from Satan’s fundament is that there is no such thing as Satan. It’s not much consolation, though, because unfortunately there is such a thing as Paul Ryan.
But gosh, the people advocating for and implementing conservative policies are just so nice. I sure hope they don’t see themselves being mocked in that The Daily Show segment. I would just feel terrible about that.
What is going on with this Michael Rubens d00d? Is he hanging out with Micheal Lind or something? What kind of liberal would argue that we should all lighten up and give these nice conservatives a break?
I’ll tell you what kind: the kind that is utterly blind to his own privilege. Michael Rubens will never be personally affected by conservative doctors “exercising their conscience” and letting him die. Conservatives are not killing physicians who could save his life, or bullying his children until they commit suicide. They are not preventing him from marrying a person he loves, or from adopting a child. He will never receive less pay than his counterparts solely because of his gender. I’m willing to bet the Palace Treasury that he personally has access to basic health care, and is probably not constantly worried about where his next meal is coming from.
So Shirley Phelps-Roper of the Westboro Baptists is “warm and affable and lovely” in person? The Westboro Baptists are a deranged, disgusting and truly hateful sect; if they ever came to power they would make the Taliban look like teddy bears. But hey, at long as they are not picketing a funeral of Michael Rubens’ dead child, just cut them some slack, will you?
Amanda Marcotte almost nailed it when she tweeted about Rubens’ piece: “I don’t like white male liberals scolding others about how conservatives mean well. Yeah, well it’s not you they hate.” The implicit analysis is correct as far as it goes, but the phenomenon goes way beyond white male liberals: whatever Kool-Aid Michael Rubens is drinking seems to have leached into the entire U.S. water supply. For example, last I checked, we do not live in a country where foreign armies occupy our streets, where foreign powers prop up our corrupt and tyrannical government, or where sky robots dispatched by a Nobel Peace Prize winner half a world away routinely kill the innocent among our families, friends and neighbors. As long as it’s the case that Other People are suffering, we should all lighten up on our well-meaning warmongers, amirite?
Look, I am extremely privileged: I am not a poor person, and I have decent health insurance. It’s just a fact that if Congress succeeds in cutting food aid and Medicaid, it will not have any direct effect on me. And yet I care very deeply about others who are not as fortunate. My fellow citizens who become impoverished when they or their loved ones get sick. Families with little kids going to bed hungry in the wealthiest nation in the world, ever. People and their loved ones who are maimed and killed in our counterproductive wars. And because I care deeply about all of this entirely unnecessary human suffering — suffering directly attributable to conservative policies, by the way — I simply cannot cut these motherfuckers who enable, exacerbate, and cheer all of it on one tiny, infinitesimal quantum quark of slack. And I resent the suggestion that I should.
Our conservative enemies are well aware of that pesky liberal tendency toward compassion and empathy; they are always quick to mock and snortle at our “bleeding hearts” —you know, the foolish and weak propensity of liberals to give a shit about Other People, instead of proudly shitting on them so we can delight in their misery and thereby feel so superior. And conservatives will quite happily exploit the very empathy on display by Michael Rubens to avoid accountability for the devastating results of their policies. They mean well, we will say, we just disagree on how best to achieve the same goals. There is no evidence of this. None.
I cannot believe I need to say this, but just because monsters can smile at you warmly does not make them decent human beings. In fact they are far more dangerous, because it is quite easy to assume the best of intentions in people who make superficial gestures that put us at ease. And there is nothing wrong with that instinct: it is a beautiful one that makes deep human bonds possible. But it is also a vulnerable Achilles heel. When we fail to look beyond the surface of niceties to discover the hateful, irrational and violent ideologies lying underneath, such people continue to get the benefit of the doubt in our political discourse. Torturers and war criminals are feted on book tours. How’s that for cutting conservatives some slack?
Here’s Rubens in conclusion:
When I’m exposed to views that I dislike, I try to remind myself of the human being behind those views and to cut that person some slack. I hope that they would do the same. I think we should all fight hard for what we believe in, but I’d like to put in a request for some general slack cutting – especially as we move deeper into what is sure to be a very heated campaign season.
No. Nope. Not for one second. Not here. And they would most certainly not do the same for you, or for me. And you know what, Michael Rubens? While you’re busy trying to remind yourself of the human beings behind those ugly views, it may be worth remembering that they do not give a single thought to the unimaginable suffering of other human beings — except perhaps to revel in it.
So if you cannot stomach the skewering satire that right wing conservatives so richly deserve, that’s perfectly fine. Don’t engage in it. Free country (while it lasts…), and all that. You can certainly leave for others the work of pointing out how depraved, dangerous, selfish and hypocritical such people actually are, despite their apparent charms. But consider this: instead of minimizing our disagreements on policy issues as if they’re mere abstract trifles while American children are impoverished and hungry, women are subjugated, gays are denied civil rights and innocent people are maimed and caged and slaughtered by your government, maybe backing the fuck off of others who are picking up your slack might be in order.