What NSA can teach us about dealing with right wingers

Sam Smith

News that NSA staffers are suffering in morale was both cheering and instructive. Cheering because it’s nice to see a bunch that has been running America’s most prolific crime operation (at least in terms of victims per capita) lose some speed. Instructive because it suggests a better way of dealing with pathological narcissists on the right than is the current practice in the liberal media.

Listening to MSNBC, for example, one is inundated with fervent denunciations of conservatives. While much of what is being said is true, the way it is being said might suggest to some that the accusers are a bit disoriented from reality as well. Listening to Chris Matthews or Rachel Maddow can make one feel like an eight year old kid being scolded by his parents for having a worthless friend whom one must immediately stop seeing but who isn’t his friend anyway.

Unfortunately, in such instances, the merits of the argument get can get lost in its cacophony.

The NSA story, however, was laid down a non-hyperbolic and fact filled way in which the unstated message was: here are the facts, what are we going to do about them?

And the killer moment was that the facts eventually included evidence that perhaps your own phone was being spied upon or that someone was looking at you through your computer’s camera. You don’t have to scream to get this across.

In other words, this national story became quite personal. . .

The false sanctity that shielded NSA from inquiry has collapsed. And politics aside, its staff now looks  like a pretty lousy crowd. High security with low regard.

For liberal commentators taking on a Ted Cruz or Steve Stockman, the complaints often concentrate on issues like gays or abortion that, while virtuous on their own, lack a strong personal connection to the average American. Or they take on an issue like guns, that implicitly vilifies perhaps a third of the people they are trying to reach.

Ironically, this sort of approach can have the exact opposite effect of what is desired. For example, how many Americans now see Steve Stockman or Ted Cruz as major figures on the political scene thanks in part to the rants of liberal commentators who have elevated them in the public mind?

Instead of being seen as incompetent or bizarre outliers of no real achievement, they are raised to the status of the evil beast coming down from the mountain to slay us all.

And those on the right, seeing this, say to themselves, “Hey we’ve got ourselves a new icon. Let’s go with it.”

This liberal tendency to create fearsome monsters out of mundane jerks is another manifestation of a movement that basically has no place else to go. It has no real causes, few real leaders, and no real alternative to the dialogue the right creates.

The key to changing this is returning to an emphasis on economic issues that once characterized liberalism but has faded dramatically in the post Reagan era. There issues are not only sound on their own merits but they reach out to the very people liberals need but now dismiss, diss or ignore.

A politics based on economic matters – jobs, pensions, worker rights, housing and social services – changes the political game. Yes, some of the people one recruits will oppose gays and abortion, but they’re far more likely to change their views in an atmosphere of improved economic conditions then simply because Al Sharpton is screaming at them.

For example among the potential members of a new coalition is the young white male. In 1980 these males were making in 2012 dollars about $20 an hour. Today they’re earning about $16 an hour. Young white females are still a bit below that but over the same past their story has been one of improvement not slippage and thus have far less potential for mindless anger.

Neither party has raised a significant finger to help these young white males. They’ve sent them to Iraq and Afghanistan but even the veterans of these misbegotten conflicts are treated worse than in an earlier era.

How does this affect how one handles a Cruz or a Stockman? One good possibility would be to describe them not as racists or sexists but as anti-worker. And not with rhetoric but with facts.

Like the NSA story this would bring it home in a way that far more would appreciate and understand.

The trick is to undermine, not reinforce, their self image. In the words of Samuel Goldwyn it is often best to “not even ignore them.”

As things stand now, liberal commentators are unconsciously building up the status of these characters. It would be far better if we could handle them in a way that the Stockmans and Cruz suffer a loss in morale because no one outside their little political sheds really takes them seriously.

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