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Name-calling works, if you can make it stick

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In a recent, otherwise excellent article How Angry Are You? Time To Channel and Say It Smartly Rob Kall repeatedly warns against (empty) name-calling. "We can't waste our time venting or calling right wingers names." "We are in times that are too dire to lapse into the luxury of cathartic name calling."  And "We must not call names, we must think hard..."

I beg to differ. Name-calling works very well! That's how the right wins.  The problem is that their name-calling sticks, but the Right is able to deflect our attacks.

Conservatives' success is based on name-calling (as well as big bucks). They call us "baby killers'. They call us "tax-and-spend liberals." They call us "effete."  Their attacks worked so well that liberals don't even call themselves liberals anymore; they call themselves "progressives."     Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck area masters of invective and anger and name-calling.

Conservatives say the Left is anti-family and anti-God. They say we "feed at the trough." They have all their talking points and pat arguments. "Government is the problem, not the solution." "Government is inefficient and corrupt." (Yeah, and conservatives do their darndest to make it that way.)  "There isn't a revenue problem; there's a spending problem."  They say Democrats are "anti-liberty."  They exploit anti-gay and anti-immigrant bigotry. They exploit fear. They exploit religious fanaticism.  They exploit patriotism.  They exploit peoples' anger and direct it at government and unions -- the only forces that could possibly save the people from unconstrained capitalism.

Republicans ridiculed Gore for having pretended to invent the Internet (though he never made that claim). They called Kerry a "waffler."  They painted Kucinich as an extremist. They tore down screamer Howard Dean.

Conservatives call Obama a "socialist." (lol)   They call progressives extremists.   Heck, even Obama (no liberal) more or less calls progressives extremists.

The invective and anger on the right are very ugly and very effective.

In fact, in his article Rob engages in name calling: "We are seeing the vile eruption of a virulent right wing, long fulminating pustule of hate, misogyny, and corporate, fascist extremism."
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Names alone won't work, but they're necessary and useful.

The problem is: how can we make names stick?

We need names, as well as talking points and slogans. But we need to back them up with facts and images and videos and songs and repetition and narrative.  We need a viable progressive media. We need to direct peoples' anger towards the real villains.

Unfortunately, the real villains have infiltrated the Democratic Party as well.  The Democratic leadership seems more interested in protecting the torturers and war criminals than in effecting real change in government.   
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The Republicans are horrid. The Democrats are at best mixed. Both major parties are expert at exploiting populist anger and directing it at the other party.  Fundraising letters describe the evil deeds of their opponents.

Right wing populists (the Tea Party) get some things right. They're aware of the immorality of militarism, and they oppose corrupt corporate control over the government.  But they're libertarian: they want to destroy government agencies and services that are the most effective counter-weights against corporations, Wall Street, and ignorance.  Tea Partiers' opposition to taxation will further enrich the super-rich and harm the general welfare.

Just as the Democrats betrayed and co-opted populist progressives, the GOP will betray and co-opt populist Tea Partiers.  But they'll throw them enough scraps to keep their support -- just as they granted enough scraps to religious conservatives to keep their support.    The crumbs that the Democrats throw progressives leave us starving for nourishment.

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DFA organizer, Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, writer, and programmer. My op-ed pieces have appeared in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and elsewhere. See and for my writing, my (more...)

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i really don't see this as an accurate rebuttal to... by Cheryl Biren on Sunday, Feb 20, 2011 at 6:34:33 PM
My article wasn't meant as a rebuttal. It was just... by Don Smith on Sunday, Feb 20, 2011 at 7:04:58 PM
thanks for the clarification... by Cheryl Biren on Sunday, Feb 20, 2011 at 7:49:19 PM
Bravo! I've Been Saying this since 2004. After Ker... by Faith Carr on Sunday, Feb 20, 2011 at 7:31:00 PM
I believe what we are lacking on the left is visib... by David Brookbank on Monday, Feb 21, 2011 at 1:09:54 AM
The first Port of Olympia link did not post Here i... by David Brookbank on Monday, Feb 21, 2011 at 1:20:25 AM
The above phrase, describing a Wisconsin woman sch... by Allan Wayne on Monday, Feb 21, 2011 at 2:23:58 AM
I agree with Rob Kall that name-calling should be ... by McMicah on Tuesday, Feb 22, 2011 at 12:07:56 PM