I’m a big “two wrongs make a right” guy. So let me explain.
First of all, Moore is less dishonest than Bush and Cheney themselves are, and much less dishonest than the Republican surrogates who kept the Clinton impeachment going. He’s got a few howlers in there (statistics, dates) and a few stretches (Afghan pipeline). But he doesn’t have any equivalent of “The Clinton Death List” or “Hitlery the lesbian killed her lover Vince Foster.”
And remember — that stuff wasn’t just seen in marginal sources; it percolated up to Safire, the Wall Street Journal, Newt Gingrich, Pat Robertson, et. al. Of those involved, almost no one has been punished or repudiated. The most vicious surrogates (e.g. Ann Coulter, Gary Aldrich) are still well-paid and hard at work. Pat Robertson remains a central Republican figure. And Newt Gingrich, who I think played the biggest single role in the debasing of American political discourse, revolutionized American politics and ended up as Speaker of the House.
To return to Moore: as I’ve said, Moore’s film is impressionistic and insinuating, and does not make a logical, factual argument the way a Chomsky film, for example, would have (and in fact, the ZNET people have already denounced it). But to me this is a good thing. Moore’s film reaches people whom wouldn’t otherwise have been reached, and whom the Republicans have been flim-flamming for decades. The main reason for the screams of rage you’re hearing is the fact that Moore’s film has been very effective.
There is such a thing as “prevailing community standards” or “the way the game is played”, and Moore’s work is comfortably within those standards. These have been so low for so long that almost nothing could really violate them except physical brownshirt attacks on the opposition.
Now let’s try another way of making my point: who has standing to protest against Moore’s movie? I don’t see how any Republican can say anything. During the worst days of Gingrich, when the Republicans used the most abhorrent tactics to gain control of the House and the Senate, no major Republican (except Jeffords) ever stood up and said “This has to stop”. Not all of them played the game, but only a single Senator ever publicly opted out.
The same goes for media people who helped the Republican slime operations along, or who sat quietly and watched. That means almost all of them, including the SCL New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN. All of them have relayed Republican smears and lies, usually without ever retracting them, and their protests against Republican dishonesty, inaccuracy, and viciousness have been extraordinary feeble and few.
That leaves the nice, high-minded liberals who’ve been slamming Moore. Maybe some of them are as good as they think they are. But there’s a big pre-defeated anti-populist streak in the Democratic Party, and I think that that’s what we’re looking at here.
High-mindedness has not worked. Mondale, Dukakis, and Gore all stated their intention of talking sense to America and treating Americans as adults, and they all lost. The impressionistic Boston Harbor / Morning in American / Willie Horton strategy has been triumphant. (Clinton was just a speed-bump, and he gave away half the farm anyway).
The uproar about civility, polarization, and “lies” only started when Democrats started fighting back by playing the game that the Republicans have been playing for ten years or more. It’s really too late for the bought, intimidated referees to say anything. And frankly, I think that the high-minded liberals should be ever-so-politely elbowed out of the way.
Only after the defeated Republicans have been forced to renounce their nastiest operatives should we start talking about civility.
(Developed from a comment on Matt Yglesias. 10:42 PDT: Please forget earlier premature postings.)