Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Firing Van Jones Is a Win ... For Liberals

As galling as it is to discover flaws in anyone Glenn Beck attacks, I'm not sorry that Van Jones resigned. Signing a petition that calls for "investigating" the truther conspiracy theories is actually a superb reason to not work in the White House. Van Jones shouldn't work in the White House. Neither should anyone who endorses the birther lunacy, even if it's just signing a petition they later deny believing in, should be allowed in any future Republican West Wing.

There's a feeling, I understand, that Glenn Beck shouldn't be allowed to "win." But what has Beck won? Advertising endorsements? No. Beck got someone who founded the group that's promoting his boycott. Maybe he feels some personal satisfaction. But the canning of Van Jones doesn't mean advertisers are signing back on to Beck's show. He's gotten some petty revenge. But he hasn't gained anything for himself.

Has the Jones resignation made Obama look bad, or weak? Only to people, whether on the left or right, who already thought Obama was bad and weak. Only the hardest-core political junkies noticed the Van Jones story at all, because the lunatic right stepped on the story. The opportunity to make Obama's White House looks like a truther loon sanctuary was cast aside in the giddy assault on Obama's dangerous socialist speech about studying hard.

Liberals are actually in luck. The lunatic right overlooked the first nugget of genuine leftist irrationalism they'd happened across for months and months, because they were so eager to run out and prove themselves irrational and irresponsible. I rejoice at their timing.

We have to meet the crazies with sanity, not with more crazy, and it's important not to confuse political passion with political credulity. Being willing to believe any crazy silly thing doesn't make you a more passionate or more committed leftist. It makes you an undisciplined and ineffective leftist. In the long run, and too often in the short run, it makes you a liability.

Being the mirror image of the Rump Republican Party is not a strategy for victory. There is no advantage in adopting the opposition's folly and weakness. "If the enemy," as a character in Shakespeare puts it, "is an ass, and a fool, and a prating coxcomb, is it meet, think you, that we should also ... be an ass and a fool and a prating coxcomb?" Being a truther is an attempt to match the right wing craziness with more craziness, like fighting kamikaze pilots by crashing your own plane.

Liberals and progressives need to defeat the crazy right on the ground of cold hard, sanity. Keeping around truthers and other conspriacy theorists only muddies that crucial division between the party that wants to move the country forward in real ways that help real people and the party that is mired in its own fetid paranoias. We need to represent the reality-based community, all day every day. That's the only way to win and the only way to deserve to win.

And the plain unpleasant fact is, the left has no route to victory except virtue. Playing down and dirty in the swamps of paranoia and conspiracy will always be a losing strategy for progressives. Conservative fantasies and fear-mongering will always have a wider and deeper pull in the public imagination than progressive fantasies will; the conservative fantasies are deeply familiar and grounded in long cultural traditions; they come easily. Being progressive is precisely about doing the good that we have to imagine into being, the things we have to work to imagine. Imagining a better world is hard work. It's always easier to fall back into old, comfortable fears. We will never win by talking about the monsters under the voters' beds; the right wing fringe midwived those monsters, long before we were born.

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