Catching up with email and blog posts I missed while on vacation for a few weeks has been instructive. It appears to me, from this fresh perspective, that progressive bloggers, journalists, and activists are wasting a lot of their time.
To understand why, we need to be clear on the current landscape. Right now, Republicans represent about 30-40% of the public. They are increasingly beholden to the hardcore, angry-white-man demographic, which is getting increasingly insular and wingnutty, screaming about socialism and handshakes with Chavez and one-world currency. Republicans in Congress have decided on a program of total obstruction.
This shrinking minority and its representatives in Congress are unreachable and unreasonable. They speak only to one another and their shared mythology of victimization and looming threat is increasingly baroque and opaque to those outside. They are shrinking into themselves, drifting into the wilderness, becoming more and more cultish. There is, in short, no reason to pay much attention to them.
Meanwhile, among the other 60-70%, there’s a serious debate happening about how best to act on climate and energy. There’s broad understanding that there’s a problem and broad support for moving forward, but among industrial state Dems and many citizens there’s fear that the transition will be painful.
The rational response to this landscape would be to spend time arguing — and displaying real confidence — that the transition will in fact be good for the entire country; that industrial states will benefit as well; that the nation will be stronger, safer, and more prosperous as a result of action. It is the waverers and nervous nellies who need attention and persuasion.
Instead, progressive media types and activists spend a wildly disproportionate amount of time running around like their hair’s on fire every time a wingnut goes on cable news or writes an op-ed saying ridiculous things. Every time Newt Gingrich or Marc Morano or Joe Barton says something stupid, green bloggers start holding strategy sessions and freaking out about how to pressure this or that media outlet to repudiate the comments. They write more about, and to, the 35% than they do the 65%.
This makes them — and the forces of climate action generally — look defensive and brittle and jumpy. It gives the wingnuttery they’re responding to more credibility and oxygen than it would otherwise have. After all, if the people who want action think these arguments are worth so much time …
Progressives need to get it through they’re heads that they won. They’re in charge; they hold the levers of power. They understand the nation’s problems and are proposing credible solutions. They should feel a sense of momentum and optimism and confidence. That feeling is contagious. It’s what draws people in and soothes their fears. It’s what broadens a movement and creates social capital.
(Think back to when you were a marginalized nerd in high school. Yeah, you. Did the “popular kids” spend a lot of time arguing with you? Explaining why you were goofy and wrong? Getting upset when you said nerdy things? No. They paid no attention to you. Such are social hierarchies built and enforced. If you think public life is not just a larger version of the same thing — if you think it’s some kind of salon where the best facts and arguments win out — well, good luck.)
Anyway. Quit playing defense when you don’t have to. Quit paying so much attention to wingnuts. They are douchebags. Everyone hates them.