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We Have, However, Passed Peak Contrarianism

[ 57 ] March 8, 2012 |

What Steve M. and Charles say about the increasingly embarrassing Michael Kinsley and his one remaining belief — that everyone is as vacuously cynical as he is. (Well, OK, there’s also his apparently sincere belief that political leaders need to meet his exacting aesthetic standards.) In addition, I would like to note how Limbaugh’s carefully considered, increasingly vicious three-day attack on Fluke becomes “some stray remark.” Although, of course, in Kinsley’s world the fact that this long series of “stray remarks” is perfectly consistent with an extensive history of misogyny actually means that you can’t really can’t be sincerely criticizing it, because…look, it’s Halley’s Comet!

I also can’t resist quoting Kinsley’s B- tenth grade essay about free speech and the perfect equality of the Marketplace of Ideas:

As we all know, Limbaugh’s First Amendment rights aren’t involved here — freedom of speech means freedom from interference by the government. But the spirit of the First Amendment, which is that suppressing speech is bad, still applies. If you don’t care for something Rush Limbaugh has said, say why and say it better. If you’re on the side of truth, you have a natural advantage.

There are indeed principles of free speech that extend beyond the First Amendment; that these principles include the proposition that a wealthy, powerful talk show host is entitled to the precisely the same level of advertising revenue is…less obvious. But the follow-up thought about saying it why and saying it better — as if you have access to the same platform as Rush Limbaugh — is the kind of fake-naive nonsense Kinsley would have relentlessly made fun of 20 years ago. Just make sure you don’t criticize Rush in any way that might be effectual, because if his ratings went down that would be suppressing his free speech! Meanwhile, I hope Kinsley will agree that my free speech is being suppressed because I do not have a syndicated column.

Relatedly, I would also recommend Irin Carmon, who notes that feminists have in fact frequently criticized the more progressive misogynists now being cited as tu quoques. And while Bob Somerby is right about MSNBC’s sexism issues, he’s wrong to nobody else in the “liberal world” is willing to discuss this in public. If you’re going to imply, for example, that Rebecca Traister is a hypocrite and sellout only willing to criticize MSNBC hosts on listervs, you might want to spend a minute or two looking into whether she’s, say, written an (excellent) book that extensively discusses the sexist treatment Hillary Clinton received at the hands of Olberman et al.

Comments (57)

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    • DrDick says:

      Absolutely. While the First Amendment protects Limbaugh’s right to make inflammatory bullshit statements, it also protects my right to call him a racist, misogynist asshole and to tell his advertisers that if they choose to sponsor such egregious hate speech I will never again buy their products. Free speech and Free Markets(tm), beyoches!

  1. david mizner says:

    And to think that for several years in the — what? late 80s and early 90s, Kinsley, with his Crossfire gig, was among the most visible faces of “liberalism.” No wonder there’s so much ideological confusion among “liberals” and “progressives.”

  2. Hogan says:

    If you’re on the side of truth, you have a natural advantage.

    Even his cynicism is incoherent. That is the dumbest thing I expect to read all week outside of the Republican presidential campaigns.

  3. elm says:

    I haven’t read Somerby in a long time. Glad to see he hasn’t changed: the more Catholic-then-the-Pope attitude combined with sneering condescension to anyone else on the Left. We get it, Bob, you are the lone progressive willing to speak truth to power! (Plus, the bonus blurring of differences: “Prejean’s is opposed to gay marriage and Obama is opposed to gay marriage. There position on gay rights is exactly the same!” Sure, Bob.)

    He’s often right, but my god is he insufferable and unreadable.

  4. Aaron Baker says:

    A sad decline. I’m old enough to remember when Kinsley was actually pretty incisive. I hope he’ll eventually be embarrassed by this misbegotten effot–but I’m not waiting by the phone.

    • c u n d gulag says:

      I’m also old enough to remember when he said things that were important to say, and said them damn well.

      But he’s been stewing in the DC-confit for too long – long enough not to know when his goose is cooked.

      He’s awful, and getting worse all of the time.

  5. R. Porrofatto says:

    Kinsley: A gaffe, as someone once said, is when a politician tells the truth

    Oh, Michael, you coy little onanist, you!

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      And what Limbaugh did wasn’t a “gaffe” in that or really any other sense, but the discussion did allow him to cite himself and move 200 words closer to a paycheck.

  6. — as if you have access to the same platform as Rush Limbaugh —

    This.

    How can this not be glaringly obvious? Something something privilege something something.

  7. buddytoledo says:

    As much as I dislike Rush Limbaugh and the work he’s done to undermine the assertion that “If you’re on the side of truth, you have a natural advantage.”, I don’t think it is helpful to ridicule the notion that private actions can undermine our value of free speech.

    More and more of our public discussion is online, which most people can only access through services provided by private companies. Though this may not be the national trend, in lots of places private areas like malls are the most common place for people to physically gather. And private media companies continue to influence the scopes of our public discussions and whose opinions and viewpoints are excluded. Just because those issues aren’t First Amendment issues (and may have been removed from much broader state free speech protections) doesn’t mean they aren’t important values.

    The real hypocrisy is that anybody asserting that this campaign against Rush is new or anywhere near as effective as the power of corporations like Monsanto to influence in this way. It’s appalling that Kinsley is basically saying, “Oh, no, now regular people can do it too!”

    • Njorl says:

      That’s a good point. I’ve come to think of American liberalism as classical liberalism with the added belief that government is not the only possible threat to rights, and that government is obliged to protect individual rights from other sources of oppression.

      If it were a conservative making Kinsley’s argument, it would be fun to turn it around on him – the strong should not be able to silence the weak via the power of the marketplace. But Kinsley is just a professional contrarian. He doesn’t have beliefs.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I don’t think it is helpful to ridicule the notion that private actions can undermine our value of free speech.

      It’s a good thing that I explicitly declined to do so, then!

    • DrDick says:

      Nobody is undermining Limbaugh’s free speech, merely exercising their own free speech rights and their free market economic choices along with it.

  8. Njorl says:

    I believe Mr. Kinsley does not really believe what he writes, but is just adopting a public stance to suit his own purposes. That’s what they all do, according to Kinsley.

  9. Dave says:

    20 comments, and nobody’s said “Oh no we haven’t” yet…

  10. Richard says:

    I have a question. I never watch Maher (I find him insufferably smug) and was totally unaware of his sexist comments until this Limbaugh thing.

    So what comments did he actually make? (I have now heard about him calling Palin a “twat” but what else was said)

    Did he ever apologize?

    Has any guest on his show ever called him out for the comments?

  11. cpinva says:

    i think you have articulated why Imus’ rutger’s women’s BB team moment, and Limbaugh’s Fluke moment happened:

    these were clearly indentifiable individuals, who lacked the public pulpit their protagonist’s have. both imus and limbaugh had made similar comments before, about either public figures who also have a public outlet, or not individually identifiable groups, that you couldn’t specifically empathise with they both made the same mistake.

    limbaugh has a far bigger reach, and won’t suffer the way imus did, but he’ll get nicked, maybe.

    um, why?:

    If you’re going to imply, for example, that Rebecca Traister is a hypocrite and sellout only willing to criticize MSNBC hosts on listervs, you might want to spend a minute or two looking into whether she’s, say, written an (excellent) book that extensively discusses the sexist treatment Hillary Clinton received at the hands of Olberman et al.

    so what? she wrote a book few read. ok, her family read it, that was nice of them. that hardly negates her unwillingness to publicly, on-air, castigate those who should be castigated. after all, she wouldn’t want to quit getting invited to those lovely cocktail parties, now would she? i mean, those are some badacious shrimp!

    yeah, somerby’s insufferable at times. however, part of that stems, i think, from the fact that, for years, he’s been pointing out the glaring lack of media recognition of their culpability in bush’s election, which led to two wars, death, destruction and a ruined economy. granted. i can appreciate why they might not want to cop to that, but there it is. to date, he’s been pretty much the only one willing to point out that maureed dowd is clinically insane.

    • CJColucci says:

      The schoolyard version of the principle at work, which I heartily endorse, is “Pick on someone your own size.” The Imus “nappy-headed hos” comment is a perfect example. He had always been crude and played very close to, and sometimes over, the edge of racist, but it was one thing to train his fire on Mike Tyson, Pac-Man Jones, or Louis Farakhan, public figures who exemplified some undesirable racial stereotypes and deserved some kind of abuse, if not exactly what Imus was handing out. But the Rutgers women’s basketball team was, as far as anyone knew then or knows now, just a bunch of decent college athletes who didn’t embody any demeaning racial stereotype and had done nothing to deserve any kind of abuse. Calling them “nappy-headed hos” was nothing more than yelling “nigger.”
      Rush has always been offensive, but he at least usually aimed his offense at big targets.

    • noen says:

      “[Rebecca Traister] wrote a book few read. ok, her family read it, that was nice of them. that hardly negates her unwillingness to publicly, on-air, castigate those who should be castigated”

      Failure to live up to your standards of ideological purity is not proof of anything. Even a cursory search brings up many examples of her criticisms of various media personalities and issues.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        I like Somerby, but when he goes beyond “why won’t they say anything about issue x” to “why aren’t they discussing it in exactly the way I would like them to as often as I would like” I get off the bus. The fact is, his claim about Traister was bullshit, period.

        • noen says:

          “why aren’t they discussing it in exactly the way I would like them to as often as I would like”

          That’s narcissism isn’t it. That is the reason I chose to comment as I don’t usually. There is the narcissism of the Right which gets expressed as anger and on the Left as hysteria. Both of which are corrosive because being a member of a society means setting aside one’s own selfish concerns for those of the larger community. Where one draws that line makes one a Dem or GOP. Refusing to draw a line at all makes one a Leftist or Right-winger.

          The other reason I chose to comment was over the smear that Chris Mathews is a misogynist. Which is patently absurd. He comes from a certain generation, same as my dad actually, but to equate well meaning but anti-dated attitudes with misogyny is ludicrous.

  12. noen says:

    “And while Bob Somerby is right about MSNBC’s sexism issues, he’s wrong to nobody else in the “liberal world” is willing to discuss this in public.”

    Which links to a post by Digby which links to a Daily Kos post which said:

    “Matthews asked at least 90 questions on the subject over the course of seven broadcasts on his two programs.”

    I fail to see how putting questions to the wife of a former president of the US who was impeached for sexual dalliances is in any way comparable to calling a private person who testified before the congressional Democratic caucus. Bob Somerby went around the bend and into shrill canyon a long time ago when Hillary failed to win the nomination.

    The referenced article by David Brock fails to substantiate it’s claim that Chris Mathews is a misogynist but it is a good example of the kind of posturing and puffed up Leftist hysteria prevalent on DKos.

  13. Christopher says:

    I’m interested in the way political arguments often go from “I dislike this result” to “Therefore the process that produced it is entirely worthless.

    Apparently, Kinsley doesn’t think that this boycott is worthwhile, which is fine in principle, because I’m sure we can all think of stupid right-wing boycotts we disapproved of.

    I’m not quite sure how that leads to the idea that nobody should boycott nasty speech anywhere ever.

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