And why political theater has changed after the “Read More”.
What’s has changed? The psychology. When media figures like Lawrence O’Donnell and the Occupy protesters went on the attack in the past with the “why are you supporting the Man” or “why are you racist” their targets would go on the automatic defensive, or worse, sputter out some nonsensical expostulation of anger. That automatic deference has vanished for two reasons.
First, the polemicists on the left no longer have a talking points advantage. They formerly used their highly developed ideology to browbeat or mock all but the best prepared opposition. But conservative activism has since leveled the intellectual playing field. Speakers on the left find that every talking point they fire off is met by an equivalent.
That has led to the second change: confidence. People like Herman Cain (and Andrew Breitbart) are no longer afraid to go on the counterattack. They actively seek confrontation. Notice how Cain basically calls O’Donnell’s bluff and says, “sure you guys are brainwashers”. Faced with the bald accusation, O’Donnell backpedals and tries to stay in control because he knows that, given half a chance, Cain will take the offensive against him and rake his own show over the coals.
This willingness to go on the offensive; the refusal to accept the old rules of engagement is what most the media really mean when they say ‘incivility’. The ‘incivility’ does not really refer to bad manners, a propensity to physical confrontation or poor hygiene. That has been a feature of groups like ‘Occupy’ for a long time. The ‘incivility’ consists in not accepting the unwritten rules any more.
What has made the difference in the battle of theatrics is rehearsals. Conservative activists now go over their lines at on Internet sites and in face-to-face meetings before they sally out, and the difference shows. The principal weakness of Barack Obama’s “confrontation strategy” is that it assumes an agit-prop superiority that isn’t there any more. Or if some margin of superiority still remains it is no longer as decisive as it used to be.
That doesn’t mean that liberal activism is dead. It remains extremely powerful, articulate, skillful and well-funded. But the days when it could run roughshod over the opposition with “one touch of the armored gauntlet” are over.
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