Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ten Quotes from Right-Wing Blowhards That I Can Actually Agree With

I embarked on this project with the best of intentions. About a year ago, I stumbled across a list of what someone thought were the 'best ever' quotes from Ann Coulter. I decided to read down the list (it was an extensive list), and found myself agreeing with, well, with two or three of them. Which surprised me and took me aback, frankly. It stuck in my head.

And may well have been all a dream. Because in compiling this list, I found it more difficult to find somethig - anything - Ann Coulter had said that I could agree with, as you'll see below. Most of the seven other people on this list were comparatively likeable, actually. Which took me by surprise. Must be the Christmas spirit filling my heart with tidings of comfort and joy.

What is a blowhard? Well, defines it mostly as a boastful braggard, but I don't think that's it at all. To me, a blowhard is that drunk guy in the corner of the bar willing to spout off about any topic. Little so-called 'political commentary' strays very far from this template; rarely does it rise above the level of mere partisan shouting.

To the extent that I've actually watched any of these people (all of whom are American mainly because I'm not aware of any Canadians of a similar type), I must admit that I don't find left-wing political commentators much more appealing than their conservative 'nemeses' - I think we're supposed to see Keith Olbermann, for example, as a kind of countervailing force of good against the people on this list, but I watched him in preparing this list, and found his politics unimpeachable but his personality smug and superior. God help us all if he's what stands between these ugly hatemongerers and true political power.

And ugly they are. I really attempted this with the best of intentions: understand the 'other side', so to speak, seek out common ground. But the vast majority of the things these commontators say is rank, indefensible nonsense. David Letterman famously told Bill O'Reilly that 60% of what he said was crap. Frankly, I'm still looking for that other 40% (okay, 39% - he did make the list, after all). It must comprise mainly the introductions he gives his guests as they appear on his show.

Still, by the mere law of averages, even the most wrong-headed person is bound to say something less than entirely offensive every now and then - even if it's just by accident. Here are ten.

1.NEWT GINGRICH ON POLITICAL CLICHÉ: "In every election in American history both parties have their cliches. The party that has the cliches that ring true wins." This is a refreshingly honest look at partisan politics from someone who has actually been elected as a member of one of the two parties (no points for guessing which). Most of these blowhards are extremely partisan, and have this inbuilt belief that the Republican Party is by its very nature superior to the Democratic Party. Some are nearly Manichaean about it. So this more realistic view of party politics is nice to see.Newt Gingrich the Blowhard

2.SARAH PALIN ON POPULISM: "We need leaders who will stand up for the little guy and listen once again." I don't know if Palin really qualifies as a blowhard, but she has the business of cheap soundbites down just as well as the media professionals do. Somewhere along the way, the left has lost its ability to speak with conviction as defenders of the 'common man'. We may have come to wrinkle our noses at cheap, pat populist sentiment, but the result is a feeling that the left is out of touch with the hoi polloi. If we really do shut ourselves up in ivory towers, we will have forever lost the battle. Palin is right: leaders need to listen to and stand up for the common man. People are so desperate for this that millions have convinced themselves that the Republicans in some way represent their interests best of all. This is frightening.Sarah Palin the Blowhard

3.SEAN HANNITY ON PUBLIC SERVICE: "One of the best lessons I learned early is that not everything in life is about you. It is about service. If you want trips and excessive gifts, then don't get into public service." Yeah, fair enough. It's tough to complain about someone criticising graft and corruption in the public sector. I don't know the circumstances he was discussing, but yeah - dishonesty in the public sector is something to condemn. With kickbacks and 'donations' being a daily reality in American public political life, it's tough to see this changing, but the endemic corruption in politics ought to anger people on both the left and the right equally - if this is what he's talking about. If he's merely saying that public servants shouldn't earn a decent wage, then it's rather tougher to defend him.Sean Hannity the Blowhard

4.GLENN BECK ON POLITICAL CORRECTNESS: "Political Correctness doesn't change us, it shuts us up." I think this is absolutely true, and important. Beck says it to talk about how political correctness is ineffective, and as far as that statement goes, it's true. Our political discourse has progressed to the point that, for example, if you insult gay or black people in public with derogatory language, you will be criticised on all sides for it. This is a good thing, but what it has also done is driven the bigotry underground. Beck is right: when the cameras are off, when the notepads are away, the opinions expressed by a large number of conservatives suddenly seem very different. Political correctness can unfortunately give the illusion that society has progressed further than it has. This forces sheep's clothing onto wolves who otherwise might not hide their wolfish natures, and that makes it harder to fight them.Glenn Beck the Blowhard

5.RUSH LIMBAUGH ON PRO-CHOICE EQUIVOCATION: "The message that President Obama delivered in his speech at Notre Dame was: morality is immoral. Pro-life is the extremist position, not a moral position. Yet we should compromise and work to reduce abortions. Where's the compromise between life and death - and why work to reduce the number of them occurring if there's nothing wrong with them?" This one is a genuine, legitimate criticism of the mainstream left. In the abortion battle, conservatives have a simpler message than the mainstream left. Its mere unequivocal directness gives it a sense of moral superiority over the hedge-betting that goes on in the mainstream left. If we are truly pro-choice, we have to be able to say the word 'abortion', and we need to be comfortable with it and speak with no uncertainty about how enabling a woman to take control of her own body is indeed a moral act. Limbaugh is right that it's hypocritical to be pro-choice if you still insist on 'softening' your message with talk about how abortions need to be avoided. There is nothing morally wrong with abortion, so behaving as if there is (or might be) helps no one.Rush Limbaugh the Blowhard

6.GLENN BECK (AGAIN) ON THE NEXT GENERATION: It does not have to be that the greatest generation is behind us. It does not have to be that our children will have a lower standard of living. It will be that way if we choose to believe that. I choose not to believe that. I like this one. A little bit of optimism is refreshing coming from the mouths of these doomsday-sayers. Conservatism by its very nature sees the past as glorious and sees any change from how things were in the past as regression, so pessimism about youth is pretty much a given in conservative circles. Beck would probably suggest that all the next generation has to do is 'embrace our traditional values' to become the greatest of generations, but nonetheless I have to give him credit for not immediately dismissing the future out of hand.Glenn Beck the Blowhard

7.SARAH PALIN (AGAIN) ON HELP: "Each of us knows that we have an obligation to care for the old, the young and the sick. We stand strongest when we stand with the weakest among us. I don't know if by their very definition, the old, the young and the sick are the 'weakest' among us, but Palin's sentiment is still well-taken. I suppose as far as people-helping-people goes, the main difference between conservatives and progressives could be construed as whether or not the government is the best agent to provide that help. Alternately, it might be that one side is genuinely for helping those in need, while the other side just gives lip service to the notion.Sarah Palin the Blowhard

8.BEN STEIN ON ALTRUISM: "I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty...This is my highest and best use as a human." In the midst of hundreds of quotes from this elderly blowhard (once upon a time famous for saying, 'Beuller? Beuller?' in a teen movie, now famous for spouting all kinds of ugly conservative rhetoric at any given opportunity) focusing on personal gain and the rewards of personal effort, a sudden sense of civic duty leaps out in this quote. Stein has a lot to say in favour of the self-interest and greed that serves as the spirit of capitalism, so siddenly seeing a quote in praise of altruism is a welcome relief.Ben Stein the Blowhard

9.ANN COULTER ON OLYMPIC BOYCOTTS: "In another show of America's force to the world, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Carter responded by boycotting the Olympics. And thus was a fearsome blow struck at little fourteen-year-old American girls who had spent their lives training for the Olympics." I found it very hard to find something Ann Coulter had ever said that I didn't find merely obnoxious, offensive garbage. So I had to go and find this rather obscure topic: the American boycott of the Moscow Olympics. I think boycotts can be useful tactics to change other countries' behaviour or attitudes, but boycotting Olympics is a numbskulled move that changed nothing politically, dashed kids' dreams, and led to the orgy four years later when the Eastern Bloc boycotted the Los Angeles olympics, denying Americans their chief competitors.Ann Coulter the Blowhard

10.BILL O'REILLY ON TEEN PREGNANCY: "Millions of American families are dealing with teenage pregnancy...It is true that some Americans will judge Governor Palin and her family. There's nothing anyone can do about it." I had no idea that the relatively charismatic and seemingly likeable O'Reilly was probably the most reprehensible on this austere list, bar Ann Coulter. He has decades of nonsense behind him. You could fill bookshelves with the garbage he's spouted. Yet, while Sarah Palin was campaigning for the office of vice president, her unwed teenage daughter discovered that she was pregnant. The temptation to give in to Schadenfreude here comes from the fact that Palin and her ilk are eager to condemn unwed teen mothers at every chance they get. One wants to point out her hypocrisy. But I think the left should have resisted the temptation to gloat here, since Sarah Palin is not the same person as her daughter, and having sex outside of marriage is no crime. We shouldn't need to attack the right for how their opinions and their lives contrast each other: it should be enough merely to point out how wrong their opinions are.Bill O'Reilly the Blowhard

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