You may have noticed that when the right isn’t busy being outraged at the left for being outraged by comments by Republican reality stars, radio hosts and elected officials, they’re busy being outraged at the left for “offensive” comments about Republicans.
The current target is MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, who featured a brief segment on her show last weekend with panelists joking about Mitt Romney’s black grandchild. This was an issue so urgent, apparently, that Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus felt the need to demand an apology from the host just hours after the story broke.
While Republicans spent most of the last few decades being revolted by the idea of “political correctness,” there is now a conscious effort on the right to set the terms of discourse and play the role of the offended victim, whenever doing so is convenient. Then, just as quickly, conservatives will switch back to defending outrageous comments from the right and attacking “PC” thought by framing themselves as the defenders of free speech.
“Political correctness” is a term that — if you believe Wikipedia — originated in the Stalin-era USSR to describe acceptable thought to the regime. In the ’90s it became an epithet the right used to describe the intolerance of left-wing academic thought as progressives tried to reshape society to protect and encourage those who have been historically discriminated against. The great educator Herbert Kohl pointed out that the smear was meant “to insinuate that egalitarian democratic ideas are actually authoritarian, orthodox and Communist-influenced, when they oppose the right of people to be racist, sexist, and homophobic.”
The idea that rich, powerful people need to be protected from both bullying and the consequences of bullying comments often targeting minorities requires an agility and intellectual dishonesty that has been perfected by the right-wing media and spread to the movement’s more outlandish politicians, who thrive on the perpetual outrage of the Tea Party movement.
The perfect example of this is, of course, Sarah Palin. In 2009, she encouraged conservatives to “screw the political correctness.” A few months later she was demanding that President Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel be fired for allegedly using the word “retarded” in a meeting.
The right is investing in the outrage industry. Fox News is the Standard Oil of outrage, but a new breed of organization, born and thriving in social media, is designed to gin up and sustain outrage by using features unique to online marketing.
Ben Shapiro, who some call the right’s next Andrew Breitbart, is the face of a new venture called TruthRevolt, which is funded by The David Horowitz Freedom Center.
“The media must be destroyed where they stand,” its mission statement reads. “That is our mission at TruthRevolt. The goal of TruthRevolt is simple: unmask leftists in the media for who they are, destroy their credibility with the American public, and devastate their funding bases.”
The group’s blog is updated several times a day with stories that reinforce the right-wing worldview and fume at those who say things they disagree with. Additionally petitions help the site build its mailing list with campaigns against villains who refuse to honor “religious liberty” by expecting reality stars not to say things like homosexuality leads to bestiality.
TruthRevolt is a new project and characteristic of Shapiro’s desire to “fight fire with fire” and by using a tactic the right used to decry.
Twitchy — which was started by the Pope of Outrage Michelle Malkin and was recently purchased by the owners of Town Hall — is apparently trying to fight fire with a mob wielding digital torches.
After Melissa Harris-Perry gave in to the demands to apologize for the segment on her show, Twitchy decided the apology didn’t count because it was tweeted with a hashtag. What would the Founders think?
Being mentioned on Twitchy doesn’t just make you the target of vague scorn. It’s a batsignal to the right wing that you need to be attacked directly. Active Twitter users who have been vilified by the site are likely to see abusive mentions for days.
Perry, who is the product of an interracial relationship, is primarily a target because she’s on (slightly) left-leaning MSNBC. The right is in the process of racking up scalps from the news network.
Now-former MSNBC host Martin Bashir responded to Sarah Palin’s comparison of debt to slavery by describing a practice in which slaveowner Thomas Thistlewood forced one slave to defecate in another’s mouth as punishment. He concluded his point by saying, “She confirms if anyone’s truly qualified for a dose of discipline from Thomas Thistlewood, she would be the outstanding candidate.”
The right wing went into outrage overdrive to condemn the host, who apologized twice before leaving his job, likely involuntarily. Bashir suffered from a lack of a political base—and the fact that his indefensible comments involved human waste and a woman’s mouth.
“My role is to accept his apology and be humble enough to accept it and move on,” the ever-humble Palin said on Fox News. “But I just hope that unprovoked attacks like that don’t result in people being hesitant to jump in the arena anyway.”
A few weeks later, Palin was defending the “free speech” of a guy who suggested homosexuality could lead to sex with animals.
The former Republican nominee for vice president is worried about those who might be hesitant to speak out in favor of policies that benefit the rich and enforce historic discrimination. But she’s not as concerned about a gay teen who may be hesitant to go on living because his desires make him someone society is encouraged to despise.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr