Tag Archives: liberals

The Trouble with Courting the White Male Vote

Opening blog posts and other informal writing can sometimes be a challenge.  Like this post, for instance: Do I really need to begin with “The Republican victory strategy revolved around the votes of white men,” as if that was new information?  The white dude vote has been the sum total of the Republican strategy for a good while now, though this election cycle was unusually extreme in that respect.  What is new information, at least to Republicans, apparently, is just how ineffective this strategy is.

The problem here is not that a party shouldn’t try to get white men to vote for them.  White men are a big demographic (although slightly outweighed this year by white women); presumably a candidate needs to capture some amount of it to secure a win.  The problem is how.

Since the white male voter has been entrenched in our political consciousness as the “default” voter, there aren’t any issues that are coded as white or male in the same way that, say, immigration is primarily a Hispanic issue or reproductive rights are primarily a women’s issue*.  If an issue were to disproportionately affect men or white people, it would be treated as an American issue that affects everyone.  The mortgage crisis, for instance: 75% of white people own their homes, as opposed to 60% of Asians and less than 50% of African-Americans and Hispanics, and spiraling rent prices don’t grab media attention as a national crisis.  And, for the most part, the populace goes along with this.

This mentality ought to be a godsend for a campaign looking to court the white male demographic because you can focus on the issues that most directly affect them while still appearing and presenting yourself favorably to everyone.  Yet this is insufficient for Republicans; they are under the impression that white male voters will only turn out for them if they help white men and nobody else.

Consequently, to appeal specifically to white male voters, Republicans have to (or think they have to) actively not appeal to other demographics.  Want to show that you support men?  Oppose women’s issues!  Courting the straight vote?  Snub the gay vote!**  Casting yourself as the candidate for people born in the US?  Make life miserable for those who weren’t!  And so on.

This choice is puzzling in the first place because it doesn’t actually help the white male voter base.  How does denying birth control to women, for instance, help men?  It only works if you can convince people that social policy is a zero-sum game where helping one person necessarily hurts everyone else and vice-versa.  There’s a whole conservative cottage industry that revolves around trying to convince people of this (NOM, for one).

But the really odd thing about this strategy is that was so obviously going to backfire.  How could it not?  Every time Republicans try to court one demographic by marginalizing another, they’re outright telling the other demographic not to vote for them.  Republicans are a party for men; women have no reason to support them.  Republicans are a party for white people; minorities shouldn’t vote for them.  And every time Republicans try to strengthen their core by undermining someone else, they add a new demographic to the list of people who shouldn’t vote for them.  Students.  Retirees.  The poor.  The list goes on.

Here we see the stark contrast to the typical Democratic strategy of appealing to minority demographics.  Instead of shutting people out of their party, they generally invite people in.  So Democrats define themselves as a party for minorities, for women, for GLBT people.  Each such definition doesn’t contain any implication that other people shouldn’t support the party, only that there are particularly good reasons to if you belong to one of those groups.  (Naturally, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Democrats are always good for those groups, only that they present themselves that way.)

Republicans have just learned a painful lesson: If you’re going to define your base by exclusion, you’d better be very, very sure that you don’t exclude more than 49% of the country.


Women for Mitt found on Manboobz.

*Say affirmative action and I will smack you.

**The most egregious case came last December, when a gay Republican asked Newt Gingrich why gay voters should support him and Gingrich told him to vote for Obama.


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Standing With Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, people are standing outside in 17 degree weather.  Here in Los Angeles, we were afraid that no one would show up if yesterday’s rain persisted.  But by 10 in the morning, the sky was a gorgeous blue, a perfect day to stand in solidarity with public union members outside the LA City Hall.

I was there representing the Internet, which shall be present at every rally of the 21st century.  This sign is awesome because its heavy-duty lamination will last forever and because in the future I can just cover up the “Scott Walker” and put in any person or thing I want.  Yes, you may borrow it.

From a couple blocks away, it was easy to find.  You just had to follow all the other people wearing red and white (badger colors) and carrying signs.  The turnout was great: I estimate a couple thousand, or using Fox News calculations, five or six million.

The cheeseheads were out in force, too, managing to look amazingly dignified.

And surprise, the Koch brothers showed up and gave a speech!  (These Koch brothers, naturally.)

Partway through the rally, we saw a distant force approaching.  Are they friend or foe?

It’s the March for Choice, arriving about 400 strong to lend their support!

After the rally, we actually did locate the opposition, who were LaRouche crazies, of all people.  It was smaller than the number of people who took pictures of my sign, and to nobody’s particular surprise, had the only especially uncivil signs at the entire event.

Also after the rally, I found another representative of the Internet!  Bad picture, I know, but I was primarily there to rally, not to photograph.  (She’s laughing at my sign.)

Good use of a Saturday?  Without a doubt.


The nationwide Rallies to Save the American Dream took place at every state capital in the nation, plus many other cities.  Estimates place the crowd in Madison today at a jaw-dropping 70-100,000.  It was all organized by MoveOn.org, of course.  You can follow the Twitter hashtag #WeAreWI; the LAist has some more reports on the LA protest here.

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Moderation Policies (Left and Right)

Free Republic has been attracting some attention on the web for having stated policies like this:

Free Republic is a site dedicated to the concerns of traditional grassroots conservative activists. We’re here to discuss and advance our conservative causes in a more or less liberal-free environment. We’re not here to debate liberals. We do not want our pages filled with their arrogant, obnoxious, repugnant bile. Liberals, usurpers, and other assorted malcontents are considered unwelcome trolls on FR and their accounts and or posts will be summarily dismissed at the convenience of the site administrators.

It’s not just a stated conservative site–it’s an enforced conservative site where being liberal (or even non-conservative) is a bannable offense.  This raised the question of moderation policies on other political partisan blogs, so I did a brief survey.  Let’s handle the liberal sites first.

DailyKos has a whole pile of posting rules, conventions, and suggestions, but here is the pertinent part:

Some Rules Regarding Participation in Diaries and Comment Threads

  • Do not make threats or calls for violence. Threatening to beat up or kill someone, or suggesting that people should kill themselves, or saying that poison should be put in somebody’s crème brûlée, or making similar remarks, even as a joke, is prohibited and can lead to banning. This does not mean that all forms of cartoon violence, literary references, metaphors and the like are barred.

Admin Moderation: A single warning. Second offense: Banning.

  • Revealing the real identity or other personal information of a registered user who has not him- or herself made that identity known at Daily Kos or otherwise given permission for such information to be publicly revealed will result in summary banning. Among other things, such revelations include, but are not limited to, phone numbers, addresses, including email addresses not publicly available at Daily Kos, places of employment or clients, gender, sexual orientation, and the identities of other family members. Asking hostile outing questions such as: Do you work at such and such a place? when research has shown this to be true or likely to be true is a form of outing and will be dealt with as such.

Admin Moderation: Summary banning.

  • Registered users working in paid (or unpaid positions of authority) for political campaigns must disclose their affiliation when it is relevant to the conversation.

Admin Moderation: Warning, suspension, banning and, in an exception to the outing rule, exposure of the paid person’s real name.

  • Registered users who write GBCW diaries – saying they are leaving and never coming back – will be banned after their diary’s 24-hour recommendation period has expired. A user who changes their mind may return to Daily Kos under their pre-ban moniker and user identification number only after appealing for reinstatement to the Director of Community or Markos. Users who write diaries saying they are taking a temporary hiatus from posting at Daily Kos are not banned.
  • This is a site for adults and language is not generally policed here, in terms of “shit, ” “fuck, ” “asshole, ” or any of those other family-unfriendly words. Avoid “fuck” in headlines to avoid triggering browser filters of users who log on at their workplace. Anti-semitic, anti-Arab, racist, sexist, ableist and heterosexist language, however, is unwelcome.

Admin Moderation: Warning, suspension, banning.

  • Thread stalking is defined as having three requirements:

1. On multiple occasions, one or more commenters follow a community member into diary threads; and, 2. The commenter(s) posts comments that include false information, personal attacks, lies, or implied/express disclosure of private information; and 3. The commenter(s) engages in this conduct with the intent to harass, harm, humiliate, frighten or intimidate another poster. This intent may be inferred from the number of times that the commenter follows a community member into threads and/or the nature of the comments posted.

Stalking does not include the mere expression of disagreement, seeking out diaries or comments of favorite diarists or simply frequent interaction on the boards.

Before calling someone a stalker or tossing H Rs at a person thought to be a stalker, community members should post a comment explaining what conduct and/or statements constitute the stalking with a link to relevant evidence so that adminstrators and the community have a record to review. Admin Moderation: Warning, suspension, banning.

Nothing there about political opinions; in fact, it’s specifically mentioned that disagreeing with other people is allowed.

Here is the Crooks and Liars policy:

C&L takes pride and a vibrant and lively discussion on our posts. In order to insure that, we ask all our readers to adhere to the following commenting rules:a) Keep all comment threads on topic. This includes the main comments of the post and all sub-threads within that post’s comments.

b) Will not post comments that contain spam, malware, Trojans or any other items harmful to the community. Failure to comply with this rule is grounds for an immediate ban.

c) Will not engage in racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism or other intolerance.

d) Not post comments that are obscene, hateful, threatening or wishing acts of violence against other.

e) Will not engage in “flame-baiting” or trolling.

f) Will opt to ignore users before engaging in any of the above.

g) Keep all discussions civil. Everyone has a right to disagree, but do so respectfully and refrain from name calling.

h) Give proper attribution to all copied content and keep said copied work to a maximum of three paragraphs

i) Will not repost the same content numerous times.

j) Understand that the C&L staff reserves the right to edit or delete any comment for the purpose of; compliance with the TOS and/or privacy policy, content and clarity. We also reserve the right to edit content for any reason not stated above.

The bit about racism, sexism, and the like could be considered squelching the opinions of racists and sexists, but it’s a standard rule found on all kinds of blogs.  Again, there is a specific statement that dissenting opinions are allowed.

The Huffington Post lists five guiding principles for commenting.  This is the first one:

The Huffington Post welcomes all users to join our community and to comment and treats all members of the community equally.

We do not discriminate based on the person who is posting, and we never censor comments for political or ideological reasons. We never delete an appropriate comment because we disagree with its viewpoint or ideology, and we never publish an inappropriate comment because we agree with or support its viewpoint or ideology. We also do not tolerate ad hominem attacks of any kind.

Media Matters:

We are committed to providing a forum where anyone, from anywhere on the political spectrum, can address and respond to the work we do. We request that your posts be relevant to the topic at hand and respectful of others. Media Matters reserves the right to remove comments, topics and threads that are hateful, derogatory, trolling, irrelevant to the conversation, or in violation of copyrights.

Think Progress has its policy in legalese, but the idea is the same:

Blog Community Rules. We have adopted the “Blog Community Rules” set forth below to create a forum where information and progressive views can be shared in a productive way. While using the Blog, you agree to adhere to the Blog Community Rules below.You agree to:
• Respect other Bloggers – please do not threaten, insult, abuse, intimidate or harass other Blog users.
• Use the Blog for your personal use only. Posting entries solely to promote your own projects are not allowed.

You agree not to:
• Post any messages or provide links to any messages that endorse or oppose a particular political party or candidate for office.
• Post any private information, or otherwise harvest, collect or disclose information, about another Blogger without his or her express consent.
• Post any content to the Blog that is unlawful, racist, hateful, libelous, defamatory, obscene, or that intentionally discriminates against or harasses particular individuals or groups.
• Post any death threats.
• Post any content to the Blog that infringes any third-party’s intellectual property or other rights.
• Use the Blog for any unlawful purpose, or transmit or otherwise make available in connection with the Blog any material that would give rise to criminal or civil liability.
• Use the Blog for advertisements, chain letters, “spamming,” survey solicitations, junk mail or solicitations.
• Impersonate any person or entity, including any CAPAF employees, or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent your affiliation with any person or entity.
• Imply that CAPAF endorses any of your statements or positions.
• Transmit any harmful, invasive or disruptive code or other materials (such as viruses, worms or web bugs) through or to the Blog, or otherwise “hack” or deface any portion of the Blog.
• Frame or mirror any part of the Blog without our prior written authorization.

The one major exception is Democratic Underground, which states:

Who We Are: Democratic Underground is an online community for Democrats and other progressives. Members are expected to be generally supportive of progressive ideals, and to support Democratic candidates for political office. Democratic Underground is not affiliated with the Democratic Party, and comments posted here are not representative of the Democratic Party or its candidates.

Being conservative isn’t listed specifically as a bannable offense, but it sounds like it is.

Moving on, we’ve already mentioned Free Republic, but let’s look at some other conservative blogs and forums.  For instance, Red State:

The posting rules for redstate.com are as follows:

  • No profanity.
  • No personal attacks.
  • No harassment or demonization of a particular individual.
  • No disruptive behavior or off-topic remarks for their own sake.
  • No trolling or mobying
  • Notwithstanding the list above, the proprietors of this site in their or their designated site moderators’ sole discretion may disable an account if the proprietors in their own judgment or the judgment of their designated site moderators believe a user is disruptive in any way or intends to disrupt

The purpose of this site is promote conservative and Republican ideals. This is our home, and we ask you kindly not to track mud into it. Revocation of posting privileges (banning) will take place after a warning of behavior which violates the intent and spirit of these rules.

The bulleted rules are all standard, but the following paragraph suggests that banning may result if you disagree with conservative ideals.

Right Network/Gateway Pundit has a much more inclusive policy:

RIGHTNETWORK encourages expression, discourse, and respectful debate.
RIGHTNETWORK is a vibrant community where people from all sides of the political spectrum can come together and join the national conversation.

RIGHTNETWORK is an entertainment media company and as such, we won’t dominate the conversation, we’ll stimulate it. The content and values you express in your comments are a reflection of your character and values.
All comments, visuals, videos and other type of material posted by fans on this site (“User Content”) do not necessarily reflect the opinions or ideals of RIGHTNETWORK, its employees or affiliates.

We review all content posted here and reserve the right to remove anything that violates the RIGHTNETWORK Terms of Use.

That’s an example of a conservative blog that specifically allows people of all opinions.

Pajamas Media is an aggregate of conservative blogs:

Pajamas Media appreciates your comments that abide by the following guidelines:

1. Avoid profanities or foul language unless it is contained in a necessary quote or is relevant to the comment.

2. Stay on topic.

3. Disagree, but avoid ad hominem attacks.

4. Threats are treated seriously and reported to law enforcement.

5. Spam and advertising are not permitted in the comments area.

These guidelines are very general and cannot cover every possible situation. Please don’t assume that Pajamas Media management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment. We reserve the right to filter or delete comments or to deny posting privileges entirely at our discretion. Please note that comments are reviewed by the editorial staff and may not be posted immediately.

Nothing about dissenting opinions there.

Michelle Malkin’s policy is a bit nebulous:

I may allow as much or as little opportunity for registration as I choose, in my absolute discretion, and I may close particular comment threads or discontinue my general policy of allowing comments at any time. By registering to post comments, you warrant that you are at least 18 years old and that you are solely responsible for your account’s activity.

I reserve the right to delete your comments or revoke your registration for any reason whatsoever. Rarely will I do so simply because I disagree with you. I will, however, usually do so if you post something that is, in my opinion, (a) off-topic; (b) libelous, defamatory, abusive, harassing, threatening, profane, pornographic, offensive, false, misleading, or which otherwise violates or encourages others to violate these terms of use or any law, including intellectual property laws; or (c) “spam,” i.e., an attempt to advertise, solicit, or otherwise promote goods and services. I may exercise these rights myself and I may delegate them to employees and/or contractors.

I do not own your comments and I expressly disclaim any and all liability that may result from them. By commenting on my site, you agree that you retain all ownership rights in what you post here and that you will relieve me from any and all liability that may result from those postings. You further agree to grant me a worldwide, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sub-licenseable and transferable license to store, use, transmit, display, publish, reproduce, or otherwise distribute your comments without limitation, as well as to make such additional uses of them as may be needed by me.

In short, you’re my guest here. I welcome your participation, but if you abuse my hospitality, don’t be surprised if you are shown the door.

Generally reasonable, pending an explanation of what “rarely” means.  Also note that, like most political blogs, commenting requires registration; unlike most political blogs, registration is currently closed.

Hot Air’s terms of service are carbon copied Michelle Malkin’s (or vice versa):

Hot Air allows you to post comments on the site, provided that you first register to do so with a valid e-mail address. Comments registration is now closed. That means you cannot comment unless you have already registered. We may allow as much or as little opportunity for registration as we choose, in our absolute discretion, and we may close particular comment threads or discontinue our general policy of allowing comments at any time. By registering to post comments, you warrant that you are at least 18 years old and that you are solely responsible for your account’s activity.

We reserve the right to delete your comments or revoke your registration for any reason. Rarely, if ever, will we do so simply because we disagree with you. We will, however, usually do so if you post something that is, in our good-faith opinion, (a) off-topic; (b) libelous, defamatory, abusive, harassing, threatening, profane, pornographic, offensive, false, misleading, or which otherwise violates or encourages others to violate these terms of use or any law, including intellectual property laws; or (c) “spam,” i.e., an attempt to advertise, solicit, or otherwise promote goods and services.

Hot Air does not own your comments and expressly disclaims any and all liability that may result from them. By commenting on our site, you agree that you retain all ownership rights in what you post here and that you will relieve us from any and all liability that may result from those postings. You further agree to grant us a worldwide, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to store, use, transmit, display, publish, reproduce, or otherwise distribute your comments without limitation, as well as to make such additional uses of them as may be needed by HotAir.com, Hot Air Network, LLC, or any affiliated entity.

In short, you’re our guest here. We value your opinion and are happy to provide you with a forum in which to express it, but if you abuse our hospitality or use our site to injure someone, don’t be surprised if we throw you out.

Again, comment registration is closed; again, we don’t know what “rarely” means.

While we’re on the topic of major personalities, Ann Coulter’s blog has always been closed for comments.  Bill O’Reilly‘s blog allows comments for Premium Members–and yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like (plutocracy in action: Your opinion counts if you have money!).  On the other side, The Maddow Blog, Ezra Klein, and Paul Krugman are all open for comments.  Their terms of service, which are pretty standard, I haven’t included because they are those of their respective news organizations, not those of the bloggers themselves.

In summary, all Democratic sites except Democratic Underground allow participation by people with all kinds of opinions; most specifically encourage it.  Republican sites run the full range from actively encouraging disagreement to specifically forbidding it.  In addition, all the conservative personalities surveyed either disabled or greatly restricted comments on their blogs, whereas all the liberal personalities surveyed allowed anyone to comment.

One possible reason is that liberals may be more likely to troll conservative sites than vice versa.  For instance, the largely-liberal Tumblrverse likes to flood polls on Fox News and similar sites (note that this isn’t actually trolling:  A public poll is going to be touted as “real people’s opinions,” and Tumblr users are real people).

Alternately, there simply may be a preponderance of liberals on blogs and forums, since internet-savvy demographics (young people) tend to overlap with liberal demographics, meaning that if a small proportion of everyone hangs out at blogs they disagree with, there will be more liberals on conservative sites than vice versa.  At any rate, I came up with a longer list of prominent liberal blogs more quickly than I could find even a modicum of prominent conservative blogs.

But it could also be that conservatives simply have less tolerance for disagreement.  Outside sources support this:  Republicans’ ability to walk in lockstep in Congress while Congressional Democrats hardly ever all agree on anything; sites like Conservapedia designed as alternatives to mainstream sites that allow conservatives to avoid exposure to other opinions (Conservapedia, which looks like a parody but isn’t, is notorious for banning editors so aggressively that it is essentially written by admins, and registration has been closed for several years now).

Liberals, in my experience, enjoy a modicum of disagreement because it gives them a chance to repeat their opinions and evidence.  Discussions among people who mostly agree with each other feel like preaching to the choir; one or two dissenters make the conversation feel much more productive.

After all, trolling should not be a serious problem for a healthy, vibrant online community.  True trolls–people who make obnoxious comments with no intent to engage in actual conversation–can be banned or simply ignored easily enough; people with differing opinions who want to have a real discussion are a benefit, not a harm.  If a community doesn’t like them, they can be ignored, voted down into oblivion, or simply told that they are not welcome.  After all, Free Republic is in love with their own importance:

Over 300,000 people have registered for posting privileges on Free Republic since inception in 1996 and our forum is read daily by over one hundred thousand freedom loving citizens and patriots from all around the country, and all around the world. We’re currently delivering over thirty million pageviews per month to over one million visitors.  Oh, we’re big stuff all right.

So why can’t their hundreds of thousands of patriots handle a few random liberals?  (And seriously, they actually said that last sentence?)


I’m not a big reader of political partisan blogs, so if there are any glaring omissions in my list, let me know and I’ll have a look at their terms of service.  Several sites (FireDogLake, Daily Kos, FreedomWorks, Ace of Spades HQ) have also been skipped because I was unable to find any relevant terms of service, or because they lack a venue for comments.


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The Politics of STFU

It was a glorious day when the term STFU entered the public discourse (at the hands of Alan Grayson, naturally).  Sometimes people should really just shut up.

Predictably, most people don’t like being told to STFU.  Some of these people have a dim remembrance that there was some sort of rule that meant they could say whatever they want, and they leap on that.  Take this comment from over at STFU, Conservatives.  The blog is just another irritating Tumblr blog, but the comment is fun.  He thinks his First Amendment rights are being violated because a blogger told him to shut up.  The blog, of course, set him straight by telling him to shut up again.

But that’s just a random person.  There’s one in every crowd.  Surely prominent figures would never be so silly as to suggest that one private citizen telling another private citizen to be quiet equals censorship or a First Amendment violation.

I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.  (Sarah Palin)

Palin doesn’t want the media to be able to attack her when she attacks other people.  She’s not alone.  Dr. Laura feels the same way:

I want my 1st Amendment rights back, which I can’t have on radio without the threat of attack on my advertisers and stations.  (Dr. Laura)

And Palin feels the same way about Dr. Laura:

Dr.Laura=even more powerful & effective w/out the shackles, so watch out Constitutional obstructionists. And b thankful 4 her voice,America!  (Sarah Palin)

Those tweets really do make you feel like a mom trying to figure out what her middle-school daughter is saying over IM, don’t they?  So Palin and Dr. Laura either don’t understand the First Amendment, or, more likely, are using it as a stick to beat their critics.  In real life, as you know, the First Amendment only states that government can’t make you be quiet; in fact, the person telling you to shut up is exercising his or her First Amendment rights as well.

Additionally, the First Amendment says nothing about what sort of platform you should be given to express your views.  Dr. Laura has a privileged position on her radio show, so she isn’t being silenced if people pressure her advertisers to sever ties: she’s being reduced to the same level of communication as the rest of us.  She’s free to use whatever racial slurs she desires on a random blog that nobody reads, just like everybody else.  A privilege is earned and can be rescinded.

But while removing someone’s advantaged position is fair game, I don’t believe anyone ought to actually force someone else to be quiet.  STFU is an exhortation, not a mandate.  I’m telling you that you should shut up–but the burden is on you to either accept my suggestion or not.  That’s why I’ve never been impressed with the Anti-Defamation League.  The ADL, which always struck me as an Israel-centric, litigious clone of the Southern Poverty Law Center, seems intent on actually forcing people to be quiet.  That is still not a violation of the First Amendment, of course, since the ADL is not a government agency, but it goes strongly against the spirit of STFUing and of discourse in general.

Finally, STFU is a tool to use sparingly.  The purpose of discourse is engagement, so regardless of how sure you are that you are right, it’s your job to attempt to substantively speak to your opponent.  However, if your opponent has demonstrated an inability to listen, an insistence on asserting his or her position by sheer volume without argument or evidence, and harmful beliefs that will have real negative consequences, then it’s STFU time.

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Liberal Humor

There’s no way around it: Liberalism has a better sense of humor than conservatism.

I say liberalism and conservatism because, when you get down to individual people, one’s sense of humor is largely disconnected from one’s politics. Still, within media and political circles, liberals have more of a sense of humor than conservatives, and liberal political humor is funnier than conservative political humor.

In the media, it’s undeniable. Virtually every major comedian who cares to talk about politics is a liberal, and current-events comedy has a uniformly liberal bent to it. There’s The Daily Show, liberal humor’s flagship, and the smug parody (or rather, parody of smugness) The Colbert Report. Nor should we forget that old bastion, Weekend Update. All the right ever had to offer was Fox’s disastrous 2007 Daily Show knockoff, The 1/2 Hour News Hour, which holds the dubious honor of being the lowest-rated show listed on Metacritic, a TV review aggregator.

One might, I suppose, maintain that reviewers are part of the media, ergo their ratings have liberal bias, but if you watch the clip, you’ll see that it’s simply not funny. The delivery is bad; the timing is bad. The two hosts aren’t comedians, and they barely look like they’re trying. The New York Times review explains the show’s other problem: It’s first of all partisan and second of all humor. Jon Stewart makes jokes wherever he sees jokes to be made and he isn’t above picking on liberals and his own show if it would be funny; the liberal bent is simply because he thinks conservatives make better targets. The 1/2 Hour News Hour, on the other hand, never criticized a conservative–even though it aired under a Republican presidency. Consequently, unlike The Daily Show, which is constantly on the ball with the latest news stories, it was forced to joke about things that were far out of date (Newt Gingritch) or current, but not really news (the ACLU). It also treated its targets like enemies rather than like simple fodder. Every joke was punctuated with the implicit moral of “See how awful liberals are?”, in contrast to The Daily Show, which points out the bombast and hypocrisy and then leaves you to draw the conclusion if you feel like it and just laugh if you don’t.

Outside of comedy shows, it’s still common to see humor in the media left, while the right-wing media usually takes itself very seriously. Let’s compare a prominent liberal commentator, Rachel Maddow, with a prominent conservative commentator, Bill O’Reilly. Maddow’s show isn’t comedy, but she approaches it with a sense of humor, and she isn’t above having an immature good time at the expense of teabaggers. Humor is not common on The O’Reilly Factor, though: anger is. Maddow can laugh at people she thinks are outrageously wrong; O’Reilly can only tell them to shut up and call them Nazis.

In partisan literature, the difference is even more marked. On the right, there’s Ann Coulter, whose books include Godless: The Church of Liberalism and Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America. On the left, there’s Al Franken, whose books include Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot (And Other Observations) and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. They’re both acerbic ideologues, but Al Franken is a funny acerbic ideologue. (Also, he doesn’t put pictures of himself in tank tops all over the covers of his books. Is it just me, or are those a little freaky?)

One might suggest that conservatives are currently making fewer jokes because, rightly or wrongly, they’re very concerned about the perceived abuses of the Constitution, and it’s too serious an issue to joke about. Maybe, but joking doesn’t indicate a lack of either earnestness or action. I think Maddow is as concerned about the perceived divorce of politics from fact as O’Reilly is about the perceived dangers of Obamacare. I previously mentioned Alan Grayson and Anthony Weiner as two Congressmen with senses of humor. Both have worked zealously for healthcare reform and other issues they consider to be important. A sense of humor isn’t indicative of laziness or a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the issues at hand.

So why are liberals funnier than conservatives?  Is it inherent or is it merely a product of the current political atmosphere?  I believe it’s both.  Conservatives currently have a tendency to take themselves too seriously and to fortify their base against criticism, neither of which lends itself to a sense of humor.  However, there’s also an inherent element.

At heart, a conservative resists change and a liberal embraces change.  Thus, most of the time, a conservative will agree with the majority of the status quo and a liberal will disagree with it.  This gives the liberal an advantage:  It’s easier and funnier to mock the status quo than to mock fringes and minorities.  The latter may be too obscure or feel like it’s too easy, and there’s relevance to mocking the way things are that is lost when mocking the way things were or might be.  Dissatisfaction leads to more jokes than satisfaction.

I think this inherent difference may also explain the email forward joke, which is largely a conservative phenomenon these days.  The liberal value on originality makes them prefer original jokes and riffs on current topics, while the conservative value on the tried-and-true makes them prefer repeating jokes that have been around for a long time.  Through email, the same political jokes get forwarded around again and again*.  They’re often decades old and originally contained different people or none at all (compare this recent one with this 1997 version, or this one from 2009 with its 2000-2008 Bush administration version and a 1999-2001 generic version).  The problem is that jokes, unlike good movies and literature, don’t improve with age.  Political humor especially becomes a hackneyed, out-of-date dead horse.  The inevitable detritus of font changes and “you have to read this it’s soooo funny!!” prefaces doesn’t help.

I had always assumed that, during a Democratic administration, conservatives would be funnier, but this hasn’t proved true.  There are more jokes, yes, or at least more repeats of the same jokes, but they’re no more original or funny.  No rising stars have appeared on the conservative comedic horizon.  Why, I don’t know.  Is it just the current combination of the elements listed above that edges out good humor, even when there are targets available?  Or are there other factors at play?  We can only speculate.


*It may seem strange that I consider email forwards to be a worthless increase of entropy that adds nothing to the universe when I’m in favor of memes.  I think that there are some intrinsic differences between email forwards and memes.  For one thing, there’s the secret-language element of memes.  They’re usually based on obscure things like a poorly-translated arcade game intro or an odd phrase from DC’s Superdictionary.  The references form a shared language between people who don’t have shared experience, and common language builds unity.  Email forwards don’t do this because their jokes are inevitably simple and obvious to begin with.

Additionally, there’s the communal aspect of memes.  The idea is to make up your own variations, using a formula so simple that you don’t have to be a genius to add to it, thereby creating a whole that’s larger, funnier, and more varied than one person could create by him- or herself (that list is from the wiki of Mudd’s East Dorm, where I was introduced to that and many other memes).  Email forwards do attract additions, but they undermine the humor rather than adding to it.


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