Is it just me, or is the left-wing American blogosphere undergoing a serious shrillness attack because of the Foley scandal and the torture and indefinite imprisonment votes? It’s one thing when Atrios rants about the media; that’s standard operating procedure for him. It’s a whole other thing when I see Belledame, Pam, and Coturnix obsess either over torture (as if the US didn’t routinely go that in Vietnam) or over a sex scandal.

I’m trying to come up with a legitimate reason to talk so much about Foley’s sex scandal. “I’m interested in it” is an absolute defense, but it doesn’t seem like any of the bloggers who cover that non-issue are interested in it except for the schadenfreude angle.

A more likely reason is that the bloggers who talk about Foley ad nauseam really think it’s politically beneficial for the left to obsess over one Congressman’s sexual harassment antics and the Republican leadership’s silence on the issue. Superficially, it looks like a good issue in the election – who wants to vote for the party of gay pedophilic sexual harassers?

But in reality, it’s a shitty strategy and the Democrats should know better than that. Negative campaigning works, except when the other party is doing it. The Swift Boat Veterans managed to smear Kerry because he tried campaigning on his war record and because they managed to look independent. If Bush had said the same things that they did, President Kerry would now be signing torture bills.

“We’re the non-sexual harassing party” may make a few undecideds vote for you and a few Republicans stay home, but it won’t convince non-voters that showing up at the precinct and voting Democratic is worth their time.

Part of winning is inspiring voters. If the Democrats are too scared to inspire voters with cultural liberalism, they can inspire them with amnesty for illegal immigrants, raising the minimum wage, and single-payer health care, all of which are widely popular. “We will raise the minimum wage; the Republicans won’t” is a lot more powerful than “This person is a sexual harasser and these other Republicans knew about it.”

15 Responses to Shrillness

  1. belledame222 says:

    It’s not about the “torture” so much, Alon, although, yeah, having it actually -written into law- that we’re too good for the standards at least -nominally- (yes, not in reality) adhered to in the rest of the “civilized” world, is frankly not a happy thing, and “well, we were already doing it anyway” isn’t really a good reason to not “obsess” imo. It’s about the (yet more) powers blithely ceded over to the executive branch in blissful ignorance of centuries’ worth of law; and the staggering carelessness (at BEST) that this represents from the supposed “opposition.”

    and i for one have expressly -not- been talking about the Foley business, because i think shit like “buh-bye habeas corpus” is actually a bit more concerning.

  2. belledame222 says:

    …anyway, you want to talk inspiring voters? Well, color me fucking uninspired, yah, you betcha. POINT being: it isn’t about the VOTES. not now. not if they’ve basically just laid the groundwork for potentially “well, you know what, this whole system: screw it, it’s letting the terrorists win.”

    How on earth are we supposed to have confidence that these assclowns won’t just go “welllll…okay” if the NEXT bright idea isn’t oh i don’t know, dissolving the legislative branch altogether? God knows they’ve been making moves in that direction.

    bottom line: this is STRUCTURAL damage that’s being done; some of us are just a -tad- upset at the increasing resemblance, i mean they don’t even bother to hide it anymore, we are having to a banana republic, here.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    Actually, now that I think of it, you and Coturnix (I’m not so sure about Pam) aren’t the best examples of the trend. I’ve seen obsession with Foley too often on places that are in ordinary circumstances issue blogs.

    About the torture thing, the reason I obsess over it is that it’s not news. I read about the abuses of Guantanamo Bay as early as late 2001 or early 2002. Abu-Ghraib broke in 2004, and I think that so did the initial stories about secret CIA prisons. Given that the US already was committing rampant abuse regardless of what Congress said (recall Bush’s signing statement to McCain’s original anti-torture bill), I don’t think there’s much to be outraged about now. I’d rather get outraged over news than over the discovery that the Pope is Catholic, and over acts rather than pieces of paper.

  4. whig says:

    Why do you obsess over what you think is not news?

  5. Alon Levy says:

    Whig, what exactly are you talking about, and are you addressing me or Belledame?

    Belledame, I actually completely agree with A White Bear (though like many commenters there, I’m not sure whether example number 1 is shrill or just clueless). I guess I see the latest outrage as something like the coke example: after getting outraged over the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Bill and the Iraq War and Guantanamo and Abu-Ghraib and CIA prisons, I reserve the right not to give a damn if Congress officially authorizes these practices or not. I don’t care about the Democrats’ intentions; if their actions don’t result in the USA committing fewer atrocities, rallying people to the Democratic Party on civil libertarian grounds is shrill.

  6. whig says:

    Alon, you said, “About the torture thing, the reason I obsess over it is that it’s not news.”

  7. Alon Levy says:

    Ah, that was a typo. It’s supposed to be “The reason I don’t obsess over it is that it’s not news.”

  8. gordo says:


    I have to disagree on a couple of issues:

    1) I’m one of the people who have written more than once about Foley. The reason is that the issue has become better defined with each revelation. First, Foley was caught. Then we found out that Hastert and Boehner knew, and did nothing. Then Hastert started lying. Then some wingnuts started trying to blame the pages and the vast left-wing conspiracy. Then we found out that the FBI had been informed, and did not launch an investigation. Then the FBI started lying. What was I supposed to do, ignore the fact that Hastert and Boehner knew, because I’d already written about the scandal? Ignore the attempts by some FBI agents to smear Melanie Sloan in an attempt to save their own lousy hides?

    The way that the Republican leadership has covered for Foley is absolutely an election issue. Clearly, they care more about their colleagues than they do about their constituents. Their willingness to continue to allow someone like Foley to have access to the pages (he visited the pages’ dorm and offered to drive them around DC) shows how profoundly amoral they are.

    Don’t tell me that the Democratic leadership is the same. There is no evidence that either Nancy Pelosi or Steny Hoyer would have ignored this sort of behavior. When Democrats ran the house back in 1982, there was a similar scandal, and the Democrat-controlled house acted aggressively to get to the bottom of it.

    Also, I think you’re dead wrong when you say that this scandal won’t be a major boost to Democrats. There are a lot of districts that are close enough for this to make a huge impact. People understand that by electing Republicans, they help keep control of the House in the hands of the people who put Hastert in charge. More importantly, it takes away a lot of the veneer of morality that a lot of Republican candidates depend on.

    Finally, I think that you’ve misread the torture story in a similar fashion. It was news when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, even though many of us had assumed that prisoners were being abused, based on the Bush administration’s insistence that Guantanamo was outside US and international law, and their insistence on making contractors immune from prosecution in Iraq. But a lot of people need more than “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” before they’ll believe something. In fact, for a lot of people, nothing short of photographic evidence will do.

    So it’s news when the Abu Ghraib photos come out. And it’s news when we find evidence of torture at Guantanamo. And it’s news when some of the people who were tortured are absolved. And it’s news when president insists on being given legal authority to torture, and it’s news when congress gives it to them.

    These are news stories that should be highlighted and discussed because many people who are not aware of them will not otherwise believe that torture is going on. Or if they believe it, they will think that all of the victims are terrorists. Or if they acknowledge that some are innocent, they will deny that torture is official policy.

    You’ll never be able to convince everyone of the awful truth, but you don’t have to. You only have to convince more than half of the voters. But to do that, you’ve got to get shrill about some things, and you’ve got to meet people’s defenses of the administration with evidence. Just running a story back in 2004 about Abu Ghraib wouldn’t be close to sufficient.

  9. Alon Levy says:

    But Abu Ghraib was photographic evidence. Even then there were signs that the abusers acted on CIA orders; I can try digging the evidence out of its 2-year-old tomb if you want. But then the American left was all about then-1,000 dead American soldiers; I ended up having to constantly exhort people to write more about then-100,000 dead Iraqi civilians and about the surfacing torture stories, to no avail.

    Emphasizing what happens de jure instead of de facto gives the administration cover. It allows the right to say, “But this will never happen to innocent people!”. If you want to be shrill, be shrill about how 80% of the people at Abu-Ghraib are innocent. The left doesn’t need a Congressional affirmation of the obvious or lurid descriptions of waterboarding; it needs to note that under CIA orders, American troops tortured innocent people, and the Bush administration responded by disciplining a few people so insignificant they’re not even small fish.

    Is there any evidence the Foley debacle is hurting Republicans? I’m asking this because the Republicans actually lost a few House seats in 1998, and lost a little in the House and in the Senate in 2000. This sort of negativity doesn’t inspire the fatalist majority to vote for you; it sounds as effective as threat-based campaigning, which has an abysmal track record (think Kerry in 2004 and Kilgore in 2005).

  10. Foley’s scandal is definitely hurting the Republicans. Foley’s seat is almost certainly going to be a Democratic pickup, but it goes way beyond that.

    The scandal is derailing the Republican’s security narrative. It’s reminding everyone what a bumbling, dissembling, debauched crew the Republicans really are.

    This scandal epitomizes everything that’s wrong with Republican rule. The child sex predator is the co-chair of the missing and exploited children committee, just like the union busters running the NLRB, and the timber barons running “Healthy Forests”, and that fundie doctor who raped his own wife being in charge of women’s health, etc., etc.

    Worse, the House Republicans knew about Foley and his flagrant disregard for the rules of the page program for years. They even warned the Republican-sponsored pages about him. Obviously they were concerned, but not concerned enough to actually make the dirty old man stop harassing the kids. Typical old boy bullshit, compounded by hyper-partisanship. Of course, when the shit finally hits the fan, they fall back on gay bashing.

    Worse, the Republican leadership is lying about their role in the scandal.

  11. Alon Levy says:

    Well, the MSNBC article suggests this problem is only concentrated in a few House races. It’s good, insofar as it may cost Republicans seats, but is it enough to get the Democrats to the magic 218?

    It’s derailing the Republicans’ security narrative, but it would also derail the Democrats’ narrative, if there were any. When all the media is preoccupied with is a sexual harassment scandal, it’s impossible for the Democrats to come up with something as focused as the Contract with America, or even just generally talk about Iraq, domestic spying, immigration, etc.

    The part about Foley’s being co-chair of the missing and exploited children committee is useful to point out, but, to be honest, it’s the first I hear of it. The coverage I’ve seen so far is mostly about implicating the Republican leadership in the scandal, rather than about noting an ironic pattern of who Republicans give power to.

  12. belledame222 says:

    yes, the lack of a Democratic narrative has been a problem.

    but you know: realpolitik aside: hello, again: HABEAS. MOTHERFUCKING. CORPUS.

    -crickets crickets crickets- from the D’s -and- the news.

    boring, right? and we’re too simple to understand, right? let’s talk about what really matters: WINNING. and DICKS. and BOOBIES. and ok yeah maybe torture, which same ol same ol’, so okay now some people have even less of a shot of actually ever seeing the inside of a courtroom much less the light of day motherfucking again, much less ever EVER prosecute the motherfucker for Guantanamo -seeing as how it’s now up to him to decide if ANYONE can be labelled an ‘enemy combatant,’ and oh say, that wouldn’t ever include someone who just happened to criticize him too strongly would it?– but hey, old news. move along: nothing to see here.

  13. […] Alon Levy thinks that bloggers like me are missing the boat when we pound away at Mark Foley (R-FL) and the torture scandal. I gave what I thought was a good defense of us scandal-mongers, but you’ll have to head over to Abstract Nonsense and read it in the commments. As an added bonus, celebrity blogger Lindsay Beyerstein of Magic Thighs also makes a guest appearance in the comment section. […]

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