July 15, 2006
Kick him in the head -- but in which direction?
There are ad hominem attacks, and then there are ad hominem attacks.
And I am fascinated by the latest, full-blown all-out assault launched by the free leftist Philadelphia Weekly against local talk show host Michael Smerconish.
Here's the cover:
Because of my penchant for analyzing things, I always want to know what is going on, as personal and ad hominem attacks fall generally divided into two styles:
In the case of "personal" attacks on public figures, the target himself is only the ostensible target. (That's why I placed "personal" in quotes, and it's also why defamation law distinguishes between public and private figures.) It's not intended to change the mind of the "victim" so much as it is to intimidate his allies, influence people to abandon him, and (as the case may be) simultaneously rally his collective enemies -- either against him or against whatever "forces" he is said to represent.
Before I get into analyzing this mess, let me admit that I'm at a bit of a disadvantage, because I do not know Smerconish, and other than inadvertent bits while flipping through the channels, I have never listened to his show. Local talk radio bores me, although I read somewhere that Smerconish may be courting a national audience. (His web site is here and his show can be streamed here, although I've never tried it.) Because of my ignorance, I cannot characterize his politics, although he is generally said to be conservative.
However, he's also said to be a conservative who's rumored to be going wobbly, or possibly moderating his views. I haven't researched this extensively, but Smerconish contributes to the Huffington Post, and the conservative-leaning Newsbusters notes his background as a moderate, and takes serious issue with him being called a "conservative." And just last month, Smerconish attacked Ann Coulter, and threatened to vote Democrat in 2008.
Could Smerconish's apparent flirtation with liberalism be the reason for the high profile attack?
Why? What possible interest might a local leftist freebie have in attacking -- as a far right conservative -- a moderate Republican said to be headed in a leftward direction? I mean, I could see conservatives caring about such a thing (obviously some of them do), but since when are liberals interested in policing deviation from conservativism? Am I alone in seeing that as odd?
I have no dog in this race, and as far as I'm concerned, Smerconish can do whatever he wants.
The perennial Rhetoric student in me is just insatiably curious. Is the goal is to drive Smerconish back into the pen of right wing untouchables, with vicious insults used like a cattle prod? Is the goal to keep leftists away from him? Are the writer and his paper merely having a great time venting at Smerconish's expense? Or all three?
I'll start with the editor's introduction to the hit piece:
I figured Steven Wells would go mad listening to Michael Smerconish every morning—which is pretty much exactly what happened.Wells is the author, and if you read his stuff, you'll see he was already quite mad before the Smerconish assignment. (In my experience, happy people do not generally write for publications like the Socialist Worker and Socialist Review.)
I might be mistaken, but I'd almost swear that PW's editor doesn't seem to like Smerconish's show or the station:
Smerconish's radio show can be heard from 5:30 to 9 a.m. weekdays on 1210 AM, a station once known by the iconic call letters WCAU, but now known only as the Big Talker.Should I call the suicide hotline? Or should it be obvious to me that since liberals hate guns this is an idle threat?
I keep hearing the word "wanker" a lot. Is that a synonym for wingnut? In some circles, maybe. But before we get to Smerconish, it's probably worth pointing out that author Steven Wells not only excoriated the Beatles for various political deviations (primarily for perpetrating a "myth of the inherently talented white male singer/songwriter genius"), but called John Lennon a "wanker":
For sure, Lennon's solo classic "Imagine" is an ideologically perfect socialist/atheist utopian anthem. But against that you've got to set George Harrison's bourgeois bellyaching on "Taxman" (the government taking money off multimillionaire pop stars to build schools and hospitals? Outrageous!) and Paul McCartney's excruciatingly embarrassing support of Dubya's war on brown-skinned people controlling their own oil.Ouch! I hadn't known about Harrison's capitalist greed in wanting to keep his own money, or Paul McCartney's excruciating war against brown skin.
If that's the way Wells feels about the Beatles, imagine. . . Just imagine -- how he feels about Smerconish.
Actually, Smerconish's biggest crime seems not to be Smerconish, but Ronald Reagan:
While the rest of us were bewitched by the twitching swagger of walking corpse Sid Vicious, or the hypnotic ferret-eyed Dickensian cynicism of John Lydon, or the subverted S&M ice-queen proto-goth chic of sinisterly sexy Siouxsie Sioux—you fell in love with the stiff Antichrist, the suburban Satan, Mr. 666 himself—Ronald Wilson Reagan.Hmmm. . .
As WC Fields once asked, "Is any of that in my favor?"
Reagan is so evil, that it's tough to reconcile with Smerconish's religion:
And this is the bit I really find hard to understand, Mike. You were—and still are—a practicing Catholic, with a keen sense of right and wrong.Get ready, 'cause it's time for a blistering, multi-count indictment. Of Smerconish. Because he Saw. Nothing. Wrong. With the war crimes of Reagan:
Yet you saw nothing wrong with the wholesale slaughter of liberal Catholic clergy by Reagan administration-trained Central American death squads.Is that it? Was Smerconish on the wrong side in the Cold War? Had be been a normal young man, he'd have doubtless been on the side of the Sandinistas. Like Joe Strummer's Clash.
Musical taste, that's very important to developing and raising the proper political consciousness. Smerconish's "worst of all" crime (well, after voting for Reagan) is that he liked the wrong music. Ted Nugent, Yes, and Kansas figure as top objects of scorn, although Wells also steers a gratuitous insult towards the Grateful Dead for the crime of Ann Coulter liking them. This is a 4200 word essay, and I can't begin to do it justice. (Yeah, I disagree with the author's politics, and I'm sure he'd hate me for that, but I do admit, he's an accomplished practitioner of mouth-watering invective. Like "choking on cheesy corporate cock like the forelock-tugging lickspittle it really is" and "wizened old ax-spanking-turkey-cock-dressed-as-spring-chicken.")
So when your peers, your fellow politicized punk-era gobshites—like Joe Strummer and Jello Biafra—were ranting and raving in horror and disgust at the torture and murder of all those innocent men women and—God help us, Mike—children, where were you?What's missing in the piece is any real discussion of the radio show to which Wells was "sentenced" to have spent a week listening. Maybe he hated it so much that he didn't do his homework (a relief for me, as I don't have to tune in to something for which I have not time), but most of the rage fuel comes from Smerconish's web site, and his book. And pure conjecture -- about what Smerconish might have remembered about Kirk kissing Uhura in 1968, and the lesson he ought to draw from Brokeback Mountain:
Remember the racist outrage when Kirk kissed Uhura back on Star Trek in 1968—American TV's first biracial kiss?The scolding voice of the ages. I'll bet he doesn't remember lynching either. Or the Pilgrim Pogroms against Wiccan children.
Well then, what about the Christian pressure group-orchestrated outrage when T.O. got mildly amorous with a white TV actress in a TV commercial in 2004? Or the insane hurricane of horrified gasping that supposedly swept America when it glimpsed Janet Jackson's carefully tasseled tit at that same year's Super Bowl?I recall the outrage, but it seemed to consist of around three people sending the same letter hundreds of times. Was Smerconish for or against the tit? No idea.
If you still think PC is a left-wing disease, Mike, print up bumper stickers reading “Fuck Our Troops” or “This Flag's for Burning,” then stick 'em on your car and see what happens. Go on. I dare you.How about just "HITLER WAS A VEGETARIAN"?
The only difference now is that we live in ever so slightly more enlightened times where, now and then, an excess of prudery or political zealotry might come from the touchy-feely liberal left—rather than, as it did in the 1950s, almost entirely from the embittered proponents of racism, sexism and homophobia.I was a kid in the 50s, and I remember the early 60s rather well. The racism in many places was unbelievably dreadful, as well as institutionalized. That's what led to a thing called the Civil Rights Movement, which attracted broad mainstream support. But embittered homophobia? The word didn't exist yet. Homosexuality was closeted. Now the only permitted closets are on the left. I don't use the word "homophobia" as it implies that bigotry is a disease. But I do think that many leftist bigots are afraid -- in the true sense of the word -- of conservative, non-conforming homosexuals, and would like to bully homosexuals into staying on the left, or moving to the left where they belong. Their conservative counterparts who hate homosexuals also want them on the left -- again, where they "belong." Assuming both forms of fear are to be called homophobia, I think the embitterment today is primarily directed against conservative homosexuals.
Ah yes, the good old days, when white Americans could walk the streets with banners demanding white children be protected from the dangers of “jungle music” without fear they might be told to shut their stupid racist mouths.I might have seen something like that (or this) on a documentary about the history of the Klan. But such racism would have been roundly condemned even at the time by most reasonable people, as it would today. To define such condemnation as "PC" is, I think, a bit disingenuous.
'Sup, Mike? Didn't you get the point of Pleasantville? By the way, here are a few other cultural pointers you might've missed in the past 40 or so years.Fictional characters decades ago were not liberals? For shame!
As I say, as ad hominem invective goes, the piece is a classic.
I'm still trying to figure out exactly who is supposed to be persuaded, and of what.
As I've never listened to the show (as if listening was necessary for writers like Wells), and I don't consider myself a conservative, I really can't consider myself part of Smerconish's "misogynist, homophobic, tinfoil-hat-wearing right-wing-radio-listening fan base." (For starters, I voted against Reagan, twice.) But even if I was a Smerconish fan, would I see the light that Wells would have my wobbly hero follow after reading the hit piece? Somehow, I doubt it.
(But it doesn't matter. As it is, I'm consigned to a hopeless state of permanent libertarian fascist darkness.)
UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking this post, and welcome all!
Had I the slightest idea this would happen, I'd have done my homework, and actually listened to the radio! Fortunately, the hit piece didn't focus on the program. That's part of the magic of the ad hominem attack. Who needs reality-based facts?
posted by Eric on 07.15.06 at 11:25 AM
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