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Being immersed in politics can be a difficult thing. It can be very easy to fall into the trap of believing that the ends justify the means, particularly when so much is at stake. Politicians can become dehumanized by activists, seen only as the tools for effectuating public policy, rather than as the mix of good and flawed people they really are. Good-natured political discussions with less politically savvy people start to become increasingly impossible. I felt that DougJ at Balloon Juice was channeling my feelings exactly when he wrote last night of his inability to maintain social protocol when confronted at a party with a typical centrist gasbag:

About halfway through dinner, he started in on politics, about how the two sides didn’t talk to each other enough and how Obama was an idiot, though he didn’t like Romney either, both sides do it. He was a bit aggressive and asked how many of us had actually watched the Republican debates enough to judge the candidates, were we just repeating stuff we heard in the big hippie echo chamber (he didn’t use those works, obviously). I told him I had watched nearly all of them, so I had some evidence to back up my opinion—that Romney’s not a great politician, so Obama may win even in a weak economy. Then he said something about extremists on both sides. I turned and said to my friend, I think under my breath, but people might have heard “see, I knew this guy was an idiot” (he’d already said a lot of stupid, verifiably untrue things about wine and American history which I’d disproved to him via my Wikipedia earlier in the evening).

This happens to me a lot, where I act in a socially inappropriate way when people say really dumb things about politics. It’s not a right/left thing, mind you, I probably lose it more with Burkean moderates than with anyone else.

How do you people deal with this? I feel like I’ve tried everything, from leaving the room to cool off, to having another drink, to trying to change the topic, but nothing works. Either I do something inappropriate or I sit there stewing all night.

It paralleled an experience I've had in the last couple of days with a person who happens to be the editor in chief of the local Ventura County "alternative weekly," the VC Reporter. This weekly trends liberal on most social issues (especially the drug war, as most alt weeklies do) but on economics and the horserace of politics it tends to be decidedly centrist or even libertarian. Its chief editor is a woman named Michael Sullivan, her editorial instincts tending distinctly toward that center-left-leaning pseudo-intellectual plateau of the NPR tote bag wearing crowd, the sort who view Thomas Friedman as a profound thinker, respect David Brooks as a "reasonable" conservative, and believe wholeheartedly that the problem with modern politics is that it is too "hyperpartisan." The sort of people who sigh in condescension at Rachel Maddow and Rush Limbaugh alike, as if they were somehow equivalent crazies at polar ends of some artificial political spectrum bounded purely by the arbitrary sensibilities of American politics.

Regular readers of Digby's Hullabaloo may recall my writing about local centrist austerity-friendly candidates before, including oil, tobacco, and insurance-backed State Senate candidate Jason Hodge, and former Republican "independent" candidate for Congress Linda Parks. Well, the VC Reporter, our "alt weekly," endorsed Jason Hodge (prompting the local firefighter union to falsely claim he had been endorsed by the local paper of record, the VC Star), and its editor Michael Sullivan has been quite friendly to Linda Parks, including writing a blog post decrying how very mean local Democrats were being to her, closing thus:

Linda, you must be bold in who you are and what you represent or you will throw this race to the dogs.
Ventura County Democrats sending out those mailers, take the higher road for once this election and knock off the bullying tactics. It’s not only not working, but I think it is working against you. And it’s shameful that a political party that I thought watched out for the underdogs of society are actually being the ones to attack them.
It takes a special kind of delusion to believe that an ambitious, former Republican, austerity-obsessed County Supervisor making six figures a year with a healthy pension is somehow the "underdog of society", as opposed to, say, the actual underdogs of society whose meager benefits Linda Parks would cut. As I responded to her:
That said, the VCReporter’s journalistic integrity is certainly an open question. This week all the letters to the editor about the race were pro-Parks, a clear attempt to sway the election. There is a near weekly column from conservative Paul Moomjeam, with no real counterbalance from the left. Hyper-libertarian Shane Solano is given space to rant with a lengthy LTE almost every week, beyond rhyme or reason.

I’m sure the VC Reporter’s audience would find it very curious that in a Congressional race, the “alternative weekly” supports a centrist candidate who supports the Bush tax cuts for the rich, raising the retirement age for Social Security, and focusing on cutting $4 trillion from the deficit on the backs of the middle class to please Wall Street. Opposing such a centrist austerity candidate is the very definition of standing up for the underdogs of society.

Linda Parks isn’t an underdog of society. The people whose meager benefits she wants to cut are.

Ventura County deserves an alternative weekly that represents the views and interests of its readership, not the delicate sensibilities of its editors.

Now, I suppose that in most polite circles this sort of response would make me an asshole unfit for the cocktail party circuit, an ideologue who doesn't care about the nice media people's personal feelings. And she played it accordingly, with lines such as:
Politics shouldn’t be based on how you can hurt others and put others down, but rather, how you and your candidates can stand on their own achievements and ideas. It’s all about integrity...My blog, though I am on staff at the VCReporter, is my PERSONAL opinion (I write in all caps only to emphasize my point). It’s not representative of the VCReporter. And per this post, you can see this is about MY personal experience in life. Not as an editor, not as a writer, but as a human being. Somehow, this race has taken the human out of being.
So sometimes I step back and ask myself, like DougJ did: am I out of line? Am I losing my humanity? But then I remember the millions of Americans out of work, the disaster that austerity has become on the European continent, and horrid consequences that will befall millions more if candidates like Hodge and Parks win office. And I recall that, despite the sharpness of my language, I haven't told a single lie or verbally abused anyone.

And then I realize it. No, I'm not crazy, and I'm not an asshole. The people who sit comfortably in their upper middle-class existences, drinking wine and eating brie while pontificating about how politicians should just play nice with each other on the road to "sensible shared sacrifice"--those are the assholes. And they always will be, no matter how delicately phrased and sugared their words may be.

And in many ways they're worse than Republicans, because at least with a Republican one knows what one is dealing with, and one can fight them toe-to-toe. But the pearl-clutching centrist, on the other hand, is actually worse: they're the ones who actively marginalize the champions of the dispossessed and allow the rapacious Right to continue its pillage unimpeded while calling for greater civility from the victims.

Cross-posted from Digby's Hullabaloo

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