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By David Podvin

It’s cruel.

Matching a pair of tough, well informed liberals against two conservatives - any two conservatives - is about as fair as staging a fight between salt and snails.

It’s unusual.

When it comes to being commonplace, liberals on television who are willing to fight for their beliefs rank right there with David Duke sightings at the Apollo Theater.

As I watch CNN’s Crossfire, it occurs to me that this must have been how it looked when Patton went rolling into Palermo. After seeing a few minutes of the James Carville/Paul Begala First Armored Division engaging in a savage battle of wits against two unarmed prisoners of war named Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson, I was tempted to report the Democratic duo for violations of the Geneva Convention.

Crossfire is not a debate – it is a massacre. The last contest this one sided took place at the Little Big Horn. CNN claims that the show is unscripted, but it sure seems like a Vince McMahon production, where the good guys keep hitting the bad guys over the heads with folding chairs.

You expect those French peace activists in Arafat’s compound to arrive in the Crossfire studio and form a human shield around Novak and Carlson:

“Monsieur Carville. Monsieur Begala. S’il vous plait! We beg of you!  Have zay not suffered enough?”

It has gotten so bad that Carlson, pathetically attempting to disassociate himself from the humiliation, is wearing a bow tie in hopes of deceiving viewers into believing he is really George Will. Give it another couple of weeks, and both right wingers will be sporting those fake plastic glasses with the phony nose and moustache.

If I didn’t really, really hate conservatives, then I would almost feel sorry for them. With the arrival of Carville and Begala, Crossfire should have been renamed Schadenfreude, which is the German term for taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune.

Watching the confrontation between two liberal sticks and two conservative piñatas makes me feel somewhat wistful. This is the way the 2000 presidential debates would have looked had Al Gore cared more about winning than attempting to ingratiate himself to the Washington establishment that hates him. If the vice president would have taken the Carville/Begala approach and adopted a zero tolerance policy toward right wing dishonesty, then there would have been a Democratic landslide (even if James Baker had figured out a way to steal the electoral votes of California and New York).

The new look Crossfire is bad news for the right wing, and they know it. They are well aware that they can’t compete on the issues. They know that, despite running a lousy campaign, refusing to take credit for the best economy ever, being outspent two to one, and having the greedy corporate media openly campaign for his opponent, Gore still won the election. If liberals ever stop cringing and start emulating what they see on Crossfire, then conservative politicians will soon be on the endangered species list that they so despise.

Conservatives are desperately trying to restore the natural order of things on American television. The GOP is pressuring Republican politicos to boycott Crossfire before it becomes a ratings winner and is copied.

What Republicans understand, and what Carville and Begala understand, is that the public is always going to respond to political conflict by blaming both sides. In fact, the aggressor usually gets points for having strong convictions, while passive victims like Michael Dukakis are ultimately blamed for the negativity. This signals a green light for political headhunting, assuming that the will exists. Carville and Begala are wonderful role models for Democratic candidates, which explains why the Republican Party desperately wants Crossfire to be cancelled.

It’s not that Novak and Carlson aren’t doing their best, but it’s just harder to make a case when the truth is against you…unless your opponents are doormats. The conservatives gamely try to defend their fact-free positions with the lies and ad hominem tantrums that work so well against other liberals. Unfortunately for these right wingers, Carville and Begala actually believe in the liberal philosophy, and are therefore too busy advocating the truth to notice they are receiving the traditional cue to capitulate. Inevitably, Novak and Carlson become overwhelmed by reality, helpless to do anything except shriek about the incivility of it all. There’s a distant déjà vu to the show, because you’ve seen it all before on Saturday Night Live: It’s The Hand versus Mr. Bill.

The moral of the story is that the truth is not a trump card that can just be victoriously laid on the table. It must be advocated and, more importantly, it must be defended. Carville and Begala understand that the conservative philosophy without deceit and self-pity is like the beach without sand and water: there is no there there. Unlike the Senate Democrats, Carville/Begala are always ready to contradict the deceit, willing to steamroll over the self-pity, and able to reduce their opponents to political road kill.

The right wing fallback position of screaming about the savage cruelty of Democrats worked like a charm against Gore in Florida. The man who was going to “fight for you” melted when the Bush campaign shamelessly chanted, “He’ll do anything to win”. Meanwhile, the Republicans were breaking the law and stealing the election. Yelling usually achieves the desired result against liberal kittens, who run for cover whenever conservatives start bellyaching.

But Carville and Begala are a different breed of progressive cat. They passionately believe in the principles they espouse, so they actually become morally indignant when the conservatives lie. Moral indignation is what has been totally lacking in the Democratic Party for decades. If Carville and Begala were senators, they could not have lived with themselves after failing to challenge the legitimacy of the Bush inauguration. They care too much. They never relent in attacking right wing malevolence. As a result, it seems that every edition of Crossfire ends with Novak and Carlson claiming to be persecuted. This is great. “I am a victim” has never been a winning argument in American politics.

Given that a blatant platform of theocracy and stealing from the middle class is not likely to garner a majority of votes, conservatives must lie in order to win. When their lies are challenged, the only arrow left in their quiver is character assassination. When that tactic is fearlessly confronted, they are out of ammunition.

One of the sickest ironies in political history is that Al Gore allowed the Bush campaign to keep him constantly on the defensive regarding the issue of honesty. The simple solution was to do what Carville and Begala do every night: go on national TV and aggressively take apart the deceitful Republican agenda piece by mendacious piece. As verified on Crossfire, this approach deprives conservatives of their talking points and strips them of their veneer of dignity.

Gore was afraid to accurately label the Bush agenda as fraudulent because the corporate press would have accused him of “going negative”. Polls show that swing voters hate negative campaigning. What Gore failed to understand is that, while swing voters insist they detest political attacks, they also exhibit the familiar human trait of saying one thing and doing exactly the opposite.

In 1988, swing voters said they would vote against the candidate who “went negative”, then proceeded to overwhelmingly support Lee Atwater’s attack poodle over the pacifist Dukakis. What’s more, by the end of the campaign, swing voters blamed the Democrat for being “too negative”. This occurred despite the fact Dukakis was so feeble that he even refused to defend himself against charges he was an unpatriotic fiend whose most heartfelt desire was to set black felons free so they could rape white women. 

“Going negative” works when the public can be persuaded that the charges are believable, whereas “taking the high road” in politics frequently leaves you unemployed. If Carville and Begala took the high road against the conservatives by graciously refusing to point out that virtually everything Novak and Carlson say is at variance with the truth, then the two Democrats would lose the debate. Conservative lies will beat liberal deference every time.

However, strong liberals crush conservatives with an honest message that is confidently communicated. Much of politics is personality, which explains why some people voted twice for both Reagan and Clinton. Liberals must deliver their message FORCEFULLY. Polls show that the American people prefer the liberal agenda across the board, but only after it is explained to them that the liberal agenda doesn’t really entail raising taxes in order to coerce children to become flag burning homosexual atheists. Carville and Begala are not afraid to do the necessary explaining, and their powerful liberal message leaves the conservative opposition helpless to combat it.

The Democrats’ ruby slippers, the unrecognized magic solution to all their problems, are conservatives themselves. Right wingers exhibit all the traits of bullies. They not only root for the overdog, they prey on the weak. Like schoolyard punks, in the absence of challengers, they swagger and dominate.

The psychological make up of conservatives is their Achilles heel. They are paranoid, not only about fluoridated drinking water and communists under every bed, but especially about dissent.  Conservatives react to bold dissent the way vampires react to sunlight. I have seen Bill Bennett aggressively challenged once in the last twenty years, and he did what bullies invariably do when they are confronted by someone who doesn’t fear them: He came unglued.

Visualize Captain Queeg.

Conservatives can’t play defense, in part because they’ve never had to learn, and in part because they can’t bring themselves to believe that anyone has a right to disagree with them. The latter reason is why they refuse to accept the legitimacy of elections that they lose, whether they have been defeated by Mossadegh or Allende or Clinton or Chavez.

On Crossfire, conservatives are forced to play defense. They are placed in the untenable position of defending the indefensible. And, of course, they have nary a prayer. Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson have fallen, and they won’t be getting up any time soon.

You might think that watching Hansel and Gretel shove the wicked witches into the oven every night would get old. You would be much less angry with Republicans than I am. Crossfire has become the Rush Limbaugh Show for anticonservatives, a program where the line between righteous and evil is comic book clear. The only difference is that, unlike Limbaugh’s heroes, the good guys on Crossfire are not the ones who bliss out on Ricard Wagner music.

So if you have a dark side to your personality, if you ever lust for a little recreational sadism against those who’ve done you wrong, if you are so immature and unpatriotic that you still haven’t “gotten over it”, then tune in to Crossfire. It is true that enjoying the spectacle of Carville/Begala verbally mauling Novak/Carlson is about as sporting as rooting for heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis in a bout against Antonin Scalia. Still, after watching helplessly in recent years as the right wing has maliciously damaged our country, I say, “Aim for the kidneys, Lennox. Aim for the kidneys!”

Podvin on the Media

Podvin, the Series


Last changed: December 13, 2009