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Jack Lessenberry says I was right to make fun of him

by: Eric B.

Thu Dec 19, 2013 at 14:09:23 PM EST


Jack Lessenberry is one of my favorite opinion writers. I originally found his work through his online columns for the Metro Times back before online news was really a thing and when Friendster was the Facebook of the day. What I liked about his work was its "toss the chips into the air and let them fall where they may" style. When I started writing my own column, at an age where most center-leaning* opinion writers published nebbish, hedging work intended to pose the journalist as a serious adult rather than a foul-mouthed kid, I looked back to his work as an example of how to tell unvarnished truth with strong, provocative prose.

Then I found his work for Michigan Public Radio ... and occasionally found his work to be a disapppointment. Not because I disagreed with his premise, but because it seemed like something takes the edge off his work. My assumption is that public radio and an alt weekly (or whatever we call them these days) have different rules; and, folks, if you want to publish you do have to play by the rules of the people who run whatever you want to get published by. It ain't censorship. It's how the market works.

Occasionally I complain about his work in this space, and did this very recently when he wrote that people annoyed by the crime against democracy taking place in our ongoing experiment in the Dunning-Kruger effect over the rape insurance rider should contact each chamber's leadership and express themselves. My point is no one in Lansing really cares what the voting electorate thinks on the hottest button of issues because they've got the numbers and the process and aren't about to let a quaint notion like democracy get in the way of them getting what they want. We all know how things worked out.

Anyway, Lessenberry responded to my blog post yesterday. Or the day before. It doesn't really make any difference.

A week ago, a blogger named Eric made fun of me for suggesting a common sense approach. He said the people running our government don’t care.

“They aren’t interested in clever editorials or sound reasoning.” Eric said. “Time and again, all they’ve demonstrated an interest in is what they can get away with.” He thinks any reasoned argument “isn’t going to make a damned bit of difference.”

I hate to admit this, but I now think he is right.

Welcome to the party, Jack. You can toss your jacket on the bed. The bedroom is first door on the left down that hallway. There's beer in the cooler out on the patio. Don't mind the weird odor over by the nachos. It was made with the rotting meat of a ruined process.

Now, I've read enough of Lessenberry's work over the years that I don't actually think this is a new revelation for him. I think he's thought this all along but that there are rules in civilized opinion writing -- spoken and unspoken -- about being too direct about things. The people who run places where civilized opinion writing still labor under ideas that dead and gone. They believe they need to be polite to people they disagree vehemently with and who they think are probably crooked because they've been told that they need to be fair. Rather than going 100 percent to the truth, they go 80 percent. Unfortunately, it means being fair to the wrong people. First and foremost, they need to be fair to their readers by telling them the truth, even if it means saying very horrible things about the people they're writing about, directly and bluntly.

Part of this is also driven by a belief that it's not entirely the job of the media outlet to "take sides." This is because conservatives have spent so much energy over so many years whining and bitching about a liberal media bias that, guys, we all know either no longer exists or never did. The real shame of this is that the same conservatives who complain are not interested in seeing you write something that is balanced and fair to them. They are only interested in seeing you not say mean things about them.

Let me introduce you to the reason for that. Conservatives have their own media that plays by its own rules and is even going through the same contractions as the legacy media. When they are interested in seeing what case there is to be made about something, they don't go to Jack Lessenberry or the Detroit Free Press editorial page to find out. They go to the Detroit News blog section and CapCon and a hundred other insular, mostly self-reinforcing rightwing news and commentary sites. I mean, we just had a protracted conversation about all this just last year, when the conservative media was absolutely stone certain that Willard "MIttens" Romney was going to win in a landslide. They even had their own favored pollster who knew, despite his lack of training, in his heart of hearts that the polls were all wrong (and then when it turned out he was wrong, he blamed "voter fraud").

I had an asterisk up above next to a reference to "center-leaning" opinion writers. I explain my point below the fold.

Eric B. :: Jack Lessenberry says I was right to make fun of him
*--It is my suspicion, based on years of reading Lessenberry's work, that he is a liberal. We don't really know, however, because our politics have shifted so far to the right and gotten so far out of joint that we have no idea where he actually stands. He is left of where we are at today, which is very far to the right of center. When the window starts to shift back to sanity, we will find out the limits of his "liberal-ness." The same goes for everyone currently assembled under the banner of "liberal." Very few of us would probably be so far left as to be genuine socialists or communists or whatever slur is being hurled at anyone who today isn't a batshit crazy conservative.
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The real shame of this is that the same conservatives who complain are not interested in seeing you write something that is balanced and fair to them. They are only interested in seeing you not say mean things about them.

Let me introduce you to the reason for that. Conservatives have their own media

This is one of the things that needs to be said and said over again, particularly to liberals and progressives.  I honestly don't consider myself a fire-breather.  I'd much rather not be fighting these fights.  I'd love to have two or more parties that I could actually see myself shopping around for in any given election.  I don't want to have to feel myself constantly backed into a corner.

The only way we can accomplish that is recognizing who and what we're up against, and I think we either forget that, or we've been cowed into believing that speaking actual truth to actual power will get us nothing but punishment.  The other side is as cynical and utterly shameless a force as we'll ever come up against.  

There is a time and place for nuance and thoughfulness and the like.  And, at the end of the day, in normal times, this would be an unmitigated advantage over the other side.  But, we're not in that time or place, and we haven't been in "normal" times in over three decades.  Our nuance and thoughtfulness is projected as weakness, and we MUST find a way to project it as strength.  We must also be completely aware of the fact that facts and what seems obvious to us as logic doesn't always to more sporadic voters.  We need to work on our visceral appeals.  The conservatives have gotten this down to a near science.

Quite frankly, we need to get out of our heads all the damned time, and we need to stop apologizing for caring about our constituencies and what they need.  There are real people suffering because of decades' worth of very real and destructive conseervative policies.  

We need to stop selling out our constituencies for fear that we'll lose elections, because, guess what?  We're losing elections, anyway, and even when we win, we govern so timidly, it barely matters that we have a Democrat in office.

When the people have become so beaten down - and where else are they more beaten down than in Michigan? - that they stop believing in themselves, we need to be unforgiving in fighting for them and returning them to their rightful confidence.  If we won't, who will?  It sure as hell won't be the Republicans, whose entire philosophy has been built around shoving people down to push the already successful even further out of reach.



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