The general point can be easily stated in three words: Stop it. Now.
The specifics are simple enough; we'll get to those in a moment. And the principle ought to be clear enough to understand. The Democrats are supposed to be the liberal party. Historically, liberalism strives for enlightenment. We generally believe ourselves, as supporters of the Democratic Party, or as liberals, to be seeking a better way for our society. While the opposition seeks to cling to the tattered and decaying shreds of what worked well enough to get us this far—and just look where it has gotten us—a significant marker of the difference between us and our conservative neighbors is that we hope to elevate society as a whole instead merely exploit it for our friends.
We proclaim a better way. We ought to act like it.
And guess what? This time around, we're winning.
Admittedly, political cycles suggest that our victory in November will be offset at some point in the future by a right-wing triumph. This is usually how it goes. Indeed, when Democrats come to power on the merit of progressive ideas, those ideas are usually the first thing to go. Bill Clinton conceded the Reagan economy and won the office. The Democratic Party rolled so hard to the right in order to preserve their newfound power that it looked like a game of crack the whip, and sure enough, some of the weakest followers were snapped off the end of the chain—enough to bring the Republicans to power in 1994 with their ill-fated "Contract For America". And unlike the Democrats, when the Republicans roll in protection of their power, it is deeper into their base: the rise of right-wing talk radio, the Drudge era—as the so-called "liberal media bias" continues to give credibility and airtime to ridiculous muckraking and scandalmongering, the Grand Ol' Party has experienced their greatest empowerment since McCarthy.
So I do sympathize with your concerns about what our victory in November will bring. While Republicans still ridiculously complain that the Democrats are "liberal", and have stoked among their base a fear of the Democratic Party and its candidate that is verging toward the lethal, the rest of us wonder what a President Obama would actually do. Will he blossom into proper and progressive liberalism? Will he do what Democrats have done for the last sixteen years, and roll to the right in order to accommodate disgruntled Republican supporters?
Nonetheless, we are winning. As the Democrats creep toward a possible cloture majority in the Senate, we ought to be prepared, as of November 5, to turn our attention to the party we have supported; instead of complaining about the cheap, two-dimensional animus of the opposition, we ought to work to hold the Democrats accountable according to the progress they claim to advocate—a turn to the right once in power may well lead us to disaster. Throughout these last eight years, the left has seethed in impotent fury; where are the protests, the masses in the street? We have seen where this country is headed, and while some are more than perfectly willing to use words like "Nazi" and "Kool-Aid drinker", we don't seem to be doing anything more than complaining in what is, ultimately, an undignified manner that will be recorded in history as just another two-bit political hack routine.
And it is these childish outbursts that need to stop. Let us consider, then, three points of argument gaining popularity among Democratic Party supporters and liberals at Sciforums:
• Nazi — Can it. Shelve it. Save it for a day when we actually need it. Enough is enough, already. Two points remind of the impotence of the GOP's authoritarian streak: In the first place, the People aren't eating it up. While they may have, in their fear, allowed and even encouraged some of the more egregious violations of the Constitution that have taken effect under the Bush presidency; indeed the rise of the Blue Dog Democrats reminds us that fear makes great demands of its victims. But the People have long been annoyed at increasing security measures, and seem to generally reject the proposition that invasive searches and warrantless paranoia have stopped any terror attacks. Take heart, then. The People are not buying what the GOP has to sell, else Democrats would not be postured for victory. The election would not be Obama's to lose, and the whispers of a cloture majority in the Senate to stave off further Republican histrionics would be merely ridiculous rumors. To the other—and this is important—we still have the courts. Think about it: it is becoming a regular habit that the courts are serving as the final check against the insidious. Whether it is a conservative-majority Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roberts rebuking the Bush administration's weak claims about terror suspects and executive privilege, or state courts saying we cannot execute juvenile offenders and standing firmly behind the principle of equal protection, we see that the judiciary, when pressed, will side with the People and their constitutions. The threat of the GOP as Nazis is still a figment of angry and unrealistic rhetoric that, much like the Bush administration's denunciation of a Stalinist as a Nazi, devalues the comparison. Much like Chicken Little, or the Boy Who Cried Wolf, abuse of the word may well strip its vitality so that it means nothing to the ears of the public when and if we finally reach the eve of tyranny. This is not rhetorical currency to be spent lightly; save the Nazi comparisons for when we actually need it.
• Kool-Aid Drinkers — I am actually curious how many of my fellow liberals actually know what the phrase means. And, no, I don't care how many of my conservative neighbors know, because it generally doesn't matter to them. And while American conservatism often does seem that strange and even frightening, we must remember that this is an impotent fear; they can only hurt us if we let them. In the meantime, a hint: There are two meanings to the phrase, and as I recall, the one invoked against the Democrats during the primaries is in fact the lesser, more obscure meaning. And that definition, over time, will recede back into the counterculture. If only people were drinking that Kool-Aid. The more prominent spectre invoked by the phrase, however, is a frightening one, and much like the Nazi comparison, ought to be reserved for a day when we truly need it. As it is, the phrase is being slung around as if it has a third meaning, that of a red-lipped hyperactive child that has no clue what is taking place around him. And that makes its constant repetition even more juvenile. Let it go.
• Declaring Victory for Yourself — Of late some have taken up the habit of proclaiming themselves the victor in arguments. This is just stupid. If your victory is that clear, let it speak for itself. Really, it is cocky in the most obvious sense. I never lived on a farm, but I have seen a rooster (e.g., cock) strut. And it's hilarious. All puffed-up and beady-eyed, it is not the kind of confidence anyone should wish to fashion about themselves. So stop it.
Metaphors and buzzwords are, by nature, more accessible in popular culture than obscure, proper words. Sure, words like pusillanimous, supercilious, and flatulent sound elitist to small minds, but they're fair words, and it is harder to drive them into cliché than the latest buzzword. Indeed, some of our neighbors might tire of being called supercilious, just as they weary of being called dishonest. But in either case, if it's true, it's true. Playing to the gallery in order to reinforce a point about which you expect there should be no question is not a wise maneuver; it suggests either that your argument is so weak that it requires such direct reinforcement, or else tells observers that they are not smart enough to get it, and need to be told what is going on.
As an example, we have among us one person that I describe as a jingo jihadi. I would never have used the term, except that this person's behavior so clearly fits the description and, well, the irony of the point is damn near lethal. It would only weaken the point to turn around and start slinging the phrase at every conservative hack we can find. In the first place, the irony would be absent, essentially sterilizing the point. This is because, to the other, not all of our conservative hacks behave so unmistakably accordingly.
Indeed, we have in our lexicon no short supply of fighting words. We have no need to descend into the gutter and try to steal theirs. While, certainly, in doing so we help work these stupid clichés to death, the petty cruelty of the spectacle is unquestionably undignified. And this is the cornerstone.
After all, our candidate for the presidency promotes the notion of change, inspires with a vision of a different way to go about the usual business of politics. Have we not all wondered when Sen. Obama will "take the gloves off" and absolutely flatten McCain? Once again, the Democratic candidate is gambling on a route intended to be more dignified. And while this notion has proven dangerous in the past—indeed, when Sen. Kerry initially refused to even dignify the Swift Boat attack advertisements, the public perceived this as a weakness, so when he finally did respond, voters perceived desperation. However, this time it seems to be working, as voters are very much aware that the stakes are higher than usual: our nation is at war on three fronts; our economy is crumbling; our Constitution lies desecrated and defiled at the hands of what history will record as the most notorious executive administration to date. Despite the performance of Congressional Democrats, which might at its most redeeming be described as flaccid, it is somehow not beyond realistic hope that they will be empowered with a sufficient majority to actually promote a progressive agenda. We are winning; it is time to put away the tools of weak opposition and conduct ourselves according to the hope and dignity we proclaim. We must work to secure the fruits of our victory, to demonstrate the merit of our platform. We must protect the progress we make, else watch it fall away entirely when the cycle inevitably turns against us. We've lost nearly everything progressive that we won under Clinton, and also a tremendous lot more. Progress should not mean reclaiming the virtue and glory of a former era; that is conservatism.
Let us leave the opposition to its vile hatred; this should never be our way, even in those times that it seems to be what the voters want. When they're ready to haul themselves up from the sewage, we ought to be there, waiting, welcoming, and offering them a hot bath and change of clothes. We claim enlightenment and dignity; it ought not be a trial to enjoy those fruits where we can find them.
So stop embarrassing yourselves. Hold your heads high; make the rhetoric something more than mere words.