When I reflect on the actions and words of people who subscribe to this mentality, I am often puzzled. Take the controversial comment made by a DC journalist about how his fellow progressives should react to the Jeremiah Wright story: by picking a conservative "like Fred Barnes or Karl Rove" and calling him a racist. In describing this tactic, he used an unexpected metaphor: "take a right-winger's [sic] and smash it through a plate-glass window." Of course, it's wrong to falsely accuse people of racism, and the plate glass window comment is intemperate, but let's forget about the ethics of it for a moment.
Say that the racism accusation had been levied. It makes no sense to believe that calling Fred Barnes a racist would stop the right from attacking Barack Obama over Jeremiah Wright, nor does it make sense to think the accusation would help progressives in any significant way. People like Al Sharpton have gotten notoriety from race-baiting, and even scored brief tactical victories, but overall does anyone think that kind of thing has advanced progressive policy ends? Does anyone think that comparing George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler in the run-up to the Iraq War made invasion less likely?
Is there any instance in the history of American politics when aggressively virulent rhetoric from the left has resulted in a big policy win? Does anyone think that people like Michael Moore help the left rather than hurt it?
The "battles" waged by the conservative movement's polemicists make as little sense to me. Take a guy like Andrew Breitbart. Even in the course of criticizing him for publishing an edited video that misled his audience about Shirley Sherrod, a lot of conservative writers were insistent that he is "on the side of the angels," that his style of rhetoric has proved invaluable in the past, and that "we're lucky he's on our side."
This doesn't make sense. Conservatives are ostensibly concerned about the federalization of health care, the deficit, the size of the federal government, the erosion of federalism, etc. As someone who shares these concerns, I am painfully attune to how difficult it's going to be to address them.
Apparently it is emotionally satisfying for some folks on the right to force ACORN to reorganize, plumb the alleged racism of an obscure USDA official, expose the fact that some census workers were paid for their lunch breaks, etc. I can't help but think that these are all insignificant distractions that won't make the slightest difference when it comes to accomplishing anything that conservatives actually care about -- the conservative movement is asserting goals that require a decade long project, and they're elevating as their champions people who specialize in generating page views, winning individual news cycles, and selling books.
In an alternative universe where Mr. Breitbart triumphed in all his highest profile crusades, communities groups other than ACORN, but staffed by many of the same people, would get community block grants for the same kind of work. An NAACP esteemed by somewhat fewer people would levy accusations of racism that were slightly less credible but that still got judged on the merits of individual cases, resulting in zero policy changes. Everyone would agree that no one yelled the n-word as some Congressmen emerged from the Capitol during the health care debate.