I Hate Your Politics Followup

I got lots of e-mail and read lots of fun commentary on the “I Hate Your Politics” column I wrote on Friday. The e-mail I’ll keep private, but the commentary threads are available for you to read on Plastic and MetaFilter. These conversations are pretty interesting, and feature some good put-downs as well as plaudits, but if what you’re looking for is pure balls-out lunacy, you really must check out the commentary thread about the article at the FreeRepublic site, which is a hangout for conservatives.

The folks there thought the article was amusing until they decided that I had to be a liberal (I was judged to have been less insulting to the liberals than to the conservatives), at which point they sharpened up their pointy little heads and did their best to poke me to death. The line-by-line exegesis of message #50 in the thread is by far my personal favorite. The author of that one starts off by labeling me a “socialist-communist”; since I read that as I was writing up one of my weekly personal finance newsletters, I thought that was pretty funny. I also find it interesting to note that FreeRepublic posted my entire column; conservative though the folks there may be, they apparently don’t know much about copyright or the limitations of “fair use.” Oh, well. To them, I’m only a liberal. It’s not like I deserve to have rights.

There’s no reason to respond to specific comments on any of these threads, or from the e-mail, but I’d like to chat about three common complaints folks had about the rant, since I think they touch on a couple larger issues (at least in terms of writing).

The first of these complaints is simply that I wrote the piece to get attention. As a writer, I never know what to make of this complaint. Of course I write to get attention; if I didn’t want attention for what I wrote, I would write it in a locked diary, shove it in a safe between entries and then demand the executors of my estate burn the journal after I died. I think it’s pretty self-evident that anything I post on a publicly accessible Web site is meant to be read by others.

Additionally, after I’m done writing, I’ll frequently drop an e-mail to a blog whose author might find the article interesting enough to link to. It’s nice when people link spontaneously (as happened in the case of Plastic and VodkaPundit), but sometimes I like to make the case for a link. In the case of the “Politics” piece, I dropped an e-mail to InstaPundit and Libertarian Samizdata. The latter linked; the former did not. When I write media-related pieces, I’ll frequently shoot an e-mail over Jim Romenesko. I don’t know if this sort of occasional self-promotion regarding blogs is the usual thing but clearly I don’t have an issue doing it. Blogs need links to comment on; I want to be read by readers. It seems a good arrangement.

Now, I didn’t write the piece just to get attention — i.e., wrote it only because I knew it would be an attention-grabber. Doing that never works anyway, since you never know what people are going to like or dislike. Fact is, I felt like ranting, I did it. It felt good, which has its own value. Inasmuch people link to my stuff of their own accord whether I solicit a link or not, it’s entirely conceivable no one would have bothered to link, and the thing would only have been seen by those who generally stop by the site on a day-to-day basis. That would have been just fine. I like people who visit on their own accord. But once the piece was done, sure, I let the appropriate folks know I’d written something their readerships might find interesting. In the world of online writing, that’s how you do it.

The second complaint I saw, primarily on the Plastic and MetaFilter boards, was that the rant didn’t say anything constructive about politics; it was just a litany of complaints. The idea here being that if you’re going to bitch about something, then you should offer an alternative. Otherwise, I guess, you’re just part of the problem.

I think this is a pretty stupid argument, myself. Not every piece of writing needs to be fair and balanced and nice and constructive and useful. Having everything fair and balanced and nice and constructive and useful is boring. People who demand everything is fair and balanced and nice and constructive and useful are boring. I wrote a rant; the purpose of a rant is to spew angrily for several paragraphs. We could have a sit-in here discussing the value of catharsis as a literary device, but since the idea of doing so fills me with an almost crushing sense of ennui, let’s not.

I don’t mind people reading the piece and saying “it’s not funny,” since funny is one of those subjective things, as amply evidenced by the continued persistence of Martin Lawrence’s career. Even saying “it’s not good,” is fine — you can’t make everyone happy all the time. But complaining that the piece isn’t fair or meaningful is really missing the point. You have to be spectacularly beef-witted not to realize that any piece of writing that starts with a declaration that the author hates your politics even though he doesn’t know what they are is going to be a generally unfair and unconstructive read. Let a rant be a rant, for God’s sake; there’s more than enough time for a seminar on political affiliations some other time.

The final complaint I want to comment on is the one that suggests that by venting about political affiliations, I was promoting the cause of political apathy — although in the Plastic thread, there were people who saw this as a positive and a negative, so I suppose that “complaint” might not be the most accurate word where.

Whatever it is, it’s incorrect. I don’t see how bitching about conservatives, liberals and libertarians equates with being politically apathetic. That’s like saying just because I think your car is a flaming piece of crap, I can’t have a set of wheels of my own. Anyone who crawls through this site will determine pretty quickly that I do have political beliefs, and since I make it a point to vote every chance I get, I feel perfectly justified in commenting on any damn thing I feel like, when it comes to politics.

I’m many things, to be sure, but politically apathetic is not one of them. Anyone who equates not identifying with the conservatives, liberals or libertarians as apathy should work on their math. In the meantime, of course, I’ll just keep voting. That’ll really piss ’em off.

A number of people were wondering what it was that set me off on the rant in the first place. The answer to this, I’m afraid, is wholly apolitical: A vomiting 3-year-old at 1:30 am, followed by a bout of insomnia. It’s enough to make anyone cranky, I suspect.

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