When I called President Bush "assfaced" I knew I was pushing buttons. Profanity, so rarely used in polite conversation, is typically used even less in its opposite: political discourse. So when I created the short ad called "Bush in 41.2 Seconds" for Liberal Oasis -- which starts off as a typical anti-Bush political ad and devolves into a string of words that cannot be reprinted here -- I knew there would be a rumble or two. Hell, that's the intent of any form of satire.
What I hadn't expected was the speed at which the ad would circulate through the blogosphere, nor the intense reaction it would invoke in conservatives. As the accidental creator of a meme ("Don't be an Asshole, Vote Democratic"), I accept responsibility for the monster getting out of the lab, even if I admit to enjoying watching it wreak havoc on the village. But it's still scary seeing the creature shamble about.
Liberal Oasis is one of the better liberal blogs, its aim being to provide some analysis and direction for Democrats on the left of the party. Their straight material, written by Bill Scher, has been praised by Joe Conason, Eric Alterman and others as an important part of the Internet's political voice. It's serious stuff -- with the exception of my side of the page, which I share with two other humorists, Alexander Pierre Luboknovich and John Cougarstein.
"Bush in 41.2 Seconds" was done as a parody of the MoveOn.org ads. The intent was to say what a lot of liberals are thinking ("Bush lied"), but to do it in a manner that was so over-the-top it would be funny as much as ludicrous. Because it parodied both MoveOn and the idea of homespun political ads -- two liberal-minded ideals -- it was risky to run on Liberal Oasis. Still, Scher got the joke and the piece went up.
At first there was no reaction, but then the dam burst: Within three days the movie had been viewed over 70,000 times. The piece ranked No. 1 on a variety of blog indices such as Popdex, with traffic being driven largely by cross-linking through the liberal blogs and forums. After a few more days traffic reports showed the piece was being hit from random locations, meaning it was being distributed via e-mail, in true "meme" fashion.
Then hit counts notched up further courtesy of angry conservatives who, through no fault of their own, didn't understand the context and really thought the DNC had stooped to calling President Bush "a lying sack of horseshit." A million downloads in the next month or so is likely.
Like "all your base are belong to us," the phrase "Don't be an Asshole, Vote Democratic" is now part of the Internet lexicon. McAuliffe can thank me later.
You know you've got yourself a meme when the big boys load their guns with your ammo. Mainstream conservative pundits such as the National Review's Jonah Goldberg are now attempting to tie the piece in with the current conservative meme of "liberal hate speech." Conservatives do well at ignoring their own hate speech, such as Anne Coulter's goal to implement government flogging of children, or G. Gordon Liddy musing about shooting federal agents, or Bill O'Reilly's dreamy fantasies of inserting a bullet into Al Franken's head by way of quaint six-shooter. That's to be expected; conservatives are not typically an introspective bunch. This is why the current attempt to paint liberals as fascist, hate-mongering animals is so ironic, especially given that on any other day the old tag "bleeding hearts" is still tossed around like a well-worn, favorite hacky sack. Conservatives aren't decrying hate speech, mind you; they're justifying it by saying, "Look, the other guy is doing it, too!"
But turning a satire piece into Exhibit A of liberal seriousness is just downright loopy. At first glance Goldberg's accusation that Liberal Oasis "uses excessive potty mouth [sic] and extreme stupidity" under the heading "Ahh Liberalism, Thy Name is Nuanced Persuasion" looks like the usual unfair, lazy journalism. But by voluntarily divesting himself of his sense of humor, Goldberg reveals that he's not engaged in satire or critique, or (more accurately) critique of satire. No, he's engaged in serious, partisan spewcraft. After all, Liberal Oasis has been in operation since early 2002, and yet has never garnered the attention, much less the ire, of the mainstream conservative press. Only now do the righteous pundits bow low to point their fingers of judgment at the site, even if to do so they must strip the work of context to fit their talking points, and paint the entire Democratic Party with a brush that hadn't existed only a week ago.
Now all of liberal history is summed up by one guy calling President Bush a "flatulent pusbag."
According to the New Right, Democrats are disallowed from using humor; instead, the limits of expressed opinion are firmly fixed: Only factual presentations, complete with vision and healthy, optimistic presentation, are allowed. This, coming from the party that had subliminal "RATS" in their national ads, and whose radio spokesman regularly calls the Democratic front-runner "Nikita Dean." There's been no mention that an over the-top conservative ad calling Dean supporters a "freak show" was actually professionally produced and aired by their side.
Aw, heck, we know it's not supposed to be fair. This is all about pole position. But at least "Bush in 41.2 Seconds" is open about its lunacy. (It's run under a "humor" banner, after all.) Unless the National Review's editors are giggling in their offices at the massive joke they've foisted on everyone, their insanity is worsened by its gravitas.
I now have a bit of insight into what Al Franken must have felt when called "shrill" by Fox. I also know that meme-making, however accidental, brings with it a certain level of responsibility. For these reasons I hereby promise to be more thoughtful and considerate when I next call the president a dickhead.