Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Road to Hell is Paved With Words

Following the announcement that CNN hired Erick Erickson as part of their news team, some people started putting together a compilation of his worst spewings to make the case that CNN had made a huge mistake by hiring a raving hatemonger and should henceforth be boycotted. I helped by doing what I figured no one else would do--I read old blog entries from early 2005, right after Bush was elected to his second term. I chose this period because the Republicans were firmly in power, and I figured a conservative would feel secure showing his true colors. I think he did, but not in the way I expected.

I started reading Erickson's blog from January 2005 through about the middle of March and posted some interesting excerpts here. His posts were clearly conservative, particularly with regard to business, which he prioritized over the environment, archaeology, and human rights. However, there was no hatespew, and no hyperbole. He expressed Christian charity, condemned a group that protested against gays, distanced himself from religious fundamentalists, and called out bullshit on both sides. He complimented a left-thinker's willingness to debate, and Erickson seemed like he would be a reasonable, courteous debater, too.

So what happened?

I am a recent addition to political blogging, but I have been a writer for many years. I am also a member of the California Bar. In law school, I took a class--the name escapes me now--that required a long research paper. To challenge myself and entertain my professor, I decided to attempt to argue something utterly untrue and distasteful.

It started out as an abstract exercise; law school is full of them. After all, law school trains you to argue either side of a debate dispassionately.

But as I wrote, I realized I was able to build a very convincing case. There were lots of sources that supported me, and I knew how to argue it. It was the kind of argument you know is wrong, but there are no obvious internal flaws to attack.

This became more than a lark. It was an epiphany. This was the moment that I realized the power of words and my own responsibility in wielding them. Until then, I think that in the back of my mind, I believed that when it came to moral arguments, right and truth would always be more convincing. Lies and unfairness would only win when corruption was involved. Yeah, I was young.

I realized I have a choice--and the power to shape people's lives. Everything I write is an opportunity to make the world a little better or a little worse, from simple business letters to essays about the stock market written for anxious and uneducated investors. I never forget that this power is a responsibility, and I am reminded often that real people believe and act based on what I write. This is no abstract exercise.

So here's where we come around to the present. Rush Limbaugh has always been what he is now. You can go back to his early days in Sacramento (where he was initially viewed as a RWNJ), and the message is the same. Whatever demons plague him, whatever drives him, he is consistent.

But Erick Erickson is different. To read his blog in 2005 is a different experience than reading things he says now. In 2005, he used his blog for good. I don't agree with all of his positions, but I think he was sincere. I felt his sense of responsibility to words in both the topics he chose and the measured prose.

In 2005, Erickson acknowledges that he was already a very influential conservative force in Congress. In other words, power alone had not corrupted his writing.

However, then his audience was only Congress and other bloggers. Erickson with a wider audience seems to be enacting the pro wrestling version of political discourse. But this is neither sport nor an abstract exercise. This is political hatespew that affects real people. He knows the difference, and he has chosen to turn his back on responsibility for his words.

Instead of playing to Congress and the blogosphere as he did in 2005, Erickson is now playing to "the masses" (his term, and not a complimentary one) and using what he considers the appropriate tools for that audience. This excerpt from January 31, discussing a book by Mark Levin, supports this theory (emphasis mine):

"Mark Levin has done an impressive act of research and has shown, whether you disagree with him or not, that he is a true legal scholar. His work, with copious quotes, citations, endnotes, and appendices clearly makes the case that the Supreme Court has overstepped its bounds. Unfortunately, also being a talk show host, Levin sometimes crosses the line separating passionate discourse and emotional hyperbole."

Somehow, between then and now, he started portraying a talk-show guy. And now he is one.

Erickson has the potential to be worse than Rush Limbaugh. He has proven that he knows not only the power of words but the difference between "passionate discourse and emotional hyperbole," and he has chosen the road to hell anyway.

(part of this was recently posted on DumpCNN's Facebook page)

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