In a blog entry I otherwise largely agree with, John Aravosis of AMERICAblog, who indisputably gets an A-plus on the A-list of liberal bloggers, made some fairly extraordinary comments about how “nice” right wingers can be in person. I’ll have to admit that upon first reading this — well, actually on the second reading (the first time through I just assumed I was hallucinating), my jaw fell so far down that my dental work became caught up in my keyboard, necessitating a surgical procedure known as a keyboardectomy.
I’ll be forwarding the medical bills to your attention soon, John.
Then people got irate that I noted that Harris was rather nice in person. I went one step further and reported a conversation I had with another friend last night who knows Harris quite well. The friend, who is a good liberal, told me that I’d be surprised, on a personal level Harris is one of the nicest people my friend knows. I report that fact, and big surprise, all hell breaks loose. I am now, apparently, broadcasting that Katherine Harris is actually a wonderful human being. No, I said she’s nice in person and has a reputation, even among liberals, of being an incredibly nice person. That doesn’t mean I think she’s a wonderful human being, it simply means that whatever she is, it’s a lot more complicated than folks would like to present.
Read Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” then get back to me and see if you still miss the point.
Then I make the larger observation that the nastiest of Republicans can be some of the nicest people, and vice versa for Democrats. If you live in DC and actually meet “famous” political types, you’ll likely know what I mean.
Newt Gingrich, for example. I just appeared on O’Reilly, went back to the green room, and Newt starts telling me what an amazing job I did. Mind you, I was debating gay rights with O’Reilly, Newt knows this, and is still praising me. It was weird, trust me. But it was also fascinating that Newt would be that nice one-on-one.
Then there are the gun nuts. Joe can tell you stories about them. Awful people. But incredibly, shockingly nice on a personal level. And how about arch-bigot Jesse Helms, famed for being wonderful in person. Same goes for Pat Buchanan. Yes, they’re horrible people, but they’re FAMED for being wonderful people in person. That’s fascinating, it’s not something you’d expect, and I noted that fact. And of course, lots of folks freaked out again in the comments, this time saying I thought conservatives were good people and Democrats bad people.
I like John Aravosis. I think he does great work. If I were gay, I’d probably have a crush on him (as well as having yet another reason for not being attracted to Ann Coulter). But this time I think he seriously screwed the pooch.
Let me hasten (after pausing ever so briefly to massage my still sore jaw) to distinguish myself from that class of liberals, the ones Aravosis says have been sending him hate mail, who are offended by the very idea of a liberal saying something positive about conservatives. That’s nuts. As I’ve mentioned before, we have a lot of Republican customers here at The Last Chance Democracy Café, some of them extremely conservative, and, for the most part, they’re great folks once you get past their politics.
But calling Newt Gingrich nice?!
Calling Katherine Harris nice?!
Sorry, but these aren’t nice people. Nice people don’t serve their wives with divorce papers while they’re undergoing cancer treatment, as Gingrich did. Nice people don’t conspire to wrongfully disenfranchise black and Hispanic voters by the thousands, as Harris did. And there are, of course, numerous other examples that could be offered as to each.
One has to wonder, if Cotton Mather had served Aravosis milk and cookies and said some nice things about his blog (kind of unlikely, I’ll give you) before burning another batch of witches at the stake, would he have called him nice?
The real problem here, of course, isn’t in Aravosis’s heart and soul, but in his word selection: He isn’t really suggesting that Gingrich and Harris are nice people in the “a good person down to the soul” sense the word generally implies in popular culture; what he’s trying to say, without much doubt, is that they are “pleasant” in person.
When a woman, trying to fix up a friend, says about a man, “He’s really nice,” she’s implying something more than that he has good table manners and a pleasant demeanor in light conversation (although one of the alternatives in the formal dictionary definition could cover such a limited endorsement). In the real world, she is telling her friend that she thinks he’s in general a good guy.
John Aravosis clearly doesn’t think Newt Gingrich is a good guy. But when he calls him a nice person that’s precisely what he’s implying. And in all fairness, he really can’t get too bent out of shape when readers call him on it (although they should call him on it politely).
And, yes, it is true, as Aravosis clearly meant to say, that even the scariest right wing fanatics are often pleasant in person; it’s one of their armaments. But this tends to be the pleasantness of a person who has a knife hidden behind his back as he warmly shakes your hand.
And no, that’s not nice. That’s not nice at all.
(And by the way, I agree with tristero: Aravosis really should have kicked Katherine Harris in the shins when he had the chance.)