Part 1—Heat versus light at Salon: Is America facing a new Civil War?

That’s what it says at Salon. A few weeks ago, Andrew O’Hehir was trashing Quentin Tarantino for clowning around, in Django Unchained, about the American Civil War.

On Saturday, O’Hehir said we face a new Civil War. For our money, his rhetoric was perhaps a bit overheated:
O’HEHIR (12/5/13): So even though it’s a truism of American public discourse that the Civil War never ended, it’s also literally true. We’re still reaping the whirlwind from that long-ago conflict, and now we face a new Civil War, one focused on divisive political issues of the 21st century–most notably the rights and liberties of women and LGBT people–but rooted in toxic rhetoric and ideas inherited from the 19th century.
“We face a new Civil War,” O’Hehir said—and he said this new Civil War is rooted in toxic rhetoric.

The analysts rolled their eyes at this point. “Look who’s talking,” one analyst said, as O’Hehir kept pouring it on:
O’HEHIR (continuing directly): We’ve just emerged from a presidential campaign that exposed how hardened our political and cultural divide has become, and how poorly the two sides understand each other. Part of the Republican problem, in an election that party thought it would win easily, was that those who felt a visceral disgust toward both the idea and the reality of President Barack Obama simply could not believe that they didn’t represent a majority. As many Republicans are now aware, the party now faces an existential crisis. It’s all very well to go on TV and talk about attracting Latinos and downplaying cultural wedge issues. But the activist core of the Republican Party is neo-Confederate, whether it thinks of itself that way or not. It isn’t interested in common cause with Mexicans or turning down the moral thermostat. Just ask Rick Santorum: What it wants is war.
Does Rick Santorum really “want war?” O’Hehir didn’t quote the toxic rhetoric which proves this about the neo-Confederate. But we’ll have to admit it:

As he name-called and girded for battle, it almost sounded, to our ears, as if O’Hehir does! This is the way the fiery liberal “turned down the moral thermostat:”
O’HEHIR: Thanks to Lincoln’s great political victory in that Congress, slavery has faded into the history books—maybe too much so. As the controversy over Quentin Tarantino’s slave-revenge western “Django Unchained” demonstrates, it still isn’t a history we know how to talk about. It may seem melodramatic to claim that the curse of slavery hangs over us still, but Lincoln himself clearly foresaw that possibility, as his slave-owning predecessor Thomas Jefferson had before him...

I’m not sure America ever paid that debt, in blood or money or any other currency. The lingering effects of our racist history–from the resegregation of our public schools to the enduring and astonishing “wealth gap” between whites and blacks–are national problems, not just Southern problems. Our new Civil War is infused with the undead spirit of the old one and waged by a rebellious neo-Confederacy rooted in the states of the Old South, but its influence can be felt, as with the pro-slavery forces of the 1860s, in every part of the country.
Is it “melodramatic” to claim “that the curse of slavery hangs over us still?” Depending on context, it certainly can be—although, depending on context, the claim surely isn’t “wrong.”

For our money, the curse of slavery hangs over us still as folk like O’Hehir rant and fume, urging liberals to march off to war, as fiery people like O'Hehir have urged since the dawn of time. Before he was done, O’Hehir had redefined Michigan as a “border state”—and he had said that North Dakota and South Dakota were each part of “the neo-Confederacy.”

In these ways, O’Hehir lowered the moral thermostat, despite the provocations of Santorum, who so plainly wants war.

We were struck by the extent to which O’Hehir seems to want new war. At the same time, we were struck by the high inanity of much of the work at Salon.

Yesterday, at the great liberal journal, a great deal of nonsense was being promoted. It made us wonder if we liberals are still as sharp as we’ve always said we are.

What was offered at Salon? At the top of Salon's front page, this piece by Antonia Crane was featured:
My lucky thunder thighs
As a stripper, my thick legs were a liability. But they also carried me through drug addiction and grief.
Interesting! Meanwhile, near the top of Salon's list of reports, we spotted these thoughtful offerings:
Former drunks make unstoppable runners
Exercise can provide an excellent escape from addiction. A sober marathoner offers 8 reasons why.

When I learned to hunt
I never thought I'd don an Elmer Fudd outfit when I first moved to the sticks. Who knew it could be so satisfying?

Weirdest 3-D printed objects ever
From Thomas Jefferson's bust to bikinis for your bust, a slideshow of the weirdest 3-D replicas around (SLIDE SHOW)
That last report was promoted by a photo of a young woman’s pleasing bosom. The young woman’s head was missing. So was the rest of her body.

Go ahead, liberals! Breathe hard!

At Salon, the edification was endless. Also, we’re facing a new Civil War! This war will be fought about the fact that the activist core of the GOP “isn’t interested in common cause with Mexicans.”

A new year is starting here at the Howler. We continue to think that the most interesting story in American media is the continuing emergence of a new liberal world—the liberal world that didn't exist during the Clinton-Gore years, the world that didn't take form until after Bush failed in Iraq.

How smart, how determined, will this liberal world be? How much light will emerge from this world? To what extent will we bring heat?

So far, the rhetoric is sometimes exciting. Other major progressive virtues may not yet be at hand.

Tomorrow: Love of the clan, love of war


  1. Yup, Salon likes to include garbage amongst its more "serious" articles, but I haven't heard a peep from liberals about it (prove me wrong fellow commenters, prove me wrong...)!

    1. I never went to Salon until Glenn Greenwald went there. Now that he's left there for The Guardian, I once again hardly ever go there. But a story about stripping is worth a look.


  2. I love The Daily Howler, but I don't know that it's fair for him to criticize publications like Salon, The NY Times or the Washington Post when they run "general interest" pieces, or even articles that are just plain silly. That's like criticizing PBS for running "Bob the Builder" shows in the morning. A publication/TV station needn't be all serious news all the time -- there's room for less substantial fare, as well.

    The real question is whether, in addition to those "general interest" articles, the publications treat the serious news with the level of seriousness that it deserves, by demanding accurate and in-depth reporting and writing.

  3. I don't think O'Hehir ever said he wanted to "turn down the moral thermostat." What he said was, the Republicans weren't interested in doing so even if it cost them elections. And his column was not an overt call for a new Civil War; it was an analysis of how we pretty much are headed for a new war, as the divisions in the populace begin to resemble more and more those that existed (on different subjects) in the 1850's.

    I thought it was a pretty good article.

  4. Mr. Sommersby,
    Crooked Timber reviewed Richard Posner's book on the conservative intellectual collapse with a post on May 12 2009. Please read through the comments. The same issues that O'Hehir raised are more carefully reasoned out. The modern conservative GOP was built by raising the flag of opposition to liberation movements. To reverse themselves after many years is going to be very difficult.

  5. I am sick and tired of liberals calling conservatives "racists". O’Hehir's reference to "a rebellious neo-Confederacy rooted in the states of the Old South" and to "the pro-slavery forces of the 1860s" is a particularly offensive version of this lie.

    1. Are you sufficiently sick of it to urge your party to stop making racist appeals to its voter base? For example, the commercial that ran in Tennessee, of a blond woman making sexual overtures to Harold Ford (hardly a fire-breathing leftist)?

      That being one of the most brazen examples, but hardly the only one: just look at the class and race-based resentments exploited by the Romney campaign.

      As a famed and highly successful Republican strategist put it, you can't say "nigger nigger nigger" any more, so Republicans had to find other ways of doing it, and boy, are they good at it.

      So how about it? No more claims of racism, as soon as Repubs forswear appealing to underlying white resentment?

  6. Salon is an unappealing morass of gibberish, just like HuffPo. I always hated HuffPo. I used to enjoy Salon but they went downhill so quickly they forced my hand. Greenwald was the only thing left there worth reading, and then he left.

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