Hi, I'm Josiah Neeley. You might remember me from such blog posts as The Libertarian and the Union Organizer Can Be Friends (Maybe) and Corporate Personhood: Why It's Awesome. But today I would like to talk to you about an important issue facing our nation: hippie-punching.*
For those not in the know, "hippie-punching" refers to when someone (usually but not always on the center-left) attacks someone farther to their left as a means of gaining credibility and support with the general populace. The term appears to date from 2007, but the practice itself is far older. Bill Clinton, for example, was an expert hippie-puncher, and the term itself seems to be an oblique reference to the 1968 Democratic convention, when anti-war protesters battled Chicago police under the control of Democratic mayor Richard Daley (the nearest right-wing equivalent to the term "hippie-punching" is "that time when William F. Buckley kicked the Birchers out of the conservative movement").
Hippie-punching is generally used in a derogatory manner, implicitly suggesting that punching hippies is somehow a bad thing. Yet scientific research suggests that hippie-punching may in fact play a positive role in our political process.
For example, last year Chris Mooney looked at the so-called "radical flank effect" whereby the existence of individuals and groups pushing for radical action on an issue makes people more willing to deal with moderates on the issue. For the flanking effect to be positive, however, it is necessary that moderates and radicals not get lumped together in public perceptions. If that happens, the radical flank effect can turn negative, inspiring a backlash and tainting even moderate action on an issue with the actions of the radical fringe:
one of the critical factors in determining whether a radical flank effect will be positive or negative is the way moderates and activists relate to one another. “How clearly are the moderates and radicals differentiating themselves?” asks Carleton College’s Devashree Gupta. This, as Gupta notes, shapes media coverage and the thinking of politicians and policymakers who may be calculating whether helping the moderates will ease the headaches the radicals create for them.One way for moderates to differentiate themselves from radicals is to engage in a little hippie-punching now and again. And while it may not feel that way to those on the receiving end on such attacks, they are actually providing a valuable service by helping empower moderates to moving policy in their preferred direction:
The sad irony here is that the activists don’t get what they want. In the end, they merely get to help out the moderates. But that’s the nature of the positive radical flank effect.
*All references to violence in this post are purely metaphorical. No hippies were harmed during the production of this blog post.