A Confederacy of Dicks.

Several years ago I had lunch with novelist-travel writer Paul Theroux. In the midst of talking up his latest book the conversation turned to work he had done earlier in his career for The New York Times. While obviously a superb platform for any writer, the job had its frustrations. Like the piece Theroux was asked to write on the city/subway environment, circa mid-70s.

As you know the Times, (aka “The Grey Lady”), has a rather precious policy towards slang, informality and matters of basic human function. The paper that will invariably refer to “Mr. Hitler”, “Mr. Stalin” and “Mr. Manson” also has a hard and fast rule against vulgarisms such as the word … “shit” … which Theroux noticed in appalling amounts all over the streets of Manhattan and in the subways. (The town is cleaner now, thanks to nanny state regulations.)

But in attempting to offer a full, complete and immediately recognizable portrait of the environment he was asked to report on Theroux was required by his Times editors to imbue the stuff he saw fouling the surface everywhere with florid synonyms that were more, well, refined … like “defecation”, “scat” and “droppings”, the latter of which might lead less alert readers to think the city was cursed with a plague of discarded handkerchiefs.

As we enter the stretch run of a truly appalling siege of electioneering, and look at the roots of the disease that has infected today’s Republican party I’m convinced it would be useful to take Theroux’ advice and “describe what you see on the ground in front of you”. “Useful” at least if your intention is to communicate directly, immediately and without possibility of misunderstanding.

Hence, the indisputably appropriate and valuable use of the word “dick” to describe so much of what has gone in the past few years in conservative media and politics. Karl Rove. “Dick”. Dick Cheney. “Dick”. FoxNews. “Dick”. Michael Savage. “Dick”. Tom DeLay. “Dick”. Dick Armey, “Dick”. Frank Luntz. “Dick”. Michelle Malkin. “Dick”. Eric Cantor. “Dick”. Steve King. “Dick”. Louie Gohmert. “Dick”. Todd Akin. “Dick”.

While respectable, proper dictionaries avoid defining “dick” as 100% of Americans undoubtably understand it, (I think “private dick” has a whole new understanding in 2012), various urban dictionaries get it right, offering “jerk” and “asshole” as common, accepted synonyms.

Test it out. Ask the next half-dozen people you meet to define “dick”, in the context of a person or type of behavior. You and I both know what you’ll get: “A completely self-absorbed asshole.” “Someone who doesn’t give a damn what happens to anyone else as long as he gets his.” “One of those jerks who is constantly fucking over you and everyone he deals with.” “A guy (or gal) for whom the truth is some kind of hostile, alien concept to be routinely ignored and polluted at will.”

Others might just say, “Rush Limbaugh”.

My point is that in the era of Tea Party/talk radio conservatism, when garden variety political bullshit has devolved to shameless “dick-ishness”, the culture as a whole would be healthier if professional observers and reporters described it as precisely what they and their audience both know it to be. If you truly have respect for civility and reasonableness it seems to me you have an obligation to call out the dicks who are polluting those virtues.

For example: If NBC’s Chuck Todd were to come on one night and say, “GOP vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, already well established as a self-glorifying, onanistic dick for lying about his marathon prowess, claiming to have ‘climbed’ dozens of 14,000 foot mountains and inexplicably bragging about his body fat ratio being less than most Olympic athletes doubled down on his thoroughly dickish plan to gut Medicare and fatten the fortunes of his corporate cronies by accusing the Obama administration of destroying Medicare as we know it”, people everywhere would take notice – because they’d immediately and fully understand what he was talking about.

I’ve long believed the new “dick” conservative has consciously strategized their dick-ish policies and behavior knowing they can rely on the quaint prissiness of the mainstream media to put a “Grey Lady” gauze over their most vulgar distortions, flagrant lies and transparent duplicity. The likes of Michele Bachmann (a Queen of Dicks), Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney can operate as baldly as they do because their essential dickishness will be given an inappropriate, misleading, respectful makeover by a responsible, respectful, civil press uncomfortable describing — precisely, in a language most familiar to their readers —  what is right there in front of them.

A couple of days ago, while out in the Aspen area,  I made a pilgrimage to Hunter Thompson’s favorite bar, the Woody Creek Tavern, where you do reflect on how rare, wonderful and valuable it is to have someone describing the game of politics so vividly and precisely. When Thompson described Hubert Humphrey as campaigning “like a rat in heat” you knew exactly what he was talking about. Likewise, his description of the soul of Richard Nixon as emblematic the “dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character”, was a completely apt description that made an indelible imprint on the mind of the reader.

There are only a few practitioners of Thompson’s “call-a-dick-a-dick” art on today’s mass media scene. There is of course Charles Pierce at Esquire, who so accurately describes Paul Ryan as a “zombie-eyed granny-starver” and ” … a smiling, aw-shucks murderer of opportunity, a creator of dystopias in which he never will have to live.” (I’m also quite fond of his description of Scott Walker as, “… the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to run their midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin”.)

Likewise, Thompson’s far less chemically-infused heir at Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi, fully exploits his license to describe a dick as a dick.

But notice how infrequently either appears in the allegedly in the-tank liberal press.

Too much vividness and precision is a liability when you have to be concerned with upsetting a handful of customers who prefer the look, sound and feel of Dick World.

35 thoughts on “A Confederacy of Dicks.

  1. PM says:

    How could you forget Dick Morriss?

    In any event, you might be interested in the following:

    basically, these people (who appear to have time on their hands) have mapped common names (both first and last) along a Democrat-Republican continuum, based on the percentage of contributions given to either the GOP or to Democrats.

    Apparently, “Brian” is a slightly more Republican name than “Richard”. Jonathan, Jim, Peter and Tom are all pretty Democratic, but James is very Republican. Oh, and womens names are, as a general rule, all more democratic than the mens.

  2. Paul Scott says:

    I have tried to point this out for a long time. To me, Bachmann was always first and foremost a person you would not living next door to you. She would just be a dick about everything. You know, your dog peed on my lawn…Everything else just flows from these core personality traits. The question is why so many Americans are attracted to dick like personalities or take pleasure in being a dick about things in the abstract that they seen on cable from their oversized “family rooms”. What is realty TV but a celebration of people being dicks. I have no doubt there are many dicks on the left side of the aisle. But it seems like policy wise, there is a lot of pride in general dickishness in the GOP right now. Trying to attach the bad ref call in Seattle to Obama, as Ryan did, that’s a kind of weenie dickishness an eagerness to capitalize on everything to score points. But come on, what was Ayn rand but a major dick?

      1. Paul Scott says:

        That qualifies as a dick in my book, but so does anyone who wants to win more than doing something for the mutual good. To me a dick is someone who just wants to be difficult and doesn’t care about the consequences.

  3. Mike Thomas says:

    John Edwards, Al Franken, Blago, Hillary Clinton, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Ed Schultz, Olbermann…just a few “dicks”

    1. Erik says:

      I dunno Mike. At least half of those guys are douchebags.

      The archetype label for these sexless nags that liberals are so fond of escapes me at the moment. Hilary. Elizabeth Warren, etc.

      1. PM says:

        Hmmmm….Eric is a fairly moderate name. Nothing about Erik, though (personally, i have nothing against Erik–indeed I have a son Erik)

      1. Mike Thomas says:

        Sharpton and Jackson are wealthy by fabricating the truth and stirring trouble. Hillary would and was proven to make up anything to win in get failed Presidential bid. Franken the leader of the pack has distorted truth, taken things out of context, lied about his own biography, finances, and resume to swashbuckle his way into Minnesota politics. Schultz and Olbermann lie and claim to be journalists. Again taking clips out of context lying about those they disagree with…all the things you dispose about Rush Limbuagh.

      2. Mike Thomas says:


        Olbermann…honest? Yes and Bill O’Reilley is the no spin zone. Did you take that straight from an MSNBC press release?

    2. Joe Loveland says:

      I think I have to give you Olberman and Schultz too. They’ll both take the hyperbolic cheap shot. I’d also give you radio jock and author Franken, though not Senator Franken. He’s moved from a Dick to a Richard since being elected.

      1. Really, Joe? I’d like to hear anyone make the case that either Olbermann or Schultz display the same consistently reckless indifference to the truth as Limbaugh, Hannity and most of the FoxNews “entertainment” crowd, much less the likes of Rove, Cantor, Bachmann, etc. I find Schultz’s show unwatchable. I’m not a partisan who needs my indignation sparked and guided. Olbermann, his occasional hyperbole withstanding, was always good TV, and in sum … honest.

        I should have added to my indictment of this confederacy the fact their contempt for fair and accurate reporting/commentary/legislation has its most negative impact on middle and lower class Americans, some of whom are their devoted — chump — cheerleaders.

      2. Mike Thomas says:


        Are you not liberal enough for “the crowd”?
        Olbermann’s lies and ridiculousness is pretty well documented.
        Al Franken has not been a huge dick in the media since he had a layover here and went to Washington, however I am curious why he hasn’t brought up gas prices or wars like he did a few years ago.

        Brian –
        I am not a Rush Limbaugh defender, but this idea that Schultz and Olbermann do not use the same techniques and bombastic approach sounds and is very naive. If Ed Schultz could have got any decent ratings when he was a hard core conservative he would still be doing that and shooting his dogs on the weekends.
        Olbermann has been a dick in every sense of the word from the moment he stepped in front of a camera. Trouble is he thought someone would miss him after one of his self righteous exits off stage.

        Notice you didn’t mention anything about Jackson or Sharpton. Two people who have destroyed reputations, businesses, and lives with their wreckless regard for the truth, facts, or justice. If there is a camera and an opportunity they are there. Collecting millions from as you may call them “chumps”.

        Perhaps we should take a challenge and tally the false remarks and lies made by your guy Schultz for three hours and compare that with Limbaugh and the Fox News guys. Somehow I think despite the idea that liberals do no wrong, it might be pretty even depending who your fact checker is

        1. Mike: your idea of someone tallying the number — and the egregiousness — of “bombastic” statements by TV performers is a good one. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have built careers on doing just that. I strongly urge you to encourage conservative comedians to apply their deft satirical lance to liberals. Also, “techniques and bombastic approach” … yes. It’s show biz. But the issue is respect for the truth. While I accept that your bete noirs have pushed it more than just occasionally, Olbermann, no doubt a world class ego to work with, has consistently demonstrated both respect for the truth and compassion for middle and lower class victims of truly “dick” like cynicism. Your survey will bear this out.

          The sum of Sharpton and Jackson’s careers have likewise supported the interests of those without lobbying power in DC.

          As for Franken, I gather its a personal thing with you.

      3. Joe Loveland says:

        Brian, I guess I’m focused on more tone than content, which isn’t exactly true to the dick definition you put forth.

        I do agree that Brian’s dicks are less truthful than Mike’s dicks. I don’t think its very close.

        In terms of tone, though, I’d much rather listen to a David Brooks, Michael Steele, Steve Schmidt, or Kurt Bills than I would to an Obermann, Schultz or pre-Senate Franken…even though I agree with the latter MUCH more than the former. The hair-on-fire hyperbole of the latter group is dickish to me, even though I agree with what they’re saying and think it is usually well supported with credible sources.

        The MSNBCers tend to be much less dickish when interviewing and analyzing, and more over-the-top dickish when doing their scripted monologues. I can’t take those scripted rantologues.

        1. Joe: Yeah I’m nt big on the hyped-up, rabble-rousing tone either. But my point is abuse of the truth. as you say, there is little to no comparison. But the bigger broader issue the “confederacy” if you will of the entire modern conservative movement to abuse the truth constantly and in a highly coordinated way … and the unwillingness of the protectors’ of civility to call them out on it. Vulgarity prospers when no one dares call it vulgar.

      4. Erik says:

        Lambo, re your theory on the ‘dicks’ and how they spread lies through the middle and lower class… I think you’re on to something. You could almost say the dicks create a ‘false consciousness’. Pretty good huh, pretty compelling theory?

      5. Joe Loveland says:

        Re: Mike’s “I am curious why (Franken) hasn’t brought up gas prices or wars like he did a few years ago.”

        Not true. From CBS.

        With troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan and new military operations underway in Libya, Sen. Al Franken says it’s time for Congress to more seriously consider how the United States will pay for its wars.

        The Democratic senator from Minnesota introduced the “Pay for War” resolution Wednesday to require Congress to offset any costs for military operations that go beyond the Defense Department’s base budget. If the resolution were to pass, Congress would have to either raise revenues or cut spending to pay for military activity.

        and from Franken’s Senate site

        Speculators, who make money by betting on the price of crude oil, can contributing to inflated oil prices. Senator Franken, along with 12 of his Senate colleagues, pressed the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to act to limit excessive speculation in oil futures markets.

        Millions of acres of on-shore and off-shore land have been leased to oil companies, but aren’t actually being used. To make sure that oil companies efficiently use the resources we have here at home, Senator Franken cosponsored S. 600, the Use It or Lose It Act, to make oil companies either develop these leases or step aside so that other companies can.

        Ultimately, we need a long-term national strategy that transitions America toward clean, homegrown sources of energy that aren’t subject to damaging price spikes. As a new member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Senator Franken is working to support investments in clean energy like wind and biofuels from Minnesota as a clean alternative to expensive and volatile oil and gas.

        Sorry for the length, but it simply isn’t true that he has abandoned those issues after the campaign, and I feel obliged to back up my assertions.

        1. Franken has done a good job in his freshman term. He can be criticized as Klobuchar is for being too low-key and playing small ball, but his crusade for prosecution on military rape and his attention to repealing Citizens United are bona fide. He may not be my idea of someone I’d like to take a long road trip with, but he votes my interests — and those of the middle class.

      6. Chris Werle says:

        Re: Joe Loveland’s backing up of assertions. Are we all to be held to that standard? If so, this just got a lot less fun.

      7. Erik says:

        It’s pretty ironic that Franken’s prima facie military rape example (Jamie Leigh Jones) was a lie. How about that, huh?

      8. Erik says:

        Lying dicks eh:




        You libs don’t really have any credibility re “lying”, but conservatives will never win trying to make this point. This phenomenon goes to the heart of liberal douchebaggery.

        Defined properly, liberal douchebaggery is the assumption that belief in [weird, dystopic] egalitarianism confers a flippant assumption of moral, factual, and intellectual superiority. And it’s this assumption that liberals use to justify the pervasive ‘its OK when liberals do it’ double standard that they use to shield every argument.

    3. PM says:

      And Mike is just slightly more Republican than Michael…but both are pretty in the middle (at least compared to Brian)

  4. John Gaterud says:

    Sad, the descent of language, in this case (as elsewhere), IMO, particularly the intrusion of words like “dick,” “sucks,” “douchebag,” “asshole,” and their ilk into everyday, contemporary usage—that is, as graceless (read: lazy) substitutes for something more edifying, civil, and original.

    Am reminded (as a lament) of Alexander Mackendrick’s terrific “Sweet Smell of Success” (1957), with screenplay by Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman (with producing credit to Ben Hecht, of “The Front Page” fame), whose murderous dialogue contains neither profanity nor cliche to render the sharpest of poetic cuts in a game of seismic one-upsmanship contested by protagonists J. J Hunsecker, the film’s thinly disguised Walter Winchell character, played by a menacing Burt Lancaster; and his foil, the snake of All-Time mendacious PR snakes (but I repeat myself), Sidney Falco, played in a stellar turn by Tony Curtis.

    No need to sink to the easy bottom here; f-bombs need not apply. In patter quick and concise, the sublime language of “Sweet Smell” far exceeds in wit and gravity any of these courser, more common descriptors “gracing” our conversations and airwaves today. Jon Stewart, for instance, may be spot-on funny (or sometimes spot-on and funny) to some viewers, but the profanity, I’m afraid, is easy, predictable, and—as practiced by so many modern “comics” (and wannabe “smartasses” everywhere, such as ourselves)—mostly stupid, self-indulgent, childish.

    Shared a pitcher of beer years ago at Aspen’s Jerome Hotel with Dr. Thompson (Game 6, 1973 World Series, Mets vs. A’s), who at one point during the game leaped to his feet and shouted at the TV, “[A’s Manager] Dick Williams is a junkie!” I was 20 at the time, and I guess I thought it was cool. But even Thompson, for all his erudition through his career, still stooped (fueled though he was), I now realize—as we all have (or still do) on occasion.

    Whitman urged us to write (and speak) in new metaphor—to create and use language that expresses original ideas in unique ways. Takes thought, work, and imagination. Alas, dead letters, these. Dead poet.

    1. John: I am in sympathy with your point. I doubt I’m quite as sensitive to the desecration of the tongue as you are, but in most circumstances I’ll take an artful twist of phrasing over simply calling someone a “douchebag”. But my issue is putting a description/indictment of the coordinated vulgar abuse of truth into a language accessible and understandable to all. I truly feel that the high-minded standards of “responsible journalism” enable extraordinary abuse by presenting them as more or less common political behavior. We’re experiencing something with a far more deleterious effect on culture than a simple clash of ideologies.

      1. Mike Thomas says:


        Disagreeing with someone is not wreckless or make them a dick. According to many on the left it is extremist and uncompromising to not agree with a liberal.

        The only time “the crowd” likes a Republican is when they vote with Democrats or one of those submissive DFL era Republcians.

        Boarder security and being against immigration is extremist. Paying for your own birth control is extremist. Not raising taxes even though raising taxes wouldn’t even solve any of our deficit or spending issues is extremist. Providing proof of identity at the pols is extremist. In guess if this is 2012 extremism that’s what I but we still have to coexist (one of my favorite tolerant bumper stickers).

        A former Tribune columnist turned fringe tweeter and blogger use to whine that newspaper comments posted called him mean names like commie rectum licker. Hey looks like now we are at the point we are encouraging using the term dick, prick to assail out political opponents.

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